‘A Butterfly With My Wings Cut Off’: A Transgender Asylum Seeker’s Quest to Come to California

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12/4/2020

When she turned 15, like so many girls in her town in Guatemala, Luna Guzmán celebrated with a quinceañera. “My friend lent me the dress because she saw the way I used to cry every time we passed the dress shop on the way to school, with all those beautiful dresses,” she said in Spanish. “I would just press my hand up against the glass and stare at them for a long time.” The dress she borrowed was turquoise, with a long skirt. She took off her tennies, put on heels and a tiara, and danced with her friends. There was a cake, bottles of champagne and chambelanes, boys who dressed up in suits to escort her into the secret party at a friend’s house. No one was there from Luna’s family, because they couldn’t fathom her as a transgender girl. Moments from that birthday party still linger in Luna’s memory as a time when she truly felt delight and freedom. It was something to be savored again and again as the next decade began to unfold, even as she put back on her soccer jerseys and tried to look like the boy she knew she wasn’t inside. Even as she dealt with brutal violence and decided to take a tremendous risk and leave everything behind in Guatemala to try to find a life in California. The memories were one place in the world where she could imagine being safe, being herself. We first met Luna two years ago at a migrant shelter in Tijuana and have stayed in touch with her as she’s journeyed across the border, spent months in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, and sought shelter in Mexico. We’ve spent weeks frantically trying to reach her in an intensive care unit, after she left a voice message that she had been diagnosed with a severe case of COVID-19. “Thank you for telling my story,” she rasped through labored breaths, her voice barely recognizable. “If I die, I hope that one day people will remember something about me.”

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