Translatina advocate brings life-saving work to San Francisco after fleeing home in El Salvador

Lyanne Melendez Image
Friday, July 1, 2022
Translatina advocate brings life-saving work to SF after fleeing home
Nicole Santamaria was forced to flee El Salvador because of her advocacy work for human rights with the LGBTQI+ community. She has brought her expertise to the Bay Area and provide

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Nicole Santamaria is executive director of El/La Para TransLatinas, located in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District. Her journey to the Bay Area is tied to her passion to fight for human rights and women's rights.

Santamaria came to the United States from El Salvador, where she was an activist for LGBTQI+ people, especially in the trans, intersex and gender diverse communities. The fulfilling work put her life in danger, and she fled in fear for her safety.

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Bringing together her background in healing justice and anti-violence expertise, she's been able to continue the life-saving work at the El/La office, a location that happens to share the same block as the first gay Latino bar, popular in the 1970s.

Building a safe space in this Spanish-speaking neighborhood has been a labor of love for the team at El/La Santamaria says, "... to make (a) paradise for trans Latinas, trans Latinx and the gender diverse community here in the heart of the Mission. We need to see our communities thriving, but also flourishing and being happy. Having the opportunity to have access to jobs, to get access to health (care), access to education, that's what we seek here at El/La Para TransLatinas. So we see a change in their lives, an improvement in their lives."

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Santamaria is acutely aware that proposed legislation has the potential to cause harm to the people she serves. And many of them have lost loved ones due to the violence.

"We have this space as a spiritual space to honor their lives, to honor their struggle. We are trying to create this space as the sanctuary city that it is, and we are working very hard to create opportunities for those who are seeking help."

Santamaria sees her visits to the White House as opportunities to share the message that human rights are achievable with a democratic government.

Thrilled to participate in Carnival for the first time this year, Santamaria said, "It took 43 years to make some steps (toward) inclusion, respect, dignity and recognition of the most marginalized Latinx community, which is the trans Latina community."

During this year's Trans March festivities at San Francisco Pride Celebration Week, Santamaria acknowledges, "Our dream to create a better San Francisco can be possible when you see this amount of people gathered in this space being their true selves, showing to the world the reaction that they have, the beauty they have in this space, that means that we can create these safe spaces for everybody.

"I think society is going to continue growing and continue walking toward the knowledge of what makes us human and what makes us human is precisely the diversity."

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To learn more and to support Nicole Santamaria's efforts go here.

To see more stories of Allies in Action go here.