The day was balmy, unusual
for Yuma in the summer. People came by the vanloads. They gathered by the Colorado River and sat on a diversity of chairs people brought with them. Some sat on towels on the ground. Hanna played her recorder. People visited with each other. Many
wore white t-shirts with a color image of a beautiful woman and the words “In Loving Memory of Amancio Corrales.” A large screen television connected to a generator stood facing the people.
I arrived after 6 pm
when the gathering was still fairly small. I parked in the lot at the end of
Madison in downtown Yuma, and walked down the steep hill to the park on the bank of the Colorado. Members of Amancio’s family greeted me, and everything was set up.
In the distance, some families who knew nothing of the vigil sat at picnic tables, and children played. Some people were out on the river on jet skis.
I signed in at the main
table and put on my “Celebrate Diversity” button. A collection box
sat on the table to collect money to offset the cost of the vigil. I took out
my digital camera and began to snap some pictures. I volunteered to be an official
photographer for the vigil the night before at a strategy meeting. Hanna, the
coordinator of the vigil, had set up a memory wall made of cloth stretched on a board and propped against a tree. People wrote messages in marker and crayon on the wall. Some
drew pictures. The Corrales family brought bottled water and canned soda in large
coolers with ice. Amancio’s dad made a few trips for more ice. They also had pizza.
People kept arriving. The wall of memory was slowly filling with loving messages about Amancio. A photographer from The Yuma Daily Sun walked about and took an occasional photo. The first showing of a video essay about Amancio on the big screen television caught everyone’s attention. Amancio’s mother broke down and wept.
As the sun began to set,
the speakers drifted in. First came state Representative Kyrsten Sinema (D-15). Then, Luis Heredia, a spokesperson
for Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) arrived. Also attending were Brenda Galvan
Aguirre of the Arizona Leadership Institute, Donna Rose of the Human Rights Campaign, Michael Baughman of the Yuma County
Gay Rights Meetup, and Rosemary Ybarra Hernandez, whose brother
was the victim of a hate crime in 1992 in Phoenix that has never been solved. No
officials from the city of Yuma or Yuma County attended. Camera crews and reporters
showed up from two television networks and began interviewing the speakers.
After another showing of the video, Hanna presented a wreath to Mrs. Corrales. She explained that the wreath was originally to be tossed into the river, where Amancio’s body was
found, but she felt that the wreath was too beautiful and decided to simply award it to the Corrales family.
Each speaker had strong
words against hate crime. Luis
Heredia read a statement from Congressman Raul Grijalva: "There is no room for hate crimes in any community. We allow for
the very worst in society to continue if we don't address these issues." Grijalva is a cosponsor of the Local Law Enforcement
Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2005 (H.R. 2662). The federal hate crimes legislation would provide resources to law enforcement
agencies in rural communities like Yuma. Representative Kyrsten Sinema spoke
for herself and carried a message from state Representative Amanda Aguirre (D-24). Brenda
Galvan Aguirre said, “Our coalition hopes to inform the community that bias-based crimes have a broad impact. Targeted violence against anybody because of their identity, whether they are Latino, Muslim, a woman,
gay, or transgender, is never acceptable. Yuma residents have proven that they will not let the murder of Amancio silence
After the speakers finished, all was dark and silent, and someone handed out candles. Amancio’s grandmother handed out angel pins for us to wear. As I looked around, I saw more than a hundred people. Among
us were transsexuals, crossdressers, homosexuals, heterosexuals, Latinos, Caucasians, Christians, non-Christians, men, women,
and children. Some had known Amancio for many years. Some had never met Amancio.
Since the vigil, I received an email from a young woman who attended high school with Amancio. She wrote to thank me for writing the poem, and to say that Amancio was one of the
most loving people she had ever known.
At the vigil, Donna Rose
said, “I never met Amancio, but he is like a brother to me.” I feel
the same way. In some sense, all human beings are connected, and when you belong
to a particular community, the bond is strong. It doesn’t matter to me
where Amancio was on the gender continuum; I know his personal struggle like I know my own.
Human life experience is full of struggle, but those of us who are transgendered struggle even more, and our struggle
is unique. When one of us is struck down, I feel the loss.
As those of us who are
heterosexual crossdressers come to terms with our feminine side, we face our own fears of ridicule, ostracism, and physical
harm. We learn to walk out there among society in heels and skirts, wearing makeup
and praying our beard shadow doesn’t show. We take precautions. I have enough experience that I no longer have much fear when I go out, but just enough that I avoid situations
that are likely to lead to trouble. I generally feel safe, and I know how to
stay safe. Yet, I know that what happened to Amancio is possible, and every time
justice is not served, that possibility grows stronger. In the near future, I
will be leading a letter writing campaign demanding that Congress pass the Hate Crime Prevention Act, which specifically includes
transgender. In the future, I want the streets to be safer for us all. In the future, I don’t want to find myself attending a vigil for anyone who is now reading this essay.