#WeArePP: Our Stories from AK to AZ is a weekly blog series in which we profile supporters and advocates from across the country and every corner of our Planned Parenthood community. This week we sat down with Alba Alvarado, a California native who passed a transformative sex education policy in her hometown school district.
Meet Alba Alvarado. She’s a fearless advocate for women’s health, a first-generation college student, a leader in Latino communities — the list goes on.
Perhaps her most impressive accomplishment to date? She proposed a condom accessibility policy in the San Rafael, California school district during her senior year at San Rafael High School — and it passed.
Thanks to Alvarado, condom and STD pamphlets are available in high school bathrooms throughout San Rafael. But getting there was a personal, often difficult process.
“When I was nine, I became an aunt. My brother was 17 or 18 and in high school — yet he became a father,” Alvarado said. “Once I got to high school, I was still seeing many girls leave school to have babies before graduation. They were not emotionally or financially prepared to be mothers.
“My freshman year, around 12 girls became pregnant and left school. That’s how normalized unplanned teen pregnancy was — especially for Latinas, who often have less access to affordable health care,” she said.
Alvarado decided to take matters into her own hands. With the help of peers, teachers, and Next Generation Scholars (a first-generation college access nonprofit), the then-high school senior wrote a policy and pitched it to the school board.
“I called it ‘The Condom Project.’ No fancy names,” Alvarado said.
YOU get a condom, and YOU get a condom!
She urged the school board to make condoms accessible for students by installing condom dispensers. She did research. She gave presentations. She taught sex education classes at neighboring schools. She handed out thousands of condoms to her peers — so many that they started calling her “the human condom machine.”
Almost a year and a half later, Alvarado’s proposal passed — but unfortunately without any funding. In support of the policy, the National Coalition of STD Directors contacted Alvarado and coordinated with Trojan Condoms to donate 20,000 condoms to the San Rafael school district.
One of Alba's condom dispensers installed.
Today, Alvarado is a sophomore at Wesleyan University, where she continues to advocate for sex education and reproductive health. As a member of Adolescent Sexual Health Awareness (ASHA) on campus, she teaches consent-based, medically accurate sex ed classes in low-income school districts in Connecticut.
And she doesn’t plan to stop her work anytime soon.
“I found this passion for reproductive health with my condom project, and that continues to grow every day,” Alvarado said.
Read more of our interview with Alba below
PPAF: You just finished your freshman year at Wesleyan. How’d it go?
AA: I’m a first-gen college student, and never did I ever think I’d be somewhere like Wesleyan. For a long time it seemed so unrealistic. But I made it, and it’s been so amazing!
Wesleyan could be more diverse, but the POC that are there are so empowering. I’m constantly trying to be more, I guess, “woke.” I’m trying to be more confident and outspoken as a woman of color. Surrounding myself with people like that at Wesleyan has been so inspirational to me. I’ve already grown so much.
PPAF: Do you know what you’re going to major in yet?
PPAF: That’s a lot! Besides ASHA, are you involved with any clubs at Wesleyan?
AA: Yeah! I was part of First Things First, a pre-orientation for first-gen students. It was the first opportunity for me to find my people. We ended up sticking together, and all joined Ajua Campos, which is the Latinx organization on campus. It focuses on empowering Latinx people and building our community. During the election, it was a really big support system for a lot of us, since it felt like the world was ending.
Alba and friends making a statement on campus.
PPAF: So since the election, has your attitude changed at all in terms of fighting back?
AA: At first, we just needed to take the time to support each other and mourn. It really felt [like] something had died. Not that we haven’t had bad presidents before, but you have to wonder, how could people vote for a person like [Trump]
Afterwards, a lot of us were like, “we have to take action immediately!” So we had protests and marches on campus, one of the first political demonstrations I participated in. I also went to the Women’s March in San Francisco later on.
A lot of people may think that protests accomplish nothing. But a big part of making change is speaking out and being heard. [Protests are] also a chance for people to go out and express themselves.
Alba at the Women's March.
PPAF: You’ve mentioned that you’re a first-generation college student. What was your college application process like?
AA: I was very fortunate to be part of a first-gen college access program called Next Generation Scholars (NGS). I joined when I was in seventh grade. Along with my parents, this organization raised me like a second family. I had the privilege of surrounding myself with really outspoken people of color and strong women and men who have made it out of cycles of poverty. They gave me resources, from helping me edit college application essays to helping me shop for my dorm room.
But even with the incredible privilege of having NGS’s help, it was still hard. Like explaining to my parents what financial aid was, or what I want to major in. For many immigrant parents it’s like, “Are you going to be a doctor or a lawyer?”
PPAF: You moved from the west coast to New England. Do ever get homesick?
AA: Yeah. Another thing is seeing people from school and some of my friends get left behind. It’s really hard, sometimes, sitting at Wesleyan and thinking back to the people I know who are still in cycles of poverty.
It can be hard knowing your classmates have had private school education — or even just better public school education than you had. There have been days where I’ve cried, thinking I don’t belong here. For a lot of first-gen students, you’re working twice as hard to be in the same place as your more privileged peers. That really gets to you, especially during the harder times like midterms and finals.
In the end, though, I know that I’m not just here for myself. I’m here for my family, my friends, and my community.
"I’m not just here for myself. I’m here for my family, my friends, and my community."
PPAF: You’re in Washington, D.C. this summer, doing an internship. What made you want to come to the nation’s Capitol?
AA: I continued to stay in touch with the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), and through them I was able to [get featured in] a couple pieces in magazines like Glamour. Then one of their employees was like, “If you’re interested, we can make an internship happen.” I saw that as an opportunity, and I never let that go! Now that [the NCSD and I] have been working together for a couple years, they’ve definitely seen me grow. It’s been incredible to have their help, and now help them continue to provide people with sexual health resources.
PPAF: And what do you think about D.C.?
AA: It’s definitely got its perks! It’s pretty. It looks like you’re constantly looking at a postcard, even though it’s so hot and humid. I just love being in the center of politics, and how there’s always something going on. And it’s definitely a money place.
PPAF: Yeah, I believe it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the country.
AA: I had never seen so much privilege and money — ever. It’s crazy.
PPAF: Intersectionality has become important to Planned Parenthood, but that hasn’t always been the case. How can progressive organizations better incorporate intersectionality in their cause?
AA: It’s all about the people in charge being a more diverse group. I think for some people, “diverse” automatically means people of color. But we also need to focus on people with disabilities, and queer and trans people. There are so many kinds of people that need to be represented. That type of diversity is an advantage at organizations like Planned Parenthood.
PPAF: Can you think of a time when diversity has been done successfully?
AA: Sure. [At Wesleyan,] we read a book called “This Bridge Called My Back.” Everyone should definitely check it out! It’s a collection of texts and poems by different women of color, from all different backgrounds. It was the first time I saw myself and the experiences I’ve had represented in text.
It was also the first time I got to learn about my people’s history. The Chicana movement, the Latinx movement, civil rights, you name it. But I also learned about Pacific Islander women, Native American women, Asian women, Black women. Basically all the intersections people have to deal with — and what feminism is really about.
Alba and some of the mentors who helped her with her project.
AA: Like we saw in Charlottesville, it’s obvious that there are many people out there who don’t think people of color or undocumented people...are people. They don’t see us as equals, and I honestly don’t know if they ever will. It’s so, so frustrating. We’re not “illegals,” we’re not “aliens,” we’re all the same.
DACA’s not as great as it could be. I think we all know that. But it’s definitely a good start. And it’s giving people access to the resources America claims are for everyone. A lot of immigrants are fleeing terrible, unimaginable situations in other countries. But DACA gives them hope for the first time.
Alba celebrating her heritage.
PPAF: What’s your dream job? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
AA: My friends and family are always like, “You overthink stuff! You’re always planning ahead!”
PPAF: Planning ahead is good, though!
AA: Yeah! I guess I have to remind myself that some things you can’t plan. I did not think I would be interning in D.C. this summer, for example. Not because I doubted I was capable, but because I didn’t know there were opportunities like this for people like me.
That being said, I’m definitely going to finish my undergrad in four years. Then I want to spend two to three years working in D.C. — hopefully at a place like Planned Parenthood. Then I want to go to graduate school. I’m thinking about a dual program in business and public health.
I guess ultimately I want to be giving back to a place like from where I came from. I want to help immigrant communities, first-gen students, people with low incomes, queer people of color, basically every underrepresented community you can think of.