May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and May 5th specifically is the National Day To Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Each year at this time I usually focus on how we can and do work with Latin@ youth, as my training and education over a decade ago began with trying to understand what was occurring in my community.
This year, instead of focusing on young people, young Latin@s, and programs that have been effective for some communities I want to encourage providers working with Latin@s to try a few things. Here’s my “wish list” for providers for National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month:
1. Expand y/our understanding of what and who Latin@s are. With the US Census, there was/is a lot of talk about racial classification and how race has been formed and is interpreted in the United States, especially for Latin@s in the US. One aspect of our identity that I’m very much committed to is the understanding, recognition and inclusion of Latin@s who identify and claim their African and/or Black identities (and yes there are multiple aspects to our complex identities that also include European, indigenous, Asian, and every ethnic and cultural group you can think of). If you are unclear how to even begin to understand this specific aspect of our identity I encourage you to visit The LatiNegr@s Project Tumblr Page, which I co-founded with several self-identified Afr@-Latin@s/LatiNegr@s/Blaktin@s/Afr@-Caribeñ@s. You may also submit something to the page as well.
2. Include ALL people who identify as boys and men into programming. Yes, this includes recognizing and including trans men and boys, people on a spectrum of gender identity and cisgender men. I’m totally convinced one reason pregnancy prevention programs do not work is because there is too much focus on (young) women and Latinas. This is a huge disservice and perpetuates the idea that pregnancy is only a “woman’s” issue. Men and boys need the same and specialized information about sexual and reproductive health.
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3. Do not introduce or mention the ideology of “machismo” unless/until the community you are working with introduces it to you. Do you think this will be a challenge for you? Why is that? What will change if you make a conscious decision to not introduce this term and ideology? If it is presented in a setting ask how your client is using it and how they define the term. You may be surprised with what you hear. There are many people who have bought into the ideology that machismo is always already negative. Yet, there are some people who don’t always see machismo as negative, I am one of those people. The ideas surrounding the negative aspects of machismo are completely foreign to me because I had a stay-at-home father growing up for most of the 1980s and a mother who had a full-time job. Who do you isolate and protect or victimize when using this term in a rigid way?
4. Recognize, know, and act like you know not all your clients are heterosexual. If you have yet to realize that there are many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer identified people who want to be parents, I don’t know what to tell you besides get it together! Being an example of how to challenge heterosexism in our society and in our community especially is something that is not always centered. What examples of challenging heterosexuality can we think of in our programs that target Latin@ youth specifically? What images, symbols, marketing, brochures, language, forms are used in your program/environment/space that let young LGBTQ and heterosexual Latin@ youth know they are important and will be heard?
5. Recognize your clients who identify as transgender, queer, lesbian, gay, or bisexual need pregnancy prevention. I mentioned this back in 2002 when I was working at the Child Welfare League of America and unfortunately the concept was not embraced until an LGBTQ program was established and an older White gay man hired to lead the program. When he shared this as an important community to focus on, guess what happened, people listened. Assuming that queer identified and transgender Latin@ youth do not need to be educated about preventing pregnancy is simply ignorant, problematic, and harmful. One thing I’ve learned over the years is how pregnancy is used among queer youth as a form of safety to not have to “come out” to family or supportive people in their lives. For some youth, “coming out” is connected to having or losing shelter, food, and daily basic needs. This is real for Latin@ youth as well.
6. Honor the language that young Latin@s use to express themselves. Recognize code-switching as a valid form of expression and an important part of the power young people have. I’ve mentioned how language is powerful and an important part of young people creating specific forms of media before. How many of our images, brochures, conversations recognize code-switching as a valid form of expression? Side-bar: terms such as “Latina woman” are a double positive and grammatically incorrect as the term “Latina” is already a gendered term. “Latino woman” is correct.
7. Include Latin@ youth who are currently parenting in pregnancy prevention efforts. Helping youth plan their families and future is a skill that everyone needs. Assuming that a young parent does not need pregnancy prevention is missing the point, in my opinion. How do parenting programs targeted towards young Latin@ parents incorporate conversations and skills about preventing pregnancy beyond birth control and contraceptive options?
8. Rethink how assimilation is used, defined, and incorporated into pregnancy prevention targeting Latin@ youth. I’ve shared before how research has shown that when Latino youth are raised to embrace all aspects of their cultural and national identity they are happier, healthier and less likely to do “bad things.” How have you incorporated this data and perspective into your pregnancy prevention efforts for Latin@ youth? Or is it too easy and affordable to ignore these findings, and potential life-saving information? Because that’s been done.
9. Help youth find and use adjectives besides “hard” to describe what it’s like being a teen parent. I’ve heard this term used several times, especially on MTVs 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom and find this term to be just as descriptive as the word “stuff.” Not sure where or how to begin such a discussion, consider how wish number 6 can help.
10. Commit and follow through with having the Latin@ youth you work with teach you something. Often programs and curriculums are created having the facilitator as the person with the most knowledge in the room. If we begin to challenge this concept we not only can create new class/space dynamics, but also help youth recognize the power they have, how valuable they are, and that they are producers of knowledge. Some of the topics I’ve committed to asking the youth in my life to help me with include:
• Teach me about the musical genre Bounce from NOLA
• Introduce me to new terminology, their origins, and how to use them accurately and appropriately