Zoraida Reyes was a trans woman and immigrant rights movement builder, working to weave transgender struggle and queer liberation into immigrant rights spaces. Zoraida was murdered, her body dumped in a parking-lot at a fast-food restaurant on June 12, 2014. The police have called her death “suspicious,” but have yet to declare it murder. Zoraida was my friend. She taught me to have dignity in my queer and migrant identities. Losing her is a tragedy and I want my entire community to fully feel the impact of her death, her murder, her struggle, her legacy.
Her friends and family are calling for justice. This is the kind of of loss that should have us all uprising! So many transmigrants and Trans women of color have been hurt and murdered in the last few months, a trend that, over the years, has started to look like genocide. We need to build communities and movements where the lives of our undocumented trans sisters and trans sisters of color are no longer under threat and treated as disposable.
I met Zoraida in college at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where we were involved in some of the same student organizations. We quickly built a friendship around our undocumented, queer experiences. During that time, she began her transition and hormone therapy and needed a social support system for transitioning that didn’t exist at white, heteronormative, affluent UCSB.
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Zoraida joined an undocumented student group I was in that focused on campaigning for the DREAM Act and institutional support for undocumented students. We thought the organization was a safer space, so I asked that it also provide opportunities for those of us who were queer to have emotional support. The president of the group responded that if we wanted a support group that talked about “gay issues,” we needed something separate because most people could not relate to our experience. But it was important to me that we had an intersectional space, where the material and social needs of Undocu-queer and trans folks were a critical part of our fight.
Weeks later, at the same space, a very harsh, transphobic comment was made. Zoraida and I stormed out the room, never to return. Back then, I felt self-righteous for walking away with her from a space that was just being built and already reproducing homophobia and transphobia. But, I wished I stayed to challenge that reproduction of oppression, which targeted me as a cis queer woman and her as Trans, and fought for a place of leadership for queer and transmigrants. Today, we are still building spaces that address queer and trans issues in the immigrant rights movement.
On May 27, 2014, queer and trans undocumented and documented migrants carried out a civil disobedience in front of the Orange County immigration detention center. Transmigrants with and without papers put their bodies on the line despite the threat of state brutality. Zoraida was there. I had lost touch with her after college, but I recognized her on the live-stream sitting locked-arm with other migrants and barricading the street in civil disobedience. They made a bad ass intervention by highlighting, like never before, the atrocities trans women experience in detention centers. These atrocities have resulted in torture and death. At a rally earlier this year, she was recorded saying, “As Trans women, our bodies are political.” Her body and her visibility in the movement was highly political, highly counter-hegemonic.
I attended Zoraida’s wake in Santa Ana and over 100 people were there, especially from the local latino, queer and trans latino community—which truly speaks to her very unique legacy. We mourned and held each other with the terrible understanding that a lot of people in that space could be the next victim of this atrocious racist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic empire that continues to take lives, especially the lives of trans women. We had a moment to love and be gentle with each other, a moment in which many of us promised her that we would not rest until these horrendous murders stop. More than simply finding the party responsible for her death, this means addressing the deep poverty and lack of resources transmigrants face today.
On June 20th, at a presentation by Guatemalan lesbian feminist organizer, Sandra Moran, a member of the San Francisco Transgender, Gender-variant, Intersex Justice Project spoke about the conditions at the county jail for Trans folks of color and how they are addressing them. One of our members at Causa Justa shared that he felt honored to be hearing about this campaign from a trans leader, that, as a migrant cisgendered man who identified as heterosexual, it was important to hear and understand where he was needed and how to stand in solidarity. Since then, he has asked for dialogue that integrates responding to the conditions queer and trans folks experience around criminalization and deportation in our campaign work and demands.
In order to focus our demands in a way that centers the needs of our sisters most disenfranchised by this patriarchal, capitalist, cissexist empire; we need to reject assimilationist, meritocracy propaganda that was used back then, and still today, in the undocumented student circles that support DREAM Act legislations. It would mean getting sharper on our analysis and resistance of capitalism, imperialism, and all the ways those systems criminalize our survival and profit from the hyper exploitation of our communities.
It is our duty to build an immigrant rights movement that is intersectional. We must build so that the livelihood, leadership and power of transmigrants are at the center of our demands for dignity, liberation, and social and economic equality. We need to fight, not just for the murders of our friends to be resolved. We need to fight for all of us to have real access to a job without discrimination, to medical attention, to a community free of trans and homophobic violence. We do not live in a safe haven for transmigrants; we live inside the belly of a beast that promotes capitalist-heteropatriarchy all over the world. We must focus our attention to the voices of transmigrants to understand their conditions, to include their struggle in solidarity and to fight with them in unity. We must build a movement with a program of demands that rejects meritocracy and all the ways capitalism profits from our suffering, a program that centers all of us migrants surviving and thriving. ¡Zoraida Reyes vive, La lucha sigue!
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