Written by Ana Laura Rivera and cross-posted in partnership with the National Latina Institute of Reproductive Health as part of the 2012 Latina Week of Action.
This profile of Ana Laura Rivera is one of several of powerful Latina women advocates throughout the United States.
Soy poderosa porque contando mi historia ayuda a luchar por los derechos de nuestra salud. I am powerful because sharing my story helps fight for women’s health. Because of this, I advocate for the need of sexual health education and resources in public schools. Attending a low-income public school in the Rio Grande Valley region in South Texas, sexual health education was not an available for me or my peers. Students were not allowed to ask questions about sex during our so-called health class. I did not know anything about sex, and I was afraid to go ask any adult about sex, whether a teacher or counselor, and especially my parents.
If I asked my parents what sex was or how to protect myself, I felt they would disown me. I grew up in a very religious and traditional family, where my both my paternal and maternal grandparents were pastors. My father used to be a pastor himself. Currently, I have two uncles and an aunt who are pastors. So sex was never brought it up in our home or at least my parents did not give me the sex talk. I was extremely curious to learn about sex, but was afraid to reach out to anyone because I feared people would think I was sexually active or would be labeled as a “slut”. I just wanted to become educated to make healthy choices for myself in the future.
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Many of my friends were sexually active, yet they were not aware of the consequences of having unprotected sex. There were even rumors in school of how a certain positions would prevent you from becoming pregnant or getting an STI – that was just sad.
As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, I decided to learn more about sexual health education and advocate for the need of sexual health education in Texas. Being a student advocate and activist for a vital issue was a bit challenging for me. I come from a very conservative family, so opening up to my parents about my new passion was difficult. I did not know how my parents would react towards my work in sexual health education.
However, as I opened up to my family and told them about my involvement with the Great American Condom Campaign and the Young Women of Color Leadership Council with Advocates for Youth, they were extremely supportive. Even my younger brothers followed my example and began to pass out condoms in their school. At first, I was in shock, but then relieved because they agreed this was an important issue that needs to be resolved in our community.
Millions of dollars are wasted each year on abstinence-only programs. Yet, Texas has the 4th highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation. One of the primary issues is the government dictating nuestra salud, our health. Money is geared towards abstinence-only programs; budget cuts on health resources for low-income communities are cut each year.
Como Latinas tenemos que ser una familia unida y luchar por nuestros derechos. As Latinas we have to unite and be advocates in our communities to fight for our health. Sexual health education is an important component of our health so we must advocate, share our stories, and hold our political leaders accountable.