As part of the Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health asks participants in it’s blog carnival : What’s the REAL problem with scapegoating immigrant women?
I wrote a very brief intro yesterday, questioning how we frame the question even and who gets to speak for themselves vs. who is spoken for.
My family is an immigrant family. I have taken heat from other Latinas for claiming this, for claiming being the first generation in my Puerto Rican family to be born in the United States. It is often raised that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, so that the migration patterns of the women who came before me, my tias and later my abuela, who came to New York looking for work in the garment industries, mujeres who came before their husbands to work in sweatshops run buy famous fashion designers, mujeres who now can barely see – and not just because of age, don’t matter or worse, don’t exist. As amiga Bianca Laureano wrote in her submission to the blog carnival :
Many folks think those narratives are not worthy or important, when really they have impacted me! And don’t I matter? Don’t the women with similar testimonios and experiences matter?
Bringing this back to the issue of immigrant women and reproductive justice, the buzzwords, according to mainstream (read white led) feminism and non-profits, is choice and access. The choice of how to prevent and plan pregnancies, allegedly revolutionized by the birth control pill, used Puerto Rican women of my grandmothers’ generation as the perfect test subjects. When our uteri weren’t being experimented on, they were being forcibly sterilized. My tias and my grandmothers weren’t accused of harboring anchor babies in their wombs, turning the possibility of “poor brown babies” being born as U.S. citizens as threats because of the colonial occupation of Puerto Rico sure sounds pretty damn close.
This trauma, one that I carry in my own body and which impacts my own choices about reproductive health, is something that needs to be healed from. We cannot talk about choice without acknowledging who was given and who continues to be given choices.
Take for example the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decision to accept the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations on women’s preventive health care as part of the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) aka health care reform. In addition to the birth control recommendations, which eliminate costly birth control co-pays, HHS adopted recommendations that facilitate increased access to screenings for cervical cancer, gestational diabetes, domestic and interpersonal violence, as well as annual well-woman exams and services for pregnant women for lactation counseling and breastfeeding support. While this is something to be celebrated for and by many Latin@s, countless other Latin@s have nothing to celebrate because the ACA decided to ignore the health care needs of the undocumented.
I am thinking about women like Alexandra Nuez, who died in a storefront clinic close to my home, a clinic that also performed plastic surgery. A clinic that I potentially, as an uninsured Latin@ might used to access reproductive health services. What were her choices? I think of others who have passed on like Victoria Arellano, who died in ICE detention, in part because of denial of medical care, in part because of all the layers of who she was. Even in death, her life was overshadowed by the story of Elvira Arellano, a Latinidad that could have joined with Victoria’s but probably for the sake of expediency wasn’t. I think of Cirila Baltazar Cruz, who lost her daughter (and thankfully got her back) because she didn’t speak English or Spanish, because she is poor, because she was undocumented, because she is brown. What were her choices when it came to language, mami’hood, and work?
What’s the real problem? That we look so narrowly at what we have done and what has been done to us. We rely on the language of non-profit fundability to define who we are and how we got here. There is no online petition to do the work that we need to do, as immigrant women, as the children of immigrant women, as Latin@s that fall outside easy checkboxes of gender identity. The real problem is that we need to heal and grow, within ourselves as Latin@s and Latin@ communities. There is no justice for our histories, our bodies, our lives without that.