My mami gave me 400 pesos that I had to throw out of the guagua's window because they told us we couldn't take any money; we couldn't take anything with us. We were taken to a place called Cuatro Ruedas where they gave us safe passage, saying that we were all at the embassy in Peru, which was a total lie. From there we went to El Mosquito. El Mosquito was a port near Mariel improvised to prepare us for departure. I cannot even explain to you how horrible El Mosquito was. It was a beach packed with people, criminals. Eight days I spent there. Imagine! I was there without showering, shaving, or eating. I remember this like a delirium. People stealing. Horrible. This was my first contact with the world, unprotected by my family or anything. I was in Cuba but I wasn't really in Cuba. I was with six other locas, we came together all the way to the U.S. Rumors circulated of what could happen once you were at sea, like you'd get thrown to the sharks, or that you were going into a concentration camp to work for the rest of your life. You really didn't know where they were taking you.

In the ship I passed out. A woman gave birth in that boat. We weren't given food. After eight hours, I hear the coast guards shouting in English.

And, oh Dios, it's Key West.

Women from Miami reeking of Uncle Charlie's perfume greeted us, screaming, "You're in America, don't be afraid!" They'd give you a rosary, cigarettes, and Coca-Cola. Then you'd enter an immense structure with tables and tables stacked with food. Hot food, Cuban food. I was exhausted and just passed out for a minute when my girlfriends woke me: "We are going to Miami on the next plane!"

But, not Miami. We arrived at Fort Smith, Ark. I was hysterical! And a little scared because from the airplane's door to the guagua were federal police lined with machine guns. The guagua took us to Fort Chaffee. Fort Chaffee was built to train the military during World War I. Immense, with churches, hospitals and everything! Laundry room. Cafeteria. There you swore your allegiance to the flag. The Red Cross gave us little hygiene packets: man or woman? "Give me one of each!" I said.

I spend a wonderful month and a half there: I got married several times, cruising and fucking a lot. That's where I fucked that kid with the tattoo, "vaja y gosa mi savor" ["drop down and enjoy my flavor"] all misspelled and with an arrow pointing to his dick. His dick this big.

My friend Lucy got us out of that place. The Catholic Church would give you $100 and a plane ticket wherever you were going. We learned Cubans were getting sponsored at the L.A Gay Community Center, and there we were met with our godmother and fierce faggot queen, Rolando Victoria, may he rest in peace. A wonderful, funny alcoholic who took us under her wing. I lived with him from July 1980 until March 1982. He got me a job at Neiman Marcus wrapping gifts.

Oct. 23, 1983, I got to San Francisco with my friend Catherine a few days before Halloween. It was the first time I lived in the ghetto, the Tenderloin. Right on Eddy and Taylor. I was dating Alicia. A bunch of Cubans and Alicia lived in that apartment. We slept on a mattress made of pillows, lying in the kitchen along with mice. This was the first time I went to The Endup; I walked on Sixth Street. I was fascinated by San Francisco. Then I got a job at a hotel where everyone was from the Philippines and we had some communication problems with our accents, ha!

I worked in several places in clothing design but, mainly, cutting hair. In one of these places, a tiny place over by the avenues, I worked with my girlfriend Jorge Luis and three other fags. All three of them died of AIDS. I was left alone and in 1989 I moved to back to L.A. and that's when Adela was born.

When I won Miss Gay Latina the AIDS epidemic was still strong. There was no pill, none of those things we have today. I'd do my show at different places. I'd performed at a hospice where people went to die and that's how I realized that there were a lot of us, that the transsexual thing was not organized and there was nobody representing the Latinas as a community. For instance, the Latinas taken to the hospices to die were not allowed to dress as women. They'd be there dressed as men. I mean, it wasn't that they didn't let them but the place was not conditioned for them to be who they were.

I said to myself: Okay Adelita, mama, you need to do something.

That's when this lady, this drag queen, this boy who dressed as a woman, this person calling herself "La Condonera" appeared in my life. Mexican. This Communist Mexicana giving away condoms in the streets. I don't even know where she was getting those condoms from, but she'd go out at night where the prostitutes, the drag queens were. She saw me performing and went up to me, could not stop herself and said: "Mamita! I want you to work with me."

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These stories are inspirational and touching. Natural born citizens take so much for granted. The struggle to be more than the sum of your bits and pieces is one that every person can identify with. I hope to read more articles like this one in SF Weekly!

Faithful reader,

John Gunderson

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