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Lockdown was a drag; An interview with Borderland queen Rumor

Borderzine - Wed, 03/17/2021 - 8:29am

El Paso — Bar shutdowns, curfews and stay home orders to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the borderland affected the way many El Pasoans worked. That includes performers such as drag queens who had steady gigs prior to the pandemic, but lost income when they could no longer perform in person.

“It’s affected me in a way where I do not have that extra income anymore,” said Alexander Wright, who performs in bars and nightclubs as “Rumor.” She, like many drag queens, performs as a second job rather than as a primary source of income.

“Fortunately, I do have a full-time job so I do not rely on drag to go ahead and pay for my stuff, per se.”

Wright works as a customer service representative for a staffing agency during the day and does drag as Rumor as a side venture.

El Paso is not really a place where drag can be a full-time job or primary income source according to Rumor.

“You can’t really live off of tips and what the bars pay you. At least not here” she said.

The pandemic also means fewer expenses for drag queens. “For the most part I have not had the extra income, but it’s good because drag is not cheap,” Rumor said. “To purchase hair and wigs and material gets pretty expensive, so it kind of balances out.”

Staying home more and and doing fewer performances has also affected her physically. Almost nightly drag performances had become a fitness routine for Rumor. “It’s affected me in a way where I’ve actually gained weight because I perform so often and I’m finally able to relax a little bit.”

But that pandemic has not stopped drag queens – including Rumor – from putting out content and virtual performances for audiences.

“I’ve done some here in El Paso, for a charity event. This last one I submitted my video for was the Borderland Rainbow Center, for their online Giving Day event.” Borderland Rainbow Center, El Paso’s only LGBTQ+ community center, helped toward raising their $17,000 goal for the October event.

A professional shot of Rumor

Rumor also co-headlined at EPIC Nightclub’s Halloween show, hosted by her fellow drag queen, friend and event coordinator Malina Rae.

“Even if we’re doing way less shows, we’ve still been able to do some shows like in October, when we’ve been given the go ahead”. Shows, however, observe the limited capacity due to the pandemic, meaning less tips and a smaller audience for the queens.

But Rumor also expanded her audience beyond the Borderland during the pandemic. “I’ve done a couple of virtual drag shows. I did some for organizations in other states like Minnesota and Missouri.”

She recently created a video for Boylesque Michigan – a drag troupe in Ypsilanti, Michigan – of her doing a lip-synch performance in downtown El Paso of Memory a song from the musical Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Categories: Local Blogs

Vulnerable transgender asylum seekers create shelter together in Juárez

Borderzine - Tue, 03/16/2021 - 4:05pm

This story was originally published in Borderless Magazine and is republished with permission.

On a warm February afternoon, Susana Coreas stands outside the door of Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez holding a phone in one hand and a 50 peso bill in the other.

As she hands the money to two women leaving the building, Coreas pauses her phone call and greets the visitor at her door.

“Adelante, esta es su casa,” she says. Go ahead, this is your home.

The 40-year-old knows just how precious a home like Casa de Colores can be for her community. A transgender woman, Coreas fled violence in her home country of El Salvador with the hope of receiving asylum in the United States. She wants to be reunited with her 16-year-old son who lives in Minnesota.

“I have been dressing since I was 13, no one from my family knows, no one from my hometown knows, no one from my previous job ever knew,” Coreas said in Spanish. “Coming here was the only opportunity to truly express myself and to see my son. That is my goal in life.”

Susana Coreas, 40, is a trans woman from El Salvador. While she waits for her turn to cross into the United States and meet with her son, she has found a community full of support in Casa de Colores. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

Here is a refuge for Coreas and other transgender and LGBTQ women. For many, it represents a place of limbo between the trauma of their old lives and the hope of refuge in the United States.

A former low-end hotel, Casa de Colores has long corridors with endless doors ajar. Behind every one you can glimpse makeup on dressers, rainbow pride flags hanging on the walls and collections of wigs of all styles.

Inside the building, someone is playing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” on their phone and three chubby dogs — Trixie, Mac and Alba — are wagging their tails contentedly. Although the walls are worn, the building is immaculate, with a clean smell of Fabuloso cleaner wafting through the rooms. When you meet the eyes of the tenants, they always answer with a friendly smile.

Sasha Wellinton, 27, plays with the house’s puppy, Trixie, at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

More than a shelter, Casa de Colores has provided both physical and emotional stability to a group of Salvadoran transgender women while they wait on the border in Mexico for asylum in the United States. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and transgender women there have a life expectancy of just 35 years.

For transgender women fleeing violence in El Salvador, the road to asylum in the United States is anything but easy. In order to claim asylum, the women must come to the United States and make a formal case. Before January 2019, most asylum seekers were allowed to stay in the United States while their cases made their way through the U.S. immigration court system. But former President Donald Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols program required asylum seekers coming from the southern border to remain in Mexico, a policy that impacted as many as 70,000 people. With immigration court backlogs, these asylum seekers could wait anywhere from two months to three years for a decision on their asylum case, which, if won, would allow them to live in the United States.

In February, President Joe Biden announced a roll back of the MPP program, allowing some asylum seekers impacted by the “Remain in Mexico” policy to enter the United States. For those who were not part of MPP, however, there is no quick or clear path to safety in the United States.

Stuck in limbo, the 30 women of Casa de Colores have built a community in Ciudad Juárez.

Vulnerable and alone

Before Casa de Colores, there were other shelters. Places that the women say took advantage of their vulnerability.

While Mexican law recognizes same-sex marriage and provides limited protections to LGBTQ-identifying individuals, discrimination and violence are common. Mexico is the second deadliest country in the world for transgender people after Brazil, according to a 2019 study by LGBTQ rights group Letra S. 

Coreas arrived in Ciudad Juárez in early 2020 with a group of 20 transgender women from El Salvador. The group decided to stay at a well-known shelter that catered to LGBTQ migrants. While the shelter charged them for food and rent, Coreas said the people who ran the shelter promised to help them get lawyers and apply for asylum in the United States. They told Coreas not to worry.

But after a few months, Coreas and the other women discovered that help wasn’t coming.

The stairs that lead to the building’s terrace also lead to the improvised stove where they make stew and soups at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

“We found out that they wanted to keep us there because they were getting money depending on how many people they sheltered,” Coreas explained. The shelter was getting paid twice for the women’s stay — once by the women themselves and once by funders who thought they were covering the women’s rent and food expenses. The longer the women stayed there, the more money the shelter received.

By the time Coreas learned what was going on, it was too late.

“The pandemic started, and we lost our chance of crossing the border,” Coreas said.

After that first shelter, Coreas and some of the women bounced between shelters. They went to a hotel funded by the United Nations’ migration agency as temporary housing for migrants and then to another government-run shelter. Their identities as transgender women made finding a more permanent home difficult.

Members of Casa de Colores walk back from their weekly counselling and health screenings in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

Last September, the managers of the bar where Coreas worked offered to let the women stay in an abandoned hotel. There was no water and no electricity, and pigeon droppings and dirt stained the interior.

The women got to work on making it livable. The government-run shelter Leona Vicario provided them with beds; other organizations provided them with food, clothing, sheets, and utensils; and the neighbors helped them install electricity so that they could have light. Eventually, they also managed to open the drinking water valve.

“Little by little we managed to make the shelter habitable,” said Coreas, who has become the de facto leader of the house. Casa de Colores was born.

Making ends meet

At first, Coreas was able to sustain the community thanks to the free housing and donated food. But in mid-November, a group of LGBTQ women came to the building from Central America asking for asylum.

The owners of the building told Coreas that she could house only eight people. She negotiated with them, and the owners allowed her to house more women if she rented the building at $500 USD per month. She has to renew the rental agreement every two months.

After Coreas welcomed that first group, word of the house spread among other transgender women in Ciudad Juárez and beyond who were seeking asylum. More women began to come to Casa de Colores seeking shelter. Today, there are around 33 women living in the building on a given day. It costs them about 8,000 Mexican pesos ($370 USD) a week to survive.

“With the donations from before, we managed. However, so many girls have arrived that now the food doesn’t last,” Coreas said.

To help pay for essentials, she and some of the other shelter residents work, although finding regular employment as a transgender woman in Ciudad Juárez is not easy.

Months ago, Coreas and another resident, Alexa Ponce, went job hunting at a local bar. Ponce was wearing a dress and makeup; Coreas presented as a man. Upon seeing them, the bar owners decided to hire Coreas but not Ponce.

Housing and employment discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are illegal in Chihuahua, the state where the shelter is located, but the women at Casa de Colores say it is common.

“It’s very frustrating to be rejected for a job for the simple fact of being who you are, for dressing how you feel comfortable, for expressing yourself as you really are,” Ponce said.

The 25-year-old Ponce dreams of being an English teacher, a career she trained for back in her home country of El Salvador but could not pursue as a transgender woman. She hopes that when she is given asylum in the United States she will be able to safely work and live as her true self.

The closest thing to family

On a recent Tuesday, Ponce, Coreas and fellow Salvadoran Fernanda Levin gather the women of Casa de Colores on the building’s first floor for one of their twice-weekly meetings. These meetings are usually informative and routine. But not this time. The women have decorated the common area. A cake, featuring a sign that reads “Happy Birthday Gianna,” sits on a table and people are dressed up for the occasion. When the short celebration concludes, Coreas shifts the mood and emphasizes how crucial it is for them to stay attentive when they go out.

“We have to be careful who we talk to. We are foreign, and we are vulnerable. A lot of people may want to hurt us because they don’t accept us,” she says.

As the common area empties one woman approaches Coreas to complain about some internal household issues. Although they gather at friendly occasions, many of the women are struggling.

“The confinement, the climate, the lack of work have them all desperate,” said Coreas.

Coreas, Ponce and Levin have become mother figures to the group and have helped establish routines, rules and cleaning schedules. Coreas even worked with the Mexican nonprofit CEDIMAC to help the women access mental health services, like group therapy. They have to take care of each other, Coreas said, because no one else will.

Susana Coreas, Alexa Ponce and Fernanda Levin sit in the common area at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

“This house is the closest I have to a family nowadays. We are migrants, we are Salvadorans, and we have the same objective: to be able to help our families,” Levin said.

The 27-year-old fled El Salvador in August 2020 fearing for her and her family’s safety. Levin began presenting as a woman when she was 19 years old and became accustomed to harassment and humiliation. But after playing a Mexican actress in a local bar show, Levin reached a breaking point. That night, as she and her sister walked home, a car cornered them, and the driver and passengers yelled insults and threw garbage at them.

“We were terribly scared,” Levin said. “Maybe one gets used to being mistreated from suffering so much, but seeing my sister suffer the consequences was unbearable for me. My parents also started receiving hate messages. I could not accept that my family suffered so much because of me.”

Levin and the rest of the women at Casa de Colores hope to find a safe home in the United States. They have been working with lawyers from the New Mexico-based Santa Fe Dreamers Project to prepare the paperwork for their asylum cases. The project tries to work with immigrants like the Casa de Colores residents who have yet to cross the border, where U.S. immigration authorities will detain them.

Fernanda Levin, 27, talks to Valeria Montes, 27, at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

The hope, said Santa Fe Dreamers Project attorney Héctor Ruiz, is that by getting ahead of the paperwork, the team can minimize the time the women spend in immigrant detention centers. The project is also teaching the women about their rights as immigrants in the United States, helping them practice for their Credible Fear interview as part of the asylum process and supporting them in finding sponsors for when they cross the border.

Ruiz is hopeful that the new Biden administration will help asylum seekers like the women at Casa de Colores.

“I do think they have a good shot on winning their case as long as they have the proper representation,” Ruiz said. “[The Biden administration] has renewed their commitment to the LGBTQ community in terms of asylum seekers. We believe we have a chance for vulnerable communities such as Casa de Colores to be able to get asylum, from what we have read and heard.”

A chance to be oneself

Until they are able to enter the United States, Levin, Coreas and the other women at Casa de Colores are trying to make their home as comfortable as possible. After an eviction threat in January, Coreas started paying more rent to smooth things over. She hopes she won’t have to find another home for the women.

“The most stressful part is not knowing where I am going to accommodate more than 30 girls. Where are we going to go?” Coreas said. “We are in limbo without knowing what is going to happen to us. There is no certainty, and it is difficult for us to plan for the future.”

Coreas thinks about the future a lot. She worries about what will happen if she is not allowed to enter the United States, but also how her son in Minnesota will greet her if she is granted asylum.

An “I Resisted” sticker on a bedroom door as a sign of pride and the fight for trans women’s rights at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

“He does not know that I am a woman. I don’t know if he is going to accept me or not, and that is an internal struggle that I have,” Coreas said.

In mid-February, Coreas learned from the organizations that are providing legal assistance to the group that, being part of a vulnerable community, they would be allowed to enter the United States after the MPP program participants are allowed into the country. 

Coreas shouted with joy. For the first time in a long time, she might be able to embrace her son.

“We are so happy,” Coreas said. “We are finally able to hope and breathe a sigh of relief.”

Casa de Colores accepts donations via Venmo @casa-de-colores.

Cover photo: Gianna Valladares celebrates her 25th birthday with her friends at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez on March 2. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)


Categories: Local Blogs

Your Voters Are Smarter Than That

Refuse the Juice - Wed, 03/04/2020 - 11:34am
If I lived in El Paso and was paid a pittance to live in Austin and drink beer for about 140 days last year... and tried to slip a stranger into a an open seat... I'd be pretty damned: Embarrassed... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Poor Max - Nobody Believed Him

Refuse the Juice - Tue, 03/03/2020 - 10:18pm
As Claudia sails to a win... which was easy to guess given the districts voting history... and Vince goes to a runoff easy win... Where is Max Grossman and all of his anger? Only getting angrier. More analysis tomorrow. Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

I'll be back - Soon

Refuse the Juice - Thu, 02/27/2020 - 7:28am
Sorry folks, but I have been knee deep in other projects and real jobs. I was planning on taking a break until the primary is over anyhow, so it all kind of worked out. We'll talk after the primary and... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Texas will not join El Paso any time soon

Refuse the Juice - Thu, 01/30/2020 - 8:50am
In the days leading up to the special election held on Tuesday of this week regional and national media were happy to suggest that the State House District 28 seat would be a bellwether election. The seat would flip from... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

I'll try to post more often...

Refuse the Juice - Tue, 01/28/2020 - 12:44pm
I'm busy and rather uninspired these days.... It was nice to Grossman lose in court. Maybe he can start paying you guys back for his frivolous lawsuits. He's spent $2 million of yours to protect ego... I mean the nonexistent... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Annello to be challenged... I think

Refuse the Juice - Fri, 01/17/2020 - 8:50am
You might remember that Rep. Annello rode into office on the back of Susie Byrd who basically browbeat people to the polls while lying about Jim Tolbert being sought by an armed posse of Texas Rangers. You might remember the... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Svarz Remains Bizarre

Refuse the Juice - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 8:17am
I awoke today to the news that Rep. Peter Svarzbein was hired as Bloomberg's deputy state director for his campaign operations in Texas. Really? That's who Svarz is going with? Or did he just need the paycheck? Let's examine. First... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Max's logic is lost again

Refuse the Juice - Wed, 01/15/2020 - 2:19pm
If you get Grossman's emails you'll see he's been on a tirade against Claudia Ordaz. Apparently Ordaz spent money communicating with people who were to be impacted by a literal toxic dump opening on top of them. I guess, communicating... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Who are you voting for District 6?

Refuse the Juice - Thu, 12/05/2019 - 9:13am
Click HERE to see the ballot. I don't know any of the people. However, one of them will eventually vote repeatedly to raise your taxes while you blame the guy who vetoed such tax raises. It's important you pick someone... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Let's catch up...

Refuse the Juice - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 10:04am
Had a little break there. Between hunting and National Eating Day, I was booked. So what happened while I was gone? Looks like your congressperson wants the city to buy El Paso Electric... The same city that has to grab... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Why I didn't comment on EPE

Refuse the Juice - Wed, 11/20/2019 - 10:38am
If you were asking that - good question. When the sale of the publicly traded company made news I had an interest in what was going to happen. I also had conversations with people who had many questions as to... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Ms. Tamayo - the fighter you probably don't need

Refuse the Juice - Thu, 11/14/2019 - 8:04am
The lovely Ms. Tamayo filed to run for the District 76 house seat on the actual first day you could sign up (November 9th). I'm a fan of her eagerness and a bigger fan of her campaign staff not letting... Brad Kanus
Categories: Local Blogs

Trump Administration Finally Wins a Sanctuary City Grant Condition Case

US Immigration Reform Forum - Sun, 07/14/2019 - 12:17pm
Trump Administration Finally Wins a Sanctuary City Grant Condition Case

Source: Trump Administration Finally Wins a Sanctuary City Grant Condition Case

Reason Magazine Immigration Feed
Categories: Local Blogs

My New Washington Post Op Ed on How Federalism Became Great Again on the Left

US Immigration Reform Forum - Sun, 07/14/2019 - 12:17pm
My New Washington Post Op Ed on How Federalism Became Great Again on the Left

Source: My New Washington Post Op Ed on How Federalism Became Great Again on the Left

Reason Magazine Immigration Feed
Categories: Local Blogs

Trump's Census Surrender Hints at the Real Reason He Tried to Add a Citizenship Question

US Immigration Reform Forum - Sun, 07/14/2019 - 12:19am
Trump's Census Surrender Hints at the Real Reason He Tried to Add a Citizenship Question

Source: Trump's Census Surrender Hints at the Real Reason He Tried to Add a Citizenship Question

Reason Magazine Immigration ...
Categories: Local Blogs

Trump?s Cruelty and Mexico?s Duty

US Immigration Reform Forum - Sun, 07/14/2019 - 12:19am
Trump?s Cruelty and Mexico?s Duty

There?s a right way and a wrong way to deal with the immigration crisis. Guess which the American president is choosing.
Source: [url=
Categories: Local Blogs

Rand Paul Plan Aims to Attract More High-Skilled Immigrants

US Immigration Reform Forum - Sat, 07/13/2019 - 12:33pm
Rand Paul Plan Aims to Attract More High-Skilled Immigrants

Source: Rand Paul Plan Aims to Attract More High-Skilled Immigrants

Reason Magazine Immigration Feed
Categories: Local Blogs

No Citizenship Question on 2020 Census as Trump Backs Down

US Immigration Reform Forum - Sat, 07/13/2019 - 12:33pm
No Citizenship Question on 2020 Census as Trump Backs Down

Source: No Citizenship Question on 2020 Census as Trump Backs Down

Reason Magazine Immigration Feed
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