The beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month is coincidentally also my one-year anniversary working for Planned Parenthood Federation of America as the Director of Latino Engagement and Leadership. This year has been one of discovery, self-reflection, education, and gratitude.
You don’t decide to work for an organization like Planned Parenthood on a whim. You have to deeply believe in our cause, be willing to defend a woman’s right to health care and know that your job will include a lot of long days and some long nights.
During the last year, I’ve heard individual stories of some of the more than 600,000 Latinos we see at the Planned Parenthood health centers across the country each year. Amazing stories of lives saved because of access to cancer screenings, the wonderful work of the promotores, or how Planned Parenthood helped a young Latina take control of her life and feel empowered to carry condoms. These are wonderful stories, but my personal favorites are the stories that come at the most unexpected times from unexpected sources.
I can’t count the number of times that I have been pleasantly surprised by a longtime friend or colleague from another organization, who has pulled me aside to say that since college they have been contributing a small amount monthly to Planned Parenthood because they were there when they needed affordable health care.
One of my favorite stories happened when I was visiting a local museum with my daughter, wearing a Planned Parenthood hot pink shirt. An employee of the museum kept glancing my way; she then approached me and asked if I worked for Planned Parenthood or if I was just wearing the shirt. I proudly said I worked for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and asked if she had any questions I could answer. She smiled and said that she has been going to one of the health centers for years and that now that her daughter is about to start high school, she was planning to take her along on a visit to get important education about birth control and safer sex. I thanked her for her support, gave her my card in case she needed any help, and walked away a little prouder, glancing back as she gave me a thumbs-up and a smile. These are the stories that are behind every woman who has quietly come to a health center for years, stood in line for hours to testify against legislation that could limit women’s access to affordable health care, or “liked” our status on Facebook.
The Latino community is filled with these stories; there is no denying that. Knowing that I am working for an organization fighting every day to make sure women have affordable access to quality health care is important to me. During Hispanic Heritage Month there will be discussions about the state of Latinos in all areas. It’s a great time to highlight our community’s needs and accomplishments, and collectively push forward for progress. But what about the rest of the year?
I’m proud that on a daily basis Planned Parenthood staff are constantly asking ourselves questions and working to ensure we are meeting the needs of the individual Latina. We are asking questions such as: Are we providing relevant information for her and her family in a way that makes sense for her unique circumstances? How can we ensure that Latinos understand the benefits of Obamacare, and know that Planned Parenthood health centers will be there to provide care no matter what? How can we make sure Latinas know just how detrimental legislation that proposes to gut health care funds is for them and for generations to come?
These questions keep Planned Parenthood as an organization moving forward and make sure that we continue to take into account that by 2060, the projected Hispanic population will be at 129 million, and that the U.S. currently has the second-largest Latino population in the world and organizations need to start planning now to properly provide care for such a quickly growing community. We still have work to do, but there is no denying the work we’ve done, including providing our Obamacare educational and information tools in Spanish, training those doing outreach on the ground on the issues important to the community and partnering with key stakeholders who have come before us to learn lessons in this important work. But just in case there are any doubts, just mention Planned Parenthood to a friend, family member, or co-worker and you may have a story or two of your own to tell.