Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Executive Director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the only national reproductive justice organization that specifically works to advance reproductive health, rights and justice for the 28 million Latinas in the United States. She has been a leader in progressive movements for over 15 years.

Women, not men, need to vote for their reproductive rights

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Executive Director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the only national reproductive justice organization that specifically works to advance reproductive health, rights and justice for the 28 million Latinas in the United States. She has been a leader in progressive movements for over 15 years.

Posted by Get It Girl on Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Video Transcript

Speaker 1: (00:06)

I’m Lucy Flores, host of Jefa status where we talk to boss Latinas and dig into what makes them tick, what motivates them, what pisses them off, and what drives them forward. Basically, the how, the what the why. Our guests this week, Jessica Gonzales Rojas embodies just that. Jessica is the executive director of the national Latina Institute for reproductive health, the only national reproductive justice organization that specifically works to advance reproductive health rights and justice for the 29 million Latinas living in the U S she’s been a leader in progressive movements for over 15 years and she’s successfully forged connections between reproductive health, gender, immigration, LGBTQ liberation, labor and Latino civil rights by breaking down the barriers between these movements and building a strong Latina grassroots presence while doing it. As is my approach on the show, I like to get into the details of the journey. So I think it’s important to talk about how people get from point a to point B and then talk about the amazing stuff that they’re doing.

Speaker 1: (01:22)

So Jessica, welcome to the show. (Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.) So, okay. Full disclaimer for everybody listening and watching Jessica and I are friends IRL in real life, just like turns into ( The girlfriend chat.) Exactly like some nonsense. That makes no sense. We apologize in advance and I start asking her (inside jokes) right exactly that like nobody understands but we’re going to try not to get there. Um, I do. So, you know, I said a lot in the intro in terms of I’m sure people are just like, what, what does all of that mean? You know, like I think I said the connections between all of these different things and breaking down the barrier between these movements. I do want to talk about that, but before we get there, I want to talk about you. Cause like I also said this show is about the journey. (Yes.) And I think it’s a conversation and, and, and just stories that we don’t hear about very often. You know, like Latinas, we oftentimes are our individuals. We’re by ourselves. We don’t have other Latinas in the room with us, mentors, et cetera. And so it’s just so critical for me and I think for everyone to be able to hear about how we all got to where we are. So tell me about you and the very beginning. (Oh my gosh.) Where were you born?

Speaker 2: (03:00)

I was born in Queens, New York. This is rocking it. My mom is Puerto Rican. Her, both her parents are from Puerto Rico. Uh, and my grandfather, my grandfather, my father is an immigrant from Paraguay. Okay. I’m a country. Many people don’t know where it is in the center of South America. So it’s not of South America. Why? Okay. It’s not Argentina. It’s like sort of (You do hear Uruguay more often than you hear Paraguay) Yeah. So a very unique small country, a country which is fully bilingual. They speak Spanish and they speak Guarani, which is their native language. So very interesting. Wow. (Do you speak any of that?) No. I could barely speak Spanish. ‘m trying. I’m trying. Uh, but my, you know, my father’s an immigrant. My mom’s Puerto Rican. Um, I was born in Queens. We moved around a lot when I was young. Um, but, uh, we sort of settled in parts of long Island and I went to high, uh, like high school there. Um, and I was always really active. I always felt a lot of pride about being Latina. Um, back then we say we’re Spanish but not, you know, not understanding that Spanish was about Spain and it was like the Spanish people, but I assume came into my own like Puerto Rican identity, um, particularly Puerto Rican identity because I grew up in New York. Sure. And you know, cause very Puerto Rican, not a lot of Paraguayans there. Um, but I also knew that my family was, I had the immigrant experience from South America and in my father’s family. You know, you met them, right? I have my uncle who’s Colombian, my grandmother who’s Argentinian (Your white aunt.) Yeah.

Speaker 1: (04:23)

Also an inside joke. But we’re going to tell you about it cause it’s actually really fascinating if you don’t mind. It’s a fascinating conversation. About Identity.

Speaker 2: (04:31)

Yes. Like racial constructs are very different in South America and the Caribbean than it is here in the United States. So that’s an interesting conversation,

Speaker 1: (04:40)

But, but actually, definitely still within what I want to dig a little deeper on, which, you know, you’re saying that identity is something that comes up almost in every single one of my shows because it’s so different for all of us because we do all look different and we share in our culture our Latinindad, but we just appearance wise look so different. And some of us have um, privilege because we’re a lot lighter. Right? And we look more like white people sometimes, you know, I’m sure people don’t think that you’re a Latina often. Yeah. (For those who are not watching the digital show, I have light skin and green eyes. I think my pop of color on my lip has people in the streets asking me for directions in Spanish. So sometimes I guess I’m read as Latina, but you know, I, I recognize the privilege I have in the world. Right. As a lighter skin Latina and someone that may not be perceived as such.).

Speaker 1: (05:38)

Right. So tell me about, you said you grew up with a very strong sense of being Latina. A lot of Latinas don’t grow up that way. Um, you also said that you grew up referring to yourself and sometimes to your culture, as Spanish. Now we know that it’s not Spanish, right? (That’s from Spain) Exactly. And oftentimes people don’t even refer to themselves as Hispanic anymore because Hispanic is this construct, you know, it’s like enough derivative from Spain. It’s just, yeah, it’s like this whole complicated thing. That being said, none of that really matters. What matters is how you feel about yourself, how you see yourself and how you understand your roots and your culture. So why is it that you feel like you didn’t struggle? You know, like being proud of being Latina, especially because your Spanish actually isn’t super fluent. You speak, you speak Spanish, which is another sometimes point of, of shame, you know, for so many people that they don’t speak Spanish fluently or they don’t speak it at all. And even amongst Latinos, we tend to shame each other. You know, when we shouldn’t, (Like we’re not Latina enough, if we’re not speaking Spanish,or too Latina, or just enough. )Just about like, can you just be me? Can you just be like whoever you want to be and like, not worry about all these different things

Speaker 2: (07:00)

And I bet a lot of your listeners experienced this. My father was an immigrant as I mentioned, and he came when he was in high school and he sat in class and there was no, you know, dual language or bilingual education or anything. So he didn’t understand anything. So he had to drop out of school and he struggled a lot. So for him, he didn’t want his children to experience that. And he had this attitude of like, we’re in America, we’re going to, we’re going to speak English. You know, that’s the American dream. Um, and I joke, and again, you met my family recently that my sister, my, my father divorced my mom. And got remarried to a woman from Chile. So my sister I have a sister who’s 23 years old and she’s fully bilingual. And I’m like, dad, why didn’t you teach me Spanish? But it was his, his understanding of the world and the United States when he was there and a young person and really feeling real discrimination because of the lack of English proficiency. So he didn’t want us to experience that as he grew older and saw that actually Spanish speaking, speaking Spanish is an asset. He of course taught his other daughter, not me, but I think it is beautiful that, you know, we’re a very almost multicultural family because we have, you know, Columbia,Paraguay, Argetina, Chile, um, Puerto Rico, we have all that mix up in us and, and again, the range of color in our family. You have cousins here that are darker or Puerto Rican and you know, as you joke, my white aunt, um, she sees herself as white and she’s very light skinned. I mean, she’s white, but she’s, you know, she doesn’t understand sort of the construct of race and the construct of Latinidad in the United States that she’s like, I’m a white person.

Speaker 2: (08:35)

I’m like, not really. And when you open your mouth, you’re not read. When you look at your resume, you’re not read as a white person. There’s other ways in which you operate in the world, but you do have white privilege, right? You do benefit. No one’s gonna follow you around a store and think you’re stealing. Right? Right. Because of your skin color. Right. So it’s, it’s very complex and I think it’s really fun and interesting to explore these conversations and families, especially those who have more immigrant backgrounds that just come from a different, completely different construct. And despite all of this, you and the fact that you weren’t taught Spanish because of the associated discrimination, et cetera, despite all of this, you still ended up being like very proud of your Puerto Rican heritage and being from Paraguay. So tell me how was it because you were surrounded by a lot of different culture, like what was it that you feel kind of enabled you to…(My abuela) Your abuela?

Speaker 2: (09:29)

Yeah, the two of them. So my, my um, Puerto Rican grandmother, she just told me the most amazing stories and God bless her, she passed away, but she was just a strong, strong woman that had real strong faith. And she had polio as a child in Puerto Rico. And she was like quarantine and she lived in poverty. I mean literally she would tell stories where there’d be a hurricane. The tin roof would blow off her home and everyone would just get wet. It was that extreme poverty in that she came to this, the mainland right, to look for a better life. And she had, you know, again, she was struggling with a disability, but her persistence, and actually she didn’t have a good experience of being in Puerto Rico because of the poverty, the lack of healthcare, right? Being quarantined as a person with polio. So she doesn’t have a good memory, but I dig and then she, she’d have these beautiful moments, these stories, songs that we’d find on, on my phone. She’d be like how’d you find that song? You can look it up. But she’s like, that’s my from my childhood. So I just always wanted it. I love storytelling. So that’s why I love this. What you’re doing here is a show because stories are so important, right? So made me want to learn more about like our family. I learned through my cousins here in California that were related to like a, um, a suffragist in Puerto Rico. Wow. A woman who was fighting for the vote, the rights of Puerto Rican women to vote. And I’m like, Oh yes, there’s my lineage right there. So like learning about who I am, where we come from, the struggles that my communities have faced, my families have faced. It just makes me feel more resilient, right? Cause we stand on the shoulders of all that. And then again, my, my grandmother on my dad’s side, my maternal grandmother, fraternal grandmother, she’s ahead of her time. She wore makeup. She wore the most beautiful clothes. She would curse. She divorced her husband,she was just like a fierce woman who was born too early .Right now she would’ve been like cutting edge. Back then it was like, wow, this woman is really intense. Um, but I had both experience of having a really sort of hardworking, humble, abuela from Puerto Rico. And then I had this like fierce, fabulous, like unapologetic, you know, abuela from, she was actually born in Argentina. And then my dad was born in Paraguay, so very Argentinian. And so that’s a very different, very too, so it made me really want to learn about those histories. So let’s

Speaker 1: (11:54)

dig a little bit, you know, you mentioned white privilege and we mentioned at the beginning that, and I said we were going to get into it, the really the intersection of all of these different movements that, that you work with, um, and, and uh, and for in many ways, right? And so I think a lot of people don’t understand. I think most Latinas listening to the show probably understand, but it is something that we don’t talk about within the Latino culture. I think enough, you know, where there are some of us who in many ways, you know, it’s like, you don’t even want to say I’m white. I don’t identify as white,which is funny, right? Because it’s that that was the white aunt, this conversation we had, um, literally was, was Jessica’s and who is just the sweetest, most amazing, smart, independent woman. And we were having this conversation about, you know, people of color and this idea of challenging white establishment political figures. And somewhere in that conversation she says to you, but wait, you’re not white, we’re all like what of course she’s not white. But it begs the question, right? And of course, like her basic understanding of the face value of people, right? You kind of look like you have white skin. I have browner skin, right? There’s Afro Latinas who are just black, right? All the features of black people, yet they’re still Latina, you know, and we don’t talk about this enough. And oftentimes I think it’s like, again, it’s so important to you personally, like how you see yourself. So you don’t see yourself as white. (I don’t identify as white,) but you recognize that you have white privilege. So tell me about that. Yes,

Speaker 2: (13:53)

I think that’s really important. I think growing up Latina and talking to people in my family and the communities, you see real racism in our communities, right? And you see a lot of anti-blackness that is really problematic. And you know, and, and Latinos have started to assimilate themselves as white and by census standards, I’m, I’m sort of a nerd around that stuff. When you fill out the census and I don’t know if it’s going to change, but right. You know, as of the last census it was like, are you Hispanic or Latino? Right? And it says yes and you click Puerto Rican or whatever. And then the next question you must fill out both eight and nine, I remember, um, it says, are you, um, what’s your race? And then there’s nothing, it’s like white, black, samoan. Like they had all these other races, but someone who’s Latino didn’t really have a place unless they identified as white or they identified as black or Asian or the many Asians. Right. So most people wrote in Latino.

Speaker 1: (14:53)

So (I totally wrote in Brown), Brown, (I wrote my own box, I drew a box and I wrote in Brown next to it cause I was like, I’m not white, )Yeah you’re not white, but you’re not black, (But you look white.) Yes. (Your skin is white.). So tell me about, so we’re talking about white privilege and how Latinos can have it because of the way that they look. That’s it. Just appearance. You don’t have to open your mouth. You don’t have to-no one’s. Like you said earlier, no one’s going to follow you through a store and wonder if you’re shoplifting, right? So you do get some of the benefits of kind of appearing to be within the dominant culture in this country, which is white people. So, but yet you don’t consider yourself white, which is a different thing. But how do we address then white privilege within our community knowing that some of us get it and some of us don’t. Some of us are going to be followed through the store, right. So like how do we, how do we continue to talk about that and how do we get people to understand that you don’t have to say that you’re white, like you don’t identify as white, but yet you do benefit from some of those privileges because of just the way you look. Exactly. It’s about really understanding systems of privilege and oppression, right? And understanding that white privilege is a system that is maintained and we have to look at how it’s all it’s constructed.

Speaker 2: (16:18)

And when we examine the Latino Latinx community around our feelings about race, that there’s this real anti-blackness. So in the same ways that I might not be read as Latina because of my light skin, I know Afro Latinas that are not read as Latino because of their black skin and then they’re Latino. That is questions and that’s just as wrong, right? So I, it’s really important that we look at what’s the system is right and who is looking to serve and benefit. And I think we have to center our work in addressing anti-blackness and uplifting the black community and ensuring like liberation. Because I feel like when this liberation for black, the black community, there’s kind of liberation for all. And it’s important that we actually have these discussions. I recognize my privilege. Like that’s important to say. I can’t pretend like I don’t have it. Right, right. We have to understand there is a system that looks at you, compared you to a paper bag perhaps, you know, and it’s like, Oh, you’re on this side of the paper bag. So it’s, it’s like where do you fit in that spectrum of color? Um, and that, that, that systems people benefit from that. Can you use your benefit that system to actually dismantle the system? And that’s what we need to do. The lighter skinned Latinos need to speak out against the system. Again, recognizing that there is a benefit. They don’t experience kind of the discrimination or hatred or oppression that darker scanner, Afro Latinos face, but it’s important to recognize it so we can have those conversations and move towards a place that we’re dismantling white supremacy. That’s like such a great way because now you’re not asking people to put themselves in boxes. You’re not saying you’re complicate those boxes.

Speaker 1: (18:00)

Yeah. You know, we’re trying to explain that she’s not white. You’re not white. Yeah. You just have a lighter skin color. Like there’s a difference. Right. And identifying as white or, and, or just accepting that you benefit from a lighter skin color because now you’re benefiting from the appearance of potentially looking like you might be white. And then of course, like having the privilege, the benefit of white privilege. And my concern with the Latino community Latinx communities that they’re gonna, you know, back way when Irish and Italian people were not considered white. (Right) Right? They were considered not white. Yeah, exactly. And now then (they were immigrants) and they were immigrants and right. And there was all these negative tropes about them. Right. And, and now all of a sudden they’ve sort of been integrated into whiteness. And I worry about that for the Latinx community because those who benefited from the privilege may enjoy that privilege.

Speaker 2: (18:54)

Yeah. Right. And that’s something that they want to dismantle. I want to dismantle it. I see like black liberation as, as our future, right. Something that we need to lift up and fight towards. But you know, I think that’s why we have to have these conversations. (Right) And that’s why I have to kind of recognize where I stand in that. And again, there’s, there’s Latinos who argue like, no, you are white. Right, that you, but again, people shouldn’t identify something for them. You know, everyone should identify for themselves. (Right) But recognize how they’re perceived and experience the world. So it’s navigating that and having those conversations to move us. Absolutely. Okay, so moving forward, you figure out who you are. (I’m Latina)

Speaker 1: (19:37)

You’re Latina, You’re a lot. You recognize your privilege but you are proud. Puerto Rican, is it Paraguayan?(Paraguayan,) Queens, New York, you’ve got it all going on. Okay. So then you go to what? You graduate high school and go to college. Do these things.

Speaker 2: (19:55)

Yeah. I went to college at Boston university. I studied international relations. I minored in art because I actually wanted to be an artist. (Your parents encouraged you to go to college?)I have to say that you tracked into college as so many of us aren’t attracted to college. Interesting. I think my mom was much more like go to the community college. We can’t afford college. My father, the immigrants believe in the American dream. You are going to Harvard, you’re going to the best schools. And, you know, I was like, I can’t get into Harvard, but you know, he really pushed us and he’s like, we’ll figure out the money. You just do your best. It’s our job to make sure that it can happen. And I struggled through college. I mean I got letters that I, my tuition wasn’t paid. I was going to get kicked out of my dorm and they were going to lock the lock my dorm room and not let me in because we didn’t pay the bill. So, you know, there’s lots of, there was lots of challenges. Thank God my mom was in a union. She was in 1199 and they offered a scholarship to me for my good grades. And um, and that scholarship really saved me. I was able to get through school. Um, so again, it was, it was interesting cause my father pushed me to put in the place, but he didn’t have the resources and we were sort of scrambling and taken out all the loans and all the debt out. Yeah. But I appreciate that he pushed us because like you said, so many of us don’t get encouraged. And I think it was that immigrant experience of wanting to ensure that we’re, you know, here and doing better, right. Better than what he had in his country or better than what my, you know, mom had, you know, my Puerto Rican family had. So I think that’s really important. And I studied international relations and art. He didn’t want me to study art and I actually did want to study art and he’s like, I’m not, you know, sending you to Boston university to study art. And you know, I, I honor that now, but I was really upset then. So I minored in it. I found ways around it. And then, um, I, I ended up getting an internship when I graduated with the national association of Latino elected officials in a, worked with Congresswoman Velazquez, the first Puerto Rican woman in Congress. So it was really inspiring. And that’s actually what got me propelled into sort of domestic work. Cause I thought I was gonna do the international work and working with a Congress. (Domestic you mean in the U S domestic in a house?) No, no, no, no. Domestic in the United States. Yes. Cause I was planning, my dream was to work for the United nations or to be an ambassador. And I started working on U S space policy and learned how much work needs to be done here in the United States to improve the lives of our communities. Yeah. So that was like my glimpse working in Congress (and the door to this idea of public service,) public service, you know, through college. I every, you know, I worked as like a hostess, at a pizzeria uno. Um, but while I was a hostess, I also,

Speaker 1: (22:44)

Did you have a vest with a bunch of buttons on it? That’s also an inside joke because Jessica sent me a picture of myself from the first time we met and I was wearing like this vest, like oh my God, (you looked amazing it worked then.) I was like who dressed me like a food server from Chili’s that day. (But the funny part was all the pins kinds of pins.) Cause I was at a conference, no really it was like, that was the process of me also being socialized and tried to be constrained as you know, as many people know. I was an elected official prior first Latina in Nevada. So you know, you have all of these, all of these rules that you’re trying to abide by, you know, again, like a structure that was not built for you. It was not built for you. But yet here we are trying to fit in, you know, and to what they think we should look like. And yeah. Yes. Apparently that turned me into a Chili’s food server, so.

Speaker 2: (23:50)

I did not have to vest as a hostess. (So you didn’t wear a vest, okay.) But yeah, so I was working in a pizzaria uno in the nights that, you know, hostess thing.

Speaker 1: (24:02)

I do you want to add, there’s nothing wrong with being a Chili’s server I just want to be clear. Maybe not the best fashion choice, you know, but obviously this is not to degrade food servers, you know we love our food servers.

Speaker 2: (24:16)

It is hard work. Let me tell you, I was hustling and I adored the like waders and the, and the bus people and the bartenders, they were, they were so much fun but also to the front person, you know, welcoming people. Um, but while I did that, while I was in college, I was also working for an organization called jumpstart and it was to work with young kids and those who are struggling already in like kindergarten and first grade. Um, and I got to work as a AmeriCorps member so I had kind of an early interest in public service or, or contributing to an environment where I was improving the lives of others. But I also had a, you know, earn some money. Um, so I was able to do that. But that was a really special thing because I learned now that some of the kids that we work with in jumpstart are now have grown up, gone to college and are jumpstart core members themselves. So they were working with the next generation. (Oh that’s amazing.) Cause I was one of the first cohorts of, of folks involved in that program cause it had just started around 95 this is many years ago. Um, but at that may, you know, kind of ingrained my commitment to public service and social justice and education. Um, but working for the Congress one really exposed me to like the policy issues that our country was facing. And this is 98. Yeah, 1998. Um, so it was really exciting.

Speaker 1: (25:42)

And so then fast forward. So now you’re kind of like, you got the bug, you are working in politics and public policy or figuring out the good, the bad, the ugly space. Yeah. How do you end up at the Latina Institute for reproductive health? (Everything.) I not only just added but now, but you’re running it (I’m running it I’m a Jefa) full Jefa status. How did you end up from there too? full Jefa status?

Speaker 2: (25:58)

So after, after I worked for the Congresswoman, you know, you find different, you build relationships that put you in different positions. And I’m someone that just never said no. And I think that’s a fault of mine, almost. (Sure . But I think when you’re young and hungry and looking for opportunities, like not saying no is a good thing, right? Because expose you to different communities, different networks, different opportunities. So I went from everything from volunteering and being on the founding board of an immigrant rights organization in Queens and Jackson Heights to working with a disability rights organization because somebody knew somebody that needed a person to work for this disability rights organization. I was like, I care about this issue. Like I could learn. And I did and I’ve learned so much. I learned the ADA Americans with disabilities act back in front and when I was a really great advocate and then I wanted to go to grad school and my boss at the time was like, well get a job at the grad school and you can go for free. Cause I applied and got into NYU Wagner school public service, which was very expensive. So I ended up leaving the job with a disability rights organization and working at NYU, which then helped cover the cost of my school. Um, and I ended up in the multicultural center. So it was a very special space where I got to actually work with Latino students, um, do like workshops and education on social justice. Um, it was amazing. It was a really amazing like job and I got to work with young people and, and support them through the college experience. Um, and it really, again rooted me in the work that my commitment to our communities, right? Making sure that everyone has the opportunities to succeed. They’re thinking about life critically. We’re exploring social justice issues. I took 20 something kids, students, NYU students to Argentina, social justice education trip with a bunch of colleagues that are amazing. And we learned everything about like the environmental justice movement in Argentina and the women’s rights movement in Argentina and labor and the last mother’s day, Plaza de Mayo. Like it was really a special experience and you saw the different weird race dichotomies there because we were with a lot of black students and it was like, we don’t see black students and you know, black people in Argentina and like they exist. Um, but again, very kind of whitewashed, you know, community. But anyway, I had so much fun working at, um, NYU, but I did a lot of volunteer work. I ran for office and won a small position but important position for, um, I was really involved in my immigrant rights organization at night. I worked with a group of Latinas in New York city to create a Latino political action committee. I mean we would just, you know, I was mouthing the census 2020 uh oh 2000, (2000) thousand work.

Speaker 2: (28:46)

Um, and looking at redistricting and all the outcomes of that. So I really had my hands in a lot of things cause I was really interested in just serving and learning and pushing and advancing a vision of like equality and justice for our communities. So when I found the national Latina Institute for reproductive health is when they will organizing for the 2004 March for women’s lives. And my good friend was like an organizer, volunteer organizer and asked to speak with Latino students at NYU. I said sure, I’ll host a meeting, we’ll have Latino students come. And that’s where I want to learn about this organization. And to me, it brought all my identities together. It was not about being just Latino Latinex right? It was like that and gender and sexual orientation and income and immigration status and like it, the organization really addresses the work at the intersection. Hence wire intro kind of speaks to all these movements because our community sit at the crux of all those movements, right? And all those identities.

Speaker 1: (29:48)

Well, and it sounds like just based on everything that we’ve heard, the reason why you, um, focus the organization in that way is because of all of the various life experiences that you’ve had. And, and I think that that’s really, really important because we talk about this concept of intersectionality. We hear it, you know, a lot of people don’t know what it means, but that’s what it is, right? It’s the, it’s working at, in looking at issues from the intersection of how all of these different things play out in our lives. You know, our status as a woman, our status as Latina women, our status as immigrants, as rich people or poor people or immigrants, non-immigrant et cetera, like all of those LGBTQ identity, like all of that either helps us or hurts us in different ways because of the systems under which we’re living.(Exactly. Exactly.) Tell me a little bit about the Institute because right now we are facing crisis. Yeah. like full on crisis. Handmaid’s tale. I’m like ready? (Yeah.) I joke all the time because you know, if anyone hasn’t seen had Handmaid’s tale. Basically it’s about women who are subjugated. They are made into sex slaves, the fertile ones that are still left and the ones that are fertile in order to basically bear children for, you know, the white religious men that have freakin taken over half of America, and I always joke or i’m like I will die in the middle of this, I will be one of those gorilla warfare fighters because Latinas are fertile AF. (Yeah.) We will be the first hand maids. (Oh my God.) They will come after us cause we are fertile you know? I was like, no, you’re not gonna make me a hand maid no way. No sir.

Speaker 2: (31:52)

No it is a really scary and hostile situation.

Speaker 1: (31:55)

That’s what the government is literally, they’re forcing pregnancy upon people on women. So, okay. But a lot of people don’t understand that concept because they think that abortion is a right, they think that reproductive health is a right. They think birth control is a right. They think these things are rights. And in many ways they are. But it’s not a right if you don’t have access to it. Right. So tell us how that plays out in real life, especially for Latinas.

Speaker 2: (32:23)

And let me share a framework that we use. We use a framework of reproductive justice and it’s actually different than reproductive health and reproductive rights, right? Reproductive health is about, you know, research and healthcare, you know, um, and creation of, of technologies, health technologies, reproductive rights is very legal, right? Looking at the legal system and policy systems. But reproductive justice is exactly about what you said, right? About looking at the conditions and the identities and the systems of oppression that we all face as, as women of color, as people of color as trans and queer people. Right? Right. And how that actually affects our ability to access health care, right. And, and make decisions, (Which includes abortion.) And abortion, everything. I mean, we work on everything from, um, so young, a young person, right? Who ends up pregnant, uh, they’re demonized for having, uh, a pregnancy, right. And demonized for having a child. Right? So you hear like teen pregnancies a problem, the United States, right? And it’s Latina teens or actually have the highest rates of teen births and we actually support their decisions. If they’ve decided that they want to have a family, we need to support them, right? Because you know, damned if they do damned if they don’t, if they decided to have the abortion, the demonized for the abortion, right? if they decided to have the child that demonized for that child and then they called, you know, all sorts of horrible tropes and, and blame, you know, systems of, you know, poverty and that they’re re, you know, part of those cycles and they’re not right. They want to, you know, raise their families with dignity and they want to succeed in life. And we as a community, we as a government need to support that. Um, but the government is not supporting that. Right. So it’s hypocrisy,

Speaker 1: (34:25)

Which is why we’re calling it, it’s forced pregnancy (pregnancy without support.) Right. Exactly. That’s exactly what I’m going to say is that, you know, you force these women then to have pregnant to have babies and then they have these babies and you’re not, well not even with the, after the, during the pregnancy, they’re not getting the healthcare that their prenatal care, natal care, all of that stuff. and then they have the baby and then they’re demonized for needing social support services like WIC and other programs like literally wanting to feed their kids and yeah. So like (and health care is completely out of reach completely.) Yeah. We haven’t even talked about childcare. Right? Like there’s so many additional factors, but you know, this concept of our rights then being under attack, Latinas have felt our rights under attack for a very long time. Yeah. (Yes. Right. Yes. Oh yeah.) And so what is the Institute, what is something like the Latina Institute doing to like try to, I mean, just tell me what you do.

Speaker 2: (35:07)

So we, so we have several strategies. We do, um, you know, policy advocacy. We’re looking to like catalyze policy change, right? We really want to see a shift in the system. We look at culture shift, right? How are we creating narratives by us and for us, right? And not ones that are, you know, created by white people about us. Cause those are the ones that are manifesting. But yet we have our own stories. Um, and we are investing and elevating the leaders in the communities. We, I say we’re not empowering quote unquote people like people have power. It’s about harnessing that power and supporting that power and elevating that power and allowing them to be their most like, you know, Chingona person ever. ponderosa thats what we call them. So, um, it’s really important that we’re able to invest in our communities and provide the tools for them to be their most powerful selves. So everything from bridging, like how a bill becomes a law, how you can get involved in, you know, the civically in your communities. We have undocumented people going door to door saying, I can’t vote, but there’s an election happening and you should vote. It’s really important. And what targeting, particularly the low propensity Latinex voters, (What does that mean?) That means those who are registered and may vote in a presidential election, but don’t turn out in primaries, don’t turn out in statewide elections. Don’t turn out in municipal election, and these are the people that the candidates do not care about.

Speaker 1: (36:41)

So if you are registered to vote, but you’ve only voted maybe once or twice in your life, or you’ve only voted in a presidential election every four years, but you don’t vote any other time pays attention. People don’t pay attention. You don’t pay attention to. Is that the reason why maybe so many people listening to this, um, have not been contacted by like campaigns or whatever. It’s because they voted a couple of times. Therefore you’re not identified as a high propensity voter.

Speaker 2: (37:32)

So, um, I heard this reframe the other day and I love it. It’s not low propensity type potential. There you go. You got high potential voters that we target and ensure that we’re knocking on their doors. And it allows folks who are marginalized from the system, the undocumented communities, the Spanish speakers, you know, those who have not been not able to participate, to participate, to allow them to encourage others. My organizer says, everyone has a job, everyone has a job. You can’t vote. That’s okay. You can make phone calls. (That’s right.) Go door to door. You can walk people to the polls like everyone has a job. and that’s really important. And it gives our activists a sense of purpose. Um, and it also creates education in a spirit of civic engagement in the communities where they live, which we work in the Bronx, New York. We work in Northern Virginia, we work in South Florida, Miami specifically. And we work in the Rio Grande Valley in Houston, Texas. So you know, Rio Grande Valley in particular is like militarize marginalized. They’re, their health systems are cut. They’re not given like basic services, but those women, man, they are incredible, like incredibly powerful, incredibly resilient. Um, and they are like determined to make sure that their voices are heard no matter their status and no matter their ability to vote.

Speaker 1: (38:32)

Why we only have just a, like a very short amount of time left. I’m like two minutes. What, why do you one, why do you think you’re the only, there’s 29 million Latinos in this country, the biggest demographic of women of color in this whole country. Why are you the only Latina working on reproductive justice (We’re the only national, so I’ll say that.) Okay. (We are the only way or the only national I know).

Speaker 2: (38:42)

Well, I dunno. I mean it’s, you know, to be honest, it’d be complicated if there were many, right? There’s already a lot of national organizations working on reproductive rights and there’s, you know, they mostly don’t target and work with Latina Latinex communities. So it is important that we exist and it’s important that we’re speaking to our community in ways that are culturally competent. Um, what I would lift up is that there’s amazing local organizations and places like Colorado, there’s a group, cocoa Lord, um, in, in New Mexico is a group called young women United that is all Latina and indigenous and women of color, young women of color doing this work in California, in this California, Latinas, reproductive justice. So we do have our sisters around the country if anyone is looking,

Speaker 1: (39:21)

So you just mentioned a bunch of places and if people are not in that area, but they want to do something specifically around reproductive justice from the Latina perspective, they can probably search and see if there’s organizations like this around. Yeah.

Speaker 2: (39:38)

Or they can still connect with us at a national level. But we do the deep, deep organizing in those four States. I mentioned New York, Virginia, Florida, and Texas. So if you live in one of those States, please, you know, connect with us because we’re doing really amazing kickass work.

Speaker 1: (39:54)

And, and then lastly, well, almost lastly, um, what ways, like what do you recommend for someone who, or you know, a Latina who was looking, you said, you just said that everyone has a job in California where we’re currently located. Um, we’re really lucky, right? Like we have planned Parenthood clinics, we have other, um, healthcare clinics that provide abortion services and other reproductive health services, et cetera. Our rights are fairly protected here. Like, I can access, not only do I have the right, but I can access it. So what can I do in a state where my rights don’t feel like they’re being challenged? Yeah. Yeah. But yet there’s so many other women in other States like Alabama and Georgia and New Mexico. Well, I don’t know if this New Mexico on the list (New mexico is not terrible.) They, okay. Better others stays. Yana indigenous women, right? Indigenous women throughout the country, there’s still almost no access, right? So plenty of indigenous people in New Mexico. But so my point is, is that how very quickly, like how can someone still like fight on their behalf? Like, what can we do?

Speaker 2: (41:11)

Well, a couple of things I think is really important. You, you have your federal representatives, right? You have your members of Congress, even from California, you need to push them also, right? Because if we can change the federal laws, some of these state laws won’t happen, right? Um, but, um, you can donate honestly, right? These, some of these groups in those States, particularly in the South, they, they’re not well resource, right? People don’t invest in women of color, unfortunately. And we need to elevate that. So groups like sister song and the yellow hammer, fun and urge, they all do work in the South, the so many. Um, and um, so that’s one thing. Um, even just digitally, if you could lift up this conversation, right? Follow some of these organizations, right? Elevate this to platform, you know, push the national conversation. But I think really specifically on advocacy, we need to put our push our federal members of Congress because there’s a bill like the each woman act that would allow for abortion coverage in plans like Medicaid, you know, programs that many in our community use. But right now, if you’re a Latina on Medicaid and you need an abortion and you’re not in a state that puts their own money in, you cant get it (right because of the Hyde-amndment,) Hyde amendment (is the amendment that prohibits federal funds to be used for abortion.) Yeah, exactly. So the each woman act would repeal that. So we need to make sure your members of Congress are supporting your Senator supporting, um, because if we could change on the federal policies, we, you know, we will see some, you know, we’ll see more lawsuits in other parts of the country, but, um, at least you know, it’ll be upheld as a standard.

Speaker 1: (42:44)

Okay. We have totally gone over time. So, um, this went by way too fast. We didn’t even talk about that many inside jokes. So to close out. How can people or find your organization, like, can we find you personally on like what’s your favorite social media channels? How do we find the Institute? Um, if people want to contribute, how can they do that? Like if they want to make a donation to the Latina Institute, is it tax deductible?

Speaker 2: (43:13)

Yes we are a 501 c 3 organization. (So how an people do all that?) So go visit wwwlatinainstitute.org Um, and then our social media is, it’s an N. L. I. R. H which is not a sexy acronym. I apologize in advance. N.L.I.R.H. Which stands for the national Latina Institute for reproductive health. On Twitter and on Facebook you can find us and then from there you could find me cause I actually don’t remember my Twitter handle, I think it’s like,

Speaker 1: (43:42)

Is that where you are most active on Twitter?

Speaker 2: (43:44)

Twitter, I’ve been more active on Instagram. Uh, Facebook.

Speaker 1: (43:48)

Yeah it didn’t happen if it’s not on the gram. All right everyone, well I hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation as much as I have. Jessica, we need to have you back. (Thank you. Thank you.) Or we just need to add more time to the shows. I know, I feel like these are all way too short and I’m just going to like give up and be like screw it. We’re just going to do 60 minutes cause clearly 40 is not working for us. (I love you, more time.) We’re dry. All right. Thank you so much. [inaudible].