Photo by Sarah Noregaard
By Paulie Amanita
“De mi tierra bella, de mi tierra santa
Oigo ese grito de los tambores
Y los timbales al cumbanchar
Y ese pregón que canta un hermano
Que de su tierra vive lejano
Y que el recuerdo le hace llorar
Una canción que vive entonando
De su dolor de su propio llanto
Y se le escucha penar(…)”
Gloria Estefan, Mi Tierra.
Trigger warning: This article mentions sexualized violence
Fernanda loves this song. When she listens to it, a feeling of nostalgia occupies her. When the lyrics sing in Spanish: “The land where you were born, you cannot forget it. Because it has your roots, and what you leave behind”, she remembers her country, her people, and her culture. It’s not easy for immigrants to leave everything behind and embark on the search for better opportunities and a higher quality of life. But Fernanda is not only an immigrant. She is a refugee. In fact, she is the first trans person ever to be granted asylum in Denmark on the basis of gender identity. Fernanda had no choice but to escape her country, where her life was in danger. And even when she misses the food and the music, she couldn’t stay and risk her life in Guatemala. Being politically chased by the police of her country, she faced the sad situation that many trans-activists have to endure in Latin America: you leave or you die.
Beware of the old, nice lady… she’s a pimp.
Fernanda arrived in this country hoping that a friend would pick her up at the airport. That friend never came, so she suddenly found herself homeless, on a different continent, where she didn’t speak the language and had no friends. In 2009 she applied for political asylum, and while waiting for a response, in the asylum camps, she was raped by her male neighbors. Fernanda had been assigned to a male refugee camp instead of being housed with other women because the system would not recognize her gender identity. When she reported the attack, she was blamed using the argument that it was her fault for “dressing that way”. Because of this incident, she chose to leave the camps and run away to a place that had been recommended to her by an acquaintance. It was here she fell victim to sexual trafficking.
“These pimps that do human trafficking do not look like gangsters. They look just like our neighbors. The ones we run into in the supermarket”, says Fernanda. She was in this situation for 2 years, until she was rescued by the police and placed in a female shelter, where she got help to re-open her case. A while after, her asylum application was denied. During Copenhagen Pride 2012, Fernanda and a friend attended the parade, and in a desperate attempt to make something radical and effective, Fernanda’s friend went up on the stage at a drag show, and made the story public, asking for help from the public. After that, they created a Facebook page, and people started to reach out. If it hadn’t be for this act of bravery, she would not be here.
After this heroic outreach, thousands of people joined Fernanda’s cause. She was on TV, in the newspapers, and people mobilized internationally in front of the Danish Embassies calling for justice. Quickly Fernanda became an icon of the LGBTI+ struggle, and even though she was in the spotlight, fighting a fight for all of us, she still had nothing and was going to be deported. It was then that Warehouse9, LGBT+ Denmark, ILGA, Transgender Europe, other organizations, and even private people, united their voices demanding the ministry of defense to re-open her case, through the organization T-refugee. The minister finally made the call, her case was reopened and eventually she was granted asylum. It was because of her fight and struggle that the legislation changed to protect Queer people that were asylum seekers, no matter how much others want to capitalize that success.
Effortlessly fabulous, unapologetically radical
Fernanda is an actress and a writer, among many other things. She had always wanted to be a star and she could have easily become one. But while Susan was shouting for help, Fernanda couldn’t help but feel anything but shame. She was mortified. You see, anyone who knows Fernanda knows how elegant and glamorous she is. I ask you dear reader, how would you feel if suddenly you were put in Fernanda’s shoes, and had to shout out for help in a public event, in front of thousands of people from a completely different background as yours? Wouldn’t you feel embarrassed? Fernanda is no different from you. That’s how desperate the situation was.
Today, however, Fernanda’s situation is still very uncertain. Once she got refugee status, the world forgot her. And even though she had become an icon that materialized the struggle of so many racialized queer immigrants, and that she had proved herself capable and powerful, no organization ever offered her a paid position, or economical support, or housing. This minor mending of the system doesn’t cover all the atrocities that people like Fernanda and many others have to endure in order to have a slightly decent life. It is 2021 and Fer doesn’t have a Danish nationality. And even so, she still remains the most outspoken and powerful trans-BIPOC-activist in this country.
Latin trans women: the epitope of anti-fragility
See, Patriarchy perceives Latin women as caring and exotic. What they don’t tell you is that we are also persistent, determined and antifragile. Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines antifragility as a “property of some systems in which they increase in capability to thrive as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures” (Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Taleb, 2012). When you are born as a trans woman of color in a country where welfare is far from reality, and where sexism, misogyny and transphobia are so present everywhere, you either develop the skills to survive, or you die. There is no space for being vulnerable. That imposition put onto us by society, turns us into people capable of thriving in the presence of violence and chaos. However, we often crave for the possibility to be vulnerable, and to finally put down our guard. “We HAVE to be the ones that have compassion for ourselves because no one else will. After getting the asylum, I partied for 5 days, and then I had a breakdown for weeks. Now, boring is a privilege I allow myself to have,” she says to me, while smiling through the computer screen. Fernanda is the ultimate form of antifragility, because she is not just resilient, she is also kind, caring, sensual, joyful, strong, intelligent. A reincarnation of Sylvia Rivera. She is an example to all of us queer people. In other words… Fernanda is ABSOLUTE.
Dedicated to my dear friend and heroine, Fer.