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Member Spotlight: Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice Texas

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

By Perdita Henry

In the following member spotlight, you will notice that we use the term Latinx. This is a gender-neutral term that is more inclusive than the term Latina or Latino. You’ll also see the terms Afro-Latinx and Black people used because one can be both Black and Latinx.

The lives of women and non-binary people are often complicated by the expectations of the society we live in. In a country that often centers the lived experiences of white, cisgender men, people of color and gender diverse people often must reckon with the stigmas and stereotypes other people have.

Healthcare spaces can be even more fraught. It can be hard to relax and feel confident when you understand that the space may not welcome you or have done the work to be mindful of your culture or experience. As a patient or client who is not male, white, or thin, you’re likely to experience medical racism, misogyny, and fatphobia. On top of everything else, when you are Black, Latinx, or Afro-Latinx, you must reckon with the medical and reproductive history that includes the actions of people like J. Marion Sims and the crimes committed against the women of Puerto Rico. It can make it difficult to trust the people that are positioned to help you and can leave you feeling disempowered and unable to advocate for yourself.

These are all reasons why organizations like the Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice Texas are so important. “We create transformational spaces in our communities that deepen awareness to change hearts and minds,” Texas State Director for Policy and Advocacy, Nancy Cárdenas Peña says. “We believe those most impacted are the agents of change, so we invest in grassroots Latinx leaders to serve as the best advocates for our communities.”

“We develop and elevate the thought leadership of Latinxs. We foster inclusive spaces to reach the diversity of the Latinx community that accounts for the differences in our race and culture, linguistic abilities, gender identity, sexuality, and worldviews. We work to ensure the community is represented in spaces that traditionally ignore our lived experiences. We are committed to building community power to advance a national activist and community-centered reproductive justice movement.”

Reproductive Justice is an important part of your work. How does it factor into your mission and guide the organization?

In 1994, a group of visionary Black women developed the reproductive justice framework (RJ), founding a transformational movement for social change. Latinxs across the country came together with our Black, Indigenous, Asian-American and Pacific Islander sisters to embrace this culturally-rooted movement, a new approach in the fight for human rights.

Reproductive justice is people working together for social change with an intersectional agenda. We will bring about reproductive justice when everyone has the economic, social, and political power to make decisions about their sexuality, health, and families.

At the Latina Institute, our reproductive justice approach seeks to dismantle systems of oppression that target Latinx identities. The best solutions come from those most affected by the problem. We center the voices of all Latinxs, including Black and Indigenous Latinxs, to create lasting change.

What are some of the major health issues/challenges facing Latinxs?

Latinxs—like all people—do not live single-issue lives. We face structural barriers that serve to undermine our rights and uphold injustices. These barriers are rooted in racist, misogynist, and homophobic ideology reinforced by government policies, cultural institutions, and even in our own homes and communities. As a result, Latinxs have less access to reproductive healthcare, experience poorer health outcomes, and face significant obstacles to achieving our full economic, social, and political power.

How do health issues differ in Texas for Latinxs compared to other areas of the country?

In a state as unique as Texas, we like to incorporate the realities of a multifaceted oppression lens when it comes to enforcement. When it comes to Latinx immigrants, entities like Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE), police, and the militarization of border communities, pose real risks towards the livelihoods of our communities and our ability to parent and raise our children in healthy environments. Uninsured rates in Texas range from 29 percent of Latinxs, compared to 12 percent of whites. Latinxs also make up the highest percentage of cervical cancer in the United States.

Lack of access to quality reproductive healthcare and preventative services for Latinxs over decades have led to poor health outcomes. How does the Institute advocate for more access and equity at the state level?

Our focus is to give activists the tools to empower themselves into becoming leaders. Whether it be through civic engagement, policy change, field organizing, or education, our goal is for activists to be agents of social change in their communities. This in turn, translates to the work we do at the intersection of immigration and reproductive justice as we focus on a community driven response to enact social change in Texas.

How can medical providers better reproductive care and education for Latinx patients?

We would like to elevate how Black Latinx folks are deeply impacted by racial discrimination in medicine. Black people are more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. Medical professionals must not only push to provide culturally appropriate care for patients but acknowledge the role structural racism has played in neglectful care where Black people are dying at an alarming rate.

Why is it important for your organization to be a TWHC member?

We appreciate the time taken to include us in this space as a Latinx reproductive justice organization. We appreciate the experience and expertise from partners in this Coalition and look forward to continuing critical work with a reproductive justice lens that includes the autonomous decisions of all individuals seeking reproductive healthcare in Texas.

What does an ideal future for women’s health look like according to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice?

An ideal future for healthcare for all Texans includes the ability to make decisions based on wanting or not wanting to have children, when to have them, and having the autonomy to make these personal decisions in the manner of their choosing.

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