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We watch Khloe Rios-Wyatt stand on the outskirts of this Wednesday lunch. She always seems to be in meaningful conversation with someone. She is the president and one of four founders of Alianza Translatinx, which began as a support group for the transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) community in Santa Ana in April 2020, and is currently the only transgender organization led by transgender people of color in Orange County.
Within less than two months, they brought in and served 60 people through grassroots organizing and navigating community resources. Distributing hot plates to houseless folks in Santa Ana during COVID’s peak, it wasn’t until June when they registered for 501(c)(3) status.
Miércoles de Comidas (food on Wednesdays) became an onsite affair, sharing food together, merging a distribution of food and a fixed safe place. Alianza Translatinx hosts the event and cooks in rotation among members, preparing food at home and bringing it over, like a party. Usually the food is made with an idea of quantity and comfort. We have seen a range of Latin American foods including green pozole, pollo al fideo, rice and beans. Because there is a wide range in Latino culture, we see a variety of regional dishes made which taste quite different. Sometimes even an unexpected dish arrives.
“The vision behind the Miércoles de Comida is creating community, not just distributing food,” Rios-Wyatt says.
Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series of stories and photographs by Andrea Nieto and Emilianna Vazquez, two Orange County-based photographers and writers who delve deep into their stories and like to capture nuances in spaces they are invited into. They focus on cultural intimacies and dynamics with a current concentration on food. They look to expand within and beyond food in Orange County in the future.
The last time we were here, it felt more like a banquet, but the familiarity progressed to becoming an open living room and now a close circle in the few months since we’ve been back. We’ve attended the invitations to three comidas. The images here are from a warm Wednesday in the winter. Time follows us, or at least is on our side. We walk up late to food, and to a loudness from a microphone – singing is solo performer Niki Michaels, along with some others filling in as the choir. The celebration on this day is Dennys Diaz’s birthday.
The birthday cake moves forward and takes place and focus over Michaels’ voice. It sits in a half-opened box in the middle of a circle of laughter.
It’s a tres leches that sponges like one we haven’t had in years. We ate it quick, its richness was melancholic and nostalgic of family events. Knowing that they know more about how to really celebrate a life than most people, we know that it’s not just about their own cumple (birthday). The joy of celebrating existence is power amid crisis, and that is extended to ones we say goodbye to.
In this garden, the sun is always out and everyone is always dressed well. The food always says something of someone providing their best — today it’s a ceviche with mango and jalapeño served with tostadas. Regardless of the occasion, there is always a dessert.
Members chime in on the anticipation of meeting every Wednesday. For some, it generates an ambition to cook. For some, a relief in just seeing community. For others, an excitement to learn from each other, and if in the end it is just a plate of food to some, well, that is equally as important.
As the months pass, the role food plays becomes company among the company, the intention of Miércoles de Comida starts taking shape: communion facilitates conversation, challenging actions are faced and discussions become more acute. More care is tended to language and action.
The comidas also act as an approach for collecting data about the demographics of this community. In Orange County, there is negligence in collecting demographic and statistical data for trans issues. This data helps to assess needs so that people can petition for specific support. The Wednesdays are a way to “obtain information that will improve the quality of our lives,” as Rios-Wyatt puts it.
By creating Alianza Translatinx, and communicating with the trans community at the weekly comidas, she is initiating the work she hopes to see local public health offices, researchers and larger direct service organizations do in bettering their focus to real solidarity.
As the community turned to Alianza Translatinx for more help, the organization searched for an office. After requests for leases were ignored by several landlords, they’ve finally become tenants at the Spurgeon Building in Santa Ana. Here they are able to support those seeking help and advice with name and gender marker changes, medical services, unemployment applications and advocacy in specific issues like the disproportionate police harassment and triviality of assault cases in Orange County.
We have finished every plate with Alianza how we wish to leave every meal – with more intention, and with a better scope of investment and relation to those around us. “It’s nice to hear perspective, what you observed … a different point of view for people who don’t know about us, your experience when you met us,” Rios-Wyatt says.
Miércoles de Comidas
A drop-in support group, hosted by Alianza Translatinx, for TGNC at any stage of gender transition. Includes a meal and a group meeting.
When: Every Wednesday, 1 p.m.
Where: Call (714) 760-4465 for details.
From where we stand, perspective is a question of proximities. Perspective is based in the direction we face, but also in how willing one is to step closer or step aside. Livelihoods are affected. We choose how much clearer we want to be by displacing the emptinesses. The back-scatter of perceptions of worth and visibility are what allocates funding, it’s what makes something a forefront to support and not an afterthought.
An ineffable joy is seen in the type of legacy work being done by all members – in the cooking and participating in folklorico dance classes, exchanging hustles, hours of candle crafting for vigils, birthdays and navigating bureaucracies. It permeates through weak perceptions others have that has made the real support scarce. It complicates the narrative of being reduced to just one of hope or hopelessness. It is capable of holding many truths at once and can be disorienting when you’re not familiar. It is work that makes everyone beautiful, that aims to “make transitioning a pleasant experience,” says Ríos-Wyatt.
Andrea Nieto and Emilianna Vazquez are contributing photographers and writers for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.