The first thing one notices about Maritxa Vidal, 57, is a warmth and openness that make you feel immediately at ease.
Everyone on Division Street seems to know Vidal. “They call me the mayor or la princesa del paseo,” Vidal joked. With a black flowy dress, impeccably styled short brown hair and a friendly face, passersby can’t help but be drawn to her.
Vidal was recently appointed the director of the health center of Vida/SIDA, a nonprofit that addresses HIV/AIDS in the Latino community. Vidal absolutely loves the organization and is proud of the work they do for the community.
However, things weren’t always this perfect for her. As a transgender Latina in Chicago, Vidal had a long and difficult path to get to this point in her life.
Vidal and her family immigrated from Havana, Cuba in 1966. Though her parents were very loving, she said, her childhood was challenging because her parents were so often living paycheck to paycheck. At the age of 15 she began working the second shift at a factory in Skokie with her father. In addition to the poverty she faced, she began to grapple with her gender identity.
“I knew I was different,” Vidal said. Her mother, brother, and sister accepted her immediately, but it took about a year for her father to come around. Although her mother loved her, Vidal said she was concerned because “she knew the road that was ahead.”
After Vidal transitioned in the 1970s, she was arrested numerous times simply for being who she was. “During that time, if you didn’t use at least three articles of male clothing, you could be arrested,” she said. “Just for trying to feel comfortable in my own skin.” Keepreading.