“Lo que pasa en la casa, no se habla,” a phrase that was drilled into me and my siblings at a young age, was the first thing that came out of the mouth of Trini, a mother, a woman, a member of the Birmingham community, and a warrior in the fight against Alabama’s Anti-Immigration Law, HB 56. Trini and six other extraordinary women were part of a group of Latinas, who made a decision that goes against what they were taught culturally to do (not to talk about hardship at home): they began speaking out and fighting back.
These women each had characteristics of my greatest role model, my mother. My mother is by far the most extraordinary woman alive, not only because she is my mother, but because of what she did to make sure that us –her children and only family in the United States– were able to help her realize her “American Dream”: to be educated professionals, own a home, and have the opportunity to be what we want at our fingertips. My mother, a paraprofessional for the NYC Department of Education, has been an incredible educator, and proud union member for over twenty years. My siblings and I are all clear that had it not been for my mother’s great job with awesome benefits and constant focus on our education, we wouldn’t be where we are today. My mother and father both paved the way alongside other Latin@ immigrants to fight and obtain their dreams for a better life.
Two weeks ago on 3/21 & 3/22/12, I unfortunately saw that the path my parents made when they came to this country, is slowly disappearing in places like Birmingham, Alabama. As an Advisory Committee Member for the We Belong Together delegation to Birmingham, I along with sixteen other fierce, woman leaders, came to Alabama to bear witness to the harshest anti-immigrant, anti-family law in the United States, HB 56. We heard about how one law has been able to tear apart, traumatize, and at times uproot women, children, and families. Interestingly, the women who shared their stories with us taught us all a lesson: that they would not let their fear paralyze them, but instead use that fear to empower them to stand up, take control, and fight like hell.
These women spoke about the importance to access health care for their children, a better life for their families, and the American Dream they made for themselves — one which they knew they would never be able to fulfill in their homelands. Their reasons to emigrate and the dreams they have made are all things that I am very familiar with. My father’s family immigrated to the US from Ecuador in the late-50s and early-60s searching for a cure for polio, which had struck my aunt at a young age. My parents had one thing in mind when they got married, which was to create the best environment possible for their kids to be better than them, to have access to everything they need, and for their family to move ahead. It seemed to me like all of my friends who were like me, first generation immigrants, had parents who had the same dream. We just needed to go to school, do well academically, go to college, and we would be set for life — our parents paved the way for us to do all of these things without having to worry about the hardships that they had to confront. And yet, 27 years later, I listened to the stories of the women of Alabama and realized that the path began vanishing because of this anti-immigrant, anti-family law.
Families can’t go out together, because of the fear of being deported. Parents are losing their jobs. Racial profiling now plagues and traumatizes families, and children are growing up too fast worrying if their parents are going to be home when they get home from school, or where they’re going to get their next meal because their parent(s) are no longer employed. All of this because of a law created by people who want to make the lives of immigrants so miserable “they self deport.” Is this the world that we live in? Especially in a place like Alabama that is so rich in Civil Rights History?
The thing that struck me about these women was that they all spoke about access to health care for their families, and yet they all failed to speak about their own health care. Most of these women were blessed to have children, and have their families grow and yet, never spoke about their prenatal care. Their own personal health goes last on a list of other issues that are priorities. How can women go to the local clinic to get an annual exam if they lost their jobs and cannot afford to pay the modest fee the clinics charge? Heck, in these communities it’s coming down to: should I pay for my car to be taken out of the tow lot, or go to the doctor to get the check up that I know I need? Or the better question that goes through most women’s minds in this situation is “every time I go out, I risk never coming back to my family.” One young girl that I had the pleasure of speaking to told me that she aspired to be a doctor because she was her mother’s nurse through two of her miscarriages. She was her mother’s translator at the age of nine, and had to help her mom through a difficult situation to cope with. She said she wanted to be a doctor because she to take care of people in her community, and give them the care that they rightfully deserve.
Immigration reform is a matter of Reproductive Justice. The Latina Institute knows that: immigrant women are less likely to receive adequate reproductive health care, including cervical and breast cancer screening and treatment, family planning services, HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, accurate sex education and culturally and linguistically competent services. Too often Latinas put their families ahead of themselves, without stopping to think, “if I don’t take care of myself, then who will?” It’s hard for us to put ourselves first. The We Belong Together delegates created this incredible manifesto that you can read on the website webelongtogether.org. We wrote about what we learned, the bonds we created with our sisters in Alabama and the action we are planning on taking with our organizations, and ask that you do the same.
Help repeal Alabama Law HB-56! Support our Hermanas in this fight!