Reproductive Justice and Latino Heritage Month 2011: The Work of Harmony Santana


Last year during Latino Heritage month I did a series of posts highlighting various Latinos in the U.S. and abroad who do important work on reproductive justice. I often find, and this is still the case, that many events celebrating Latino Heritage during this time rarely discusse or include conversations about reproductive justice, sexual and reproductive health, sexual orientation, or other topics that intersect with these. These posts are attempts to shed light on these issues during this time of Latino Heritage Month in hopes that we can continue to have them year-round.

One of the things I wanted to include this year that I didn’t last year during this time was featuring young people who are influencing reproductive justice, but also who are having a huge impact on our communities. Last year I did not include youth or youth activists and this year I’d like to change that for many reasons. One reason being that we, as older folks (some may even consider us elders), can learn a lot from youth. We not only have the privilege of mentoring some of them, but we get mentored by them as well. 

Harmony Santana, Getty ImagesHarmony Santana, Getty Images

This year the first person I’d like to highlight is actress Harmony Santana. Many of you who are into films, especially independent films by people of Color may have already heard of Harmony Santana as she is the transgender Latina who was cast in the film Gun Hill Road as the lead character: a transgender Latina. 

The film was one of the largest grossing independent films in the United States.  It shares the story of Vanessa a trans-Latina poet whose father Ernesto (Esai Morales) is released from prison after several years of being incarcerated. Vanessa lives with and is raised by her mother Angela (Judy Reyes) and experiences challenges when her father reunites with the family. Ernesto and Angela work with and find ways to support their daughter as she establishes herself as a member of the family and community. This is not a review of the film, I wrote one of those and if you want to hear my perspective on the film, some critiques and some adoration you can read it in full here

Harmony Santana is a young Latina whose existence is a reminder to us all that that the reproductive justice movement must be a space for all people in our community to be welcomed and help do important work. Including youth and trans people strengthens our community, work, and impact. They are essential to our community and recognizing the ways some of the work we may do may not be as inclusive as we think is an opportunity to make lasting changes. 

She is a young person who is a representative of a community that is often ignored oppressed and excluded; even by those who claim to be allies. For many of us working within our communities, we may have come into contact with youth who have similar experiences to Harmony. Indiewire’s reporter Nigel M. Smith reports that Harmony was living in a LGBTQI group home in Harlem called Green Chimneys. Growing up one of 13 children in a Puerto Rican-Dominican home, Harmony is a Bronx native who has shared in several interviews that her relationships with her siblings and mother are strong, yet she remains estranged from her father. She’s not just an up and coming actress, she is many of the trans youth who experience homelessness and isolation. She is also representative of the youth who survive and thrive when discovering their worth and space in the community. 

I’m thankful I am able to be a witness to Harmony Santana’s work, to see her thrive as a young person, but also as a leading Latina in film. She and her work are a part of and advocate for media justice. During an interview with Rev. Chris Carpenter at Movie Dearest, Harmony gave the following advice for trans people “Be yourself, be happy, and have hope in your family; they might not be supportive now but it takes time.”

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