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Why I Want to Learn Spanish

Post By Valentina Forte-Hernandez

I don’t speak Spanish fluently. I have felt a lot of embarrassment in my life because of it, but that is the truth plain and simple. Because I am a white Latina who does not speak Spanish, I have been disregarded as a Latina countless times in my life. I am sick and tired of people acting like there are some sort of requirements you have to meet to be Latina. Being Latina is not about meeting some mythical standard, it’s not about having certain skills or traits. I am Latina because I was born that way, because of my childhood, because of the way I feel. Being Latina is something no one can take away from me. Yes, I do want to learn Spanish, but learning Spanish will not make me anymore of a Latina than I am already.

I am biracial, I am white and Latina and I have very light skin. This, plus the fact that I am not a fluent spanish speaker has made it very difficult for a lot of people to accept that I am a Latina. I often get a “Really?” when I tell someone I’m Mexican, and people have even thought that I was joking when I told them about my identity. I’m used to people being surprised when I tell them I’m Mexican and even though that makes me feel weird it it does not hurt as badly as it does when people act like my only claim to my heritage is my last name. I am not exaggerating, people have actually said “She thinks being Latina is just about a last name” about me multiple times. People don’t like to see me as a full person, they treat me like my whiteness washes away all the Latina in me. the fact that I don’t speak fluent Spanish provides more ammunition for those who like to deny my identity. I could go into detail and explain why I am not fluent after 19 years of varying amounts of Spanish but I don’t owe anyone the explanation. I am happy to talk about it with anyone who asks me personally, but those who are just waiting to jump to the conclusion that I’m not a real Mexican don’t deserve my story.Image

I am still self conscious about my language skills and that is something I am working to get over but I am grounded in my identity. I still feel embarrassed when I’m practicing Spanish and someone gives me a dirty look and says to their friends, “She’s not really Mexican” as if I can’t understand them. FYI, I understand way more than I can speak so if you talk smack about me in Spanish, there’s a good chance I’ll know what you’re saying. It is an exception rather than a rule for someone to insult me when I am practicing Spanish. Generally, people encourage me to practice by speaking to me and helping me through it. The times where people are cruel, the times people do say I’m not Latina never fail to bring me back to a place where I feel ashamed of myself. Recently I was practicing Spanish with a friend and when I overheard someone talking about how bad my Spanish was I felt paralyzed and though I knew how to say what I was trying to communicate, I just gave up and ended the conversation because I was so embarrassed.

Today I am as Mexican as I will be tomorrow, as Mexican as I will be when I speak better Spanish, I am as Mexican as I will ever be right now.  Yes, I want to learn Spanish, but I will not let shame be my motivator. I want to learn Spanish for myself, I want to learn Spanish so I can speak to my grandpa in his first language, I want to learn Spanish so that when the whole family gets together for christmas nobody has to slow down for me. I want to learn Spanish because it is a beautiful language and I would be proud to speak it, and write it. I am not learning Spanish because I have something to prove, I do not need to know the language fluently to validate my identity as a Latina. I am Latina because I was born that way and because I care strongly about my identity and have a deep connection to my community. I am white and latina, being white doesn’t make me any less Latina nor does being Latina mean I am not white. My identity is complete and complicated and while words can sting they could never take away any part of me. I always have and always will be Mexican, that is the truth that I do not owe anyone, but I am willing to talk about it. Say and think what you will about me, but your words will never diminish my sense of self. No one can erase the childhood experience that shaped my identity, nothing will ever keep my heart from warming when I hear voices singing“cielito lindo.” I will continue to work and fight for my community and I don’t care if you deny me. So go ahead, tell me I’m not Latina, say I’m just a last name, laugh at my Spanish. I know who I am, I know what I’ve done and I don’t need anyone’s validation. I am going to learn Spanish and I am doing it for myself.

I am sad to say this is my last day working for NLIRH and my last post for Nuestra Vida Nuestra Voz. It has been a pleasure to work with these poderosas, and I have learned so much about myself and my community. Entonces yo digo adios y muchas gracias con un beso y abrazo.

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31 Days of Unity

By Desiree Caro

While our 4th annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice might be over, the fight to protect women’s health, dignity, and decision-making is still going strong.  This month, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) has partnered with the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and many other organizations for the #31DaysOfUnity campaign.  Together, we have joined forces to put a stop to the attacks on women’s access to safe, legal, and affordable reproductive health care.  #31DaysOfUnity works to address many of the injustices that women in the US face on a daily basis—from the lack of abortion coverage for members of the Peace Corps  to the numerous legislative attacks on women’s decision making that have emerged over the past two years. 

Earlier this month, NLIRH hosted its 4th annual Week of Action to galvanize support for immigrant women.  The immigration reform legislation that recently passed in the Senate forces many immigrant women and families to wait at least 15 years before being able to visit a doctor, regardless of the fact that they will be working and paying into health care programs throughout that time.  This proposed immigration reform legislation poses a serious threat to women’s health.  For many women, especially those who are at high risk for cervical cancer, access to a physician means the difference between life and death. Safe, legal, and affordable reproductive health care should be available to all women– regardless of immigration status.

On Wednesday, August 21st, NLIRH and the #31DaysOf Unity campaign will work together to ensure that equal access to reproductive health care is a priority for our members of congress and within our national discourse. 

How can you show your support today?Image

These attacks on reproductive rights, health, and justice keep women from being healthy and safe.  Call on Congress to make changes that support women’s decisions, bodies, and health, nationwideImage


The Fake Pro-Lifer

We were on the phone talking about the immigrant rights movement and how he could get involved. He was telling me how he values immigrants so much and believes everyone deserves a happy and safe life. He then asks about my beliefs and what I stand for.

I tell him about my involvement with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
“Reproductive health? Like abortions?” He asks.
“That’s not the only aspect of reproductive health but yeah, abortions too.”

He becomes angry and states that I’m a horrible person for advocating for abortion access. How could I fight for immigrant rights and at the same time, aim to provide others with abortions? It’s a disappointing and a very sad aspect of my life, according to him. He didn’t stop at that but kept pushing and pushing, “So, you’re telling me, if you were to get pregnant tomorrow, you’d have an abortion?”

One side of me believes I should stay quiet since it really isn’t his business what I do or don’t do with my body. The other side of me however, didn’t want to be ashamed of the decisions I make. So I proudly state, “if I need one, yes I would.”

Abortion Mississippi

Silence.

He said something about me being a bad person, that he believes whole-heartily in the bible and that he had to go so it was best to hang up.

Click.

I sit there shocked at his eagerness to hang up on me but also amused and how the conversation had made a 180 degree turn because of what I believe in. It’s okay to advocate for the lives of immigrants, but not for the lives of women and men who need an abortion. But there’s a discussion that’s missing, the one about life going on beyond the 9 month gestation period.

It’s frustrating after a while, hearing folks discuss the value of lives and the importance of community, but only for a fetus. What happens to that life once it’s outside the body? What happens when the family cannot afford food or health services? They’re called a leech on the system. What happens when that life is LGBTQ? They’re excluded and dehumanized. When it becomes undocumented? That life is no longer considered valuable. We would rather detain and deport it. When that same life is walking home from the store we shoot and kill it for wearing a hoodie and “looking suspicious”. When it’s Muslim? We bomb them. Black and brown lives? Incarcerate them.

Don’t you dare sit there and talk to me about the value of life when our children cannot even access a decent education, housing, comprehensive sex education or contraceptives. This isn’t a black or white issue where some are against abortion and some are for it. Abortions should be made available to whomever needs it and it’s not up to us to judge those who have one. At the same time, we should be working together to create better living conditions for all so that maybe, in the future, that one abortion won’t be necessary.

I’m also fighting for lives.

DSC_0145Mi experiencia como organizadora de base en diferentes comunidades a lo largo de los Estados Unidos, me ha enseñado que mi comunidad está llena de carencias educacionales, de servicios de salud, de dignidad y de justicia; que no han permitido todo el florecimiento que como pueblos hermanos de diferentes lugares del mundo nos merecemos. Por eso después de verlos sufrir por la falta de documentos legales para trabajar y de estar huyendo de un lugar para otro sin poder dejar raíces, sin tener una cobertura de salud para las mujeres y para sus familias, creo que ha llegado el momento de que cada uno de nosotros se involucre en los destinos políticos de nuestras comunidades y que por miedo no permitamos que unos pocos nos priven del derecho a vivir con dignidad. En los procesos políticos que estamos viviendo, tomar acción puede ser la diferencia entre que tengamos una Reforma Migratoria que cubra todas nuestras necesidades ó una Reforma limitada llena de restricciones. No olviden que para las familias inmigrantes y cada uno de sus integrantes no va a haber una cobertura de salud durante los 15 años de espera para obtener un status legal completo, pero yo me pregunto ¿qué pasará con los millones de mujeres y sus familias si se enferman durante el proceso y no pueden prevenir daños mayores a su salud?, ¿donde está esa parte de la Constitución que dice “We the People”? si somos iguales ante la Constitución entonces es hora de exigir que no nos traten como si fueramos de segunda clase.
Pierde el miedo a involucrarte en tu comunidad con o sin documentos todos tenemos la obligación de exigir cambios, si piensas bien en cada una de nuestras casas existe un ciudadano ó residente que puede ser la voz de ustedes y que unidos lograremos cambiar las políticas que tanto daño nos hacen.

No permitas que nos encasillen esperando 15 años en la cobertura de salud, el voto es ahora involúcrate!!

Post By Nicole Catá

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has long defined reproductive healthcare, autonomy, and decision-making as human rights.  Nowhere is the need for a human rights framing of reproductive issues more acute than in the case of the California prison system.  Last month, the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that, between 2006 and 2010, doctors sterilized nearly 150 female inmates in California prisons without anything remotely resembling informed consent. State documents further divulge that doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may have completed up to 250 tubal ligations since the 1990s.  Many former inmates are coming forward as having felt ill-informed regarding and coerced into the procedure.  This case reminds us that absolutely everyone, incarcerated or not, deserves dignity in reproductive decisions.

 

photoValentina Forte-Hernandez is a Berkeley California born Immigrant/Reproductive rights activist. She is interning at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health this summer before returning to her second year at Hampshire college where she studies film production. During her first year of college she worked for Civil Liberties and Public Policy and wrote for the online political blog, The Black Sheep Journal. She is a 19 year old, biracial Latina who writes about topics that speak to her personally. She has voiced her opposition to the shaming of teen moms, Texas’ anti-abortion legislation, immigration reform that hurts the lives and rights of immigrants and now she writes about the need for comprehensive sexual education for teenagers:

Post By Valentina Forte-Hernandez

Teenagers are having sex and will continue to do so whether you like it or not. It’s nothing new, but people are still acting as if it were a shocking discovery. Whether you like it or not, the fact of the matter is that many teenagers are sexually active, not liking it does nothing to prevent teenagers from having sex and it certainly does nothing to protect them. Instead of frowning and wagging your finger, why don’t we put more effort into making sure teenagers are physically and emotionally safe when they do make the decision to have sex? We need sex ed that actually teaches teenagers how to be smart and safe about sex. We do not need education that shames us and our bodies, we don’t need to be taught that we shouldn’t talk about sex. Sex will be a part of our lives whether we choose to be sexually active or not, so we need to know about it and be prepared for it.

999613696749556760   Opponents of comprehensive sex ed may claim that it puts dirty ideas in teenagers’ heads and encourages them to be sexually active. If that’s true, then could somebody explain to me why the states that take the abstinence only approach to sex ed have higher rates of teen pregnancy than states that require comprehensive sex ed? Abstinence only classes do not deter teenagers from being sexually active. These classes provide students with no resources or information about safety, they teach teenagers to be ashamed of their bodies and sexuality. Shaming teenagers about sex does nothing to protect them. Teaching abstinence only classes not only puts teenagers in danger of spreading disease and unwanted pregnancy, it also increases the chance that they will be in emotionally unsafe situations. If your teacher is saying that you are wrong for having sex, you’re not going to feel comfortable asking your teacher any questions if you are considering having sex. If a teenager already feels ashamed for having sex it is so much harder for them to come forward with an incident of sexual assault or rape. They have already been told sex is wrong, so who do they go to when something wrong has happened to them?

   Comprehensive sex ed gives students the information to help them make their own decisions about their bodies and it gives them the confidence to be honest about their desires and experience. Students who have been given the tools to protect themselves have the knowledge and ability to practice safe sex, while students who don’t have any information may not know how to have safe sex. A teenager who has been told that being sexually active is their choice to make is more likely to have the confidence to refuse unwanted sex than one who has learned to be self-conscious and secretive about their sexuality. Teenagers in abstinence only classes are not learning about sex in school but they’re still having it so comprehensive sex ed is clearly not to blame for the fact that teenagers are sexually active.

   Comprehensive sex ed is miles ahead of abstinence only classes when it comes to protecting teenagers, but that’s not to say it’s perfect. I grew up in California, a state that offers comprehensive sex ed and has just seen it’s lowest rate of teen births in 20 years. My first sex ed class happened every other wednesday afternoon. This was the only classes where the boys were separated from the girls. I don’t know what the boys were learning about while we were watching our teacher put tampons in glasses of water because we never talked about it. That was the problem, we didn’t talk to the boys about sex and the segregation of genders was teaching us that we shouldn’t have these discussions with each other. Some might say that these early sex ed classes should be taught separately so students feel comfortable asking embarrassing questions. Sex ed is uncomfortable no matter what, but we should have been going to that comfort and feeling that embarrassment along with the boys. We should be learning from an early age that it is okay to talk about ourselves with anyone, regardless of gender. In my first sex ed class, I was taught about my period, I was taught about contraception but I learned that my body, my experience as a girl was icky to boys and I should never talk to them about it.

   All of my sex ed classes were severely lacking when it came to teaching us about the emotional aspects of sex. The word consent was never uttered, nor was there any discussion about any of the emotional choices that come with being a sexually active person. We never discussed the depiction of sex in popular culture which may not seem like it’s directly related to sexual safety, but considering that we are surrounded and influenced by dramatic, idealized depictions of sex, we probably should have at least one conversation about it. When our movies and advertisements are teaching us things like, girls who have sex are slutty, and if you have sex with him, he’ll stay with you forever it would have been beneficial to talk about the reality of choosing to be sexually active and to debunk some of these artificial depictions. There was no discussion of rape ever. Maybe the topic was avoid in hopes that it was an issue we would never have to deal with, but hoping for the best did nothing to prepare us for the worst, it did nothing to teach us about preventing rape, or what help was out there for us if we had had such an experience. We were given the number to a confidential hotline….Oh, and we watched an episode of Law and order: SVU once, that’s sufficient, right?

   Maybe these conversations weren’t happening in my comprehensive sex ed class because adults didn’t feel like we were mature enough to discuss the emotional impacts of being sexually active but the fact is many of us were already sexually active so these conversations should have been happening. If we were old enough to learn about protection and use it we were old enough to learn about communicating with partners, and we were definitely old enough to learn that sex in the movies is miles different from sex in real life. We knew there were physical consequences to having unsafe sex, we saw the pictures. When it came to the emotional impact of having sex, we were left to figure it out on our own through trial and error and in sometimes the error did a lot of damage.

   Sex ed needs to improve across the board. The abstinence only approach to sex ed needs to be thrown out the window because it doesn’t work. Any class that fails to discuss why being a safe and responsible sexually active person requires more than just using condoms needs to rethink their curriculum. Teenagers need to learn to be honest and confident in their sexual decisions. They need to know that it is not only okay to talk about sex, but that they should be talking about it! If you can’t have a real discussion about sex, you shouldn’t be having it. Sex ed should be about equipping teenagers with all the knowledge, resources and confidence to make the most best, most informed decisions for themselves. If your sex ed class isn’t rooted in teaching teens about sexual safety, then it is not serving the actual needs of teenagers. Sexual safety means physical protection, it means communication, it means honesty, self-awareness and respect. Stop trying to shame teenagers out of having sex, it won’t work. Protect and respect teenagers’ rights to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

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