- A Eulogy for Roxsana Hernández:Tracing the Relationship between Border Rhetoric and Queer Debility
The U.S.–Mexico border is over 2,000 miles long and every inch poisons the physical and psychic landscapes between Mexico and the United States. Those who inhabit or pass through the borderlands are scarred, mutated from human subjects into Anzaldúa's los atravesados, "the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed, the half-dead; in short, those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the normal."1 People are broken down, wounded, and remade into Others through alienating discourses, debilitating and assaulting the body through structural violence.2 Figural borders surround and separate people by cutting them off from each other, and breaking human subjectivity down to the barest forms of life. The sorting of those who must die so others may live is drawn across gendered, cultural, class, and racial lines, with only the normative few spared violence.3 Yet, even those whose privileges are secured by the border are shattered by it. The border maims us all. It makes us accessories to the United States's violence.
This article is a eulogy to Roxsana Hernández. Roxsana was born in 1985 in Honduras. In 2018 she joined the 1,200-person caravan organized by Pueblo Sin Fronteras to make the 2,000-mile trek from the Guatemala–Mexico border to the U.S. border. On May 25 she died a prisoner of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Roxsana's disability (HIV), need for asylum, imprisonment, beating, and her death are all tied together by the concept of debility. Debility theorizes that material and discursive structures incapacitate marginalized [End Page 94] populations.4 Debility provides the theoretical link between the discursive and rhetorical depictions of marginalized people and the material and embodied violence they experience.
As a transgender stateless person living with HIV, Roxsana was forced to negotiate liminalities of gender, ability, and nationality. Those borderlands, like the one between the United States and Mexico, can be toxic. Though the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) maintain that Roxsana's death was an accident, I argue that her death demonstrates that HIV-related comorbidities include institutional/physical violence and medical neglect.5 This article intervenes in the continued victimization of transgender people by challenging the lacuna surrounding violence directed at disabled, stateless, and transgender people of color by the state.6
In the statement regarding her death ICE uses Roxsana's deadname and highlights her participation in the sex trade in order to excuse the abuses she suffered.7 For example, the report states, "In May 2009, she was convicted of lewd, immoral, and indecent conduct and prostitution."8 ICE links the stigma associated with sex work and transgender people to criminality in order to deflect responsibility for their negligence. In doing so, ICE makes clear the discursive link between the comorbidities of poverty and institutional neglect that so often accompany HIV.
Poverty among transgender migrants living with HIV is manufactured through structural and discursive norms that position them ineligible for participation in the legitimate labor force. Overlapping spheres of oppression kept Roxsana out of the legitimate economy. According to research produced by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender Latinxs experience extreme poverty at more than ten times the rate of the general U.S. population with 43 percent having a household income under $10,000 a year.9 Debility theory helps to explain how Roxsana's poverty and the attendant health disparities are exacerbated and produced by discrimination and stigma. Forty-two percent of people who identified as noncitizen, Latinx, and transgender reported losing a job due to anti-transgender bias, and 38 percent report being sexually assaulted in the workplace.10 Transphobia, HIV stigma, and anti-immigrant labor laws made it nearly impossible for Roxsana to find legal, self-sustaining work. Roxsana, like many other people in transition, was pushed into criminalized economies in order to survive.11 Lacking other opportunities Roxsana engaged in survival sex, which is the exchange of sex for food, money, or housing.12 Over...