Latino Heritage Month Meets Reproductive Justice & Sexual Health: Focus on Gloria Anzaldúa

Bianca I. Laureano

In celebration of Latino Heritage Month, this is the first in a series about people whose work centers on sexuality, ethnicity, racial classification, and social justice.

The first week of Latino Heritage Month has passed and there are three more to go. As someone who does not often “celebrate” this month in “traditional” ways expected for educators and some activists, I’d like to try to expand our understanding and conversations about Latino sexuality during this month.

As a result my goal is to discuss the work of a few people whose research in the field of sexuality, reproductive justice, and sexual science intersects with Latino studies in the US and internationally. I’d like to see this as a series highlighting a few folks each week whose existence and work has made it possible for my peers and me to continue to do the work that we are doing. In addition, I hope that the conversations that often happen during this month: “Latino vs. Hispanic,” “Representations of Latinos in Media,” and “Latinos and Higher Education” can shift to focus on and include reproductive justice and topics of sexuality that are not often on the high list of conversations to have during this month.

If you are seeking other outlets and sources of information to help you expand your efforts and recognition of Latino heritage Month, I’d like to suggest some sites. Each of these offer resources and opportunities for people to contribute, expand their knowledge, and read other’s opinions/testimonies about their Latinidad. My good friend Maegan La Mamita Mala Ortiz began the 30 Days of Latino Heritage Tumblr page encouraging people to contribute to sharing what they consider to be necessary to celebrate during this time. I, along with several other activists, were inspired by Maegan’s work and we began the LatiNegr@’s Tumblr page where we expand ideas of Blackness and include a conversation and affirmation of Blackness and African identity among Latinos. You may also submit to the LatiNegr@’s Tumblr page as well.

I want to start with a few folks who many may already be familiar with and I hope that in being reminded of them, discussions can further in new ways.
Gloria Anzaldúa, PhD
Scholar, Poet, Writer, Activist

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It seems fitting to me, someone who adores theory, but does more “practical” work, to begin with Gloria Anzaldúa. It was at the time of her death over 5 years ago that I began to write online and blog about sexuality and our community. I had read This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, and had just finished readings parts of This Bride We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation for part of a doctoral program I was in when I heard of her death. It was May 18, 2004, four days after her death, when I wrote my first online post for the world to see. And they did see. I shared how her death had affected me.

but anzaldua means more to me, i am a chicana feminist, a puerto rican, a woman of color, a border crosser. her writings, and i’m not just talking her creative pieces, but i’m talking her theory; have been irreplaceable in my ethnic/racial/sexual/social identity. when i think of how i see myself as not just puerto rican, but as latino, as chicana, as part of la raza, anzaldua’s work it what helped me achieve that acceptance of community difference, need, change and mobility is paramount….i waited too long and missed out on making my physical connection. i’ve learned from and decided that i am going to make contact with those i believe to be influential, important, essential, and fierce leaders in my community, in our community now, instead of later. i encourage us all to do the same, don’t wait for somebody to come at you, go to them. viva la lucha de luz, paz y amor viva la memoria de los revolucionarios viva puerto rico libre

Paramount to my consciousness as someone, who at that time identified as a feminist, and today who does not but as a radical woman of Color, I often felt lost in US feminisms. There was something that just kept telling me I wasn’t welcome (and this remains true today, and I know what it is). I found myself wondering, “why are all the Latina feminist thought we are exposed to focusing on Chicana identity?” I felt I had to choose to be a Latina Feminist and that was odd to me because I felt more Caribbean than I did Latina. After all I was raised in a Caribbean home, not a Latino one. It was not until I read Borderlands/La Frontera that I realized there was a place for me in Anzaldúa work. Anzaldúa writes:

The first time I heard two women, a Puerto Rican and a Cuban, say the word “nostoras,” I was shocked. I had not known the word existed. Chicanas used nosotros whether we’re male or plural. Language is a male discourse.

To this day, when I read that passage, the note I wrote in the margin “Caribe Women” means more to me than any paper I wrote, any book I read, and any lecture any of my Women’s Studies professors gave. Anzaldúa called out negative aspects of “machismo,” while realizing that it does not always translate in the same way for all of us as I’ve shared before. This was so important, because it allowed me the opportunity to still love my father without feeling guilty or wrong because he loved me. His love for me did not mirror what I was reading in the literature and supposed to realize was oppressive. 

Anzaldúa was one of the first out Lesbian Chicana writers in the US. Her contributions to examining the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, location, ethnicity, and language have changed the way we think and speak about feminisms in the US, especially Latin@ feminisms, and oppressions in general. Her work on spiritual activism is one that I find imperative to the work many of us want, choose, and continue to do in the field of reproductive justice and sexual health. The language and terms she’s given us allow our conversations and goals to expand and cross borders, just as our bodies have. Take for example her term “nepantleras” which she has described in the Preface of This Bride We Call Home as:

“Whenver I glimpse the arch of this bridge my breath catches. Bridges are thresholds to other realities, archetypal, primal symbols of shifting consciousness. They are passageways, conduits, and connectors that connote transitioning, crossing borders, and changing perspectives. Bridges span liminal (threshold) spaces between worlds, spaces I call nepantla*, a Nahutl word meaning tierra entre medio. Transformations occur in this in-between space, an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition space lacking clear boundaries. Nepantla es tierra desconocida, and living in this liminal zone means being in a constant state of displacement—an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling. Most of us dwell in nepantla so much of the time it’s become a sort of “home.” Though this state links us to other ideas, people, and worlds, we feel threatened by these new connections and the change they engender. I think of how feminist ideas and movements are attacked, called unnatural by the ruling powers, when in fact they are ideas whose time has come, ideas as relentless as the waves carving and later eroding stone arches. Change is inevitable; no bridge lasts forever.

*I use the word nepantla to theorize liminality and to talk about those who facilitate passages between worlds, whom I’ve named nepantleras. I associate nepantla with states of mind that question old ideas and beliefs, acquire new perspectives, change worldviews, and shift from one world to another.”

How does our work shift or gain new meaning when we realize, as Anzaldúa says, todas somos nos/otras (we are all one/another (it always sounds and reads better in Spanish). Before she died she was working towards a doctorate degree in Literature and a year after her death she was awarded it posthumously by the University of California at Santa Cruz. Anzaldúa work demonstrates the power and importance of the public intellectual and independent scholar.

In what ways do you see Anzaldúa having left us with a legacy? How do you see incorporating her ideologies into the work you are doing? What are the many ways we can incorporate her work into our curriculums with youth?

foto credit: UC Santa Cruz

Commentary Abortion

Hispanic Heritage Month: Talking to My Catholic Parents About Abortion

Raquel Ortega

When my parents came to visit me for the first time in Washington, D.C., it coincidentally was a big day for reproductive health: The EACH Woman Act was being introduced. I decided to use that as an opportunity to finally have a talk about my abortion advocacy work.

Hispanic Heritage Month, which began on September 15 and ends on October 15, is a time to reflect on where I come from, which for me, is a reminder that I owe a lot to my mother, a first-generation American whose family is from Mexico.

In addition to teaching me how to make her famous salsa recipe, how to dance, and that the toilet paper roll is supposed to hang over not under, she also taught me about love of community and being kind to others. As Catholics we always operated under the golden rule, “treat others the way you’d like to be treated.” She is the one who instilled in me that being part of a community is about caring for and supporting one another, whether it’s a family member, a friend, or neighbor.

I don’t often talk about my job with my mamá. Like many other Chicana feminists I know, we often operate under an unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. She knows that I organize and speak out around access to abortion, but she doesn’t ever ask me about it. It’s not that my mamá is against abortion. In fact, I know she feels how a lot of Latin@s feel about abortion in this country; she doesn’t fall into a typical “pro-life” or pro-choice label and instead holds complex feelings based on a variety of factors. Personally, she has reservations about abortion when it comes to herself, but at the same time she believes it is not her place to judge or condemn others. If anyone in her life wanted to seek an abortion, she would do whatever she could to support them.

I was very religious when I was younger, but my devotion began to break down in high school when I started to feel like I was being taught unfair and conflicting lessons about sex, sexuality, and abortion by faith leaders in my church. I had been led to believe that sex was sinful and that women who had sex before marriage were immoral—sluts. Things changed for me when, in tenth grade, my good friend told me she was raped at a party. My religious teachings about virtue and purity seemed to make so much sense until, suddenly, it was also so clear to me that what happened was not her fault. Shortly after that happened, I was chastised by my youth minister for having a conversation with another teenage girl about what “birth control” was (our school, and entire state really, had abstinence-only sex education, so it wasn’t really surprising that most young people our age were clueless about the ins and outs of sex). My real-life experiences were showing me that life is not lived in black and white, yet I was told sternly that speaking about birth control and sexual health wasn’t “appropriate” and these types of conversations should be left between a child and their parent—something that in actuality, at least in my community, rarely happened.

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I felt a similar discomfort about abortion. But slowly over time, the lessons I was being taught by my mother, such as treating others the way you want to be treated, started to make me reassess that. I did not want to be judged for the thoughtful decisions I made about my own body. I did not want to be stigmatized or shamed for my sexuality. And I did not want to judge, stigmatize, or shame others either.

I have a tendency to push people beyond their comfort zones. Knowing my mother’s complex feelings about abortion, when my parents came to visit me for the first time in Washington, D.C., which coincidentally was a big day for reproductive health, I decided to use that as an opportunity to finally have a talk about my abortion advocacy work.

The visit was the day that All* Above All, a coalition dedicated to lifting bans on abortion coverage, announced with members of Congress the introduction of the EACH Woman Act. The EACH Woman Act is a proactive bill to end the Hyde Amendment and similar restrictions on federal funding for abortion. Due to the Hyde Amendment, which turned 39 this year, people who have insurance coverage through a publicly funded health program, like Medicaid, can’t use their insurance to cover the cost of abortion. I think that a person should have access to safe and affordable abortion care regardless of their income or the type of insurance they have, so for me the introduction of this bill—the first of its kind—was a pretty big deal.

So there we were, my parents and I, eating some chili together at Ben’s Chili Bowl, when I told my mom that I was excited about this new bill because it would make a difference for so many people seeking abortion care. We talked about her religious upbringing and the things she heard about abortion in Catholic school. We discussed the concerns she had about why people choose abortion, and she admitted that she was unsure about the idea of Medicaid coverage. She also asked a lot of great questions like, “So if a woman doesn’t have the money to buy contraception and gets pregnant, and then doesn’t have the money to pay for an abortion…what is she supposed to do? Magically find money to raise a child?” (While my father was present, he did not contribute to our conversation.)

My mother may not feel comfortable with why someone might choose abortion, but to her it doesn’t make sense to deny access to health care just because of how much money someone makes or the type of insurance they have. And on this last point, we can agree.

My mother and I may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but I’m glad that she has taught me her values of support and kindness. These are the values that drive me and fuel the passion for my work. I am glad that she has shown me that I shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they are uncomfortable ones, and that I should always operate from a place of love.

She has taught me that we can respect a person’s ability to make their own life decisions without imposing our values and views on them. That we should each appreciate and respect everyone’s beliefs, especially when it comes to people we love. That all people should have the economic, social, and political power to live happy lives, and that all people should have access to information and resources to make healthy decisions about their bodies.

Back at dinner, I finally asked the question I’ve always wanted to ask my mamá but never before this moment had the right words.

“I know it’s easy to say that you wouldn’t judge when it’s talking about someone else getting an abortion… but what if it were me?”

Without hesitating my mamá said, “Raquelita, no matter what, it’s my job to always support and love you, and that has and will never change.”

Q & A Abortion

Fighting for Access and Justice: A Q&A With the Incoming Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds

Cynthia Greenlee

Yamani Hernandez recently chatted with Rewire about her work to build a broad human rights movement that lives up to its inclusive values, her unconventional professional trajectory, and the people who inspired and stoked her activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

On Friday, Yamani Hernandez steps into the role of executive director at the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF). In that position, she will lead almost 100 nonprofits nationwide that help people fund their abortion procedures and offer other types of assistance. The 37-year-old Chicago native recently chatted with Rewire about her work to build a broad human rights movement that lives up to its inclusive values, her unconventional professional trajectory, and the people who inspired and stoked her activism.

Rewire: Given the near-constant efforts to restrict reproductive rights in this country, now is a difficult time to take the helm of a national organization that works exclusively on abortion. But you did. Why?

Yamani Hernandez: I took the helm of NNAF now because there is such tremendous opportunity. I spent a large part of my time [as past director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health or ICAH] trying to create a base. At NNAF, with nearly 100 funds—grassroot funds that are mostly volunteer-run—there’s a base built in to celebrate, support, and mobilize.

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Through abortion funding, there is a very direct impact on people’s lives. We’re dealing in real time, with real patients and real threats. We’re also balancing and leveraging our experience on the helplines and in the clinics to move policy through the All Above All campaign.

I’m excited about working with funds to build their strength so that our base is not only the fund board, volunteers, and staff, but the hundreds of thousands of people who received abortion services over our 22-year history. I’m interested in how the interactions with patients move beyond the procedure to a longer-term relationship that results in building power. Abortion isn’t a single floating issue and must be addressed in the context of the multitude of systemic barriers and cultural norms that impact our abilities to access the rights, recognition, and resources to thrive. These issues are all interrelated and should not be talked about in isolation.

Rewire: If we believe the polls, significant numbers of Americans wouldn’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. If that’s the case, why don’t we see more Americans actively advocating to keep abortion legal and accessible?

YH: I’m no social scientist but, anecdotally, even if polls say that most Americans are pro-choice, I’m not sure it’s a super accessible movement to join if you’re not in college. How does my neighbor know what’s happening in this movement and how to get involved? Where and how does my 60-year-old dad engage with this movement besides donating or signing an online petition? How do the owners of the diner or taqueria nearby connect? I think we’ve already got a lot of people at the table, and so I’m looking to see more “regular, everyday” people involved—people who may not think of themselves as activists because being “pro-choice” and taking action on the issue are two different things, just like having rights and access are not the same.

I know because I used to be in that boat. I don’t think I understood the urgency before I started doing this work. Anti-choice strategy is crafty. Anti-choice lawmakers are chiseling away at Roe by imposing restrictions on clinics, providers, and women on the local, state, and federal levels. Many Americans may not be aware of these obscure laws, or these laws may not seem like big threats, although they are more dangerous than federal policies in some ways. Public stigma around abortion also remains high and keeps the public from taking more direct action [such as volunteering as a clinic escort or for an abortion fund hotline].

Rewire: On a personal level, how do you talk to friends and family about the work you do? Because many people in The Movement come from families and communities that have not been recognized as part of that movement.

YH: Well, this is sort of complicated, right? I really have no problem at all talking to anyone in earshot (or screen shot) about why abortion access is so important. … There are definitely people in my life who would like to hear about sex, sexuality, pregnancy, birth, and abortion less because they can be uncomfortable topics if you haven’t had all positive experiences. But there are other people who think it’s really cool to see me being so vocal talking about our rights and the systemic barriers that impact when, whether, and how we reproduce. Even if they don’t feel comfortable saying it, they are glad that I am saying what they won’t or at least raising questions that make people think differently.

My immediate family is supportive of my work and the issues, though they may not be out waving flags in protest. After all, people have been murdered by anti-choice folks, and on the scale of priorities, the people of color I know aren’t necessarily looking for one more way to get killed in America. My father is a doctor and has always been proud of my work, having decades of experience in community medicine. I’m pretty sure he’s seen it all and knows the damage associated with restricting health care. My mother is actively engaged in lots of feminist activism. Last year, she wrote about her own abortion after being raped by a stranger in our family home, in a self-published novel, and she also told me the abortion stories of elders in my family before abortion was legal. I think lots of people I love care about this issue but find some of the language, framing, and faces of the movement unfamiliar and distasteful. I want to change that.

The people of color in my life come from largely a Black nationalist framework that, in some ways, sees childbearing and nation building as part of the same thing. So it can get complicated when talking about abortion as a one-liner. It is a nuanced topic for many, many people with so much complexity and thought on one end, and baggage and shame on the other end. But still we have been a part of this struggle. As historical Black feminists like Audre Lorde have articulated, we do not live single-issue lives. So I want to continue to work to break gender, sexuality, misogyny, and racism down to language that meets people where they are and gets straight to the point of humanity. It’s important to me to honor the experience of people like my trans play-unclemy mother’s best childhood friend—who transitioned over 15 years of my childhood. It’s also important that I engage the experience of my sister who once argued with me because I called her “homophobic.” It later became clear that we have different understandings of that word.

I also think it’s really important to my community that I stay involved in birth justice as well. It’s hard to call someone a “baby killer” when they spend evenings and weekends as a birth doula helping mamas give birth the way they always knew they could. I want to reduce the stigma of pregnancy in general. Whatever the choice, people deserve support.

Rewire: What’s your vision of getting more young people involved in advocating for abortion rights?

YH: I’m not sure how you’re defining young people. I still think of myself as young at 37! But, seriously, I’m coming off working on reproductive justice issues related to 12-to-24-year-olds, and I think there’s a lesson there. Young adults shouldn’t just be hearing or thinking about abortion in college. In younger years, they need to have access to sex education that talks not just about preventing pregnancy, but about consent, pleasure, sexual violence, and pregnancy options without judgment.

There are some powerful social justice movements being led by young people; we can look at #BlackLivesMatter to see that. I don’t think stakeholders at NNAF are an exception. Our member funds are heavily populated by young creative people who want to make a difference. Many funds were started and are still supported by older leaders of the movement. I envision younger people continuing to grow in their leadership through the funds, I see young people changing the movement through social media—reaching more people in need of abortions, but also making our culture shifts and policy fights viral. That said I think, we still have lots of opportunity to connect with more people and build more bridges between movements. I’m ready!

Rewire: This is the first time there’s been a woman of color in this position. What does that mean to you and to NNAF?

YH: To be honest, while I am proud to be a Black woman at the helm of this organization and I know what it means for our movement, I would hope that I was not hired because I am a woman of color, but rather for the experience and vision I bring to the organization. I know that those two are likely intertwined though. For me, during my four years in this movement, it has been painful to watch the ways that women of color and injustices we are encountering on a day-to-day basis are often ignored and poorly framed in the mainstream conversations about reproductive rights. I am excited to bring my day-to-day experience as a Black mother in an urban area to the work of this organization. It means that I don’t know how to talk about abortion without talking about other threats to bodily autonomy. So it means that while we may focus exclusively on abortion, you’re going to see that we approach our work from a myriad of directions. I think the other boldly significant thing about my hire is that I don’t have a super long history in this movement. The history that I have is centered on the sexual health, rights, and identities of minors, who are often discarded in the policy fights. I think that it says a lot about the organization. It inspires me to be a part of a group that wants to really center the leadership of the most affected from the top and throughout the organization. It’s exciting that they are seeking new perspectives on the work.

Rewire: We’re in the midst of a wave of public abortion storytelling to change abortion-related policy, experiences, and people’s minds. You’ve shared your own story. Why was telling your story important?

YH: Yes, I’m very excited about the wave of storytelling. I just hope that the stories are reaching people who aren’t already engaged in the movement. For me, telling my story was important because I don’t think that it is a very uncommon story. The story I told was a bit sanitized, but it wasn’t super simple for me. For some people, it’s very simple: “I needed an abortion and I got one.” For others, it’s more complicated. There’s no one story. Once you hear enough of them, though, it’s easy to see the relationship to economic justice among other issues. At the end of the day, telling your story is important because it’s kind of like “coming out.” The more people I tell that my attractions to people are not based on gender, the more people who think [the issue is] so removed from them can know, actually know, and love one of “those people.” It’s harder to be against someone with a face that you love.

Rewire: You trained as an architect at the University of Washington and worked with Public Allies in Chicago when you were 19. How has your past training informed your work as organizer and advocate?

YH: Public Allies was on a break from undergrad and architecture school was really a speculative endeavor; my thesis was on activist architecture as a new tool for resistance. In terms of activism, I knew we had marches, and signs, and petitions, but I thought people seemed desensitized to them. I wanted to see new and different direct actions that really challenged the idea of public and private space and who has access. When I think about it, I’ve been trying to come at access, community healing, and justice from so many angles. I joke with people that I have the most interdisciplinary education and work history.

I don’t believe in mistakes or coincidences, though. Everything that I have learned and experienced is in play in my past work. My experience working with women and girls in homeless shelters in Chicago through Public Allies really shaped my sense of who my work is for; though people are pushed out of sight, they should never be out of mind.

Lastly, I often tell the story of my beloved mother who trained my siblings and I as “jedi” when I was 5 years old. When my parents separated before their long divorce, we lived without utilities for many, many months. My mother never phrased [that experience] to me as adversity. She gave us cool survival backpacks with flashlights and snacks and told us that we had been selected for the test of jedi training and that we would win. I look back on that, and I don’t discount the pain and difficulty that she must have felt as a single parent with three children under 6 trying to make us feel secure. But seeing her resourcefulness and the magic of her reframing is training that stays with me as well.

This interview was conducted by email and by phone. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.