Last week, I had the honor of being awarded a 2015 Latino Trendsetter Award by LatinTRENDS magazine for the work we do at Planned Parenthood to improve the health care of the Latino community.
While I remain incredibly humbled by this honor, it has given me an opportunity to reflect on why I am so passionate about this work and what we need to do, both as an organization and a community, to ensure a healthy future for Latinos across the country.
Growing up in a small town in Texas, a state known for its less-than-stellar sex education, I saw many of my classmates getting pregnant. I knew that I wasn't ready for a child, so in an effort to take control of my sexual health, I decided to go to our town's local clinic, which was not a Planned Parenthood health center, to get my first Pap test and to go on birth control. At the health center, they made me feel immediately judged and humiliated and, given how small my town was, word got around quickly, and I felt a growing sense of violation that something so personal was now a topic of high school gossip.
All I wanted was to ensure that I had the future that I wanted, and I couldn't comprehend why I was being made to feel so ashamed. It lit a fire in me I didn't know I had. One that didn't come to surface until years later when I was working as a social worker in an immigrant community in Arizona and saw so many women struggling with unplanned pregnancies.
They felt like their sexual health was out of their hands, and I realized if it had been difficult for me, it must have seemed impossible for them to access this care. This realization re-ignited that fire, and I set out to help ensure that all men and women, from all walks of life, we're able to access nonjudgmental sexual and reproductive health care.
It's this passion that makes me so proud of the incredible strides we've been able to achieve, and yet, all the more keenly aware of how much more needs to be done. I continue to be proud of our efforts to enroll so many Latinos in the Affordable Care Act, as well as our efforts to reduce teen pregnancy among Latinas. While the teen pregnancy rate among Latinas remains higher than that of non-Latino teens, the significant decline in pregnancy rates among the Latino community is something to be noted.
Planned Parenthood's Raíz program, a grassroots training program in the five states with the highest Latino populations working to improve access to care, continues to be very important in rooting our work in what the community needs and how we can support organizations on the ground that are in the trenches on this work.
These have been really successful efforts, but we are by no means done with this agenda. For all of its benefits, there are still a large number of Latinos that are not enrolled in the Affordable Care Act, and of course many of those are undocumented, and as such will not be able to enroll. As we look forward to the bigger picture, enrollment was always going to be only half the battle. Now that many Latinos have insurance for the first time, we have to do a better job of making sure they know what they can do with it -- from making a doctor's appointment to finding transportation to their closest health care center, to informing them of their rights in terms of sick leave policies that allow them to take time off from work to go to the doctor.
Like many Latinos, this struggle for access to health care is personal for me.
As I look at my beautiful two-year-old daughter, I want her to live in a world where she never experiences the judgment and humiliation I faced when I was simply making a choice to protect myself and my health.
Whether separated by race, class, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location, or citizenship status, the fact that we would allow policies to be in place that restrict access to health care for certain communities over others is downright insulting. And it's about time that we all -- whether we are Latino or not -- got angry and got loud about it.
Thankfully, I am already both.
This is about all of us. If we are failing Latinos, or any other community among us, we are failing. We need to decide what legacy we want to leave. And I am determined to use mine as I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me, work in partnership with the many in our community already doing this work, and use Planned Parenthood's resources to help light that fire within you.