Daniela, 29 years of age from Soyapango, El Salvador

I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Daniela who lives in Soyapango, a municipality just outside San Salvador.

Such area is known as one of the most highly populated areas of the country, where delinquent groups control most of the territory and inhabitants of the area live under constant threats.

Daniela has lived there all her life and even though the place is highly dangerous for anyone, it’s certainly much more for a person like her. When I ask her if she has considered moving elsewhere she responds that there is no point in moving to another part of the city as it could complicate things more. People already know her in her community which makes it ‘safer’ in some respects.

People in El salvador must be very careful where they go, what they see or what they say due to the gangs which are constantly monitoring people’s lives. There are unwritten rules that dictate for instance where one can go and where not to be. If one step into the wrong neighbourhood it can mean the end of someones life, and that is said with no exaggeration whatsoever. Due to such reason, Daniela takes many security measures before leaving her home and when she returns.

A typical day in her life is to go from her house to University and back. She must make sure that she gets home before 6pm as that is when things can get a little more violent; she also avoids leaving her house after 6pm.

When she walks towards the bus to University, she quite often gets insulted and worries that one day it could lead to physical violence.

She is currently in her 3rd year of a 5 year degree in educational healthcare at the National University of San Salvador. 

As we are chatting, I suddenly think to myself how hard it must have been for her to get to where she is today. Having been able to finish her basic education, knowing of all the obstacles that it involves, Daniella proves much courage, determination and passion, qualities that not every person carries along.

One of the few areas where she actually feels safe and free to hang around is at the University campus. Having said that, she has also been discriminated due to her sexual preferences. She has received threats and insults from students and staff. She has been threatened with a knife once by a member of staff, she has been spat at, etc…

Nevertheless, she remains strong and sticks to her beliefs in that she is confident that by working very hard, one day she will be able to change things for her community. Besides the adversities, a few things have been gained along the way like the fact that she is now recognised as a woman in certain departments of the institution but the work carries on.

Throughout her long standing battle as an activist seeking justice, due to discrimination against her she has filed around 300 complains so far at the attorney generals office. Daniella is determined not to stop until her rights are fully respected and protected by the law. 

As we chat I suddenly touch on the topic of prostitution and wish to find out why Daniela did not end up immersed in that life like most transexual women who do. She explains to me that due to a lack of love, understanding and education, transexual women recur to working as prostitutes to earn a living as it’s the ‘easier’ way out of poverty. In her case, she didn’t get trapped into that world thanks to the love that her parents have given her. The most important things for her family is to see Daniela succeed in her career and be happy.

I am interesting in knowing if, besides the fear that is generated regarding criminal groups that operate in the country, she has any worries of being hurt, disappeared of killed by the State due to her daily activism. She responds that she is worried, as the government is pretty corrupt and her complaints are hardly ever investigated. Notwithstanding, she is adamant to carry on with her struggle and will not allow any intimidations or harassment by anybody..

I shift the conversation towards asking what ‘freedom’ means to her which she responds that it is being authentic, being true to yourself. It also symbolised tranquility and behaving optimistically towards life. 

Daniela portrays herself to me as an independent person who transmits strength, who is not scared of what she does in life or who she is, on the contrary, she is proud of herself in all senses. 

She defines the concept of family as love. It’s a group of people who will be there to support you no matter what. 

I had the urge to know her impressions about religion knowing that it has acted traditionally as an agent that condemns sexual diversity as demonic and whatnot. Daniela tells me that religion to her means superficiality, it is something relative that is not so important. People in her community are highly religious, yet they are the ones who have discriminated her mostly. Religion destroys life and breeds hatred as far as she is concerned.

Another interesting element to denote regarding peoples perception on human rights in El Salvador is that such basic elements obstruct a process of peace. They think that the police cannot properly work to eradicate violence if human rights are applied to protect criminals all the time.

Human rights to Daniela is just a concept, it doesn’t have value. In several ocassions she has been denied the protection of her rights from the State. She argues that the attorney general’s office is the institution that least has respect of people’s human rights, especially those of the LGBTI community.

Due to the violence that has spread throughout the country over many decades, people have normalised the situation. Daniela says that she would love to become a promoter for social change.

She is happy with who she is today. She has changed what made her feel unhappy in the past and finally feels free…

Lastly, I ask her what is her own definition of ‘love’. She responds that it means satisfaction, passion, caring, understanding. She finds love in her family and her friends though she agrees that at times it’s difficult to find it.

Using Format