A procession made its way down West Fourth Street in Santa Ana Friday evening in memory of Zoraida "Ale" Reyes, a 28-year-old transgender immigrant rights activist whose body turned up the day before near a Dairy Queen in Anaheim. A somber mood hung over the gathering of about 200 that ended at Sasscer Park, with mourners offering flowers, prayers, and testimonies in remembering Reyes' life. Her mother attended, as did friends and those in the activist community.
Circumstances surrounding Reyes' death are still unclear, though Anaheim police deemed them "suspicious." Department spokesman Lt. Bob Dunn encourages anyone with information about the case to contact Orange County Crime Stoppers – (855) TIP-OCCS with anonymity granted upon request. For now the investigation continues.
"The cause of death remains undetermined according to the Coroner's autopsy," Anaheim police spokesman Lt. Bob Dunn says of Reyes. "Toxicology reports are pending."
At the candlelight vigil, the uneasy sense that Reyes' death was a hate crime loomed over the crowd. "She was my best, best friend. Probably the best, best friend I could ever ask for," said a tearful Alexa Vasquez to the crowd. "We always hear statistics. We always hear about transgender statistics and their numbers. Well, today it wasn't a number. It was my sister. It was my best friend."
Kevin O'Grady, Executive Director of The Center OC didn't know Zoraida Reyes, but several of his staff did. "It's been a rough week," he said. "Unfortunately, this brings home to Orange County what happens across the nation everyday. Transgender women are subject to murder, violence and attack. What I hope it does is bring the rest of the LGB community behind in support of the transgender community and that everybody stands together."
A program for the vigil noted Reyes as born in Michoacán. She later migrated to Santa Ana, going through Century High School, Santa Ana College and UC Santa Barbara. As an undocumented student, she became involved as an activist with the Orange County DREAM Team (OCDT) and DeColores Queer Orange County. Her death has sent a chill outside county lines– with a vigil held in Phoenix over the weekend and another one planned in San Francisco for tomorrow.
"She was really funny," says OCDT activist Hairo Cortes. He worked with Reyes recently for a LGBTQ immigrant rights protest outside the Santa Ana city jail last month where five protesters were arrested for civil disobedience. "I remember we needed someone to do an interview and she said 'Oh, just put some makeup on Hairo, he has the hair!'"
Smoke from burning sage disappeared into the evening sky. A collection box for funeral donations made its way through the crowd. Chants of "Not One More / Ni Una Más" echoed with their spirit of stopping deportations, but were colored that night by the desire to stop violence against the transgender community.
As the vigil came to a close, a song by Mexican singer Gloria Trevi played as Reyes was a big fan. But friends left behind wondered how to deal with the grief of their loss.
"I just don't know where to go as a transgender activist after this," Vasquez said. "It's real, and I keep on saying this, but it hurts."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2