THE WOMAN PROJECT INTERVIEWS:
Please share a little about yourself and the issues you are passionate about.
I am a first-generation American, proud daughter of a Colombian Immigrant. I was born and raised in our incredible and beautiful state of Rhode Island. Originally from the comeback city of Central Falls, currently residing in Pawtucket, which I love and it is home! I have a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Rhode Island, and currently, I am co-chair for Emerge Rhode Island organizing committee. I am an advocate for the disability community, reproductive justice, immigration reform, and education amongst other social issues.
I do not want to bore with specifics, but I think it is essential to explain the reasons behind why I advocate for some of the things that I do and why I am so passionate about them. At a very young age, six months old to be exact, I was diagnosed with a severe and rare form of Scoliosis, which caused an interesting childhood. I had countless surgeries, to being homeschooled, I was wheelchair bound for about five years. I had painful moments with my condition but pulled through, I persisted, and now I walk with a cane… progress! I was lucky- some people do not have that luxury and the help and resources to be able to make a better life for themselves.
Growing up with a disability, I learned quickly that I had to be a self-advocate and be the voice for those around me that were in my situation or far worse. I felt that I had to do that because we did not have many advocates and leaders that really ran on a platform that cared about people like us. However, because I was so young and alone, without connections and resource, I did not focus much on it as I should have done.
After, I graduated with my Master’s degree recently, I grew more confident and realized that my passion for advocacy and equity for marginalized groups had to be actioned. My goal for advocating for the disabled community is to create a space where their voice is heard, and their needs are met. I want to work with groups like The Woman Project, Emerge RI, Planned Parenthood, Young Democrats of America, RILPAC, Latina Leadership Institute – and so many more organization that would like to bring these issues to their table.
In the same time, as the daughter of a fantastic woman that immigrated to this country, immigration reform and protection of DACA is imperative. We need to protect our immigrant population, especially with all the contribution that they give our state and give our country. Racial injustice is and has always been an issue that we still need to work on; we see people of color, young men being racially profiled, killed, let’s not forget about mass incarceration which are mostly black and brown men and women. As a Latina, a woman of color, I worry for my friends, family, and my neighbors that can be affected by these issues. These issues, groups, and community are an extension of who I am, as a woman and advocate.
What does reproductive justice mean to you?
Reproductive justice is so complex and different for each woman. For me it means the right to have a child, the right not to have a child, the right to be able to look after those children we have or may have in the future, to be able to decide how we birth and where we deliver. To be able to access our needs as women, like birth control, and health resources for example examinations and abortions. Reproductive justice also means to me less tax or cost in general for menstrual products!
Reproductive justice also means education. Having sex education readily available for young girls and boys is imperative because these conversations can help empower young girls and help young boys understand the brick wall that currently women of all ages are against.
When I think of reproductive justice, I think about the disabled community. Reproductive justice is a leading concern and an area that barely is discussed when it concerns the disabled community. Within the points I mentioned above, we have seen women with learning disabilities, or any disability in general, who have been victims of a violation of their right of parenting and reproducing. Therefore, to me, reproductive justice should concern all women, of all social and economic status because at the end of the day we all have different ways of understanding reproductive justice and advocating for it.
You do a lot of work to raise awareness on social and political issues. What are you hearing from RIers you talk to when it comes to reproductive justice issues?
One of the most significant issues that I hear from RIers at least in the Latinx and disabled community regarding reproductive justice and other issues is the lack of honest outreach to minorities and groups like LGBTQ, immigrants, etc. Intersectionality is essential and needs to be addressed particularly when we are discussing advocacy. Leaders in advocacy and in power are overwhelmingly white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men and women and that can be problematic especially when trying to do outreach to communities of color. These groups are not going to feel represented given that these leaders are representative of only one aspect of these issues that we are trying to deal with in Rhode Island.
Many young Latinx, African Americans, LGBTQ, Asian Americans are progressives, and they are becoming active, voicing out their concerns, getting civically involved. Which is amazing and a great time to be active. However, these groups have felt like the more powerful progressive movements are diminishing or silencing their efforts instead of wanting to work with them. I do not want to sound crude, and I do not want to dismiss the work that is being done by these progressive movements because it is vital that we work together to accomplish a brighter more progressive and inclusive movement overall. However, I also want to express our communities concerns and part of the problem is this idea that progressive have one ideological thought and when minorities and other groups disagree with a few topics like education, the economy, they are suddenly dismissed and completely removed from the conversation.
These marginalized RIer’s, when they are asking for support, are feeling some pushback pushback by more established groups and it is causing a very divisive atmosphere within the progressive movement. This divisiveness is dangerous to our efforts, because out to different groups and organizations doing similar work. My hope is that these different groups can be open to dialogue and finding common ground to push things through legislatively.
We have heard a lot recently teenage immigrant in Texas that the Trump administration tried to block from having an abortion. What are your thoughts on how the issue of reproductive justice intersects with immigrant rights?
I felt so sad for Jane Doe, for any women regardless of their status, or age to have the government dictate what to do with your body, to strip you of the right of choice is infuriating! I am glad that it went in her favor. Right now DACA is hanging in a thread, I think about how many young women will be impacted, and it gets me nervous. So many undocumented women that are not part of DACA are affected by reproductive oppression all the time, and we are not having that conversation. What are these women’s choices? What are their struggles? Who is currently helping them and how can we contribute? As I mentioned before intersectionality is essential! There is no questioning it, and we need to address it. The questions I asked above will come up again with other issues and other groups.
Reproductive justice will intersect with all groups, immigrant rights, LGBTQ Rights, Disability Rights, you name a group, and it will overlap. My thoughts are that we need to be open-minded and be prepared to have differences of opinions, become involved with their efforts, learn from their experiences, ask for help in understanding their needs. Do not ever assume that you know what they need that is a common mistake.
What do you believe the path forward is for those fighting for reproductive justice, in RI and beyond?
A path forward would be focusing on reproductive oppression. If we focus on this narrow agenda of just abortion and birth control pills, I feel we will not get very far. There is plenty of ways that girls, women and transgender women including women of color and disabled women encounter reproductive oppression: lack of sex education, abstinence programs for the youth, increase of harassment and rape, forced pregnancies, high priced menstrual products that are necessities, forced abortions, legal status and accessibility of health and reproductive services, the right to conceive, bear, and raise children for people with disabilities without fearing they children will be removed. There are some fundamental issues we have for a very long time put on the back burner, but I feel we need to put on the frontline.