I recently celebrated my first anniversary as the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH). It’s been quite a year—I’ve traveled to a dozen states, met with everyone from Latina teen moms struggling to make a better life for their children, to DREAMers advocating for a just immigration system, to the President and Vice President of the United States. All while juggling the life of a working mom, often with either baby or breast pump in tow!
In the whirlwind of policy debates and activist conferences, it is easy to gloss over the victories we’ve accomplished together this past year. The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, and the teen birth rate for Latinas declined significantly, indicating that our young women have some improved access to education, contraception and reproductive care. A groundbreaking poll, headed up in part by NLIRH, showed that strong majorities of Latino voters agree that a woman has the right to make her own personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering, dispelling lingering stereotypes about Latino/as and reproductive care.
Throughout all of this important work, I’ve been struck by the incredible activists making all of these achievements possible. I stood outside the Supreme Court steps with an amazing group of Latinas who devoted precious time and energy to making sure their mothers, sisters and friends can access life-saving care. I was inspired by a group of young mothers who shared personal stories with legislators to help them understand the unique parenting challenges they face and how support can enable them to succeed.
Every day these women and women like Lucy Felix, who educates women in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley about how to keep themselves and their families healthy, and Jersey Garcia, who works to mobilize Latinas in Florida to vote against an anti-choice ballot initiative, remind me what can happen when we harness the power of our community and the ballot box. I am inspired by the dedication and courage of the young women we work with, including Gabi Lazzaro, who fearlessly shared her personal story to policymakers on Capitol Hill about having an abortion and being a young mom, while advocating for policies that would ensure that other young mothers receive the support they need to pursue their dreams. I am inspired by Angy Rivera, a DREAMer and reproductive justice activist in New York City, who proudly proclaims that she is ‘undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid’. I know with young mujeres like Gabi and Angy serving as leaders in their communities, the future of this country will be one that is just and equitable.
NLIRH makes connections between issues often seen as disparate: immigration and abortion access, contraceptive equity and race, sexual orientation and reproductive freedom. We’re using every opportunity to make these ties, like highlighting queer undocumented youth and showing the parallel struggle that LGBTQ and immigrant young people face by having to “come out of the closet” twice, both as LGBTQ and undocumented, in honor of National Coming Out Day. One issue cannot be separated from the other for the members of our communities.
Latinos make up the largest and fast growing ethnic group in the United States and over 20 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2012 election. Latinas turn out in greater numbers than their male counterparts. There were five majority-minority states in 2011: three of which are dominated by Latinos (California, Texas and New Mexico). By 2050, one in three people will be Latino or Latina. With this in mind, it is important to note that Latina’s issues are the nation’s issues. Like the rest of the country, Latinas are concerned about the economy, health care, education, immigration policy and national security.
As I look forward to my next year, I’m glad to have such powerful hermanas beside me because we still have much work to tackle. Legislators continue to play politics with women’s health by refusing to renew the bi-partisan Violence Against Women Act. Instead, they bicker over small expansions that would protect some of the most vulnerable Latinas. Millions of Latinas are still denied vital reproductive health care under the Affordable Care Act because of immigration status, and draconian immigration policies force millions of women immigrants to live in the shadows, as they fear their families might be needlessly torn apart. Opponents continue to vow to repeal access to contraception and governors are flatly refusing the Medicaid expansion and cutting family planning dollars.
My organization and I are preparing to fight these battles — meeting with legislators on the Hill, training Latinas in Texas, Florida and throughout the country to raise their voices for their rights, and partnering with other organizations who will walk with us toward justice. I am convinced there is power in our collective voice, but only if we use it to demand the ability to keep ourselves and our families healthy.
I’m using my voice to advocate for Latina health, reproductive justice and human rights. I hope you’ll join me in making Latinas even more powerful in the next year. ¡Somos Poderosas! (We are powerful!)