Claudia Delfin for Oxford American

October 1, 2015 6:21 am

A few years ago I went to El Paso, Texas to document a small neighborhood that’s often been dubbed ground zero for the national debate on immigration. After the story ran in Time magazine’s Lightbox I heard from Jonathan Blitzer, a writer who wanted to get in touch with one of the subjects from my story. Claudia is transgender and despite a rocky past, she’s now an award-winning anti-drug advocate. Jon ended up spending 2 years with her and he wrote a beautiful profile that was published in Oxford American.

Below I’ve included some of the photos I took of Claudia. Many thanks to Claudia Delfin, Jon Blitzer, Maxwell George, and of course Oxford American magazine. This story really touched my heart and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.

Claudia gets coffee before work.

This summer, Claudia won a prestigious statewide award for her work in fighting AIDS in the community.

Claudia leads group therapy sessions for recovering addicts. The agency where Claudia works provides methadone treatment. “If I didn’t do this work, I might still be an addict,” she said.

Claudia spends half of her time at work doing outreach on the streets of El Paso, conducting AIDS tests, distributing condoms, and providing counsel for community members.

Claudia working in El Paso.

The northeast corner of El Paso is known as the Devil’s Triangle for its notorious combination of prostitution, drugs, and gangs. Lining the thoroughfare are dilapidated motels rife with sex work and drug-dealing.

In 2005, Claudia checked into a clinic for recovering addicts at an agency called Aliviane, in El Paso. Six years later, she was working there, distributing condoms; conducting HIV tests; providing counseling; and caring for addicts on the same streets where she used to score.

Claudia and her friend Marty at a fast-food restaurant along the border. Marty buys hormones in bulk at a pharmacy in Juárez, then sells them at a mark-up in El Paso. They are among the few trans women from El Paso who hazard the trip into Juárez. The other women, according to Marty, “have fear—either that or they’re illegal. If they go across, they won’t come back.”

One of the four bridges linking El Paso to Ciudad Juárez.

The desiccated Rio Grande glimpsed from the Santa Fe Street Bridge. “It’s hard to imagine now, because the river is dry,” Claudia said, but in the 1990s, when she used to ford the river in order to avoid border patrol on the bridges, the water came up to her chest.

Claudia buys gum from a vendor on the Santa Fe Street Bridge. She knows many of the vendors in downtown Juárez from her frequent trips, and she always makes a point of buying something to support them.

A view of the Santa Fe Street Bridge from Juárez, looking north.

Claudia has always bought her hormones in Juárez, where they’re cheaper and can be purchased without insurance.

Juárez is where Claudia first transitioned as a teenager. “I make myself up in Juárez,” she said.

Claudia gets her nails and hair done at a mall by the bridge in Juárez. “Me hago todo aquí” she said. “I make myself up here in Juárez.”

The iconic "X," or "La Equis," monument was begun in 2007 and completed in 2013. Standing roughly two hundred feet high, it towers above downtown Juárez, a few kilometers east of where Claudia regularly crosses.

In 2013, Claudia became a godmother to Alan García, the son of two of her friends in Juárez. She sees Alan and his parents often, at their house in a neighborhood called Alta Vista. She had stopped visiting the city for years during the drug war, and only recently began crossing again. “It brings me happiness being back here, happiness that I’m not the person that I used to be,” she said.

Claudia sits with her friend Sofia and Sofia’s son, Alan, at Sofia’s house in the Alta Vista neighborhood of Juárez.

Claudia with her friend Gerardo, Sofia’s husband and Alan’s father. A decade ago, Claudia used to cross into Juárez to score drugs and party; now, she goes to visit her friends and babysit.

On a recent trip to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Claudia Delfin visits the city’s main cathedral, as she does each time she crosses the border.

The Mariscal neighborhood of Juárez, once the city’s red light district, used to be full of bars and clubs. These days, it is a husk of its former self, as all of the old haunts have either been shuttered or razed.

Claudia takes the Linea Central bus from downtown Juárez to her friends’ house in Alta Vista.

Families cross into El Paso, from Juárez, at dusk. Many of them go shopping at a string of dollar stores and groceries downtown, then return home, to Juárez, just before dark.

The Rio Grande, seen from the Santa Fe Street Bridge.

Cars queue up, sometimes for hours on end, to enter El Paso from Juárez.

Two flags announce the dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico. In the background is an exhortation written in lime on one of the rolling hills making up the Juárez Sierra: “Ciudad Juárez, the Bible is the Truth. Read it.”

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