Latinos must use political capital towards demanding passage of the REAL Act

LatinaLista — In my 17 years of journalism covering issues that impact the Latino community, the saddest stories I’ve covered have had to do with teenage pregnancy.
Not for the fact that these young Latinas got pregnant and found themselves now as mothers because, in the majority of the interviews I’ve conducted over the years, there was never remorse expressed for having had a baby or even getting pregnant multiple times even before the age of 22.
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I can only attribute that feeling to the strong value that exists in the Latino culture towards how we view children. In part, that may explain why Latinas make up the highest percentage of teenagers who give birth.
What made these stories sad for me was the fact that in each case the young girls, and some boys that I interviewed, were clueless about how someone got pregnant.
A friend of mine who works with high school-age Latinos in an impoverished area of a small suburb told me that she recently had a meeting with the young teenage girls in the community. She invited a doctor to come and speak about pursuing a medical career. However, she said that instead of asking career questions, all the girls began asking questions about sex.
She told me that it became quickly obvious that there was such a hunger expressed by these girls to know about how someone gets pregnant, about condoms, about sexually transmitted diseases, etc. that, at one point, the doctor was overwhelmed with all the questions.
Why all the questions by girls who should be getting this information from school or their parents? A simple answer is — they’re not.
Most schools have only been teaching an abstinence-only curriculum and in the Latino community, parental dialogue about sex education is practically non-existent.
So, it’s really disappointing to hear that a Senate committee voted Tuesday night, in a very close vote, 12-11, to restore $50 million a year in federal funding for abstinence-only education.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the only measure that passed:

An alternate measure offered by Democratic Sen. Max Baucus also passed. Baucus’ measure, which passed 14-9, would make money available for education on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, among other things, in addition to abstinence. Lawmakers will have to reconcile the two measures, both approved during debate on a sweeping health overhaul bill, as the legislation moves forward.

The Senate vote just happens to fall during National Week of Action Focused on Sex Education. It’s a campaign that is finally attracting people and organizations from all arenas who understand that providing our children with misinformation is not deterring them from having sex.

Recently, a study by the Guttmacher Institute found that most federally funded abstinence-only programs do not help delay teens’ sexually activity. In contrast, the study reports comprehensive sex education programs had a positive impact and should be more widely used.
A nationwide study conducted by the University of Washington found that teens who had comprehensive sex education were less likely to become teen parents than teens who had no sex education or who were in abstinence-only programs.

However, time and time again, in state legislatures and in Washington, abstinence-only programs pass while loud objection is expressed to providing students with medically accurate and age-appropriate sexual education.
We have seen the consequences of this delusional belief that children won’t find out about sex for themselves until they’re married — and it’s at crisis level among young Latinas.
Before the Congress is a bill called the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act:

The REAL Act would establish the first-ever federal sex-education program: teaching teens about both abstinence and contraception and thereby helping to prevent unintended pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

There is a petition site built around the REAL Act that would send to Congress a clear message that responsible and realistic Americans want to see this kind of curriculum taught to all students.
As it stands now, the Latino community is:
Most impacted by teenage pregnancy
Has the lowest levels of higher education degrees
Has the greatest number of young children living in poverty
Has the greatest number of young Latinos and Latinas working dead-end, low-paying jobs.

To begin to reverse these trends, there must be strong advocacy for curriculum that truthfully educates about the one issue whose ramifications permeate not just the community now, but is already showing signs of negatively impacting its future as well.

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7 Comments

  1. Indiana Bob said:

    Hi Marisa,
    I have, unfortunately, experienced this in my family. My niece on my Wife’s side is a truly brilliant young lady. She has always excelled in school and has become an accomplished violinist.
    Then, at 15, she got pregnant.
    My wife has already talked to our own daughter (age 15, great grades) about contraception AND abstinence. I haven’t had the guts to ask my sister-in-law if she ever had the same conversation, perhaps she did.
    My niece is still hanging in there, and the boy (now 18) is a really nice kid who is, at least now, dedicated to helping my niece with their new baby.
    But it is going to be difficult for them. I had a heart-to-heart with the father and told him in no uncertain terms that my niece WILL be going to college and he MUST support her. He got a little pissed-off, but I don’t really care, she is just too talented to not continue pursuing her education.
    Anyway, this is a big concern, and I hope this trend eventually reverses itself. Your analysis of why this impacts the Latino community is correct. I am not against abstinence-only education as long as it is taught side-by-side with sex education and contraception.
    Good article, thanks

  2. Grace said:

    “Why all the questions by girls who should be getting this information from school or their parents? A simple answer is — they’re not.”
    I’m a Latina, and I ask you this.. Why should we be paying for sex education when this has been for time immemorial been a job of parents. You’re reinventing the wheel. A reminder of parental duty is that all that should be required, Parents either have full knowledge of this from experience or can gain the information from Planned Parenthood (http://www.plannedparenthood.org/), so no formal education is required.
    No tax money, state or federal need be spent on this effort. Check out the National Debt, Marisa. Every dollar spent on such an effort will have to be either borrowed from China or printed, both of these being detrimental to the long term welfare of this nation. If our Latino/a community wants special education for our children, then we should pay for it ourselves,and not embarrass ourselves by imposing a new financial burden on the country as a whole. Finally, it’s not a function of government to substitute for parents. Personally, I don’t want the government interfering in my family business.

  3. jorge said:

    Marisa, I vigorously disagree with you on this issue. There already people out there that can help, without the meddling of the federal or state governments, Planned Parenthood for one. I’m surprised that you’ve never heard of it. This dependency on government to hold our hands is exactly what Latinos should avoid. It makes us look helpless and incompetent.

  4. Rose said:

    “As it stands now, the Latino community is:
    Most impacted by teenage pregnancy
    Has the lowest levels of higher education degrees
    Has the greatest number of young children living in poverty.
    Has the greatest number of young Latinos and Latinas working dead-end, low-paying jobs.”
    Want to bet that we Latinas are too heavily dependent upon the federal government largess already? And just how many are undocumented immigrants? And I’ll bet that you want the other taxpayers to include them as beneficiaries of a new social program. And sadly, you claim that undocumented immigrants are net contributors to our tax base. I think that there is enough evidence that importing poverty and ignorance are bad things that come with illegal immigration.

  5. Cary said:

    Hola! Isn’t this what La Raza is getting millions of dollars from Washington to do? I’ll tell you why they don’t. La Raza’s unspoken objective is to generate as many Latinos as they can for the purpose of political power in the form of voters, regardless of how it affects the individual Latino’s life. Millions may live in poverty as the result of teen pregnancies but La Raza cares less. Beneath that facade of altruism and charity lies the shrew and ruthless core that sees unchecked birthrates as the road to the White House.

  6. Marisa Treviño said:

    You’re right, Jorge. There are programs that exist but in many states they are not allowed to teach about sex unless it is about abstinence. Texas, not surprisingly, is one of the worst offenders in that it actually teaches in some school curriculum outright lies to force students to say they will abstain from sex. Sadly, we know that doesn’t work. I advocate federal intervention because it would be a lot harder for states and school districts to get away with the harm they are doing our communities.

  7. paulo said:

    “I advocate federal intervention because it would be a lot harder for states and school districts to get away with the harm they are doing our communities.”
    Marisa,
    I can’t agree with this. Accepting federal government money always comes with strings that strangle the local communities abilities to tailor programs to suit their needs. As much as you’d like to see the all powerful might of the feds behind every social welfare program, sometime it’s best to leave the fight to local level, as they know what may work best for them. And I agree with the others, we have to be less dependent upon others and take more responsibility for ourselves, as other ethnic groups seem to do.

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