Julián Cancino's journey as a transgender and immigrant

Julián Cancino's journey as a transgender and immigrant

I was thirteen years old when a Border Patrol agent held a gun to my head. Packs of German Shepherds surrounded me, and the surveillance helicopter flying nearby prevented me from hearing the shouts of the agents. I was apprehended for attempting to enter the United States without inspection. The agents took me to a detention center, where I was imprisoned without the right to counsel. When I was released to the streets of Mexico, I slept without shelter until I again traveled through the vastness of the desert on my way to the United States. I settled in California and, due to my legal status, grew up without the rights afforded to every American.

My life took a sharp turn the day I wandered inside a refugee rights clinic. In a stuffy room with a dirty carpet, attorneys provide legal representation to immigrants escaping persecution in their home countries. I started volunteering and soon found myself gaining hands-on experience with immigration law. Realizing the real-life impact of legal action, I prepared and presented my own political asylum claim a few months later. It was during my four-hour interview, my second encounter with an immigration officer, that I was able to argue the reasons why I was entitled to the protections of asylum status and I won.

I came out as transgender to my family a few months after starting hormone replacement therapy. We were sitting in the living room when my brother noticed my voice had dropped. "It sounds like you're growing up," he said jokingly. We laughed and then I told him I had decided to medically transition from female to male. My immigrant brother embraced me and told me he loved me. It was 2014, more than a decade after we had migrated, when my brother recounted a childhood memory of us and, this time, he uplifted my male form: us as middle school boys playing a soccer match in Chiapas, Mexico.

My transgender immigrant journey is unique and not representative of all the struggles of our communities, but I hope to encourage everybody to aspire to a life of authenticity. Furthermore, as a transgender immigrant and a founding member of FAMILIA: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, it is my duty to ensure we all live a life of safety, dignity, and justice regardless of our legal status or gender identity.

If you would like to read this story in Spanish, click here

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