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  • Through Their Eyes: Mother Zoila Fajardo

    Zoila Fajardo

    The interview series “Through Their Eyes” features various artists at the 2017 Folklife Festival. Whether they express their truths through spoken word or acrobatics, these artists share a part of themselves in every performance.

    “My daughter is transgender, and she changed the lives of everyone in our family. I didn’t know anything about transgender issues or communities, so that’s why I didn’t understand. I thought she was confused and abnormal, but after I researched for information and knew she was transgender, I realized the person who was confused was me.”

    Zoila Fajardo’s most pronounced physical trait are her soft brown eyes, which radiate a resolute gentleness. Having emigrated from Nicaragua to the United States in 2004, she speaks a thickly accented English. Earlier in the day, she had contributed to the “Trans Latina Stories: Resistance in the Nation’s Capital” panel at the 2017 Folklife Festival’s On the Move program.

    When I asked Zoila how old her daughter is now, her face illuminated with pride. I could see the dimples in her smile. Turned out, the next day was her daughter’s birthday—she was turning seven. They’ll be celebrating in September with a bouncy castle.

    Biologically born a male, Zoila’s daughter began asserting a different identity when she turned two.

    “My daughter began to express herself very early with many forms of speaking, acting, and body language,” she said. “She confused me when she wanted to be a girl.”

    In Latino culture, discussions about transgender identity are often rare because of religious or machismo beliefs, Zoila explained. Family relationships are essential to an individual’s identity, and raising potentially controversial issues could mean losing very important people in their lives.

    For a long time, Zoila could not understand her daughter’s transition, causing a significant gap in their mother-daughter relationship.

    “She changed the way she walked and laughed,” she said. “She changed many things about herself. She went from a person who loved to laugh to a sad person. She cried and fought all the time.”

    Zoila paused and looked down at her hands. When she looked up, I saw regret in her eyes.

    Imagine giving birth to a baby boy and envisioning the life he will lead. You bathe him, feed him, and spend every waking moment thinking about him. You are there when he takes his first steps, and when he says his first word, “Mama.” You try to protect him from everything bad in the world. He seems like every other child. But then he isn’t. Soon, you realize you can’t protect him from the world. You can’t even protect him from yourself.

    The family’s lack of knowledge and acceptance caused Zoila’s daughter to isolate herself from them. Zoila knew she had to do something. She needed to understand, so she began researching the transgender community.

    “I realized that I committed an error when I put my daughter in a category that she didn’t fit into,” she said. “She was simply a person who was autonomous and deserved to choose for herself.”

    Her daughter officially transitioned when she was four years old. Zoila explains that as she began accepting her daughter and loving her proudly, her daughter began to be herself again.

    “I embraced her and told her that I knew who she was, that I loved her above all things,” Zoila said, beaming. “No matter what was going to happen, I was with her because I was the person responsible for her because I brought her into this world.”

    Because Zoila did not have many resources to learn about the transgender community, she joined TransLatin@ Coalition. The national organization advocates for equality and inclusiveness for Trans Latinas in the United States.

    For Zoila, her daughter’s journey has transformed both of their lives for the better. As Zoila explains, education combined with love is what creates a true mother: someone who loves, cares for, and protects her child.

    Ultimately, this is a love story between a mother and her daughter.

    “It is my responsibility as a mother to hug her and tell her I love her,” Zoila said. “I want her to know that I know who she is, and that I will be by her side in any moment and in any situation. I want her to not be afraid, and I want her to know her happiness is more important than anything to me. The love of a mother or father is unconditional.”

    Laura Zhang is studying neuroscience and Plan II Honors at The University of Texas at Austin. Currently, she is an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and exudes a passion for social justice, stories, and dogs of all kinds.

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