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Feature Interview with Jessy D’ Santos, Directora de Programas/Program Director @ El/La Para TransLatinas

November 6, 2017



Lindley Mease: What is your role at El/La and what is the story of how you became involved?


Jessy: I just started in April with El/La at this new new staff position. Before that I was a participant in their programs and projects. El/La wanted someone who has experience working with the community and has been a volunteer for other organizations that help the LGBTQ community. I’ve been a volunteer for five years doing fundraising with East Bay Sanctuary, which helped me become legal in this country.


I’m glad to part of El/La because when I was just a project participant I always wanted to just spend more time here. It’s so nice. It’s like being home. Most of the girls live in places where they can’t cook or where they just have small spaces where they can’t do so much. And this is a space where they offer us a plate of soup — warm soup! This is something that I wanted for a long time — to have a warm plate of soup and a place that was like being with my sisters. It feels like home because I hang out with my Latina sisters.


I can relate to the needs that these girls have because I have the same needs: housing, food, a safe place to stay, a place where we can talk and not be afraid to talk about our lives.


LM: Who are the participants in El/La? What does El/La offer them?


Jessy: When we talk about participants, we mean the girls that come here looking for help. We help them get an ID; that’s the first step, an ID from the city of San Francisco. The next step is helping them to get their gender and name changed. Julia — she’s the case manager — helps with all these steps. We put participants in touch with lawyers who can help them become legal in this country. I call them all “my sisters” but I’m not too professional! [laughs] I hear others call them “clients” but I don’t like so much the word “client” because some of these girls have sex for money and so they have a different relationship with the word “client”. I like to call them sisters or participants.


We have food days here. We are not allowed to have a kitchen in our space; we have a small stove to cook. We have chicken soup, enchiladas, mole — all kinds of food from our countries, because most of us miss that. We have two volunteers Monday and Tuesday and some of the other participants volunteer to cook other styles of food from different countries. Wednesday we get donations from different organizations — like gourmet food — which is great. And participants often bring food like tamales.


On holidays we make special food like posole and traditional mole. We mix up all our cultures and make it like home.


LM: Where are most of El/La’s participants from?


Jessy: Most people are from Mexico and Central America. There are also a few from Brazil and Cuba. We learn from each other, and sometimes the girls have a chance to visit and see other countries. Some of us are planning to go to Cuba to visit the home and family of one girl.


LM: What is the vision for El/La Para TransLatinas?


Jessy: Our mission is to fight for the rights of and advocate for our transgender community. Most of the girls are afraid. They feel alone. They come to talk. They come to ask for help. If El/La didn’t exist there wouldn’t be a safe place, food days, celebrations and spiritual rituals, and HIV prevention. We are the only organization that has all these benefits and a safe space. Participants feel safe here.