EAST HARLEM – Iván Monalisa Ojeda left Chile two decades ago because it was not safe to be out as a transgender person.
On Thursday afternoon, he was proudly open as he joined dozens of fellow refugees at the Target East Harlem Community Garden, on East 117th Street, to celebrate Word Refugee Day.
“A lot of people leave the country for different reasons, but (my case) was about freedom,” he said.
“I am a part of the LGBTQI community and I found (The U.S.) more secure… I can express myself without being punished.”
Ojeda identifies as two-spirit transgender and has worked as a writer since arriving in the country. He published a book — “Never, Ever Ever Coming Down” — earlier this year, which is a collection stories of people within the transgender community.
The event was organized by the Catholic Charities of New York, which provides a number of services to thousands of clients, including refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers — particularly education and job services. Many of its clients have been persecuted in their home countries.
The U.S. is slated to take in 85,000 refugees this year.
Although the Syrian refugee crisis has driven much of the conversation, many of the refugees the organization serves come from all over the world, said Kelly Agnew-Barajas, the organization’s refugee resettlement director.
Many of them come from places such as Haiti, Egypt, Senegal and regions such as South and Central America to escape oppressive regimes or to reunite with family members.
“No one country has a stronghold on the suffering that has sprung up,” Agnew-Barajas said.