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Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

Activists across the country are making sure that their voices, and their stories, are being heard. We refuse to stay silent. A perfect example of strength, courage and determination is Samaria Johnson. She’s an organizer at the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice, which was created out of our Southern Regional Latinas Organizing for Leadership and Advocacy Training. Her dedication to reproductive justice and the empowerment of Alabamians has made her the activist of the month.

Read her story here:

I’ve always gotten a bit of a thrill for bad girls. Whatever their faults, they stepped out of bounds and made their own decisions. The drive to support women and challenge misogynistic, patriarchal institutions and attitudes was jumpstarted early in my life, inspired by the bad girls of history and legend. In daily Bible study at my Christian elementary schools I questioned the assumptions that Eve’s forbidden fruit consumption was fundamentally morally wrong, and in college considered the social structures that condemned Helen for not conforming to traditional feminine roles and behaviors. These women and others took initiative – to encourage their own education and intelligence, to freely express their sexuality without guilt or hesitation, to control where they ended up in life and how.

Amanda Reyes and Samaria Johnson

Amanda Reyes and Samaria Johnson


I was raised and surrounded by generous, strong, complicated women at home, my mom and grandmothers and aunts. Most of my cousins are women. All of my closest friends are women. I grew up in a world of women, reading about them and looking up to them and learning from them. I have spent my entire life loving and being loved by women. There was never any question about my life’s purpose, once I realized it. My own strength has come from generations of women nurturing and fighting for each other. It continues to grow by relentlessly doing the same.

Over the past year I’ve become especially active in the pro-woman community. As a student at the University of Alabama, where I study history and am on track to graduate in Spring 2015, I joined the newly-formed Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice. I’ve organized

Samaria Johnson

Samaria Johnson

volunteering, collected signatures for sex education laws, attended potlucks to network with fellow student progressives, hosted documentary screenings. I serve as an escort at the local Tuscaloosa clinic and, standing outside the clinic in front of anti-choice protestors, have incredible leverage to explore and confront anti-woman attitudes. Being on the ground is incredibly important to me. It’s easy to get trapped in an ivory tower, and forget the nitty-gritty of actual people and the very real reasons why I’ve chosen the work that I do. At last March’s National Advocacy Weekend, I was able to connect with people whose experiences with society’s ubiquitous misogyny, heterosexism, and racism absolutely horrified me. At the same time, their stories reinforced my personal convictions. That horror was necessary in reminding me of why I work.

This summer I’m interning at the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Virginia. I’m working on a few different projects, including creating a sexual assault toolkit for universities and colleges. I’ve taken on as president of AASRJ at the University. For the next year, my fellow officers have adopted “sex positivity” as our theme. With that in mind we’ll be spotlighting black and queer intersections in sexual and reproductive justice, focus on religious outreach, and educating other students about safe expressions of sexuality and relationships. These kinds of opportunities are what dreams are made of. Thanks to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, FMF, and a number of other organizations and fellow activists, as well as the ladies in my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to have them and the strength of conviction to take advantage of them!

Samaria Johnson

Samaria Johnson

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There’s this bill in Nevada entitled, AB 230. It would require that all school districts offer a comprehensive, age-appropriate and medically accurate sexuality education curriculum. Parents may opt their children out of this coursework without penalty.

State Senator Ruben Kihuen from Las Vegas said that in Latino homes, “it’s taboo to talk to your kids about sex. You just don’t.” But then something crazy happened! Sherman Frederick, Las Vegas Review Journal Contributor wrote:

“As easy as Nevada girls are, you see, Nevada’s Hispanic girls are really, really easy. That comes from the mouth of Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas. According to him, that’s because Hispanic parents never talk to their children about sex.”

WHAT?! Is that what the Senator REALLY said?

AB 230 would make comprehensive sex education available to students. Now, don’t freak out. Comprehensive sex education classes don’t teach kids HOW to have sex. It just means the classes are age appropriate and medically correct. Ideally, conversations about sex, our bodies and sexuality are already happening at home. Since a very young age we should be talking about good and bad touching, have a basic understanding about body parts and what to do if we don’t feel safe.

The article written by Sherman Frederick suggests that only Latinas are having sex, becoming pregnant and that it isn’t society’s problem but their parents and their culture. Are you angry yet? This is a micro aggression that sheds light on a larger problem and comes at a perfect time. May is National Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Month. Teenage pregnancy is a systemic issue, that affects all races, because yes, all races have sex. This in no way is to dehumanize teen moms. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most badass moms ever.

Latinas do not report having sex more than white women, but are at higher risk for pregnancy because they have significantly lower rates of contraceptive use. This disparity in contraceptive use is based not on simple preference, but is closely connected to social and economic inequity. What’s the real problem? We conducted research and found some statistic that may answer this question.

No one makes the decision to become a mom at a very young age. A mixture of being undocumented or not, having little to no comprehensive sex education, not having access to contraceptives, emergency contraceptives and abortions lead to unplanned pregnancies. If there is anything that the New York Young Mom’s group has taught me is that they DID make a decision, and that was to not terminate their pregnancy; however, many have little to no choices. This decision, whether you agree with it or not, should be respected and supported. Having or not having sex doesn’t make us “easy” or “prudes”, it means we are fierce women who decide what to do with our bodies. Geez, can we get some respect?

mom__s_hands_baby__s_foots_by_theprodiqyThere is a trend in all these teenage pregnancy discussions. Often times ads, articles or discussions about teenage pregnancy target the person rather than than the issue. Teen moms are usually portrayed in racists ads that use women of color or their children against them. They’re blamed for living in poverty, for their partner leaving, for not finishing high school. ARE YOU SERIOUS? All these things existed way before they became moms. Teen parents didn’t create poverty. Parents can divorce/separate from each other at any point in their relationship. Students drop out for many reasons, instead of targeting one group of people, why not provide more resources and support for students to stay and finish high school? Yes, teenage parents CAN finish high school and college with the right support system.

How does unplanned pregnancy, sex and comprehensive sex education classes work together?

My Grandmother would melt down the barbie doll’s body before giving her over to my mom to play. She didn’t want my mom to see the lumps her breasts made under her clothes or the curve of her butt. There was no discussion about sex or body parts at all.

I had a friend awhile ago, we were both 13. She didn’t know what “having sex” and “virginity” meant. Her mother taught her that “losing your virginity” is when someone “touches your belly button”. I’m not joking. This is a true story. I only knew of the misinformation when we were watching TV and someone on the show mentioned the word virginity. She looked at me confused and asked what did touching someone’s belly button have to do with the show we were watching.

I was inappropriately touched when I was in school. I knew that what was happening wasn’t correct because these were my “private areas” and without guilt or shame I told my teacher and my mom. All hell broke loose of course. What if I hadn’t known that what was happening wasn’t correct? What if I hadn’t known that I could trust my teacher, my mom, and ask for help?

yellowMy seven year old sister recently started taking swimming lessons every Tuesday. Every Monday night my mom lists all the things she needs to remember before changing into her bathing suit the next day. “Make sure you’re alone in the bathroom stale”, “no one should be dressing you”, “If anyone follows you inside what do you do? Who do you tell?”, “If you do not feel okay, do you promise to tell me?”. She also reminds her about the ordinary things, “did you pack your goggles?”, “Don’t forget your towel”. It’s a routine now, and my sister always responds with the same “I know mom I knowwww” while she rolls her eyes and packs her things.

These are examples of how sex, sexuality and our bodies are constant topics of importance. We can’t ignore it or pretend that by not addressing it it’ll go away. They come in various situations. We need to teach our children that sexuality and sex is normal and natural. Lets be honest, regardless of race, many parents do not talk to their children about sex, sexuality, their bodies etc. We live in a world where everything is sexualized and we can’t just turn sex off. We have to address it. It’s crucial to have sex conversations from an early age. This will open the dialogue flow, not shut it down. How do we expect our kids to tell US when something is troubling THEM, but we’re unable to talk to them?

So now maybe you’re asking yourself, “what do we do?”

bottleWhile these conversations sometimes aren’t happening at home, they should be happening in school. Sex and our bodies shouldn’t be taboo. We’re naturally curious about sex and about each other even. If we create a safe environment at home and in schools for children to discuss these things, and know themselves, they’ll be able to make well thought out and informed decisions in the future. Decisions that involve – but are not limited to – touching someone who hasn’t given you permission to, saying “no”, having or not having sex. Having comprehensive sex education classes won’t push kids to have sex or in anyway encourage it. Students will be well educated and armed with all the necessary tools to make informed decisions. And why is that a bad thing? Don’t we want our children to grow up to be independent individuals who can think for themselves and have control over their bodies, and most importantly, their futures? We aim to raise warriors who will be changing the world, whether they decide to start a family or not.

The Nevada bill AB230 is taking the right steps into addressing a much bigger issue. Before writing or talking about teenage pregnancy we must educate ourselves and ask, what’s the real problem?

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By: Leydi Bautista

My experience during National Advocacy Weekend was excellent! For is the first time I was invited to something to important. It was an honor to be with so many women and men who shared their stories and fight for the same goal as me.

After the training, I wish to educate myself more about how to contact my Senators and Congress members. I also want to educate everyone on what the real needs in my community are.

Latina_Institute 117
I attended NAW without any fear and received so much information. It was so helpful because it will help me train myself to speak properly and to control my nerves.

Thank you National Latina institute for this opportunity to share with everyone. I realized that I have a lot of potential even if I am a women, young mother or student. I’m an unafraid immigrant!

Here in New York we will be having a open house for other young mothers like me, please come and get more information. Your voice matters!

FINALopenhouse


More reflections of our 2013 National Advocacy Weekend

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Leydi Bautista – young mother of two

My mother decided to have me at the age of 20 without any support from my “father” or our family. She was a young mother, living in poor conditions in Colombia, who barely made enough money to support herself, much less raise a child. Despite all this, she was able to provide for me and for my siblings as they came. However, I oftentimes imagine how different things would have been if my mother had a support system pre, during, and post pregnancy. I wonder how many more young mothers are out there without anyone to turn to or anyone who shares their experiences and can lend a shoulder to lean on. Which is why I’m so excited for the work the young mother’s group in New York is going to do.

Young mothers during their first training

The first time this group of young mothers set foot into the office they were shy and hesitant to open up about the hardships they’ve faced as young mothers. Their babies sat on our office floor, too scared to ask for snacks or even a juice box. With time, the mothers got to know each other better, they shared their fears of not becoming someone, of hating baby throw up, of deciding not to have an abortion even though they knew it would be difficult from here on after. Many gatherings that led to a briefing in Washington DC where these mothers stressed the importance of investing in them. They walked around DC with a sense of ownership; owning their stories, their experiences, their struggles, their goals, hopes and aspirations for the future that awaits them and their babies too.

Poderosa young mothers in DC

Marymar, one of the young mothers who went to DC shared her experience with us:

It was a fun experience and I would love to do more things like that. I felt motivated. I want to continue being vocal about the issues young mother’s face and to get more girls to do this. Even though there are people that don’t think about our future, we have to do it! We have to do everything we can to make sure others work with us and help us out. I want my kids to look up to me and to be proud of me. I’m doing all this so they can be happy. I want my daughter to one day say, “that’s my mother!” and that she’ll follow in my footsteps and help others. All I want to do is be somebody in life and everyone will see that I made it even though they didn’t believe I could. I will make it, that is a promise.


For these moms, the journey is not over though, it has just begun. As we continue to grow together and learn from each we hope to see real change in our community. These young moms are determined to obtain the resources they need to help their families or to create paths that are not there for them the way my mother did. From having access to child care, scholarships, food and shelter, comprehensive sex education to parent only parks, they will continue to fight for it all. But they won’t be alone.

Perlita and her baby boy

One thing is certain; they are not fighting for themselves but for their kid(s). Their kids are the reason they are able to get out of bed sometimes, why some of them are still enrolled in college even though it is so difficult to find child care. Their kids are the reason why they’re standing up to the injustices and inequalities they face every day. Because some day, things will change, and their little ones will be there to witness it and know their mothers fought for this. Without realizing it, these moms have already become someone in life. They are warriors and creators of their own destinies.

If you are also a young mom in New York and you’d like to get involved with us, connect with us here. Also, check out this video of the young mothers in DC.

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Angy holding a sign: "Soy poderosa because despite my immigration status I have found love in the darkest of places"

Angy Rivera

At the Latinas Organizing for Leadership and Advocacy training in North Carolina, I was handed a piece of paper. I flipped it over and the sign asked me why I am a poderosa. I stared at the blank paper for a few minutes, remembering my senior year of high school. (more…)

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Long-time NLIRH friend Miriam Z. Pérez, aka the Radical Doula, pointed out to us a very cool new resource: the California Pregnant and Parenting Youth Guide!

This Guide is for you if you are under 18 years old, you live in California, and you are pregnant or are already a parent. The Guide answers your questions about the law for pregnant or parenting minors.

The guide, put together by the National Partnership for Women and Families, answers questions about young people’s options regarding a pregnancy, how to access health care, and provides a great list of resources for young people who are pregnant or parenting in California. The guide is fabulous – comprehensive, understanding of youth issues, not patronizing or stigmatizing of young mothers, and it’s also in Spanish! Check it out!

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