“My life has been very complicated and it didn’t really get started until I was 30 years old,” Bamby Salcedo said, with a mixture of pride and wonder in her voice. And for the transgender latin community in the United States, that has resulted in something of a miracle. Or as Bamby puts it, “Yo soy un milagro.”
As an 8-year-old kid growing up in Mexico, Bamby discovered streetlife. “There was a love that I found. I became a member of a group, Band of Orphans; kids without a home and with no parents. Although I had a home and I had parents, I didn’t. So, I just started learning everything from the streets. I was taught how to mug people and how to steal. I started popping pills and smoking weed. I lived two or three different lives and none of them intersected.”
At 12 years old she discovered who she was, dressing as a woman for the first time and going to clubs with other gay kids. “It was the most wonderful experiences I had ever had,” she says. “I felt the transformation. I honestly felt like I was Cinderella.” But, in Mexico, she says, “I couldn’t be me; my gang friends, my mom, nobody could know about it.”
Eventually, facing a year in prison over her gang activities, that fleeting glimpse of who she could be seared into her brain, Bamby fled Mexico to California. “But coming here I had to go all the way into the closet, not knowing my father and needing to make a good impression.”
But her father introduced Bamby to cocaine and she developed an intense addiction, shooting the drug, drinking, smoking weed and other drugs.
Still yearning to be herself, Bamby discovered Los Angeles and applied for immigration amnesty at 19 and slowly began transitioning. She also found herself shooting up heavier drugs and prostituting on the streets of Hollywood.
By 1991 Bamby had tested positive and began a lengthy struggle with depression and suicide, fearful of what she had witnessed other HIV positive people go through. Her drug addiction escalated and she served years in jail for selling crack “to support a habit.”
Years later, suffering lengthy periods of homelessness and poverty Bamby found herself in treatment and has been sober for the past 18 years.
Bamby Salcedo is much more than a mere survivor. The successes of her recovery has wound up impacting the lives of thousands of undocumented Trans Latina people, a segment of the trans community that Bamby realized is often overlooked and for whom scant services are available.
With Maria Roman and a grant from the Caitlyn Jenner Foundation, Bamby has launched a radical concept with Trans Latin@ Coalition (TLC). TLC is working to facilitate access to social services for Trans Latin people locally and nationally, advocating for their healthcare, housing, jobs and civil rights.
When news of the Trump administration proposed overturning the civil rights progress of transgender people by defining gender as a person’s birth gender, she sprang into action. Her call for a community response drew nearly 2,000 people to the steps of City Hall.
When it comes to transgender rights, Donald Trump has no idea what he’s up against.
Bamby is now a fully formed latina warrior. She is a fighter for the Latin children Trump has stolen from their parents, for trans latin people on the border at Tijuana or the rights of ICE detainees stolen from the streets. Another attack on her community will not stand.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Complicated. At 12 years old I dressed as a girl for the first time. I was with friends and we went a club. But I couldn’t be myself. It was until I was 19 when I was away from everyone that I became my true self, in Los Angeles.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
There’s not just one. There are many. Sylvia Rivera. Marsha P. Johnson. Maria Roman. Valerie Spencer. And the many courageous young people who are living their authentic lives.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
Circus and Arena were the places to be. I had the opportunity in the late 80s to attend Catch One many times, too.
Describe your dream wedding.
As a little girl always dreamed of a fairy tale wedding, this magical moment where you marry the person you love the most.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Immigration and trans-liberation. Trans-liberation is about us being able to live happy lives without any fear of being attacked for who we are.
What historical outcome would you change?
The beginning of the gay liberation. I would make sure trans issues were always included from the beginning as part of the movement. Unfortunately, trans people did not benefit from every social and political advance.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I’ve been very lucky that I have experienced a couple of cultural shifts. When I was younger, Madonna shifted cultural views. In Latin-American culture there were artists who shifted culture in the same way she did, especially views of LGBT people. Gloria Trevi, Alejandra Guzman. Now the young artists are shifting culture.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
I thanked everyone who came to our rally (against the Trump administration plan to define gender as immutable) and for standing with the local trans community in solidarity support.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
My book is called “Unconventional Woman: a portrait of resistance and love”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I would do what is right for people. We have to stand up and fight back.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I am a spiritual person. I believe in energy, that there is something beyond here, that we transform. I am a warrior. An indigenous warrior spirit lives in me.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
To be intentional about what we do. To be honest. And to do everything with integrity. That will change how society views our people.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My own peace of mind.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That we are sexual deviants.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
People mirroring what they see on social media like someone’s going to discover them, when in reality they need to discover themselves.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The trophy for me would be seeing, in my lifetime, Trans people viewed as part of the human race, living with dignity and respect and unafraid to be who we are.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I don’t know everything, as I thought I did then. I learn something new every single day.
Why Los Angeles?
There’s no place like Los Angeles. We get to experience and see the four seasons at any time of the year. If you want to go the beach you can go. Or to the mountains. Or to the desert. And Los Angeles is where my people are and where I call home.