My Story: Joselyn Mendoza

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August 23, 2013
Joselyn Mendoza

LGBT immigrants come from all walks of life and help make up the rainbow that is the LGBT community. There are more than 260,000 undocumented LGBT immigrants in the U.S. who need immigration reform to be fully free.

To celebrate that rainbow, Lambda Legal is collecting stories of LGBT immigrants, documented and undocumented, and those who love them. Below is one such story, from guest blogger Joselyn Mendoza.

Tell us your LGBT immigration story.

Joselyn's Story

My name is Joselyn Mendoza, and I am a 39-year-old undocumented transgender woman. I was born and raised in the beautiful city of Cuautla, in the Mexican state of Morelos, which is known for its spring climate and historic churches. In August 1998, I decided to leave for the much more diverse weather of New York City, my current home.

I came to the U.S. because I wanted to be reunited with my mother, brother and sister. Life in my hometown had become increasingly difficult without their emotional, economic and moral support. I also knew that moving to a place like Queens, N.Y., would allow me to fully express my true identity. It was here that I first began my process of transitioning from male to female, just two years after I arrived.

Life in the U.S. as a transgender undocumented woman has been hard and rewarding. My first job here was at a restaurant in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn in 2001. I was one of the best employees and prospered in my position until one day one of the cooks hugged me and noticed that my breasts were growing. He said, "You have breasts," but I denied it. The rumor spread and eventually one of the managers asked me to show him my chest, which I refused to do. Later, the owner told me that I needed to “take some time off.” The truth was I was being fired because of my gender identity.

After that, I began working at a Russian restaurant in Queens. I worked there for about six months in 2003. One day, after refusing to work two additional hours, one of the managers beat me in front of all the workers until I bled. I called the police, but the perpetrator got away. At that moment I did not know that I might have qualified for a U Visa, for victims and witnesses of crimes. As soon as I learned that this was an option I had as a victim, I turned for help to a priest, never expecting to become a victim of fraud. The priest disappeared with my documents and money. After that, I was told that I would not be able to obtain my visa due to the lack of documents.

In addition to working odd jobs under the table for many years, I had to do sex work to make ends meet. Many undocumented transgender women are relegated to survival sex work because we do not have any other options for a stable job. In 2005, my mother helped me get out of that situation after one of my closest friends was murdered on the same streets of Queens where I worked.

Despite all of these terrible experiences, I have a great personal support system that has given me love and strength—my family. They accept me for who I am. My mother discovered that I preferred dressing as a woman 13 years ago. At first she cried and was hesitant. But she soon became very supportive and our relationship grew stronger. Although my siblings supported me from the beginning, they would not drink from the same cup as me. Eventually they embraced me fully and began treating me as a woman and a sister. My father, though he still lives in Mexico, has also supported me since the day he found out about my identity through social media. The day he found out he cried and said I was a beautiful woman despite being born a male.

Because of my experiences with discrimination and stigma, I have joined a group called Make the Road New York. They work to support and advocate for immigrant rights and LGBT rights and provide resources to women like myself. At Make the Road, I have found the additional support I needed.

Lambda Legal is committed to comprehensive immigration reform that that provides decent and fair treatment for all immigrants, including those who are LGBT or who are living with HIV. Read more about our immigration work.

Read our "Immigration Fact-Sheet" for LGBT people and those with HIV. If you need assistance or information, contact our Help Desk.