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Episode 41: La lucha por la identidad (The Fight for Identity)

By Duolingo on Wed 23 October 2019

It took Vincenzo Bruno years to fully embrace his trans identity. But the moment he did, he became a fierce advocate for other LGBTIQ Costa Ricans, helping to launch a campaign that would end up altering the course of Costa Rican history.

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Martina: A quick note to our audience: The following episode contains descriptions of homophobia and discrimination against transgender people that may be upsetting to some listeners.

Martina: When Vincenzo Bruno was born, he was “assigned female” — meaning he was raised within traditionally feminine gender roles. But something didn’t feel right. As a kid, he would run home from school, go into his room, and lock all five locks on the door.

Vincenzo: Yo llegaba de la escuela en las tardes, cerraba la puerta de mi cuarto y buscaba el lápiz de ojos que me habían comprado para maquillarme.

Martina: Maquillarme or maquillarse means to put on makeup. He’d take out his makeup pencil and make his eyebrows thicker, draw himself a mustache and a beard, and put on one of his brother’s shirts.

Vincenzo: Yo aprendí a hacer todos los nudos de corbata posibles.

Martina: Nudos means knots, for neckties, or corbatas.

Vincenzo: Me acostaba a ver la televisión y me sentía feliz, viéndome como a mí me gustaba.

Martina: Vincenzo had never heard the term “transgender.” All he knew was that he felt more comfortable with himself when he was free to look and act like a boy.

Vincenzo: Yo siempre supe que era un hombre. Hacía todo para poder orinar de pie. También recuerdo que me ponía cerca de mi papá mientras él se cortaba la barba. Yo intentaba hacer lo mismo.

Martina: Somewhere in the midst of those pretend shaving sessions with his dad, little Vincenzo realized he felt like a boy because he was a boy. It was the start of a journey that would one day take him deep into the fight for transgender rights in Costa Rica.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and gain new perspectives on the world.

The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I’ll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again – and we also offer full transcripts at

A quick word about Costa Rican Spanish. Often double r’s and r’s at the beginning of words aren’t trilled, the way that they are in other Latin American countries.

Martina: As Vincenzo grew up, he gradually adopted a more conventionally masculine appearance.

Vincenzo: A los veinticinco años, yo salí del clóset como lesbiana y tuve mis primeras novias.

Martina: With his short hair and men’s clothing, Vincenzo had come to identify as what’s known as a ‘butch’ lesbian. It came closest to representing how he saw himself.

Vincenzo: Luego, a los veintinueve años, conocí a Ana Cristina, mi pareja actual. Nosotros empezamos una relación y, dos años después, decidimos tener un hijo.

Martina: Vincenzo had a son with Ana Cristina, his current partner, or pareja actual. And suddenly, everything changed. Same-sex couples commonly face discrimination in Costa Rica – especially if kids are involved. So Vincenzo quickly found himself advocating for non-traditional families like his.

Vincenzo: Un político empezó una campaña en contra de las familias homoparentales. Entonces, nosotros creamos una organización llamada “Familias Diversas Costa Rica”. Empezamos a ser activistas y a relacionarnos con muchísima gente de la comunidad LGBTIQ.

Martina: LGBTIQ: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer or questioning. As a gay rights activist, Vincenzo met people with all sorts of identities that were new to him, and it broadened his concept of gender.

Vincenzo: Yo empecé a cuestionar mi género. Sin embargo, veía cómo el mundo trataba a mis nuevos amigos transgénero. La realidad era muy fea para ellos.

Martina: Vincenzo knew in his heart that he was a man, but he saw the way the world treated his transgender friends, and it scared him. He worried that identifying as trans would lead to a lifetime of harassment and abuse.

Vincenzo: Yo no quería ser el objeto de tantas miradas, de tantos insultos. Yo no me sentía capaz de aceptar mi realidad.

Martina: Vincenzo was in deep denial. But then he was invited to his niece’s first communion. So Ana Cristina took him shopping for something he could wear to church.

Vincenzo: Nosotros fuimos a comprar ropa. Yo empecé a ponerme vestidos de flores y mi cuerpo entró en shock.

Martina: It was like his body was rebelling against the flowery dresses.

Vincenzo: Ana Cristina me ayudó a comprar un pantalón café y una camisa polo. Luego, yo me senté en una silla y empecé a llorar.

Martina: Vincenzo wasn’t just crying because he didn’t feel good in a dress. Looking at himself in the mirror, he finally accepted what he’d always known: He was a man.

Later, Ana Cristina sent him some YouTube videos of transgender people talking about how they transitioned. And suddenly, Vincenzo felt like a huge burden had been lifted.

Vincenzo: Yo tenía más de treinta años viviendo en blanco y negro. Y, en ese momento, por primera vez, tuve la esperanza de ver un poco de color en mi vida.

Martina: As soon as Vincenzo realized he wanted to transition, for his life to go from black-and-white to color, he couldn’t wait. He remembered all of those hidden moments locked in his room, painting his face. He grabbed a makeup pencil and repeated the ritual one last time for Ana Cristina.

Vincenzo: Ella me miró y, muy feliz, me dijo: “Te ves bien”.

Martina: Overjoyed to have the support of his partner, he sought out an endocrinologist so he could start hormone therapy.

Vincenzo: Ana Cristina y yo fuimos al endocrinólogo y yo fui víctima de un caso de transfobia horrible. El doctor me dijo: “Yo no te ayudaré con esto, yo no te puedo tratar”.

Martina: The doctor refused to help him. Dejected but not deterred, Vincenzo looked for another doctor, one who would support his decision to take testosterone and begin his medical transition.

Vincenzo: Después de un tiempo, encontré otro doctor que podía ayudarme y me prescribió testosterona. Yo fui inmediatamente a la farmacia.

Martina: Vincenzo’s body began to change, and he loved every minute of it.

Vincenzo: Yo comencé a ver diferencias en mi cuerpo: mi barba comenzó a crecer y mi voz cambió. ¡Fue una transición maravillosa!

Martina: He looked in the mirror and finally started to see the person he always knew he was. His curvy hips looked a bit straighter. Hair appeared on his chin, and his eyebrows thickened – for real this time. He even started growing a mustache, or bigote.

Vincenzo: Me salió un bigote un poco ridículo, con solo cinco pelos de cada lado, pero a mí me encantaba cada uno de ellos. También me hice una mastectomía. Ese fue el mejor día de mi vida.

Martina: In his new body, Vincenzo felt lighter, stronger, more confident. But the more he was perceived as a man, other problems began to arise.

Vincenzo: No es fácil ser transgénero en un lugar como Costa Rica. Yo lo sabía muy bien, pero ahora lo estaba viviendo.

Martina: For Vincenzo, discrimination was part of everyday life. Even a trip to the grocery store was a struggle.

Vincenzo: En el supermercado, las personas me miraban mal porque yo seguía usando mi tarjeta de crédito con mi nombre de mujer.

Martina: Every time, Vincenzo had to brace for some sort of confrontation at the store. The name on his ID matched the name on his credit card, but the cashiers looked him over like it didn’t.

Vincenzo: Yo vivía con miedo, porque sentía que la sociedad podía reaccionar de forma negativa simplemente porque yo era trans.

Martina: Vincenzo was scared. If his ID outed him as trans to the wrong person, it could mean big trouble.

Vincenzo: Yo necesitaba una identificación, una verdadera representación de quien era: un hombre con el nombre de Vincenzo.

Martina: In Costa Rica, there weren’t any laws specifically about gender identity or the trans community. It wasn’t prohibited to change one’s name, but it also wasn’t guaranteed.

Vincenzo: Yo tenía que pedir el cambio de nombre en la corte, frente a un juez.

Martina: Vincenzo knew he would likely face a judge who didn’t understand the issues trans people face. Or worse, one who was completely opposed to transgender rights.

Vincenzo: El juez me pidió dos testigos para el cambio de nombre. Uno de esos testigos era Ana Cristina, mi pareja.

Martina: When Ana Cristina got up in front of the judge as a witness – una testigo – she was overcome with emotion.

She broke down in tears as she explained the daily insidious attacks on her partner’s dignity… on her family’s dignity.

Vincenzo: El juez tomó su decisión. Me dijo: “Antes, yo le iba a decir a usted que no. Yo no le iba a cambiar el nombre, solo lo hice gracias a la declaración de su pareja”.

Martina: Vincenzo got the outcome he hoped for, but he still felt powerless. The judge thought so little of his autonomy that had it not been for Ana Cristina’s powerful testimony, he would have denied Vincenzo his name and his identity.

Vincenzo: En ese momento, nosotros nos dimos cuenta de que la decisión era 100% subjetiva. Después de eso, decidimos trabajar para sensibilizar a los jueces frente a esta situación.

Martina: Standing in front of that judge, Vincenzo, the transgender activist, was born.

In the wake of his courtroom humiliation, Vincenzo started to organize. He formed an activist group called Hombres Trans Costa Rica (HTCR or hache te ce ere). He knew that if he didn’t do something about the injustice, countless others would have to go through the same demoralizing experience.

Vincenzo: El activista que hay en mí no quiere ponerse cómodo y pensar: “OK, yo estoy bien, entonces las otras personas no importan”. Por esta razón, junto con HTCR, nosotros organizamos grupos para ayudar a hombres trans.

Martina: They hosted educational workshops about how to change your name and gender on ID cards, or how to access health care. They worked with other groups to set up HIV testing programs and spread political awareness.

Vincenzo: Estamos trabajando porque queremos tener los mismos derechos que todas las personas. También hacemos memoriales para los transgéneros que han sido asesinados en este país.

Martina: Soon, HTCR’s hard work began to pay off. In 2017, the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights, which is based in Costa Rica, published its opinion on same-sex marriage and gender identity.

Vincenzo: La Corte decidió que todas las personas deben tener el mismo derecho a casarse, sin importar su género. La Corte también decidió que el derecho a la identidad es fundamental para todos los otros derechos.

Martina: The court explained that every human right stems from the right to self-identify. The right to own property, to have a bank account, to get a job, to vote… Everything depends on an ID that represents who you are.

Vincenzo: Después de la decisión de la corte, las personas transgénero ya no tenían que ir frente a un juez para pedir el cambio de nombre.

Martina: It was a huge personal victory for Vincenzo, and a giant step forward for Costa Rica. Then, another milestone: The Department of Health extended health benefits to cover hormone replacement therapy, as well as psychological support while transitioning.

Vincenzo: Todo está progresando muy rápido y estoy muy emocionado, pero las cosas aún no son perfectas. Por ejemplo, el gobierno todavía no cubre los gastos de ninguna cirugía. ¡Vamos poco a poco!

Martina: Vincenzo and his fellow activists had been fighting hard for dignity, respect, and human rights. But their wins led to an unintended consequence.

Vincenzo: Fue precisamente por la decisión de la corte y todos los avances de la comunidad LGBTIQ que el movimiento conservador creció.

Martina: Just ahead of the 2018 presidential election, a conservative backlash took hold. And the two candidates in that election could not have been more different… except for one thing.

Vincenzo: Era muy curioso porque los dos candidatos tenían el mismo apellido, Carlos Alvarado y Fabricio Alvarado, pero representaban ideas totalmente contrarias.

Martina: Carlos Alvarado was an established progressive politician in favor of same-sex marriage. But Fabricio Alvarado, an evangelical Christian singer, strongly opposed same-sex marriage and transgender rights. He promised to repeal legal protections for the LGBTIQ community as one of his first acts in office.

Vincenzo: Yo estaba completamente en contra de Fabricio Alvarado y de sus ideas. Si él ganaba, yo iba a perder todos mis derechos. ¡Eso me ponía muy nervioso!

Martina: Vincenzo began to worry about his future and what was at stake in his country.

Vincenzo: Esa elección era un voto a favor de la igualdad y los derechos humanos, o un voto en contra de la humanidad.

Martina: He knew that in this election, more than ever, the trans community needed to make itself heard, loud and clear. So he launched a nationwide campaign to help transgender people feel safe going to the polls on election day.

Vincenzo: Yo, como hombre transgénero, sé que es difícil vivir con una tarjeta de identidad que no te representa. Eso, al momento de votar, podía ser un problema.

Martina: Vincenzo was worried people would be denied at the polls if they didn’t look like their ID photos, and effectively get outed as transgender — just like what he had faced so many times at the grocery store.

Vincenzo: Por esa razón, empezamos una campaña en las redes sociales con otras organizaciones como TransVida. Nuestro objetivo era asegurarles el derecho al voto a todas las personas de la comunidad trans de Costa Rica.

Martina: They spread the word on social media that if transgender people were concerned about going to the polls, they could request someone to accompany them and make sure they were allowed to exercise their right to vote.

Vincenzo: Nosotros les ofrecíamos ayuda a las personas necesitadas. Les asignábamos una persona para acompañarlas y darles seguridad.

Martina: Both candidates campaigned explicitly on the issue of LGBTIQ rights. Same-sex marriage became a central platform for both parties: one for, and one against.

Vincenzo: Fue muy triste sentir que alguien estaba tan en contra de nosotros. Nosotros solo queríamos una cosa: no tener un presidente completamente homofóbico. ¡Esto estaba en las manos de nuestro país!

Martina: Vincenzo was really nervous about how Costa Ricans would vote. The movement couldn’t afford to lose a single vote to intimidation or harassment. He felt like he had to make sure every trans voter could cast a ballot.

Vincenzo: Por fin, llegó el primero de abril, el día de la elección. ¡Fue muy estresante! Sin embargo, pudimos encontrar un acompañante para cada persona trans del país. Todos pudieron votar.

Martina: That night, April 1st, 2018, it became clear which Alvarado was going to win. The streets filled with people banging drums and improvising songs. Cars honked their horns and people started dancing in the streets.

Vincenzo: ¡Carlos Alvarado ganó! ¡Ganó el amor! ¡Ganaron los derechos humanos!

Martina: Emotions were palpable in the streets of San José, and improptu celebrations erupted all over the country. Vincenzo was out there too, livestreaming his excitement on social media and cheering with his neighbors.

Vincenzo: Yo no pude controlar mis emociones. Fue un día lleno de alegría, después de meses de ansiedad.

Martina: Soon after, Costa Rica even took the extraordinary step of abolishing the gender box on national IDs, and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

Vincenzo: Mi país empezó a cambiar, a mejorar, pero aún hay obstáculos en el camino. Por ejemplo, los partidos políticos conservadores son cada vez más y más fuertes. ¡Mi deseo es verlos perder otra vez en la próxima elección!

Martina: But for now, Vincenzo is happy to savor this huge victory and focus on being with his family.

Vincenzo: Soy el hombre más feliz. Amo estar con mi familia: Ana Cristina y mi hijo, Luca. Ahora soy yo el papá enseñándole a mi hijo cómo afeitarse. Él es mi fan número uno.

Martina: Vincenzo Bruno is an activist living in San José, Costa Rica. This story was produced by Sarah Barrett, a Canadian journalist based in Mexico City.

This is our last story of this season, but we’ll be back with more new episodes soon. In the meantime, we’d love to know what you thought of this episode! Send us an email with your feedback at And if you liked this story, please share it! You can find the audio and a transcript of each episode at You can also subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss an episode.

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The Duolingo Spanish Podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro. Gracias por escuchar.


This episode includes recordings from JasonElrod and Jagadamba under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producer: Sarah Barrett
Narrator & Protagonist: Vincenzo Bruno
Script Editor: Grant Fuller
Mixed by: Samia Bouzid
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz Farga
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro