Entertainment

Mexican-American Conductor Jessica Bejarano Is Showing The Power Of Representation In Classical Music

When you think of a conductor for a symphony orchestra, the image of a male suited up with tails and wielding a baton is usually what comes to mind. Mexican-American conductor Jessica Bejarano, who sports multiple tattoos on her arms, is working to change that image to be more inclusive for the multiple communities she is a part of.

Growing up in Bell Gardens in southeast Los Angeles County, Bejarano lived with her single mother and two other siblings. She grew up hearing the sounds of loud gang members and gunshots before she ever heard the notes of classical music.

Jessica Bejarano is taking up space as a Latina woman in the orchestral conductor community.

The 38-year-old told PBS she credits classical music with saving her life.

“Unfortunately kids get arrested, kids are murdered, kids are imprisoned, kids get pregnant. I defied all those odds, I didn’t become any of those statistics because music was always there to keep me on a straight path,” she told PBS’ Chasing the Dream.

Bejarano started playing the trumpet in elementary school through college. However, it wasn’t until she was in an orchestral class at Pasadena City College that she became interested in classical music.

She can even pinpoint the specific piece of music that made her fall in love with classical music.

She told KCRW one rehearsal in college sparked an intense love for classical music when she heard the orchestra play Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

“What is this music, and why is this the first time I’m ever listening to it? It was like an instant spark in my being, in my energy, in my body. I will never forget that evening,” she told KCRW’s Press Play. “I knew at that point, I needed to know more about classical music, and I needed to immerse myself as much as possible.”

She knew that he needed to chase the education that would help her open doors.

From that moment, Bejarano went full force into attaining the education she needed to become a conductor. She went to the University of Wyoming to attain her Bachelor of Music in Music Education and she pursued a Master of Arts in Conducting from the University of California, Davis.

However, her background was questioned by music instructors in her program. It was as if they questioned why someone who looked like her wanted to or thought they could be a conductor.

In an interview with XQsi magazine in 2010, Bejarano shared the shocking statement an instructor made to her.

After sharing her dream to be a conductor, she said the instructor told her, “Are you serious, you really want to become an orchestral conductor? Why don’t you try going down to Mexico, you might have better luck down there,” Bejarano told the magazine. She continued, “It was definitely a hard pill to swallow but the more people told me I couldn’t do it, the more I wanted it. I used that negativity as fuel to push me to where I want to go.”

She did use that negativity to push through and apply to programs for her Ph.D. in conducting and job opportunities to become an assistant conductor.

That was when an opportunity popped up in the city she had always wanted to live in—San Francisco.

Bejarano was offered the job of an assistant conductor for $2,000 a year. After discussing the matter with mentors and friends, she decided to take the job despite the dismal pay and juggled multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“This is my life. This is my career, my passion. No one’s going to take away my right to have the life that I want,” Bejarano told Natalie Morales from ‘The Today Show.’

Bejarano is definitely living the music life she wants.

Aside from being the current music director and conductor for the San Francisco Civic Symphony, she has also been invited to be a guest conductor at concert halls across the country.

She also continues to inspire the LGBTQ+ community in the arts. Although Bejarano told XQsi she had a tough coming out experience of her own, she wants to be a safe haven for others to be included in all areas of music. She has practiced that by being the music Director of VOICES Lesbian Choral Ensemble in Oakland and a guest conductor for the Bay Area RAINBOW Symphony, whose mission is to promote and support LGBTQ+ musicians and composers.

What’s up next for this conductor?

Bejarano wants to crack the glass ceiling of maestros being only men for the largest symphonies in the country. As of now, there is only one female maestra for the top 20 largest symphonies in the U.S.

By continuing to compose a symphony of inclusivity, resilience, and representation in music, we believe she can get there.

READ: Meet The 28-Year-Old Mexican Woman Who Has Just Been Named Best Chef In The World

These Trans Latina Cosmetologists Are Fighting For LGBTQ Rights

Entertainment

These Trans Latina Cosmetologists Are Fighting For LGBTQ Rights

mirror_cooperative_ / Instagram

Four years ago, Lesly Herrera Castillo and Joselyn Mendoza both had a vision to create a worker-owned makeup and hair salon for the trans Latino community in Jackson Heights, New York. It was ambitious and for them, it was necessary. For years, the duo faced racial and gender discrimination from employers. Their own community, Jackson Heights, was also becoming a problem as the area became the site of multiple anti-trans hate crimes in recent years. So they came together with a plan to open Mirror Beauty Cooperative in 2015.

The beauty shop would create numerous jobs for the local trans community but more importantly assist undocumented individuals who were denied opportunities due to their legal status. So Castillo and Mendoza made the important decision to register the business as a cooperative cooperation (co-op). This was done so the salon would basically be “worker-run” and there would be no need for things like social security numbers, an obstacle many undocumented workers face when applying to jobs. Instead, the salon will use individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs).

“The significance of the cooperative for me is that it’s an opportunity to create more jobs and make a space that’s free of discrimination,” Mendoza told the HuffPost. “As trans women, we don’t often have access to a healthy economy, and this allows us to change that and obtain other services like health care.”

While their idea started four years ago, the duo hasn’t yet obtained a physical space to open up the salon. But they hope with enough support this vision can become a reality. 

Credit: @equalityfed / Twitter

While both Castillo and Mendoza haven’t opened up a physical salon space, they are both continuing to work in other salons as they continue to save and plan for the Mirror Beauty Cooperative. This past May they began to reach out to more people to help fund their goal through a GoFundMe Campaign. The results of the campaign fund have been less than 1 percent of their $150,000 goal. The duo has also faced other socioeconomic setbacks like lack of traditional education and the economic instability due to their immigrant background. 

“Latina trans women always have multiple obstacles in the way,” Mendoza said. “I think if a collective of white trans women were to start a project like this, their incubation process would be faster than ours because of their historical access to privilege.” 

But Herrera notes that the white trans community is still an ally to them even though they are on different economic levels. “We can always depend on the white trans community” to offer support “because they know they’re on a better [economic] level.”

For the trans, gender-queer and nonbinary community, job discrimination has been a reoccurring issue. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 16 percent of gender-queer and nonbinary respondents who had held jobs reported having been fired for their gender identity or expression. But for trans women and trans people of color, they were the most likely to have gone through this. 

While the salon is still in progress, Castillo and Mendoza have become a presence in their own neighborhood uplifting and bringing attention to the trans Latino community. 

As of now, the duo has a secret backup plan in case they don’t meet their fundraising goals by the end of the year. They hope that the campaign does one thing though, create and share their broader call for building community with people. 

That has already started to take place as Castillo, Hernandez and their new partner, Jonahi Rosa have all become presences in Jackson Heights advocating for the trans community. The trio even participated in the Queens Pride Parade as co-grand marshals. This has also included various charity events for local LGTBQ+ youth. 

They all feel that the salon has the potential to bring people together and spread awareness about issues that affect their lives every day. From the start, the trio has always wanted to not only create a space for the trans community but give them an opportunity. 

“We want to work, [and] we want to give agency to our community,” Rosa said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for our community to come together and make something for our future.”

READ: Our FIERCE Readers Share Some of the Most Outrageous Lies They’ve Told To Get Some Time Away With Their Boo

After Almost Two Years, Trans Activist Alejandra Barrera Has Been Released From ICE Custody

Things That Matter

After Almost Two Years, Trans Activist Alejandra Barrera Has Been Released From ICE Custody

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After nearly two years in detention, Alejandra Barrera, a 44-year-old transgender Salvadorian activist, was released from an ICE facility in New Mexico late last Friday. Human rights activists and the transgender immigrant community are rejoicing at the news that Barrera will finally be freed after being held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention since November 2017.

Barrera, who hails from El Salvador, fled her country due to discrimination and persecution. Shortly after seeking asylum in the U.S, she was detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention center with a unit specifically for transgender women that opened in 2017, according to the Phoenix New Times. During her time at the detention facility, there were numerous complaints of abuse and maltreatment of inmates that included the death of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a transgender woman who died of HIV-related complications last year. 

 Before leaving El Salvador, Barrera was a well-known activist in her home country where she stood up for transgender rights for over a decade. But with this attention also came attacks from local gangs and the Salvadoran military who targeted her and forced her to eventually leave in and claim asylum in November 2017. In spite of all of this, Barrera was repeatedly denied asylum in the U.S.

Many people and organizations helped build awareness around the release of Barrera. But it was the hashtag #FreeAlejandra that made the world know her story. 

Credit: @outmagazine / Twitter

Barrera’s release is the culmination of a year-long campaign by multiple nonprofit organizations like the Amnesty International, the Translatin@ Coalition and the National Immigrant Justice Center. This also included the help of federal lawmakers like Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Adam Schiff (Calif.), and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) 

Many first heard the story of Barrera with the hashtag #FreeAlejandra that circulated online for months spreading awareness of her detention. A Change.org petition demanding her freedom received more than 36,000 signatures and raised awareness of Barerra’s case using the hashtag #FreeAlejandra.

“Through letters of support, people from around the world gave me the strength to continue in this struggle that was so hard for me. I’m here to keep fighting”  Barrera said in response to everyone that helped share her story. 

Bamby Salcedo, the executive director of Translatin@ Coalition, acknowledged all the work put forth to have Barrera finally released. She said in a video posted to Facebook the day of  Barrera’s release that her “heart is so full of joy” now that Barrera is finally out.

“It was because of all of your calls, because of all of you signing petitions, showing up to the rallies, showing up the press conferences, her lawyers – everyone – all of you who wrote letters to Alejandra, everyone who participated in la campaigna de #FreeAlejandra – should be very proud because this is one more victory and we should be able to celebrate,” Salcedo said in the video. 

Barrera is currently released on parole while she waits for her asylum case to go to immigration court.

Credit: @mghtranshealth / Twitter

While Barrera is out and getting to enjoy her freedom, her fight for asylum is not over just yet. As of now, Barrera’s asylum status is still not secure and must now continue to fight against her deportation. If she is not granted asylum, Barrera faces the daunting possibility of being deported back to El Salvador. 

Denise Bell, Amnesty International’s researcher for refugee and migrant rights, told the Daily News that while her organization is happy that Barrera is out of ICE detention, the fight is not over yet. Bell says that she hopes that Barrera’s case becomes an example of what happens when people come together to bring awareness to a good cause. 

“We don’t think that she should be returned to El Salvador, where we are gravely concerned for her well-being,” Bell told the Daily News. “Trans people in detention are at a special risk of abuse because of their special medical needs, often, and [because of] their gender identity. So we just want to draw attention to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other trans people who are seeking asylum, who are in immigration detention [and] who should be released on parole

Barrera is currently being represented by Rebekah Wolf of the Equal Justice Coalition, who fought and brought awareness for her release. While she seeks refuge, Barrera will stay with a sponsor from the TransLatin@ Coalition. 

According to the Washington Blade, ICE estimates that at least 111 transgender people who are being held in U.S. detention centers. The number is an increase that what ICE estimated just five months prior and it does not include detainees that might have been uncounted. 

READ: Mexico Has Become The World’s Second-Deadliest Country For Transgender People To Live And Many Are Worried