I hope you’ve heard of Roxsana Hernandez by now. If not, you should know her story —because it lives in all of our vows to make this country better, in whatever path you’ve chosen to meet that end.
I never met Roxsana, but I do know she had a dream.
Roxsana's dream was stolen from her exactly six months ago, when she — a 33-year-old transgender woman from Honduras who arrived in the United States with the early caravan of Central American refugees — died while in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to a new independent autopsy report spearheaded by lawyers, Roxsana’s medical needs were not only blatantly denied by ICE agents, but she was also brutally abused by them. The report revealed that Roxsana had bruising injuries all over her body and was “shackled for days on end.” Every violent mark engrained in her fragile body, a testament to Roxsana’s dream: the right to be herself. In her own skin. Although Roxsana may no longer be with us, her dream is alive with the dozens of transgender refugees that are part of the current caravan seeking asylum on our border.
As I was reading the summary of Roxsana’s autopsy report, I wondered if her last breaths were clouded by a regret to have embarked on this journey. Was it worth it to flee Honduras’ extreme violence only to be greeted with more injustice in the United States? Why go through all of this pain? But I soon realized that I was asking the wrong questions — because Roxsana’s death embodied the very pride that impulsed her dream in the first place. If I have learned anything from the trans Latinx community is that dignity is always worth fighting for. No matter the cost. And that’s exactly the resilience I saw in the eyes of the trans community that is in the midst of making the same journey Roxsana did not too long ago. Gazes that may have been scarred from the past, but wide enough to see the light at the end of the road.
The daily news coverage on the caravan should give us all reasons to believe that light is inevitably dimming. From the anti-migrant protests held in Mexico to the tear gas attacks executed at our border, the prospects of resolving this crisis in a humane manner seem to be slowly fading. I certainly felt this way, until my recent trip to Tijuana, where I met the group of trans refugees that were among the first members of the caravan to reach the U.S.-Mexico border. Through them I witnessed how, amidst all the darkness that is obscuring this story, this group of individuals has managed to keep their heads up high, holding on tightly to a hope that affirms every step taken thus far in this exodus. After weeks of traveling thousands of miles and facing harassment along the way, the trans community is transforming hardship into celebration.
When I met them, tucked away in an LGBTQ+ refuge located in the center of bustling Tijuana, I saw how the days here ended with music blasting, cumbia dancing, and make up parties. Laughter as they sorted through donated items, wide grins as they waited in line for pizza and, more than anything, a contagious sisterhood that filled the room with boundless love. It was the type of love that rid them from any inch of shame they had ever felt. One that got them closer to freedom.
Acts that may seem mundane to many of us, are sometimes the simple answers this community is looking for. To feel beautiful. To love. To dress as you wish. To have basic opportunities. Really, to be treated as human beings. And although it may take months until these brave trans refugees are able to apply for asylum in the United States, just like all the other thousands of members of the caravan, the vision of a future now seems clearer than ever before. It’s inevitable to look forward when much of what you are leaving behind are countries stained with some of the highest rates of transphobic violence: 78% of all homicides of transgender people in the world take place in Latin America and reports show that transgender women in the region have a life expectancy of only 35 years. Roxsana Hernandez fled Honduras precisely to escape those statistics. Instead, she became one under the watch of the current U.S. administration.
Roxsana’s tragic death might signal hesitation to other LGBTQ+ individuals hoping to cross, just like she did. But there are a group of incredible transgender Latinx leaders on the other side of the Mexican border that are keeping Roxsana’s spirit alive. Activists like Jennicet Gutiérrez, Isa Noyola, Karolina Lopez, or Nakay Flotte — all fighting for justice to ensure no other trans life is cut short. All paying homage to Roxsana’s dream by holding the government accountable, by raising their voices for the most vulnerable and, more than anything, by unapologetically being themselves. Roxsana’s friends say she had dreams of opening a beauty salon. And I have no doubt a salon will one day be opened and named after her by one of the caravan’s transgender members. Maybe, they’ll even name it "Roxsana’s Dream."
Paola Ramos is the host of VICE’s “Latin-X”, a weekly contributor for Telemundo News and an Emerson Collective fellow. Paola was the former Deputy Director of Hispanic Media for Hillary Clinton, as well as a former political appointee in the Obama White House.