A mausoleum dedicated entirely to transgender women was inaugurated in Mexico City on Thursday. The mausoleum will have room for up to 149 women, many of whom were sex workers who died alone or whose bodies remained unclaimed by family. It’s the brainchild of Kenya Cuevas, a trans woman who left sex work to start a trans advocacy group and shelter.
Cuevas, or Mama Kenya as she is known to her chosen trans family, said the first person to be laid to rest will be her close friend Paola Buenrostro, who was shot dead in cold blood before her eyes in 2016.
“You don’t have to pay rent anymore,” Luna said at her current grave marked by a pink headstone, according to the Associated Press. “You will have your own home now.”
The murder and its aftermath changed Cuevas’s life.
Cuevas had run away from home at the age of 9 after her grandmother died, leaving her without protection from abusive relatives. That night she met a trans woman on the street, feeling an instant connection with the sex worker. Days later, Cuevas was initiated into sex work and not long after was given drugs, starting what was to become a decades-long battle with addiction.
On September 30, 2016, Cuevas was working the streets when she watched her friend Buenrostro get into the car with a client, according to a report from the BBC. Without warning, the man pulled out a gun and shot Buenrostro. The man then aimed the gun at Cuevas and pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed. Cuevas fought back and restrained the man until the police arrived, but it was too late to save her friend. Despite the testimony of witnesses and video Cuevas took of the murder, the man was arrested but was released and walked away a free man following a trial.
The death of Buenrostro changed the direction of Cuevas’s life. She quit sex work and started Casa de Muñecas to provide support for trans sex workers in Mexico City. In a 2022 Vice Life documentary, Cuevas says her shelter takes a holistic approach to meeting the needs of trans women.
“Sex work is a world full of ups and downs, right? There are many situations that entangle you in vicious cycles like addiction, alcoholism, and working all day long,” Cuevas said in the documentary. “My strategy was to open a shelter, but not only a shelter to give them food or a place to sleep, because that was not enough. In Mexico, trans people are deprived of the right to education, housing, and identity or having a family. The shelter focuses on [making sure] that they can identify themselves in an environment free of violence so they can get tools that they have been denied from the moment they came out as trans women.”
Casa de Muñecas founded the mausoleum, which will also be home to the remains of Indigenous transgender rights activist Guadalupe “Lupilla” Xiu, who died earlier this month after fleeing torture and kidnapping in her native Oaxaca, and 12 other trans women who will be disinterred for placement in the mausoleum. The attorney general is helping with the process.
At Thursday’s dedication, Mama Cuevas took a moment to remember the member of her chosen family whose death helped turn a community’s dream into reality.
“Thank you, Paola, because in your name we were able to reach an important milestone for the trans community,” Cuevas told the cheering crowd.
Pictured: Trans activist Kenya Cuevas and a Mexican cemetery