By Lupita Peimbert.
(People) – Before Aurora Grajeda was openly a woman, she did what many straight men do: she got married, had children, divorced. Later in life, she took her male-name off, asked to be called Aurora, and behaved accordingly. Tall and slender, her reddish hair became her signature, and so her strong voice, literally and figuratively. Working for social justice sparked her fires.
I am not sure if she was ever part of the SF PRIDE parade, and I didn’t get to ask her that.
Aurora’s life wasn’t simple at all; neither in the many years she stayed in the closet, nor since the day she came out and not when she was dying, a few months ago in San Francisco, a city she loved and lived for decades. Strong and argumentative in the outside, she fiercely defended the causes and people she believed in; but from time to time, a glimpse of her sweet nature would show up. A word, a gesture, a look, and you saw the softer side of Aurora. Not that she was mean or anything like that, but she was stubborn and sometimes had a “don’t you dare to mess up with me OK?,” attitude. Most of the times, she was smiling, and talkative.
Extremely intelligent, she spoke up, unafraid. She argued, mentioned, pointed out, researched this and that, looked for evidence, told-you-in-your-face, attended meetings, walked within the marches, met with her ELA group, commented in a local bilingual radio show and other media. She also had her own blog “El Rinconcito de Aurora,” and social media presence in Twitter and Facebook.
She was one of the main organizers in the marches pro undocumented immigrants, and a force in campaigns against the war, or for awareness on LGBTQ rights.
That was the Aurora many of her friends and admirers saw most of the time. Only a few experienced her strong temper, and only a handful saw the challenges and sorrows that followed her until the last days she was in earth, hospitalized.
I got to see Aurora smiling and giggling every time we talked about the many handsome men in the city, about cute dresses, and about finding that special one. I think she was a romantic inside, wanting to find someone to love and be loved. (Isn’t that what most people want, if not all, anyway?) I have a feeling that she didn’t find that type of love as Aurora. I remember her saying that men would not really see her, but the sexual idea they had about transgender people, as in a sexual machine. And that, by the way, is just one of the unjust treatment transgender men and women often face.
If not a loving partner, Aurora found a close group of loving, longtime friends who also became her family and loved her as Aurora. Originally from El Limón, Mexico, her siblings, some of whom live in the United States, were rarely seen in the important moments of her life –although she was in communication with them, and loved her family. Her friends in the Bay Area became her sisters and brothers, and loved her unconditionally.
Her original family, meaning ex-wife and children, had a complex situation to deal with, and it is understandable. Becoming transgender is a very difficult reality for families, and a huge taboo across cultures. Transgender men and women also face huge religious taboos; they are, unfortunately, consider a less-than class in society and sometimes even within the LGBTQ community and in supposedly free-spirited San Francisco. -believe it or not. And so with PRIDE every year, the hope is that these perceptions change for the better.
On Saturday, April 30, 2016, Aurora’s funeral took place, several weeks after her experiences inside hospitals, and just a few days after her birthday.
At her funeral in the Bayview District, not too far from her beloved Mission, family from Mexico and other California cities, and friends, gathered to give her the last goodbye. Marcos, Sylvia, Juanita, Daniela, Isabel, Eliana, Ross, Eddy, and others, including the one who is writing, we all had memories to share.
Her casket was open. Her family dressed her up in a light pink dress, a woman. Her close friends would have wished to see Aurora wearing the wig she used in her last weeks alive, but instead, her hair was arranged a little more formal. The Mexican Consulate in San Francisco collaborated by paying for the funeral and by arranging for her remains to be sent to Mexico where she was born, and as she had wanted –to be buried next to her mother. A citizen of the United States as well, and fluent in English and Spanish, Aurora loved her Mexican roots as much as she loved her Latina and multicultural life in the City.
Her bi-nationality was something accepted and cherished. But sadly, her being transgender was not for some people. Apparent conflicts showed during her funeral, in terms of what name to put in her tomb -the name she grew up with as male, or the name she had chosen as woman.
Just around those times, Aurora’s father died in Mexico. He knew of her being transgender and apparently accepted that fact.
As it turned out, Aurora’s remains were incinerated. As of today, no one of her close friends in San Francisco knows where Aurora ashes are. Presumably, she was buried at a cemetery in Jalisco, Mexico. But who knows?
The life transgender immigrants face is rarely easy. Where they end up after they die is determined by other factors, when it should be determined by their wishes, like everybody else.
…all the things we have no idea of, when we see a person.
Aurora and I got closer while working on Latino and immigrant issues in 2006. At the time, I was working for an elected official in City Hall; she became an intern and volunteered at the office. We were in community meetings at the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco many times, and so at other Latino gatherings. She would get mad at me; I would get mad at her, we made up. We were friends. Last time I saw her was at the Latino Democratic Club, she was ill already, but kept her posture. We hugged. Aurora Grajeda was part of the Latino community in San Francisco, and of groups that primarily spoke Spanish by choice. Hope her story stays alive. This column was just my point of view from what I’d observed during many years, and my small way to remembering her: Aurora.