First transgender woman in Baja wants to make Tijuana more inclusive

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The first transgender woman to hold public office in Baja California is determined to help develop a more inclusive language in Tijuana – and with it, a municipal government aimed at raising awareness and acceptance of the wide range of gender identities.

But, are Tijuanese – who live in a state where the federal government recently issued an alert on “high levels of violence against women”, and a nation considered to be one of the worst in the world in terms of violence against homosexuals and transgender people – ready for such a change?

“Either I kill myself or they will kill me.” “These are still seen as one of the only options for a lot of people in Mexico’s LGBTQ + community,” said Regina Cornejo Manzo, a transgender woman and the first ever director of the new Department of Diversity and Inclusion of the city of Tijuana.

Cornejo hopes to bring more education and awareness of the language that city officials use with the public, as a first step towards creating a more inclusive culture and society in Tijuana and Mexico.

In the United States, using an “x” or “@” to create a gender-neutral Spanish name – as with the word “Latinx” – has not only failed, it is considered boring for some Spanish speakers. . Many see “Latinx” as a symbolic term coined by “awakened” English speakers – and perhaps suspect that this is another attempt to have a word to separate those of Latin American descent.

Even as American citizens become more aware of non-binary gender identities, a 2019 Pew Research Center study found that only 3% of Hispanic American adults use the word “Latinx” to describe themselves. In Mexico, it is rarely, if ever, used.

In Mexico, as in the United States, the conversation about inclusive language has also been championed by academics and the younger generations. It has been slow to gain a foothold more widely.

“There are young people who use these expressions, but much less than in the United States, especially when you leave the border areas,” said Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, Maison du México and Gente Unida, a frontier of human rights. coalition. “Just watch Spanish programming, TV shows, novels … you very rarely, if ever, hear such terms. It is mainly a problem of American culture.

People participate in the LGBTQI + pride parade in Tijuana on June 19, 2021.

(AFP via Getty Images)

Beyond Words

In Spanish, most gendered names end with a “-o” for the masculine and an “-a” for the feminine. The adjective usually follows suit. For example, in traditional Spanish “cute boy” would be “chico bonito” and “cute girl” would be “chica bonita”.

Spanish (along with French, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, and many other languages) uses binary pronouns, meaning that words for gender identities outside of “he” and “she” “And” masculine “and” feminine “do not yet officially exist. In Mexico, to indicate non-binary, people often use an “e” at the end of the word or for the last vowel, for example, companion for “non-binary colleague or classmate”.

“It’s not really about changing the language. It’s about evolving towards a more inclusive language that represents the diversity of humanity, ”said Cornejo in his office at Tijuana City Hall.

Cornejo says the conversation goes way beyond words. His office runs classes with other city departments and officials, educating them on how to make everyone’s experience at City Hall more inclusive and comfortable. “For example, ‘What are the inappropriate questions to ask a transgender person? “It’s an education process,” she explained.

“We have to talk about people because it doesn’t matter if you identify with the pronoun ‘él’ (il) or ‘ella’ (elle) or ‘elle’ (they); we are all people, ”she said.

In the coming weeks, Cornejo hopes to present a resolution to city council to decide whether or not to require official city documents to use inclusive language regarding all genders and sexual orientations. In doing so, Tijuana would follow a similar path to San Diego, which in November became the fifth US city to ban the future use of “he” and “she” in city laws and policies.

“When we say, here in the office, that citizens (men) and citizens (women) come to the reception, we want to be more inclusive and not exclude (non-binary) citizens (or ciudadane),” she said.

“It is not inclusive to say ‘boys and girls’ because it excludes children who are not binary” who do not identify exclusively as male or female, Cornejo explained.

Cornejo said conversation and education are essential because sometimes people try to be inclusive, but may inadvertently offend certain members of the LGBTQ + community.

“Some people in the community just use the term ‘she’ for everyone – and that’s not correct,” she explained. “On the contrary, if you call me”companion, ‘(non-binary colleague), that offends me because you deny me my right to my femininity; to my right to be a woman.

Regina Cornejo Manzo meets Andrea Ruiz Galan, Baja California Education Secretary

Regina Cornejo Manzo meets Andrea Ruiz Galan, Secretary of Education for Baja California, in her office at the Palacio Municipal.

(Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Ridiculous online

The use of inclusive language exploded on social media in Mexico in August when a non-binary college student, Andra Escamilla, became the target of viral ridicule and hateful comments after an online class at Tecnológico de Monterrey.

Escamilla burst into tears during the online course, asking for a classmate to call them “compañere, ” in the place of “compañera. Prior to the incident which went viral, Escamilla said they had requested that three consecutive semesters be identified as a non-binary term.

The classmate immediately apologized for using the wrong word, but Escamilla’s tears and explosion were recorded and became a source of relentless online ridicule – and even, Escamilla said, serious threat.

“The classmate’s action was to apologize for his omission and it was the right thing to do,” said Carolina Chavez, binational affairs expert and candidate for Chula Vista city council.

Chavez, who has lived and worked on both sides of the border, said video of Escamilla’s pain had been turned into vicious social media memes, illustrating the sheer amount of work that remains to be done. do to bring more inclusion in Mexican society and the Spanish language.

“We have a long way to go in educating people to think inclusively and respectfully,” Chavez said. “The best way to act with compassion is to see each individual as part of our family. ”

Cornejo said all of the memes and backlash represented an opportunity to amplify a conversation that was missing in Mexico.

“Unfortunately, for a lot of people, the issue of inclusive language is kind of like a trend and far from benefiting the community, it hurts us because it lends itself to jokes, misunderstandings and teasing,” she said. “But we can take advantage of this trend to create a real awareness of our diversity – and how that diversity resides in the greatness of the human being.”

LGBTQI + Pride Parade in Tijuana

The LGBTQI + pride parade in Tijuana.

(AFP via Getty Images)

Many forms of conservatism

Sayak Valencia, professor and researcher at the Department of Cultural Studies of El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (el Colef) in Tijuana, said opposition to inclusive language – as well as opposition to the LGBTQ + community in general – in Mexico is often attributed to conservatism. The Baja California state legislature has refused for years to change Baja California’s constitution to allow same-sex marriage rights, with many lawmakers citing religious reasons.

However, Valencia said that didn’t tell the whole story.

“In Mexico there is one predominant religion, and that is Catholicism, but in the United States there are many different religions, and some are more conservative and some are more liberal,” Valencia said. “So we create a very important question to analyze that it has not only to do with the religion that is practiced, but also with the fundamentalism that this religion requires. In Mexico there are many other forms of this fundamentalism. There is political conservatism and fundamentalism There is sexual conservatism Even academia can be very conservative.

“Language is alive and it becomes a cultural artefact that helps us communicate. It must therefore be inclusive and must be renewed whenever we have important cultural, social and political changes, but also economic ones, ”she added.

For Cornejo and others, the stake is much greater than a few “e” and “a” and “o”.

Violence against transgender sex workers in Tijuana is often brutal and carries a public message. Gay and transgender migrants do not feel comfortable publicly sharing the location of their refuge after fleeing other Latin American countries where they can be arrested and tortured because of their sexual orientation or gender .

“This office was born on the initiative of the mayor (Montserrat Caballero), so that we can have visibility in the community,” Cornejo said. “This is just a first step.

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