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By Octavia

My name is Octavia, and I’m a mother.

I was 16 when I found out I was pregnant. I was terrified. I felt like there was no one on my side. Like the whole world was against me. My mother and the father were both pressuring me to get an abortion. I didn’t know what to do and felt like I needed to decide what was best for me. I then felt happiness because I thought I couldn’t have children. I was also in denial and just tried to forget about my pregnancy. If I had a little more money and a better or safer environment that would’ve helped me obtain work, maybe things would’ve been different. I didn’t have insurance to get contraceptives. In the end, I decided to become a mother because I wanted to treat somebody better than how I was treated. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

ImageI am glad that I became a mother. I don’t regret a thing about it. Tracy pushes me to go farther than I’ve ever gone. I am 19 years old now. My son is two years old. I love him so much. He saved my life and he woke me up from my downfall.

I am a single parent. No one helps me pick Tracy up or care for him. Alone, I make decisions for myself and for my son’s safety. I changed Tracy’s day care multiple times to ensure he was in an environment that was appropriate for a child, while I worked hard to get us in a better situation.

It’s been difficult as a single young mother. I had a lot of disappointing moments with my son’s family. His father and grandmother completely ignore my wishes and do whatever they want. Simple things like taking care of Tracy became a disagreement with them. The cherry on top was when they cut all of my son’s hair behind my back. I know it sounds silly, but they disregard me at all times. His father lies about helping me; in reality, we barely see him.

My mother isn’t as involved as I wish she were. Rent in New York became too expensive for us to manage so my mother decided to move to New Jersey last minute. I left with her. Commuting to New York while living in New Jersey wasn’t easy. My mother kept demanding I get a job and calling me lazy. I became fed up. Everything was too far for me to pursue the dreams I had set out for myself. I had to find another place to go stay. I knew I deserved better. Tracy and I left home.

I will not let them bring me down.

I lived a group home that made it difficult for me to attend school. I had to find an alternative place to live or get kicked out of school. I had to drop my classes in college in order to stay within the requirements of my group home.

I decided to apply for the Year Up internship. Guess what? I got in! They support low-income young adults reach their professional career goals. I’m still participating in this internship. Year Up is teaching me hard and soft skills that are going to stay with me for life. I’m getting college credits for the classes I take. I am learning about financial operations while juggling my personal problems. I’m grateful for this program, it isn’t easy to get into. I plan to go back to school in the fall. I love art and everything about it.

I hope my son grows healthy and appreciates and values life. I want to raise him in a place that offers decent food. I want to get him away from all these artificial flavors and preservatives. I dream of obtaining a decent amount of money and moving to Europe. I want to study there. I dream of becoming a fashion designer and owning my own company. No one and nothing is going to stop me.

By: Dashira Pomales-Rivera

My name is Dashira Pomales-Rivera. I am 18 years old and a mother to a beautiful six-month-old baby boy named Mason Dean Pomales.

I found out I was pregnant at the age of 17 on March 14, 2013. My due date was set to be October 24, 2013. I was scared. Not only had I never held a child before, but also I was young. I was stereotyped and shamed by my so-called “friends.” I cried, but had hope. I had a human being in my womb, a little half of me. My future began at the perfect moment, and here’s why.

I dropped out of high school on my sixteenth birthday. I was a very depressed individual. I was in a terrible relationship with the father of my child. I knew I had to end it but I just didn’t have the strength and courage in me to let go. I had suffered so much but my son gave me the strength to say enough is enough. I didn’t want my child to grow in that environment. So, with that being said, I ended that relationship soon after I found out my child was a boy.

I can honestly say that leaving was the best decision. It was a big relief like a weight had been lifted. I hadn’t felt that good in so long. It was definitely hard. I just kept reminding myself that it was for the best. I am so lucky to have my family’s support! My depression soon turned into impatience and being anxious to just hold my boy.

During one of my first appointments with my midwife, I saw an ad on the wall about a school named The Care Center in Massachusetts. It is an alternative program for pregnant and parenting teens that have dropped out of high school. I felt this ad was placed there just in time for me to see it. It was fate and a perfect time to get started on living my life, which felt controlled for way too long. I immediately called and got in touch with one of the counselors, and before I knew it, I was a student!

It took a while, but I finally went to take a test at the Kittredge Center in Holyoke’s Community College on September 25th. Not too long after, on October 7th, I found out I had passed via phone call. I’ll never forget that day. I was standing in the middle of my building, my son’s crib had arrived and my oldest sister was there. I was full of joy. I couldn’t believe that was it. Just like that I was a step closer of being a mother in college!

ImageOn November 1, 2013 at 10:21 p.m. I experienced perfection and beauty. My son was finally here. I brought him into this world. All of my worries flew out the window and out of this world. It was just he and I. This moment was what I had been waiting for. This little man stole my heart.

Months later, I got an email stating one of the women from The Care Center would be flying to Washington D.C. to participate in a briefing to discuss young parenting issues during a week of action dedicated to us. The briefing would take place on May 16, 2014. I would be the mother flying and speaking at the briefing. Me!

I had mixed emotions at first because I haven’t flown in ten years and I would be flying alone! I felt extremely excited that I would be able to do something for such a good cause. There was no shame in being a young parent. This briefing was dedicated to sharing our experiences, not to judge, but to find ways to support. My anxiety rose to a higher level. Despite this, I knew I could do it. ¡Soy poderosa! (I’m powerful).

The taxi picked me up at home and dropped me off at the airport. Everything was great. In fact, it was better than I thought! Finally I got to the hotel (which was awesome! Another thing I’ve never done!). I had arrived to Washington, D.C. Who would’ve thought that I would be there? Definitely not me. I was anticipating the briefing. Knowing people wanted to know about my experiences and what they could do to help meant so much to me.

This briefing was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I want to thank The Care Center for this opportunity, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and The Woman Organizing Across Ages for providing support with advocacy training, and to my son, Mason Dean, for making me the woman I have become. Gracias. This won’t be the last time you hear from Dashira Pomales-Rivera. This is only the beginning.

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Each April public health and civil rights advocates work to raise awareness about the health inequities that continue to impact communities of color in the U.S. Among the health conditions that are usually highlighted are diabetes, HIV/AIDS, certain cancers, mental illness, and obesity. While it’s certainly critical to address the high rates of these conditions in our communities, another persistent minority health issue is often overlooked.

Women of color (WOC) consistently face reproductive health injustices that are rarely discussed in the context of a minority health issue. This topic is usually relegated to the WOC realm of women’s health. But this April, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) is shifting the dialogue about minority health and highlighting the lack of access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion as a very real health crisis for many of our herman@s.

In 1973, the Supreme Court passed the landmark Roe. v. Wade decision, granting women the right to safe and legal abortion. While this was a major victory for the women’s rights movement, the fight for abortion rights did not stop then. In fact, over the years, the right to abortion has been consistently attacked, restricted, and limited at both the state and federal level.

Among the most harmful of the restrictions enacted was the implementation of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services. Rep. Henry Hyde, author of the Hyde Amendment, said of his intentions for the rider: “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.”  This rider has been renewed each year for over three decades, and currently, federal funds can only be used in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The Hyde Amendment was crafted as a deliberate attack on low-income women’s reproductive freedom. Considering that women of color are more likely to be low-income – 24 percent of Latin@s, 27 percent of black women, and 18 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live below the poverty level – the Hyde Amendment is essentially an attack on women of color’s reproductive rights, by denying them the ability to access affordable abortion. The denial of affordable healthcare that covers abortion is yet another issue on the long list of ways and means used to undermine the bodily autonomy and reproduction of WOC in the U.S.

As a result of the Hyde Amendment, abortion has remained out of reach for many low-income or uninsured women despite it being legalized in 1973. For many of our Latina herman@s, access to affordable abortion has never been an option because they are low-income, uninsured, or don’t have private insurance that covers abortion. The reality is, one in three Latin@s is uninsured, which is higher than other race/ethnic group in the country. Of those that are insured, many rely on federally funded programs for coverage, which don’t cover abortion. Without the ability to afford it, the right to abortion is meaningless.

In fact, the first woman who died as a direct result of the Hyde Amendment was a Latina. Rosie Jiménez was a Latina college student and single mother who had Medicaid coverage. Since the Hyde Amendment had recently eliminated federal Medicaid funding for abortion, Rosie resorted to unsafe abortion because she didn’t have the means to pay for the service out of pocket. She died one week after her abortion in October 1977 due to complications from an unsafe procedure. Harrowing as it is, Rosie’s story is not unique. Each year tens of thousands of people are denied access to affordable abortion because of the Hyde Amendment. Although not every person’s story ends tragically, many people’s lives are greatly impacted by the financial burden of paying for an abortion or having to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

For Latin@ immigrants, access to affordable abortion can be even more difficult due to many factors including, high rates of uninsurance, cultural and linguistic barriers, lack of information about abortion in the U.S., immigration status, and poverty.

It’s undeniable: the Hyde Amendment hurts women. Moreover, the Hyde Amendment hurts WOC, who are disproportionately low-income, making this not only a women’s health issue, but a minority health issue as well. This National Minority Health Month let’s raise awareness of all health inequities, including the ability to access to safe and affordable abortion.

By Jessica González-Rojas, executive director for National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH)

10155950_10152317414718416_6100789107688453464_nToday I’m going without food to demand fair immigration reform!

This week Destiny Lopez, board chair for NLIRH, and I are fasting in solidarity with our herman@s  from Women’s Fast for Families – a national project calling for fair immigration reform and an immediate end to deportations. By fasting with our allies across the country, we are trying to tap into the courage, compassion, and common sensibilities of our elected officials in order to encourage them to address our country’s flawed immigration policies and practices.

Under our current administration, approximately two million people have been deported, which has torn families apart and left countless children without their parents. The time is now for these practices to stop. Our elected officials need to work together to establish a new system that facilitates a pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million aspiring U.S. citizens and recognizes the contributions and concerns of immigrant women.

Despite the struggles faced by immigrant women and families, this week’s fast comes at an optimistic time in which immigration and health policy intersect. Last month Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01) introduced the Health Equity & Access Under the Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women and Families Act (HR 4240) to Congress. This bill would remove political interference and restore coverage so immigrants can participate in the healthcare programs their tax dollars support. Since its introduction, the HEAL Immigrant Women and Families Act has been a top priority for NLIRH and our allies – many of whom are joining us in this week’s fast.

It’s my hope that our collective decision to fast will help highlight the urgent need for fair and compassionate immigration reform that recognizes the importance of health for immigrant women and families.

¡La lucha sigue!

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Each March the U.S. celebrates women’s achievements and contributions to society during Women’s History Month. Though March has come and gone, it’s better late than never to acknowledge women and our innumerable contributions. In honor of this Women’s History Month, we picked a fierce poderos@ to profile, based on her valuable contributions to social justice and society in general.

This year our Women’s HERstory Month poderosa is Sylvia Rivera, who was a trans woman activist and queer youth advocate whose activism spanned over the course of four decades. She is sometimes referred to as the “mother of all gay people” – a title bestowed upon her during the Millennium March because of her important contributions to the LGBTQ liberation movement.

Sylvia Rae Rivera was born on July 2, 1951 in New York City to Puerto Rican and Venezuelan parents. She was orphaned as a toddler and raised by her grandmother for part of her childhood. However, her grandmother strongly disapproved of her defiance of traditional gender roles, including her affinity for wearing make up. As a result, Rivera began living on the street with a queer and gender non-conforming community at age 11 – an experience that would later influence her advocacy efforts for queer youth.

Rivera became politically active during the late 1960’s – a time when the nation was exploding with change from various social justice movements. She was involved in Puerto Rican and African American youth activism through the Young Lords and Black Panthers. But she really came into her own as an activist around the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which was a series of riots that sparked the modern wave of LGBTQ activism. While she was heavily involved in the LGBTQ movement, she noted its exclusion of transgender people at times. As a result, she focused her advocacy efforts on people who were often left behind.

Later in life she gave speeches about the Stonewall Riots and the importance of unity within the LGBTQ movement. While she struggled with personal demons, including substance abuse and a failed suicide attempt, she remained a vocal activist for equality until her death in February 2002.

More than a decade after her death, Rivera’s legacy and contributions to LGBTQ liberation remain strong. She was a founding member of Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance, and helped found Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. The Metropolitan Community Church of New York, in which she was actively involved, named its queer youth shelter “Sylvia’s Place” in her honor. Additionally, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was established in 2002, to fight against the discrimination of gender non-confirming people. But perhaps fellow activist Riki Wilchins best described Rivera’s integral role in the LGBTQ movement, saying “In many ways, Sylvia was the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement, a term that was not even coined until two decades after Stonewall.”

We invite you contribute to Rivera’s legacy by making a donation to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

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