By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 11/07/2021 – The closing night film at the 2021 GuadaLAjara Film Festival in Los Angeles at MOCA was Pedro Peira’s touching documentary LA Queenciñera (2021), the story of Bamby Salcedo, a nationally-recognized undocumented transgender Latina human rights activist.
The occasion for the key event in the film is Bamby’s decision to have a celebration of turning age 50 but in the context of a typical Mexican quinceañera, the traditional celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, marking her passage from girlhood to womanhood. In Bamby’s context, it was an opportunity to mark the point of transition in her life from a complex and often troubled past to a more hopeful future in her life. The film includes scenes of preparation for this event and the celebration itself, but more importantly it is the story of Bamby Salcedo told in her own voice and that of friends and family. Bamby is a survivor of many battles in life – including sexual abuse and violence, drug abuse, family rejection, street life, sex work, HIV, and jail. But this same Bamby Salcedo has become a voice for transgender rights with more than 20 years of work with community organizations to change the lives of transgender people in the United States.
Salcedo grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico in poverty. Things became chaotic when her father moved to the U.S. Her mother abused her psychologically, and her step-father sexually. She went to look for her father in the United States, but he had started a new life with a different wife and a different set of children.
Her relationship with her father was a most difficult one, as Bamby often used drugs and began to work on the streets of Hollywood as a trans prostitute. Eventually, she got help with a county rehabilitation service and began to change her life. She found work with a community group that worked to help young people who were transitioning and needed help and support. This soon turns Bamby into an activist for trans rights and a public presence fighting for visibility and opportunity for trans people.
Turning 50, transgender, HIV positive, a recovering addict, a former sex worker, and an activist for the Latin transgender community, Bamby decided to celebrate her birthday with the 49 women who made her who is she. She was proud of her Mexican heritage and chose to stage the event as a celebration of being a “queen” like a proud Latina woman incorporating aspects of indigenous trappings of royalty.
She was able to garner much support from actress Patricia Arquette, who is a personal friend, and Dr. Anita Revila, professor of Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies at Cal State Los Angeles, as well as activist Rosario Dawson.
When asked about starring in a documentary film, Bamby Salcedo shared: “I had the opportunity to meet [director] Pedro Peira [while] he was studying at the NY Film Academy. I had participated in a short documentary in which he was featuring powerful Latinas in Los Angeles. Soon after, we became friends. When he learned that I was turning 50 years old and the theme of my birthday celebration, he suggested we do a documentary about it. After I put some thought into it, I thought that it is a big deal to turn 50 years old as a trans woman. The life expectancy of a trans woman is 35 years old. [There are 15 years] from 35 to 50. Quince años [aka quinceañeras] are traditionally celebrated in Latin America [for] young women coming of age. [This celebration] was about having the privilege of getting to 50 years of age [and] deconstructing the patriarchal narrative that only young women get to celebrate their quinceañera. Instead of doing a misa, [my] QueenCiañera was about honoring my roots and doing an Indigenous ceremony along with everything else that comes with it.”
There is no question that Bamby Salcedo is a highly articulate person, but it may come as a surprise to many people, that she has also in her 40s completed university studies in Chicana(o)/Latina(o) Studies at Cal State Los Angeles and is a proud graduate. Bamby has lived enough for several lifetimes. From her beginnings in Guadalajara to her emergence as an internationally-recognized transgender activist, Bamby has no plans on slowing down anytime soon. Surrounded by the people who helped make her who she is today, director Pedro Peira’s LA QueenCieñera is a touching portrait of authenticity and finding your chosen family. Peira, who grew up in Los Angeles, was back in L.A. for two years on a Fulbright Fellowship and decided to make this documentary film. It was shot during one week in 2017, several weeks in 2019 and another extra week in 2020.
When asked about trans activism today, Bamby Salcedo added: “We are in some ways more visible because of social media and media in general. We also need to understand that there is a lot of work that needs to happen. Many people claim to be activists, but they do not have a direct connection to the trans community. There is a lot of protagonism and self-serving when it comes to being an activist. I do not claim to be an activist. I am a servant to the people!”
Again, I must defer to the voice of Bamby: “I think the media should highlight the resiliency of trans people and what we have to do to live and thrive in a marginalizing world. Perhaps [the media should highlight] what trans-led organizations like The TransLatin@ Coalition are doing to empower and support trans people to have a better quality of life. Also [they should highlight] how The TransLatin@ Coalition is making our mark at the grassroots level without the support of the private sector or even Hollywood, [which is] very powerful in our society.”