Opinion | Shelters on the Mexico-U.S. Border Welcome L.G.B.T.Q. Migrants

TIJUANA, Mexico — Steam curls off a plate overloaded with contemporary tamales as refugees collect round a buffet-style dinner desk, laughing collectively on a cold night right here. Nearby, a pregnant girl shoos away toddlers underfoot, and one girl flips the hair of a blond wig so grand, it virtually sweeps the cracked concrete ground. Across the room, a jovial younger man teases a bunch of excited boys who’re lining as much as hit a rainbow-shaped pinata — a nod to the L.G.T.B.Q.-friendly house of Casa de Luz, the place everybody gathered for this posada celebration in December.

A Christmas celebration included households and residents throughout three Tijuana shelters.

Casa, which opened in February 2019, is certainly one of a handful of Tijuana shelters catering to a bunch that features trans girls, homosexual males and moms touring alone with kids — amongst the most weak and endangered refugee populations, in line with a 2017 Amnesty International Report. Casa de Luz homes 35 residents, on common, lots of whom are from Central America, in search of asylum in the United States as they escape harmful homophobia, excessive financial instability and numerous threats of violence of their nations of origin. Residents of the shelter say Mexico’s authorities doesn’t condone such mixing of shelter populations and due to this fact is not going to present federal or state funding to those that serve combined communities.

Irving Mondragón, a Mexican who manages Casa de Luz, says it’s precisely that type of combined neighborhood that migrants want. “We are a family, so we help each other in our way,” he mentioned.

Marjori, a resident at Casa, places on make-up in her shared room.Kataleya, a Casa resident, with a transgender pleasure flag.

When I started photographing the residents at Casa, my focus was documenting the community of activists and advocates collaborating to construct neighborhood and supply assets to the area’s refugees.

The migrant caravan of late 2018 — the largest of its variety at the time and an inspiration for numerous immigration insurance policies deployed by the Trump administration — left an estimated 1,500 migrants stranded alongside the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, a sprawling metropolis of 1.three million folks, with the busiest border crossing in the world. Here, hundreds of refugees have been left with out dependable shelter, meals, entry to water or assist. Many have been met at the border by armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement brokers, vitriolic anti-Latino immigrant sentiment from former President Donald Trump and wait instances of a number of months to have their asylum circumstances heard in courtroom.

In that vacuum of U.S. and Mexican governmental assist, human rights activists, advocacy attorneys and different teams and people joined with migrants to construct advert hoc networks of authorized, monetary and materials help. Networked neighborhood care was integral to the survival of L.G.T.B.Q. people and moms touring alone with kids.

Sofia Bravo, a trans girl from El Salvador and a resident of Casa de Luz.

Sofia Bravo, a trans girl from El Salvador who has struggled with drug dependancy, is certainly one of the more moderen additions to the Casa household. She was at the worst second in her life when she arrived at Casa de Luz, she instructed me. Like lots of its residents, she spoke lovingly of the house, which has provided meals, shelter and a welcoming, identity-confirming dwelling for L.G.T.B.Q. asylees.

Carlos, 23, fled Guatemala when his father wouldn’t let him go to highschool anymore. He discovered shelter at Casa de Luz.Lulu and her daughters Paola, eight and Renata, 2, on the roof of the shelter.

In specific, Covid-19’s financial and social restrictions and well being ramifications and risks have hit refugees exhausting in the previous yr. Being a combined neighborhood allowed the shelter to assist its kids; residents pooled funds to rent tutors by way of Zoom, and so they shared little one care duties. Parents in important jobs have been in a position to proceed working as a result of their kids have been cared for, regardless of closed colleges.

On a Saturday morning in December 2020, all seven kids then residing at Casa de Luz piled onto the shelter’s single couch and waited patiently underneath a poster that learn, “We must love and support one another.” Genesis and Paola, each eight, volunteered to share their storytelling homework first, presenting their notes alongside pictures gathered on a cellphone to a trainer who listened attentively by way of Zoom. A weekly tutor leads the college students on nature walks by means of the Tijuana panorama and helps the kids write their private tales.

Mr. Mondragón units up a Zoom lesson on storytelling for the seven kids at the shelter. They have been working on a lesson incorporating their very own tales.

Organizations like Al Otra Lado, which offers free authorized assist, put together the shelter’s residents for his or her day in asylum courtroom, and so they additionally assist each other. More essential, residents say, is the neighborhood they’ve constructed, a bodily and psychologically protected place to be queer, to be migrants, to dwell by means of the pandemic.

“If I leave Casa de Luz, I would love to still be a part of it,” Ms. Bravo mentioned. “I want to be an example and help others who arrive.”

Paola in the communal kitchen of Casa de Luz.Jabes, 10, and Jawy taking part in pool in the upstairs residing space of the migrant shelter.

There are few creature comforts at Casa. Many residents dwell in tents or different makeshift areas inside the constructing. There isn’t any sizzling water — or privateness. Many hope to hitch household or pals in the United States, the place being trans, homosexual or a single mom isn’t as harmful.

Asylum seekers have a troublesome street forward, navigating the quickly shifting refugee insurance policies of the U.S. authorities and the threats of homophobia and violence on their journey. Casa de Luz can’t resolve these issues, but it surely — and different locations prefer it — can be certain that its residents don’t face them alone.

This article is a part of Fixes, a sequence that explores options to main social issues. To obtain e-mail alerts for Fixes columns, enroll right here.

Tara Pixley is a photojournalist and an assistant professor of journalism at Loyola Marymount University. This article was produced with assist from the World Press Photo Solutions Visual Journalism Initiative. Reporting on this story was assisted by the translation and different assist of Pepe Rojo and Christina Aushana.