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Each month the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) highlights one of our activists in our “Poderosa Profiles” blog series. This month we’re highlighting Omilani, who is part of our Florida Latina Advocacy Network. Thank you for your hard work and unwavering dedication to reproductive justice. 

Biography:
Hailed by The Source magazine as a “precocious figure on the spoken word scene,” audiences often compare our July poderosa, Omilani, to Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, Duffy, and Lauryn Hill.

This Afro-Filipina songwriter has definitely proven she can hold center stage. Performing since the age of seven, Omilani has been featured in many programs. She is most noted for performing her original works of neo-soul music, folkloric dance, tropical fusion/salsa, and hip-hop. Her eclectic vibe has become a very popular among all age groups.

Her love of languages has blossomed into a musical explosion that bridges language and cultural boundaries. Mixing Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Yoruba into her repertoire has added a unique twist to her show. Omilani feels that this diversity of her work enables her to reach a wider audience.

​She is especially proud of the reaction of young people to her positive and inspirational messages. It is her intention to showcase the art not the artist, and to let you be impressed by the message not the messenger. Omilani hopes to inspire others to pick up a pen and write.

Omilani%20fl%20july%202014%20profileIn her own words:
Most people know me through my music or poetry, but I am an undercover scholar with over eight scholarly publications before the age of 25. Among these is an entry in the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora about Piri Thomas, an Afro-Puerto Rican man who traveled through the Southeastern United States during the segregation era to see if he would be treated differently for being Puerto Rican – and as he saw it at the time – not black (American).

I have been researching Piri Thomas, Latinegras (Afro-Latinas), and Afro-Latino identity since high school and most of my publications are centered on the message of loving the skin WE are in. 

My poetry and music also address the issues we are confronted with as women, Black women, and Latinegras. I was acclaimed as a youth for my activist work linking the Black and Latino communities, and was co-director of the Latino Youth group, Jóvenes Lideres en Acción, as well as one of the originating establishers of El Centro Hispano in North Carolina.

I am a Cornell University graduate (2010) and my thesis was on Creole identity and the politics of “authenticity” as it relates to the African traditions that have been maintained in the Caribbean.

My participation in NLIRH has expanded my knowledge in interest in women’s reproductive rights and justice immensely. As women we may take for granted what we “don’t know.” For example, one of the biggest misconceptions I had was about Planned Parenthood, and through NLIRH I learned that they do so much more than abortions and safe sex talks. Also, the trainings and events I have attended were great for expanding my horizon about the meaning of women’s reproductive justice, including elderly women, or things as simple as access to transportation being a reproductive justice fight.

Being a woman is something very sacred, special, and powerful! Humanity shares the commonality of all being birthed through a woman and ironically this same passage has been exploited, abused, negated, suppressed, and violated in every language, location, and period of history. It is for this reason we must reclaim that sacred knowledge, protect our power, and have an understanding so that we can share resources and information that can save lives, not just of women, but also of humanity. NLIRH is such an important organization because as the old cliché goes, ‘knowledge is power,’ and this organization is empowering so many who may not know that they can find the help and obtain the necessary resources to make an informed decision about their sacred temples.

The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of NLIRH.

Last month, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) joined allies across the nation in recognizing LGBTQ Pride Month – our nation’s annual awareness month and celebration of LGBTQ people, culture, history, and achievements. During Pride NLIRH hosted and participated in a bevy of activities, including marching in the Capital Pride Parade and organizing a Google Hangout about the connection between reproductive justice and LGBTQ liberation. After this peak of activity, we asked Sebastian Velasquez, our Policy Analyst and lead on NLIRH LGBTQ liberation work, to reflect on the significance of Pride and how we celebrated it this year.

By Sebastian Velasquez

In the midst of a more sexually liberated and inclusive United States, Pride is a space where we center solely on celebrating our existence outside of an underground world and the victories brought by the LGBTQ liberation movement. Much of the current approach to combat homophobia is focused on raising awareness and educating others about the incredible diversity within the fluid spectrums of sexual orientation and gender identity. While this is undoubtedly important and essential work, the public displays of affection and acceptance during Pride go beyond this standard in order to celebrate our community.

Pride is an opportunity for people of color, immigrants, and transgender individuals to diversify the faces of LGBTQ people, who confront different forms of systematic oppression. It is for this reason that having multiple ethnic, racial, and ideological transgender and queer groups present during Pride activities provides added value to a movement that – without us – is incomplete in its approach to social justice. During Washington, D.C.’s Capital Pride Parade NLIRH staff organized a reproductive justice contingent, which was led by women and composed by LGBTQ-friendly faith groups, undocumented queers, and gender non-conforming individuals. Our very presence, which is outside of the idealized cisgender Anglo-descendent gay male, was a revolutionary act in itself.

On a daily basis, we continue to push mainstream LGBTQ organizations to be more involved in identity politics that transcend marriage equality and exclusively focus on sexual orientation. As a result, our LGBTQ liberation movement grows stronger in numbers and vision for a more accepting world for ALL people, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or immigration status.

Our approach to Pride was comprised of community and coalition building, civic engagement, and leadership gathering. It was an act of courage and joy to see the people in our RJ contingent that not only understood intersectional work, but also lived in the intersections in their daily lives. This was particularly important because we served as a visual representation of our theme, which was multi-dimensional LGBTQ liberation. Our contingent was comprised of allies from Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), Advocates for Youth, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – all of whom were able to reconcile the complex identities held by diverse groups of LGBTQ people from many walks of life.

As an undocumented, queer, Catholic, humanist, and secularist Latin@, I marched next to herman@s who have helped me walk with my chin up and feel proud of every aspect of who I am. For once in an LGBTQ space, I was walking as a whole and not forced to choose between my multiple identities. Our participation in Pride attests to the always growing and comprehensive fight for justice and rights. May the rainbow and all of its colors continue to illuminate our pathway for equity.

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health began interviewing Latin@ poderos@s in Texas by asking one simple question: “What makes you poderos@?” We were so inspired by their answers that we decided to extend this special blog series to celebrate our LGBTQ herman@s throughout the year.

By Anonymous

“Pride is an easy word to use, but does it mean the same thing to every individual of every culture? Is it advertised the same way for everyone? I thought I had pride in being a lesbian and being a woman of color. In reality, a lot of my Latin@ culture prevented me from fully understanding what I was being prideful towards. When I first came out my senior year of high school, it took a toll on the relationship I shared with my parents. I found it hard to have pride in who I am when I was hurting the woman I loved the most, my mom. One thing I knew was that I took pride in being Colombian and I took pride in having the values that I was raised with. I was raised to obey my parents with what Colombians from 1950’s deem ‘normal.’ Disobeying my parents and being ‘different’ was hard. Not just because it put a strain on my family but because it could have potentially separated me from them. For many years after coming out, I put [my mom’s] happiness before mine, and that meant sweeping the topic of my sexuality under the rug. I became invisible at home. Sadly, over time, I had to accept that I wouldn’t make both of us fully happy if I still denied myself. So, I started to put myself first, but still respecting my parents and my culture. I learned that it is better to work with my mother and let her know that I cherish her for who she is, and in turn, hope that one day she can cherish all of me as well. I realize now that I take pride in who I am. Being lesbian isn’t a crutch in my life or culture, it has helped me have different perspectives and value my family more than ever. Being Latina is also not a crutch in my sexuality. We need more solidarity in the Latin@ community. We need to stand together and educate each other in a way that works hand in hand with our culture.

El orgullo es una palabra fácil de usar. ¿Significa lo mismo para todas las personas de todas las culturas? ¿Se anuncia de la misma manera para todos? Pensé que era orgullosa de ser lesbiana y ser una mujer de color. En realidad, gran parte de mi cultura me impidió comprender plenamente a que le tenía orgullo. Cuando salí públicamente sobre mi sexualidad por primera vez mi último año de escuela secundaria, empezó haber problemas en la relación que compartía con mis padres. Me pareció difícil ser orgullosa de quien soy cuando le estaba haciendo daño a la mujer que más amo, mi mamá. Una cosa que sabía era que será orgullosa de ser colombiana y me enorgullecía haber sido criada con esos valores. Me criaron para obedecer a mis padres con lo que los colombianos de 1950 consideran valores ‘normales.’ Desobedecer a mis padres y ser ‘diferente’ era difícil. No sólo porque había tensión en mi familia pero potencialmente esa tensión me podía separar de ellos. Durante muchos años después de haber salido públicamente, puse la felicidad de mi mamá antes que la mía, y eso quería decir que enterré el tema de mi sexualidad bajo la alfombra. Me hice invisible en casa. Con el tiempo tuve que aceptar que no podíamos ser totalmente felices si todavía me negaba a mí misma. Así que, empecé a ponerme primero, pero respetando a mis padres y mi cultura. Aprendí que era mejor trabajar con mi madre y apreciarla por lo que es con la esperanza que un día ella me apreciaría a mí también. Ahora me doy cuenta de que me enorgullezco de lo que soy. Ser lesbiana no es una muleta en mi vida o en mi cultura, me ha ayudado a tener diferentes perspectivas y valoro a mi familia más que nunca. Siendo Latina tampoco es una muleta en mi sexualidad. Necesitamos más solidaridad en la comunidad latina. Tenemos que permanecer unidos y educarnos unos a otros en una forma que trabaja de la mano con nuestra cultura.”

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health interviewed Latin@ poderos@s in Texas by asking one simple question: “What makes you poderos@?” Find out how each fierce poderos@ responded in this special blog series.

Image“My name is Patrick and I’m a poderoso on behalf of my immigration mixed status family, on behalf of my friends, and on behalf of those in the LGBTQ community who face similar fears every day. It is vital that we remember the immense contributions of immigrants to the very heart of this country, that we continue to give voice to our collective struggle — that we continue to come together to heal our hearts and mend our wounded spirits. My body, my heart, and my freedom is all I have to give as an organizer and activist for both immigrant and LGBTQ rights.”

Patrick M Fierro is a poderoso activist in Austin, Texas. 

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health interviewed Latin@ poderos@s in Texas by asking one simple question: “What makes you poderos@?” Find out how each fierce poderos@ responded in this special blog series.
angie ruiz

“Mi nombre es Angie Ruiz y soy una Latin@ Transgenero Poderos@. Actualmente, vivo en el área metropolitana de D.C. pero estos últimos cuatro meses he estado trabajando desde Houston, Texas.  Nací en Guatemala y llegué a los Estados Unidos en el 2001 y me he destacado por mi trabajo alrededor de mi comunidad transgenero Latin@ inmigrante; especialmente mis herman@s indocumentadas. Yo opero una agencia de referencias llamada Fundación Angie, y mi meta es traer justicia para mi comunidad transgenero. Soy trabajadora y me enfoco mucho en nuestra salud reproductiva que incluye el acceso a tratamientos relacionados a nuestra transición, educando a mis herman@s y en aspectos preventivos que nos ayudan a salir adelante.

My name is Angie and I am a poderos@ transgender Latin@. Currently, I live in the D.C. metro area, but for the past four months I have been working in Houston, Texas. I was born in Guatemala and came to the United States in 2001. I’m known for my work around my Latin@ immigrant transgender community; especially with my undocumented herman@s. I operate a referral agency called Angie Foundation, and my goal is to bring justice to my transgender community. I’m a worker and I focus a lot on our reproductive health, including access to transition-related treatments, educating my herman@s and on preventive aspects that help us move forward.”

Angie Ruiz is a Latin@ activist in Washington, D.C. and Houston, Texas.

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health interviewed Latin@ poderos@s in Texas by asking one simple question: “What makes you poderos@?” Find out how each fierce poderos@ responded in this special blog series. 

Image“My name is Alison Faith Young, and I am a poderos@ Latin@ in the state of Texas! Last semester, I encouraged young people to get out and vote. I’ve also directed The Vagina Monologues, with proceeds going to Mujeres Unidas. It’s important for me to reach out to young girls and answer their questions to the best of my ability regarding relationships and sexuality. I’m passionate about education for women and I want to continue reaching out to women and helping in some way with their ambitions, thoughts, and feelings.”

Alison Faith Young is a Latin@ activist in McAllen, Texas.

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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