By Lucy Panza, DC Policy Intern
Earlier this summer, NARAL released the results of a poll that it had commissioned in the Southwestern part of the country showing that 85% of Latinas support taking the birth control pill and 96% of Latinas think that family planning is a good thing. The memo begins with this:
The media and some political commentators often perpetuate a persistent myth that Hispanics are more socially conservative than the rest of the U.S. population on the issue of abortion. However, this study shows that while Latinas have mixed feelings on this topic, they are receptive to the idea of family planning and contraception and overwhelmingly oppose government intervention in women’s reproductive decisions, including abortion.
When I read these sentences, I found myself surprised at the findings of the study. I realized that had been persuaded by the “persistent myth” that Latinas are predominantly Catholic, and as such they carry strongly anti-choice views (“choice” meaning the wide array of reproductive health decisions that a person can make). But then I realized something else: wait a minute, I’m a Catholic Latina who is pro-choice. I fall into that 96% of Latinas who approve of family planning and the 85% of Latinas who support taking the birth control pill. In fact, I do use the birth control pill for reasons including controlling my fertility. Why then was I so surprised by these findings? Why did I buy into stereotypes about my own demographic group, when I don’t even fit those stereotypes?
Perhaps I’ve been fed misinformation about Latinas over the years. Perhaps I haven’t always identified as Latina, despite the fact that I emigrated from Argentina to the U.S. as a toddler. Perhaps the research that NARAL (and other groups such as the Latina Institute) has done really is groundbreaking and so I had no way of knowing about this before. Whatever the reason, here I was, a Catholic Latina who uses contraception, feeling surprised and fascinated that Latinas in general support and use contraception.
For me, it has been really important to begin asking questions about who we are as Latinas who support reproductive choice, and what our daily actions say about our identity as Latinas. For example, when I take my birth control every night, am I…a Latina taking birth control? An American taking birth control? A Catholic taking birth control? A law student taking birth control? A 25-year-old taking birth control? A consumer taking birth control? A reproductive justice advocate taking birth control? Someone’s girlfriend taking birth control? Someone’s daughter taking birth control?
In fact, I am all of those identities when I take birth control (and when I go shopping, and when I go to class, and when I watch The Daily Show, and when I lobby members of Congress, etc. etc.). And I can’t help but wonder whether my decision to take control of my fertility and decide whether, when, and how I’m going to have children is a larger statement about what kind of Latina, American, Catholic, law student, 25-year-old, consumer, reproductive justice advocate, girlfriend, and daughter I am. I think it is, and I hope that Latinas continue to explore how our identities intersect with and affect each other when we make reproductive decisions. None of this happens in a vacuum, and we can no longer accept the stereotypes that are perpetuated about us.
By Lucy Panza, DC Policy Intern