Autistic, Trans, & Latinx: My Survival Is Our Community's Survival Against Gentrification

El Barrio, New York has always been home. As an autistic Trans girl I never quite fit in anywhere. Even amongst weird kids with emotional issues, I was still the weird kid with emotional issues. But, the city became my hideout whenever my single mother scolded, lectured, or mistreated me.

As the years passed, my blood family became increasingly distanced from one another. Family gatherings faded from our routine and eventually my immediate family moved to Florida. However, I stayed in New York with my mother’s financial assistance. That's when the reality of encroaching gentrification became very clear to me.

More and more luxury apartments were built in El Barrio, a historically Latinx area. I watched as the neighborhood received an influx of white residents and retail chains that altered the existing cultural dynamic. Police presence grew dramatically and pushed to integrate into our community structures in insincere ways. Life in El Barrio became less accessible for long-time residents and families without the security of co-op housing units. This caused a growing resentment that poured back into the everyday lives of Latinx households.

But not everyone was aware enough to be resentful. Actually, some saw it as a good thing. My family taught me to embrace whiteness and the false sense of security it brought. Racism presented itself as a passive aggressive tendency to avoid blackness and strive toward whiteness. We were told to work until we earned our place beside the gentrifiers, and even then we knew our differences would make us cold neighbors to one another. Yet, we accepted this calling. We were a family made of stone, stubborn and resilient to a fault. Pressure doesn't always make precious gems.

Now I struggle with the trauma of having lived most of my young life playing pretend, because my family and community never gave me the safety or support to be myself. My Latinidad is hanging onto me by a very thin line and the timeline of my life is a constant dissociation from my inherited culture. Frustration with my own family and general environment pushed me to desire lifestyles that were never my own.

I longed for a life with the security of whiteness, the capacity for sadness that Latinx families tend to deny their children, and to feel accepted. I coped by dissociating and dysphoria made me weak and passive. I spent most of my life compartmentalizing all of my issues and dreaming of a life away from the pressure of gentrification and the expectations of family and friends. The pressures have never left.

There is a weight on my chest when I look back and feel like life had me running between the corners of a small room. My family didn’t talk with me about the intricacies of life, faith, sexuality, marriage, art, vices, etc. School was a place where lost children would traumatize each other and, no matter my age, the adults around me had no interest in talking with a young autistic person, only at her. I was alone, confused, neurodivergent, and mentally unhealthy, many of these a result of being tossed into a world that wanted to tear me apart and displace me.

My Latinidad is a disconnection of the self. I have a fear of communities and the chances that I am not truly welcome in any of them simply because I am my own personal strand of autistic Latinx Trans woman. I am faithful, non-violent, and like to live simply. I don't take up a lot of space and don't ask for much in return but a bit of respect. Yet, that little space I occupy has consistently been threatened or erased by a culture that does not understand me and has no desire to do so, as well as outside forces that want me gone. If we are to survive gentrification, our communities need to learn to respect and center their most marginalized: we are the first to go.


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