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Cuentamelo: An Oral History of Queer Latin Immigrants in San Francisco 

Wednesday, Jun 26 2013

Page 5 of 8

I came to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. Six months I was in New York. Terrible weather, I didn't like it. I left for Chicago and lived three years there. From Chicago I arrived in Los Angeles and stayed for six months. Then I came to this fabulous city! I am not sure exactly what year I arrived in San Francisco but I believe it was 1985 or 1986 and I was already a woman. I left Cuba very feminine and in the United States I quickly transitioned to a woman.

My life has been a deal of successes and failures. When I got here I didn't have any type of help. So I started selling drugs, I was prostituting, I began performing. I'd steal from the stores and would sell the girls clothes for their performance. Always to try and survive would I do these things. When I got here, I really didn't know anyone, but there were several Cubans around and I began entering the scene, performing at an American club. A club in the Tenderloin. I don't remember its name. It is gone now. There I met a person from the Latino community who is dead, a person who was very famous: La Roni Salazar. La Roni saw my talent and said, "You should not be here, niña! I'm going to take you to Esta Noche." I didn't know the place back then. It is a Latino place. She took me there while there was a talent contest going on. I entered it and won.

From that point on, I began working at La India Bonita. There I met Adela and all the other girls from that time. Many who are already dead. After working at La India Bonita I began performing at Limón Verde. All the time performing, performing — and I'm still doing it! I've always had a certain drive for the show! It has always been in me. In Cuba I'd see all the women around my house and would stand in front of the mirror and mimic the songs from the radio with their mannerisms. It was always on my mind. I always liked it but here I was able to develop it.

When I worked at Limón Verde I had my own group of Cuban girls and non-Cuban girls. Then I went to work at Esta Noche and in Esta Noche I had three days that were mine, performing with Mexican girls.

I worked with las Cubanas at La India Bonita for a long time. From there I got my own show where I'd perform as Pantoja, Rocío Durcal, Rocío Jurado. I don't have pictures from back then. I don't have anything from that time, not even the memory.

And that time was better. It was much better. There was more of everything. Especially for Latinos. For gay Latinos, 16th Street was filled with clubs. There were like three clubs to do shows. Now there is only one, which is Esta Noche. They pay you better but the shows used to be better back then. There was more talent. More wardrobes. More glamour. There was a group called Las Yolandas that was all Cuban and I worked in that group. We did a show similar to the Tropicana in Cuba, like cabaret. Let's say like Vegas with feathers and the whole thing. We had an opening and a closing performance. Now, that doesn't exist much. The group lasted like three years. Then the girls started dying and the group disintegrated.

I retired for a while from that world: fell into drugs, fell into prostitution. Afterwards I met a guy, the one who cut my face. His parents own businesses here, clothing factories. He took me out of that world and got me an apartment, then a house, and I lived with him for seven years. But I didn't feel that was my life. I wasn't feeling at ease because my passion was the stage! The show! But because he paid everything, I was obliged to do all he wanted. One day we had a huge argument about this and I ran up to him and punched his face and that's when he cut my face.

Mi vida, I left him and entered the show scene again. The world of shows means prostitution and drugs. Even if people deny it, I see it that way, you understand? Because whenever you are performing there'd be drugs and the clients would be in the bar and are going to offer money. Anyway I got into drugs and prostitution again. I am very open. I tell my life as it is. That's when my life with drugs and drugs and drugs started. I lost my home, I lost everything.

I was living in the streets for a while. Then I was locked up. Immigration got me because my documents had expired. Eight months I spent in an immigration prison. From there immigration sent me to Chico, into a huge house. It was like a rancho. I lived five years in a house where they fixed all my papers, my disability. From there I came back to San Francisco and again fell and fell hard. Again I started doing drugs. That was seven years ago. I got locked up again. I was enrolled in a program. I'd flee those programs. Until one day I decided to leave with a girlfriend of mine to Daly City and we rented a house in front of the cemetery. I fixed all my disability papers. I came back to live in a shelter for eight months. The shelter got me this apartment and I've been here for four years.

I've always loved the artistic lifestyle. All that world of makeup, wigs, dresses just fascinates me. And I've stayed in San Francisco because here there is more help for us girls. I think also less discrimination. More programs for transgender girls, more groups, more help, more of everything. Although I think it was easier to transition back then, in the sense that Medicare would cover your hormones. Now it's harder. I get my hormones covered but not all girls do. In the '80s Medicare would cover all of it, minus the operation down there.

About The Author

Juliana Delgado


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