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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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Being a woman in Texas, and across the country, is a battle. We are getting attacked on all sides. Everyone seems to know what is best for us to do with our bodies. Our decisions and our health isn’t respected, valued or supported. Enough is enough. Women are fighting back. Latinas are fighting back, especially in Texas.

The Rio-Grande Valley is one of the poorest areas of our country. Prior to 2011, the women of this region depended on state-funded clinics for healthcare and family planning services. This isn’t just contraceptives, but cancer screenings, pap smears, and more. And then everything changed. 2011 was also the year that the state legislature passed one of the most destructive budgets in state history. [x]

This budget punished Texas clinics by defunding all who were affiliated with abortion providers, even if they didn’t provide abortions. Many other states are also doing the same. The number of women receiving services in the Rio-Grande Valley was reduced by 75% after the cuts. [x]

What ACTUALLY happens when states cut back and defund public clinics simply for being associated with abortion providers? What are the real consequences of these actions? Who is actually affected? Does defunding clinics eliminate abortions? No. Instead of moving forward and bettering the lives of others, we are stepping back in time. Where there is a demand, someone will supply it, even if that means lives are at risk. What these cuts did was hand women hangers, the same hangers that took so many lives in the past. What these cuts do is separate families, create fear, and increase health issues especially because the incidence of cervical cancer in Texas is 19% higher than the national average [x]. Families in Texas, and across the United States, are already dealing with immigration issues, poverty wages, exploitation, food desserts, and these cuts aren’t making lives any easier. Take a moment to remember that not everyone has access to health services during the same time many are rejoicing over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Do something about it!

Workers lose their jobs due to cuts.
After the cuts, Paula Saldaña lost her job as a community educator for a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brownsville, Texas. She continues to give workshops on reproductive health as a volunteer. In the video below, Paula shares her experiences out in Texas and the frustration she feels about the cuts.

Families are torn apart
Adriana found herself crossing the border back and forth to receive health services in Mexico, until the violence at the border increased. Her family has been split up due to deportations. She suffers with health issues, and the uncertainty of not being able to take proper care of herself as she raises her two grand-kids. Not being able to take proper care of herself leaves her family in a very vulnerable place; especially because Adriana is the sole provider for her family in the United States. Adriana shares her experiences below.

In late 2012 and early 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health documented the impact of state funding cuts to family planning services on women in Texas and created a human rights report. The report and information about this partnership can be found at Nuestro Texas. The report draws from the stories of women in Texas to show how funding cuts to women’s preventive services are more than failed policies—they are violations of their human rights.

Read the Nuestro Texas report here
Like Nuestro Texas on Facebook
Follow Nuestro Texas on Twitter

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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.

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Our vegetables and fruits come with a side of rape and sexual abuse. That’s right. Rape.

Did you know that many of the farm workers who pick our fruits and vegetables are undocumented? It isn’t enough that they’re underpaid and exploited for their labor. Many are also raped and sexually assaulted while being threatened with being fired if they say something.

It is almost as if immigrant bodies have become public property. Property for many to use and misuse as they please. From not having access to health services, being deported and exploited to being raped.

The fear of deportation and of not being able to provide for their families forces immigrants to stay silent. But not anymore.

Frontline‘s latest documentary entitled, Rape in the Fields, follows a group of women who are raped and/or assaulted at work. The documentary also highlights the rape culture that dominates our society inside and outside of the fields. It is a heartbreaking film that will also make you angry. Angry at the injustice that happens right here in our fields and gets packaged with our food but no justice is served. Check out Rape in the Fields while it is still available online and spread the word.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rape-in-the-fields/

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Activists across the country are making sure that their voices, and their stories, are being heard. We refuse to stay silent. Jocelyn Munguia is a poderosa serving her community. Her dedication, strength, and courage to overcome life’s obstacles has made her the activist of the month. Read her story here:

I used to wonder why someone didn’t do something about it, and then I thought to myself: I am someone.

I endured a harrowing journey when I moved from Mexico City to the U.S. at the age of 11. Life stayed tough even after my family settled in Chicago’s western suburbs. I felt like an outsider in middle school, a minority for one. Gradually, though, I became more comfortable, and by the time I entered Fenton High School in Bensenville I felt as though I belonged. However, I was involved in an abusive relationship.

With no family support I had an abortion at 16. Then, when I reached my senior year, all at once, the limits of being undocumented in the U.S. became clear and I became even more depressed. I’m aware that I am not only looked down on for being young, but also for being an undocumented Latina; there are so many intersections, one doesn’t wake up one day and decide which one to be.
I participated in the first Coming Out of the Shadows in downtown Chicago last year and have felt empowered ever since. I know that no matter what I do or where I go, I will keep being poderosa.

Jocelyn Comes Out as Undocumented

Jocelyn Comes Out as Undocumented

I’m a co-founder of the Latin@ Youth Action League (L@YAL), a grassroots community organization in DuPage County. Our work focuses primarily on issues the Latino community faces in the suburbs of DuPage County. Much of our recent work has focused on undocumented youth and immigration as a whole. We have held rallies, workshops, and provided access to resources to many youth in the area.

After learning about the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) I also successfully organized a couple of Cafecitos in collaboration with HABLAMOS, a Latina organization in Elmhurst College. A couple of months ago I had the privilege of traveling to Washington with NLIRH, meet and advocate alongside incredible women for reproductive healthcare and healthcare for immigrant families. I also decided to organize an event around Latina reproductive health issues at College of DuPage. When I was younger I also experienced molestation and assault, and know many that have, which is why creating spaces for women to talk about serious topics in a safe and comfortable way is extremely necessary.

Jocelyn held a cafecito on campus

Jocelyn held a cafecito on campus

We, Undocumented Illinois, a collective of undocumented led organizations around the state, recently did a couple of actions focusing on stopping deportations. The actions consisted on trying to stop a bus and blocking the street outside of Broadway Detention Center and blocking traffic on Michigan Avenue in front of the Hilton Hotel asking president Obama to stop all deportations. We know that raids are still happening and families are being torn apart every day.

I know I will continue to push and strive for something better not only for myself or my family, but for many who are also directly affected.

Jocelyn at the Coming Out of the Shadows 2013 event

Jocelyn at the Coming Out of the Shadows 2013 event

Jocelyn being arrested

Jocelyn being arrested

Jocelyn is July's poderosa profile

Jocelyn is July’s poderosa profile

Jocelyn and Reyna chanting at the Coming Out of the Shadows rally in 2013

Jocelyn and Reyna from Undocumented IL chanting at the Coming Out of the Shadows rally in 2013

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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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Hace más de una semana, tuvimos nuestro Día Nacional de Acción para la reforma de inmigración y salud. Nuestro grupo en Texas tubo un evento y esta es la experiencia de una de las líderes.


Red de Abogacía de Latinas de Texas
“Apoyando la eliminación de la prohibición de los 5 años y que las opciones de servicios de salud para los aspirantes a ciudadanos sean mejoradas”

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2 de Mayo del 2013 – Día Nacional de Acción – Gracias al departamento de Relaciones Políticas de la Red de Abogacía de Latinas de Texas pudimos contactar a las dos Directoras Regionales del Sureste de Texas de los Senadores Ted Cruz y John Cornyn. Hablamos con Ana García (Southwest Texas Regional Director & Community Outreach Advisor – Senator John Cornyn) y Casandra Garcia (Southwest Texas Regional Director – Senator Ted Cruz).

Fue una maravillosa experiencia puesto que estas dos directoras estuvieron muy impactadas al recibir cerca de 300 cartas de peticiones en donde se les pide el apoyo para la eliminación de la prohibición de los 5 años. Tambien pedimos que las opciones de servicios de salud para los aspirantes a ciudadanos sean mejoradas.
postpic2
9 líderes conversamos con cada una de las directoras regionales por separado. El Senador Cruz aún no tiene oficina aquí en el Valle de Texas de Rio Grande entonces hablamos con Casandra Garcia en un restaurante. Una de nuestras líderes que vino a las visitas compartió con las directoras parte de su experiencia de ser deportada con su esposo a México. Por esto le secuestraron a su esposo y finalmente falleció. Las directoras quedaron muy impresionadas con su historia y prometieron apoyar la reforma migratoria y la salud de nuestras comunidades.

Fue un evento muy lindo y seguirmos luchando por la salud, dignidad y justicia de nuestra communidad!

Vives en Texas y quieres unirte a nosotros? Llama a la Coordinadora de la RAL de Texas Lucy C. Félix al (956) 579-1371 ó al correo electrónico: lucy@latinainstitute.org.

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By: Dian Alarcon

Mil gracias por todo el apoyo y enseñanzas en esta semana de abogacía. Realmente fue una experiencia enriquecedora. No importa cuántas veces la hagas siempre es una experiencia nueva que te enseña el poder que tiene tu voz. Aunque solo seas uno, es como el cardumen de peces, si esta solo es más fácil que un depredador se lo pueda comer pero cuando está acompañado por miles o cientos de peces, los depredadores piensan que eres un animal demasiado grande y poderoso para atacarlo y desisten de comerlos.
Latina_Institute 231
Para mí la mayor reflexión esta semana es que cuando trabajamos ordenadamente en equipo, con pasión y todas con el mismo enfoque logramos llevar nuestro mensaje de Salud, Dignidad y Justicia más allá de nuestras fronteras.

NLIRH hizo un ejemplo de trabajo en equipo, muy ordenadas y cada una sabiendo cual era su roll en esta semana. Soy muy observadora y de todo me gusta aprender así que de cada instante que pasamos tantas mujeres poderosas juntas aprendí algo. Cada una tiene sus talentos y hay que saber descubrirlos y ponerlos a trabajar a favor de nuestras metas.

De los medíos de comunicación aprendí el gran poder que tiene y que es importante aprender a manipularlos para nuestra conveniencia. Aprendí que también tenemos que cuidar nuestro mensaje para que no lo editen en nuestra contra.

Trabajar en equipo con todas las organizaciones nos hace más fuertes.

Un Abrazo para tod@s y gracias por todos sus cuidados.


More reflections of our 2013 National Advocacy Weekend

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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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We mobilized over 50 activists from all around the country for our 2013 National Advocacy Weekend which took place from March 15-March 19 in Washington DC. Below is a video that highlights our experiences at NAW 2013.

Here is a reflection from one of the NAW participants:

I’m Christina from Boston, Massachusetts. I want to start off and say Thank You to everyone at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health for giving me the opportunity to attend the 2013 National Advocacy Weekend for the first time. Thank you for allowing me to have a first-hand account on what real lobbying is like.

Prior to lobbying on March 18, 2013 for Immigrant Women’s Healthcare, Immigration Reform and Affordable Abortion Access, I had only participated in drop off visits. I never fully experienced lobbying for a cause that is dear to me. I felt very excited to be there, even if at times my energy was a bit off. I want to thank everyone in the Massachusetts and New York lobbying group as well. They helped me speak to the Senators and helped me feel less nervous.

Photo taken by Selena Torrado

Photo taken by Selena Torrado


The rally prior to lobbying impacted me too. I’ve been to a march, but not a rally. I loved the way all the organizations fighting for immigrant women’s healthcare access and equal rights were helping each other.

During National Advocacy Weekend, I got to meet so many passionate and strong men and women from across the country who are fighting for reproductive rights, immigrant rights and LGBTQ’s rights. I was the only person from Massachusetts and the Texas group took me under their wing. I’m very grateful for being in an environment which taught me that I can do things even if it takes time.

During National Advocacy Weekend, Laura Esquivel, NLIRH board member, shared her story with us. It hit close to home. She spoke about attending community college and that there were people along the way to help her finish.

The Camino Media Academy, where we participated in mock interviews helped me get a taste of how the media works and how to deliver my message better. I also remember the Intercultural Productions workshop that taught me that you can create your own film via a smart phone. Lucy Felix’s presentation on how to start a group in your state helped a lot. Even though it was in Spanish, I could understand it and translate it. I loved the wall of victory we created as a community.

Wall of Victory at NAW

The victory I shared was that I’m learning how to balance health with my other responsibilities. I have been going back and forth on how to balance my Celiac Disease with my passion for reproductive rights for a while. But, now I know that I can combine both when it comes to the food and environmental injustice we face. All women regardless of income, disability, age, race, gender, orientation, religion, should be able to have good quality food and a holistic nutrition. We should all be able to control our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Again, I want to thank you to everyone and of course to NLIRH for allowing me to be part of my first NAW weekend :)!


Si Se Puede!

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