Joana Toro: On the Latino Trans Community in New York

Joana Toro, a documentary photographer based in the New York, has been working on an ongoing project, TransLatina, about the city’s Latino trans population. Many in this community first came to the United States to escape the intolerance and violence they faced in their home countries across Latin America. But they continue to suffer from discrimination and harassment today, even in the neighborhoods where they live. Toro’s photos document the political organizing happening in the community and include intimate portraits of these women in their homes, coupled with interviews about their past and current perspectives. Recently, Toro shared part of this project during a takeover of the Open Society Foundations’ Instagram feed. See some of her work below.

Juni Estudillo, a 27-year-old Mexican, had been unable to connect with her male gender at birth since childhood. At the age of 18, she decided to tell her parents she was gay and started having romantic relationships with men, but she still felt something was missing. She had never heard of trans women before.
It was only after her brother shared videos about trans women in Mexico with her that Juni began to learn about what that meant. She eventually met a trans woman named Vanessa, who gave her guidance.
At first, Juni worried about how difficult it would be to transition to a woman, but over time, she realized all she needed was to pass the psychological and medical exams.
Demonstrators gather at the 11th Annual Trans Day of Action rally in New York. According to a report by the organization Make The Road New York, trans women are more likely to be stopped and arrested under the pretext of enforcement of prostitution laws in black and Latino neighborhoods. The term “walking while trans” has become a common descriptor for this phenomenon of arbitrary stops, which are frequently accompanied by physical, sexual, and verbal harassment.
Lesly Herrera Castillo, seen in her home in Brooklyn, New York, grew up in Mexico. At the age of 12, she began to take hormones in secret to transform her body. At 17, she left home to live in Mexico City, where she had difficulty dealing with sexual harassment, police abuse, and a disapproving family.
Lesly eventually decided to migrate to the United States. She studied cosmetology and works as a freelance beautician from a room in her apartment that she converted into a salon. Today, she has a stable marital life with a partner who has supported her during her struggle with cancer.
A trans sex worker in Jackson Heights, Queens, walks alone at night. Statistics show that 46 percent of Latin transgender women in Jackson Heights reported being physically abused by police, compared to 28 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents.
Claudia Spellman was crowned the winner of the Trans Latina 2016 beauty contest.
Milena was living as a man and married for 23 years to a woman, with two children together. They divorced in 2005. The day that Milena decided to tell her children she was going to change her sex, her son said to her, “Papa, why have you waited so long?”

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