The dynamics of movement success

A good friend of mine, Veronica Bayetti Flores, wrote a blog post today for Feministing about what movements are deemed successful.

In the past few years I have heard over and over – usually from straight women – that the reproductive health movement should look to the marriage equality movement as a model for success. With the recent Supreme Court decisions around marriage equality, I expect to hear this now more than ever.  And yet every time I hear this, I shudder. Not just because the marriage equality movement – one that has largely been led by wealthy, white gays – has been so problematic, but because it is being said in the face of an extremely successful movement led by undocumented youth, the overwhelming majority of whom are people of color, many of whom are also women, and many of whom are also queer.

She goes on:

It’s time that we paid attention to the forces behind movements’ political successes, and what that says about whom they are ultimately serving. It says a lot about the ways that racism plays out in progressive communities when a movement that has been led largely by wealthy white folks gets consistently named as the one to model – even when the demand is conservative, even when queer and trans folks of color consistently call out its racism, even when a successful movement led by those who are some of the most distinct targets of injustice in our society is under way. In mainstream reproductive health and rights circles, undocumented youth might get a few kudos, maybe some “they’re so brave.” But from there it moves on quickly, without further analysis, as though there were nothing there from which we could possibly learn. This has incredibly deep implications that go beyond just perceptions of success, but cut into reputability, access to funding and resources, and ultimately movements’ progress, sustainability, and survival.

I’ve had a lot of similar thoughts about witnessing the undocumented movement in the US these past years−the DREAMers, the NYSYLC, undocuqueer, the NIYA and many, many more. I’ve become friends with some of the folks involved, but mostly I’ve been in awe of their savvy and political influence. The fact that a group of young people, most of whom are not even constituents of the elected officials they influence (because they cannot vote because of their status) have been able to influence policy and political dialogue to the degree they have has been incredible. And this without most of the resources flowing to the more mainstream groups working on immigration. While there are a few non-profits set up to support the undocumented movement, the resources are minuscule in comparison to most. And let’s remember, of course, that many of the folks involved in this work can’t get paid to work legally in the US, which means that they likely aren’t getting full-time non-profit salaries while they are putting themselves into detention to help other immigrants inside. (To learn more about this aspect of their movement, last week’s episode of This American Life chronicled it.)

A few things that I think about this, in addition to the amazing analysis by Veronica.

One is that I question whether our current non-profit centered model of organizing and activism can ever truly fuel the kind of major change we know we need on many fronts. These organizations, while well-meaning and mission-driven, are in many ways simply tax-shelters for the wealthy. They allow people with resources to give their money away tax-free. The vast majority of the resources coming to non-profit organizations comes from private foundations whose wealth was accrued through private business (Ford, Hewlett, Gates). I question whether these funders actually want to do much to change the status quo—at least not in the more extreme ways some activist groups would want to. So the model of professionalized activism—still relatively new in many ways—may be fundamentally opposed to the kind of changes our movement wants to see. I realize this is not new thinking. So it’s no surprise that the movement with little to no institutional support is the one that actually has evidence of being successful.

The second thing I think a lot about is how the success of the undocumented movement has been based on the willingness of the individuals involved to put themselves on the line. Many of their actions center around civil disobedience, knowingly putting themselves at risk of arrest, and even in recent years purposefully entering detention centers as detainees to help the immigrants inside.

Remember, the vast majority of the folks doing these things are undocumented. Which means that a simple arrest for protesting, or taking over an elected official’s office, could mean deportation and the inability to come back to the US, ever. Talk about putting it all on the line. Now obviously these folks are smart, they work with good lawyers, and they know what they are doing. They take calculated risks, and many of the activists who’ve been arrested have also stayed in the US. But the possibility is always there. It’s why their work gets the much-deserved attention.

Are you willing to risk deportation, possibly to a country you haven’t lived in since you were a baby, for your movement? I don’t know that I would be willing.

The moments that we see the most effective activism, the most inspiring acts of courage and resistance, are often in the face of extreme challenge. What happened in Texas last week. What’s going on in North Carolina today as I write this.

It’s at times a crippling reality, this sense that change will never come from the institutions I hope can be responsible for fighting for justice. It makes me question my choices, where my time lies, how I make a living and what I think about my own activist contributions. But when I’m feeling hopeful, when I take a note from folks like Veronica, I think maybe we just need to be learning the lessons of our history. Maybe we can transform our world, inside of institutions and outside of them. Maybe we can learn how to be brave enough to take real risks, to put it all on the line, because even if we feel our little slice of life is protected, we know that it wouldn’t take much for us to lose it all.

I’ll leave you with another incredible video from the folks at SONG, who inspire me everyday with lessons about what transformational activism can look like (even within a non-profit org).

Queering Immigration from Southerners on New Ground (SONG) on Vimeo.

Producer: Southerners On New Ground
Director, Cinematographer, Editor: Sowjanya Kudva

[ Ngowo Nuemeh / Itai Marshall Jeffries / Ashe Helm-Hernandez / Vanessa / Taryn Jordan / Paulina Helm-Hernandez ]

Queering Immigration #queerimmigration

We offer this video as a love letter to our Immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, and communities of color about our inter-connected destinies. On the Fourth of July, SONG knows real independence is inter-dependence. Real independence requires community beyond citizenship. For all those who live between and beyond borders of all kinds, this one is for you.


On the death of the DREAM Act

The DREAM Act died this weekend.

Ever since I saw the news on Twitter I have a felt a heaviness in my chest. A sadness, a disappointment at my lack of surprise, my resignation. These two years of the Obama Administration feel like disappointment after disappointment. The wins are barely wins, most are just compromises.

I know that this is the way our political system works and that radical politics are rarely reflected in policy. I know that.

But then there are the injustices.

There are many in our country–too many to name.

But this one hits close to home.

I’m the child of immigrants. I’m the first generation born in the United States. My parents could have been DREAMers. They both came to the US from Cuba as pre-teens.

Two weeks ago I wrote an article for Colorlines about the privileged status Cubans have been afforded in the US:

Ever since the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Cubans who have made it the United States have been put on an automatic path to citizenship. Cubans in the U.S. have reaped the benefits of this special status, my family included. My parents came to the U.S. with their families as pre-teens in the first wave of exiles from Cuba. Their respective families had different motivations for coming, but both were fleeing the new Castro government and its intrusion in their lives and their businesses. What for them, as for many who came over in the original wave, was meant to be a temporary visit until Castro was defeated, has become a multi-generation resettlement. I was born here, along with some other 652,000 Cuban-Americans, all of us with the advantage of parents who have been able to work and live legally since day one. It’s virtually impossible to be an undocumented Cuban in the United States.

If it wasn’t for this policy toward Cubans (fueled by Cold-War anti-communist fears) I wouldn’t be where I am today.

It’s not just that my family and Cuban community has had such access to citizenship and other immigrant groups have not.

It’s not just that the political whims of FIVE PEOPLE can close the door on the possibilities for millions.

It’s not just that our governmental policy is still motivated by hate, fear, racism and zenophobia.

It’s not just that no amount of fighting, of DREAMing, of pushing can change our intractable system.

I worked with a mother recently in my role as an abortion doula (more on that later) and she told me about her son. He’s a DREAMer. He’s a stellar student, he has big business ambitions, wants to open up hotels and restaurants. He knew about the DREAM Act and it sickens my stomach to think of him and all the other DREAMers out there who lost their chance (after ten years of pushing this damn bill) because of FIVE PEOPLE.

Where is the justice in that?

Arizona governor signs racist anti-immigrant bill into law

I just had to comment on this news today, which is that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law just a few hours ago a bill that essentially mandates the racial profiling of immigrants.

President Obama is against the bill (thankfully), but that doesn’t mean it won’t immediately and negatively impact folks living in Arizona.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a state bill Friday that requires police to determine whether a person is in the United States legally, which critics say will foster racial profiling and discrimination but supporters say will crack down on illegal immigration.

As a Latina and a child of immigrant parents, it is so upsetting to see folks in Arizona have their rights and lives trampled on in this way.

The way that immigrants are criminalized in this country is outrageous.

Blogging Yes Means Yes: Sexual violence and immigrant women

Judith over at A Lesbian and A Scholar has been blogging the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape this month.

Last week she blogged about my essay, When Sexual Autonomy isn’t Enough: Sexual Violence Against Immigrant Women.

Today I read Miriam Zoila Pérez’s essay, “When Sexual Autonomy Isn’t Enough: Sexual Violence Against Immigrant Women in the United States” for day eleven of the Blogging “Yes” project.  You may know Miriam from Feministing, or from her own blog, Radical Doula.  She’s one of my favorite bloggers out there, and in this essay she sheds light on an important issue, namely sexual violence faced by immigrant women. I also want to recommend a related blog post on Feministe written by brownfemipower, Confronting Citizenship in Sexual Assault.

The violence faced by immigrant women, both institutional and interpersonal, is a serious problem in the US. The essay I wrote only skimmed the surface of the issues at hand, but there is a large body of work and activism out there focused on this intersection.

Check out the rest of Judith’s post about my essay here.

Immigrant woman reunited with child after losing custody

A story I wrote about last June, looks like it finally has a happy ending. A year later, Cirila Baltazar Cruz has been reunited with her daughter.

Cirila gave birth in a Mississippi hospital, and initial reports indicated that the hospital staff deemed her unfit to be a parent because she couldn’t communicate with an interpreter. Cirila speaks an indigenous language from Oaxaca, explaining the  inability to communicate with a Spanish language interpreter.

So sad it took a year, but so happy for this mother and daughter to be reunited. According to the Native American Times, they are headed back to Mexico and the Mexican government has gotten involved.

A news release from Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs said Cruz’ situation was “a clear case of discrimination and violation of the most basic human rights of a Mexican citizen.”


Via VivirLatino

Young woman rejects HPV vaccine and loses path to citizenship

Last year I wrote about how Gardasil, the relatively new HPV vaccine, had been added to the list of required vaccines for people seeking to adjust their immigration statuses.

Numerous immigration groups came out in opposition to this requirement, stating that it posed a unfair financial barrier to immigrant women, who already take on a lengthy and costly process to become citizens.

Well now one of the first reported cases of a young woman losing her path to citizenship because of Gardasil, via ABC.

For the last near decade, Davis has embarked on a quest to get Simone U.S. citizenship. Now 17 and an aspiring elementary school teacher and devout Christian, Simone has only one thing standing in the way of her goal — the controversial vaccine Gardasil. Immigration law mandates that Simone get the vaccine to protect against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, which has been linked to cervical cancer. But Simone, who has taken a virginity pledge and is not sexually active, doesn’t see why she should have to take the vaccine, especially since it’s been under fire recently regarding its safety. And none of her American classmates is mandated by law to be vaccinated. “I am only 17 years old and planning to go to college and not have sex anytime soon,” said Simone. “There is no chance of getting cervical cancer, so there’s no point in getting the shot.”

Continue reading

From the clinic: How we make choices about birth providers

So I’ve been volunteering at a clinic, helping a midwife with translation (and other odd tasks) with her mostly Latina immigrant client base.

I’m really loving it, working with pregnant women again, doing direct service with latinas. I’ve missed being in a healthcare provider setting, and I miss doing doula work too. I’m working on it.

The women who come to the clinic get to decide where to give birth and with what type of provider. Her options are:

1) Hospital birth at teaching hospital with residents

2) Birth Center birth with Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs)

3) Birth in the teaching hospital, but with care from CNMs from the birth center

This third option is really cool and not one I’d heard of previously. Most of the time, CNMs that deliver in hospitals are staff of the hospital and have a practice based there.

So the majority of the women this midwife sees choose hospital births. Now that midwives are an option in the hospital, it’s presenting a new possibility. But many of these women (like all women) have LOTS of preconceived notions about midwives. One woman who is almost due illustrates this really well:

Maria (not her real name) is from Honduras. She’s a spanish speaking immigrant and is pregnant with her third child. When we presented the possibility of having a midwife attend her birth in the hospital, she told me (after a little prodding) that her partner was really against her having a midwife. She said that he was born to a midwife at home in Honduras, and that the midwife dropped him on his head during the birth, which caused him to have a permanent eye deformity. Maria didn’t think it was worth it to fight with him about it, even though she was open to having a midwife there instead.

Ok, a few things about this. First, obviously the power dynamics between mom and partner are intense. Second, immigrants bring with them to the US all sorts of preconceived notions about how people should give birth. Some of it is based on life experience, like this, some of it is based on hearsay, feelings about class and health care models, a ton of things.

It’s very possible that her partner was delivered by a midwife at home. It’s also very possible that he was dropped at birth. It’s not necessarily true though, that it caused his eye deformity. The point is, it doesn’t matter, because this is the story he believes. And it’s informing his choices now. That’s a lot for providers here to contend with.

My main take away from all of this is that the issue of educating people about their birth options is so complex. It’s not just about what we’ve seen on tv, what we’ve heard from our families. There are layers upon layers of knowledge and preconceived notions we have to unpack to change the choices people make about how to birth. For immigrants we have to deal with a whole other cultural context, role for midwives, medical system and structure. Understanding this is the just the beginning of culturally competent care.

Latina immigrant who was shackled during labor now faces deportation

Juana Villega de la Paz made news this summer when she was detained by a police officers for driving without a license while 9 months pregnant. She was found to have no documents and ended up giving birth with in detention and was treated as a securty threat. She was shackled during parts of her labor, a practice that occurs at jails and prisons around the country but is being actively contested.

Juana was released after the birth of her child and told to report to the authorities each month. She just received news that she will be deported the next time she reports.

This story highlights a number of things: the inhumane way people are treated while incarcerated, the way undocumented immigrants are being treated like they are violent or dangerous criminals and the ahborrent state of our immigration policy.

Juana is currently using legal venues to prevent her deportaiton. She has four American citizen children.

Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape

I have a piece in the new anthology, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. My piece is called “When Sexual Autonomy Isn’t Enough: Sexual Violence Against Immigrant Women in the US.”

More about the anthology to come, but if you happen to be in Philly, you should come to our reading tonight! I will be there along with the editors Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman.

The reading is at Robin’s Bookstore. Come check it out if you’re in town. Also, Robin’s is closing down next month (after 73 years!) so you can visit the store for one of the last times. Robin’s Bookstore, 6pm 108 S. 13th St, Philadelphia PA 19107. Hope to see you!

State Department discriminates against Latino citizens delivered by midwives

Via The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (full disclosure: that’s my day job and I wrote this press release)

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that some Latino citizens in the Rio Grande Valley on the US/Mexico border are being denied access to their citizenship rights based on documentation issues. Their citizenship is being called into question (despite years of residence and employment in the United States, and even successful background checks) due to their birth to midwives in private residences.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health believes this is a racist and unfair practice, which leaves these individuals scrambling to prove citizenship with other documents, where for others a birth certificate is sufficient. This practice unfairly targets Latino citizens on the border and those who were born to parteras or midwives in private residences, a common practice among Latinos. Further, the fact that once additional documentation has been provided some individuals are still being denied makes it clear that the State Department is discriminating against these individuals along the border in Texas.

Join the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in decrying this discriminatory practice, so we can ensure that all US citizens regardless of race, nationality or place of childbirth are granted access to their rights.

Full press release available here.

Cross-posted at Feministing