Dangerous fabrications of the migrant identity—while nothing new to the United States—have become especially prevalent in the era of Donald Trump, regularly circulating every media platform imaginable. 

Because of this, our communities are bombarded with racist, xenophobic propaganda on a regular basis, often spurring violent behavior against the Latinx community. Daily exposure to such hateful rhetoric would be enough to make most withdraw and submit to the ostracization. 

VisibiliT, however, chooses to retaliate with song and dance as a form of resistance to the increasingly oppressive environment in this country. VisibiliT is a fundraising platform in the Bay Area that hosts dance parties to raise awareness and financial support for one of the most vulnerable populations in the world: the transgender migrant community. 

VisibiliT was first established in December 2018 and has since maintained a solid presence within the POC and LGBTQIA+ community, frequently hosting fundraising events in San Francisco and Oakland. The initial idea of the organization was born out of the ceaseless media coverage of the migrant caravan coming from Central America and headed to the United States. Images of the caravan, in addition to the manufactured “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border, quickly became a tool in the Trump administration’s attempt at fear mongering. For community organizer Crystal Millán, however, those images prompted a very different response.

With the intent to host a fundraiser for migrants in need, Millán soon got in contact with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project in New Mexico, where she joined forces with fellow comrade Elaina Vermeulen. The Santa Fe Dreamers Project is an organization which provides free legal services to immigrants to promote economic empowerment, community development, family unity, and liberation from detention. With Vermeulen’s help, Millán met with and established a few of the first beneficiaries of VisibiliT’s fundraisers.

Along with the community support from the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, VisibiliT’s outreach began to grow with the help of another Bay Area organization called Join the Movement, which organizes events for radical social change and resistance education. Since December 2018, VisibiliT’s dance parties and performances have become frequent, and they show no signs of slowing down.

Juan Duran, fellow VisibiliT organizer, explained the importance of coalitions in the success of VisibiliT and the support that the organization has been able to provide for a number of transgender asylum seekers in the Bay Area. 

“I’m a part of the organization Border Angels as well, which is a human rights organization that primarily focuses on immigrant life. So, when I approached them about partnering with VisibiliT, they were very much willing to help,” Duran said. “They knew we at VisibiliT were also against this capitalistic society that oppresses our people—people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community. We’re fighting the same monster.”

Support from the public has been just as important for VisibiliT. Yuri (who requested only to use only her first name due to safety concerns) is one of the many chicas supported by the organization. She shared a bit about what community love means to her. 

“It makes me feel very happy. I’m so grateful for everyone that’s supported me and who’s provided me financial support so far,” said Yuri, who is originally from Mexico. “I really do need that support to pay for my food, my phone bill and for basically all my personal items that I need to make me feel like me. But this support not only helps me, it helps so many other chicas that are being released from detention. All that VisibiliT has done for me along with the community has really helped me gain my footing on the outside.”

As of November 2019, the number of chicas that VisibiliT helps support has grown to 18. 

“We also just welcomed a new chica coming from Central America and found a connect to house her for one month,” Millán said. “We are building connections with our community to provide networks of support that go outside just doing money drops every several months.”

Aside from financial help, VisibiliT also assists the chicas who want and need additional support, such as employment. This comes in the form of compensating the chicas who perform, dance and speak at VisibiliT events. 

Despite the overflowing support that VisibiliT and the chicas have been receiving, there are always a number of challenges that make the transition from detention difficult. 

Yuri described an incident from December 2018 where she was attempting to defuse an altercation between two friends at an event in Oakland and instead of helping Yuri de-escalate the situation, security chose to taser and arrest her. 

Though she has attempted to file a police report with Oakland PD, Yuri explains that Oakland PD never followed up with her. She feels that the lack of urgency in their response shows the police don’t prioritize Yuri’s incident in spite of the fact that this was an obvious abuse of power on the security guard’s end. 

“Aren’t we supposed to be in a safer country now compared to the countries we fled?” asked Yuri. “We did not come here for this.”

The constant threat of criminalization and violence makes life for transgender migrants particularly precarious. With no legal work available to them upon their arrival, many risk falling into unsafe and unstable “under the table” jobs to sustain themselves. 

Nonetheless, VisibiliT and the chicas remain fearless in the face of adversity. 

Duran reiterates that the organization continues to call out to the community to do their part in the fight against the systems of oppression that attempt to hold them down. 

“I think it’s crucial that the Latinx community and allies work together to break down these systems of oppression that continue to criminalize our community, especially the LGBTQIA+ community,” Duran said. “We need to come together and show up to these spaces and show out for marginalized communities because if we don’t take care of our own people, nobody will.”