We’ve Come a Long Way, Chica. Or Have We?

It was fellow seventh grader Ana Chavez who first decreed to me: “Only putas go on the pill.”

A few years later, as a sexually active teenager, I was still haunted by Ana’s proclamation, which echoed the sentiments of my neighborhood and family. While I feared becoming embarazada (pregnant)–a seemingly common rite of passage for many young girls in my working class, predominately Hispanic neighborhood–I equally feared being tagged a puta (slut).

So what’s a curious chica to do? Well, in my case, travel, alone, over 60 miles from my hometown of Oxnard, California to a Planned Parenthood facility in Santa Monica to, yes, obtain those pills. I couldn’t dare risk anyone seeing me enter what my catechism teacher had once claimed to be “the place” that would “contaminate my soul.”

However, it was there, in the Planned Parenthood waiting room, that my brown “otherness” was painfully blatant. The majority of other young women were not of color, and actually had the gall to bring their mothers with them! I couldn’t even fathom such a concept! While my own mother, a third-generation, self-proclaimed “liberal” Californian voiced her opinion on many topics in our home, the topic of sex education never came up for me. Not once.

And according to a survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, it appears that the “the talk” hasn’t made many strides in Latino households. That is, if “the talk” is even being initiated at all.

Now, as an adult, I often feel severe pangs of remorse upon returning to my hometown. I say “remorse” because, even though I tour the country as an author and motivational speaker encouraging young Latina/os to aspire toward university diplomas and personal goals, I far too often feel I haven’t even been available to offer advice or assistance to younger members of my own family–a few of whom have already entered unexpected parenthood. Thus, I have now taken it upon myself to initiate trips to Planned Parenthood (within a 60 mile proximity or not) with any one of my younger relatives who appear remotely in need or interested in additional information on family planning.

And now, nearly 30 years later, how do I find the ethnic and racial make-up of that waiting room? Regrettably, it looks about the same.

Photo used courtesy of mahalie under Creative Commons 3.0.

Visit http://latinainstitute.org/LatinaWeek4RJ and vote for contraception to be included in health care reform here.

Comments

  1. This speaks to me so much. Growing up my mom never gave me the talk, but now that my sister is a teenager, she's always telling me "que hable con ella". It's really interesting to me that she's giving me that responsibility instead of stepping up herself and making that relationship with my sister.

    Thank you for this post Michele. I'm so glad there's a Chicana writing for Ms. I had the pleasure to meet you at a reading you did at a bookfair in Wilmington, CA and I have to thank you for your writing and everything else you do.

  2. PP was accessible at college, but I remember that stigma of 'puta' well. We'd slink into the clinic and crossed our fingers that no one saw us. Twenty five years later my daughter found a PP and commented that
    there were so many resources and so few Latinas her age using PP. She asked her friends why; they said they feel they have to 'do it' with their bf first before they can go in and get contraception. The stigma lives on.

  3. Kathy Cano-Murillo says:

    Great article, and oh so true. I think for our generation, it is our duty to change the pattern and offer help to our nieces, daughters, cousins, etc. Happy to see Michele's byline here!!!

  4. Grudge Holder says:

    This was a nice post. Made me go back an re-read "Planned Parenthood: Age 16" We need more poems like that! And it be nice of kids from places like South Central (where i'm from) could read this short piece.

  5. My mother was always really vague about it to! It was really upsetting because she'd threated me like, "don't you dare come home and then tell me you dont know how it happened!" and I was like, what the hell is she talking about? I never realized she was trying to say, "you might like a guy and be tempted to have sex with him and i dont want to see you pregnant!" Damnit mothers, be clear with your daughters. you can avoid a lot of misunderstandings.

  6. why doesn't the girl in the photo look latina?

    • Oh come on! This is a silhouette – she could be Latina as well as Chinese or martian. Although the article addresses Latina concerns, is it not a concern for all teens and their parents? Seriously, you miss the point.

  7. Rachel Buchan says:

    Another always insightful essay from the amazing Michele! I barely got “the talk” at all when I was a teenager, I just remember my mom asking me, “Are you sleeping with Joe?” (my then boyfriend) and me lying and saying, “Nooooooo!” and that was it. I was 15. I didn’t decide to go on the pill til I was 18, and made my own appointment at Kaiser to get it. I asked my mom to come with me and she did, though I know she was uncomfortable with the whole topic. I consider it just a stroke of luck that I never had an accidental pregnancy.

  8. This is so very true, I have often wondered why my little cousins (or their girlfriends) are still getting pregnant at 16! Their mothers did it, and their mothers did, and when or how are we going to break that cycle?!? (I'm talking about my family, AND my cultura). It was my (white) roommate who introduced me to our local PP, and I still marvel at how I ever dodged an unwanted pregnancy before then! My mother told me how it could happen, but never told me where to go to get the education to avoid it from happening. I guess that was the "puta" stigma. We need to educate our daughters AND our sons instead of letting them stumble into their sexualities haphazardly!

  9. This should be recommended reading for all teens and for all parents! Thank you for sharing this Michele.
    You are such an inspiration to all young adults and across the cultural and racial spectrum. Contraception speaks all languages.

  10. I loved this post! Very relevant…I often wonder how come we can send people to the moon but can't figure out a way to "plan parenthood"? My conclusion, after many years of contemplation, is that sexuality, as well as so many other basic human functions, have been alienated from its rightful place in our lives. But, that is such another story! Thank you so much Michele! Keep up the good work and keep me in the loop!
    hugs all the way from Copenhagen,
    Blackgirl on Mars!

  11. We're on the same wavelength…

  12. This article speaks volumes about our culture!!!! As an OB/Gyn I see 12, 13, 14 year old Latina's pregnant on a regular basis. I've seen 17 year old Latina's on their 4th child. It' tragic these young girls seek medical care during their pregnancy yet fail to followup after the birth of their children for contraception. Statistically the teen pregnancy rate had been on the decline EXCEPT amongst Latinas. Michele, thank you for writing about such a taboo topic. As adults, mothers and sisters we should open the lines of communication to break this vicious cycle that is destroying our youth

  13. What would I have done without the "talk"!!! but not from mom or another relative… I'm talking about the "talk" that as a teenager you get from school, TV commercials, and even some of my amigas! I mean, mom was always there for me, but when it came to the "talk" I believe we both had VERY tall walls to demolish. I now 24 and fully aware of the resources available for teens or even adults, still can't COMPREHEND why so many latinas, are not educated in the subject. Is is a lack of willingness perhaps?

    I believe that we as adults, need to build consensus amongst our youth, that it is OK to learn about sex, be curious and get educated in the subject. Its always better to be SAFE than SORRY!

    Thank you Michele!!! besos!

  14. I am 19 years old and an outspoken feminist. Not to mention I am the first Mexican American generation here. Articles like this inspire me, yet at the same time disappoint me of the harsh realities of my brown sisters/hermanas/hueltiuhs. <– that is sisters in the Mexican dialect Nahualt.
    In my house sex was never spoken less sex ed. Sex scenes on television were always uncomfortable and changed or forwarded. (Until this day when I am with my parents I still feel extremely uneasy when there is a sex scene.=0)

  15. I thank my early interest to feminism and anarchism for providing adequate sexual education. It was through those means that I received information on birth control, awareness of self-pleasure, consent, and self body anatomy.
    I am also lucky enough to have a sister that works in planned parenthood.
    Without those sources I do not know where my knowledge under the subject would be.

  16. Gloria Tepilli-Uelia says:

    Womyn/grrrl’s access to something as simple as accurate sexual INFORMATION and EDUCATION is constrained. Yet if you’re colored and still surrounded to traditional cultural norms; you have double oppression!
    if you are a "girl” young, and brown YOU HAVE TRIPPLE OPPRESSION and your access to sex ed is short!

    There is a need for a sexual revolution in the brown community. The times are-a-changing old folks.
    Our Latina womyn are suffering due to the lack of social and health progression.
    So what can we do?
    Next time sex is mentioned please do not act surprised, or ashamed (SPEAK PROUDLY )
    do not exclude sex in our conversation
    and spread literature, workshops, on anatomy and sex ed.

    Lets talk to our young grrrls
    let them know they have power, choices and that they are beautiful.

  17. Viktoria Valenzuela says:

    You hit it right on the nose, Michele! I waited till I was twenty one and married to have babies, but marriage doesn't last, children do. I told my eldest niece to be smart, finish college, etc… She still got pregnant at fifteen. I was hurt. I took it so personally that she would see how hard it is to be a single Mother by my example and she was a fool for love anyway. She's single now. Her son is four years old and started school today. She nods when I tell her to please go to college, but I know she is only thinking about her next pay check to buy him shoes, his bus drop-off time, dinner… When I go to the grocery store, there are at least ten more girls just like my niece, pushing strollers, holding WIC cards… It makes me sad.

  18. Are we so far removed from our deeply rooted values that the notion of abstinence is not even a consideration for the next generation of Latinas?

  19. OKAY… SEEMS THE WAY OF THINKING HAS NOT CHANGED FROM THE 80'S OR 2010. TOO MANY OF OUR GIRLS THINK IT WILL NOT HAPPEN TO THEM, AND IF IT DOES 'HE LOOOVES ME' MODE KICKS IN. WE NEED TO BE OPEN AND TRUTHFUL… PUT IT OUT THERE. BABIES ARE A BLESSING FOR SURE. BUT IT CAN TURN YOUR WORLD AROUND SO FAST, IF NOT SLOW THINGS DOWN. GO TO SCHOOL, PREPARE YOURSELVES FOR LIFE. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. I NEVER OFFERED MY GIRLS THE OPTION THE PILL, I THOUGHT I 'RAISED AND TAUGHT THEM DIFFERENTLY. THE HORMONES AND THE GUYS NEVER CHANGE , BE STRONGER THAN THAT URGE.THINK FIRST FOR YOURSELF…I ONLY FOOLED MYSELF.

  20. Hello, A very insightful post. Thanks for the info. Its great that if our default settings are giving us messy or stringy builds, this dialog can probably help.Thanks for the information.

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