If last year’s midterm primaries taught us anything, it was that everyone, regardless of their background or story, has a right to run for office. Furthermore, first-time politicians who want to help the marginalized community are encouraged to run, and we now have proof they can win.
Meet Selena Alvarenga, a gay immigrant of El Salvador, that is seeking to run for District Court Judge in Texas.
Alvarenga’s campaign for judge of Travis County’s 460th District Court is steaming rolling right along as they prepare for an election. While this new seat has never been conquered, the election will be an exciting one to watch. It won’t take place until March 2020, but there’s no better time to jump into campaign mode.
She understands that her background isn’t a typical one, but that’s what makes her a perfect candidate to fight for people’s rights.
Her history as a lawyer spans two decades, and she’s an alum of St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio.
Alvarenga migrated to the U.S. with her father in the 1970s after they fled the Salvadoran Civil War.
“One day, I literally woke up, and my father said everything was packed. He said it was getting too dangerous and we had to leave. We got in the car and we started driving north,” Alvarenga said in an interview with Popsugar.
According to her website, her father worked as a computer programmer at a bank in El Salvador but in the U.S. he could only get work serving fast food. “When he finally did find a job in his field, it was in Alaska. Selena was one of three Latin American immigrants in her class.”
“I didn’t know any English, so I went to [an English as a second language] school,” she said to the publication. That adversity only helped Alvarenga excel in school.
Some of the issues she’s ready to address in her campaign include LGBTQ+ rights and ending cash bail.
There are rising tensions in El Salvador as activists are protesting the attorney general’s decision to seek a third trial for a woman accused of killing her stillborn son. The woman, Evelyn Hernandez, was exonerated in an August retrial after an earlier judgment found her guilty of killing her stillborn son and sentenced her to 30 years behind bars. Hernandez, 21, was found innocent after the judge said there was not enough evidence to convict her of the crime.
The issue of abortion has always been a widely-debated and divisive topic in conservative El Salvador where abortion is illegal. Many women in the country have been prosecuted for attempting abortions even in dire medical situations. Activists look at Hernandez’s case as an example of an unjust system targeting her due to her limited financial status.
“We do not want Evelyn to be viewed as a criminal and persecuted,” Claribel Ayala, a protester outside the attorney general’s office in El Salvador told Reuters. “We’re going to stand with her until justice is done.”
While activists see Hernandez’s case as a trial against women rights, prosecutors are looking at her as a criminal.
Activists dressed in clown attire took to the streets of El Salvador this week to voice their disapproval of the news that attorney general Raul Melara would be seeking a third trial in Hernandez’s case. Many of them threw confetti-filled eggs at his office and even painted his door red with paint. Melara acknowledges their anger but sees the case with a different lens.
“There are groups that have a big interest in seeing this as persecution against poverty, that this woman is being targeted because she had an emergency outside the hospital, but the proof is overwhelming and shows this isn’t the case,” Melara told reporters.
Hernandez’s release from prison was viewed as a victory for women rights.
Hernandez said she was raped by a gang member and was unaware of her pregnancy until just before delivering a stillborn son back in 2016. She was found on her bathroom floor covered with blood and would be taken to an emergency room by her mother and a neighbor. When doctors examined her they noted that there were visible signs of delivery but found no baby. They reported Hernandez to local authorities and would later find her newborn dead inside of a septic tank.
She’s been convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the alleged killing of her child. Prosecutors said that she had purposely induced abortion only to leave the newborn to die. Hernandez wound up only serving 33 months out of her original 30-year sentence before being released in February.
This was due to an appeal before the Supreme Court who said that Hernandez should be released due the original conviction being based on prejudice and insufficient evidence. The acquittal was looked at as a huge victory for women’s rights not only in El Salvador but globally.
“It was tough to be locked up, especially when I was innocent,” Hernandez said the day she was released. “There are others who are still locked up and I hope they are freed soon.”
Hernandez has maintained her innocence from the start that she had no knowledge of being pregnant. Now prosecutors are looking at a third trial to convict her of killing her newborn child.
The attorney general is seeking to convict Hernandez of murder even after being released from prison. While many see Hernandez as the true victim in this ordeal, prosecutors see things differently.
“As Attorney General of the Republic, we are responsible for the support and accompaniment of women victims in any crime and in any of its modalities, but, in the case of Evelyn Hernández, there are no elements to consider her a victim of any fact, on the contrary, the only victim is her son,” prosecutors said in a statement . “This appeal is the manifestation of the legal protection of … the life of a helpless being who depended absolutely on the care of his mother, who caused his death.”
Hernandez’s legal team is fighting back against these claims saying that the attempt at a retrial is a waste of resources that could be used to serve more important issues.
“We expected this persecution against Evelyn to stop,” one of her lawyers, Elizabeth Deras, told BuzzFeed News. “Instead, they are spending the state’s resources unnecessarily. Resources that could be used to fight corruption.”
As of now, the request for a new trial must be assessed by a different court before it can proceed legally. The prosecution is looking to sentence Hernandez to 40 years in prison.
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.
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 aGoFundMe 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.”