Article on Affordable Care Act, NBC Latino

Explaining health care law to mixed-status families, young people

by Erika L. Sanchez, @ErikaLSanchez

9:04 am on 10/01/2013

In Kern County, California, the Community Health Initiative aims to educate Latinos on the new health care exchanges by partnering with various family resource centers where community members are already seeking help. The organization trains Certified Enrollment Counselors to help families through the application process by explaining their options and gathering required documentation. They also hope to address any confusion regarding the new law and prepare for any possible scams.

“There are always people who seek to take advantage of our community. It’s definitely something that we intend to tackle,” says Edgar Aguilar, program manager. He stresses that those seeking to enroll should know that they should never be charged any fee for assistance and that enrollment counselors are not allowed to ask for any financial information, such as credit card numbers or bank numbers,

Aguilar says that another challenge is educating mixed-status families. “A big fear is something called ‘public charge.’ Somebody can be deemed ‘public charge’ if they access public services and it affects them negatively in status adjustment. Word of mouth is powerful among the Latino community,” he says. “Our job is to clear this up and clear up misconceptions.”

While undocumented immigrants cannot participate in the healthcare exchanges, Aguilar says undocumented immigrants may fear that seeking healthcare for their family members who have legal status would affect their own chances of obtaining a green card.  The agencies explain that seeking medical insurance for their families would not be considered “public charge.”

Advising undocumented immigrants that they can seek coverage for their family members with legal status is important, since according to The Pew Hispanic Center, nearly two-thirds of unauthorized immigrants had lived in the U.S. for at least a decade and nearly half (46 percent) were parents of minor children in 2010.

The most important part of the work they do, Aguilar believes, is explaining exactly how health insurance works. Some immigrants, for instance, may be unfamiliar with the U.S. healthcare system.

“Health care isn’t something you think about until you need it. We want to change that attitude,” says Aguilar. “Our community needs to understand that regular doctor visits can prevent so many diseases,”

Aguilar believes that healthcare access is important, but that it’s even more important to educate communities about how to effectively utilize those services.

It is estimated that about nine million Latinos will gain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. So far, 6.1 million Latinos have already gained coverage for preventive services without out-of-pocket costs.

Many organizations are educating Latinos about their options and helping them enroll in plans that suit their needs. Vanessa Gonzalez-Plumhoff, director of Latino Leadership and Engagement at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says her organization is actively engaging the community through the internet and door to door outreach.

Because Latinos over index on social media, Gonzalez-Plumhoff says they are pushing out information through their website, Twitter, and Facebook. Planned Parenthood has also launched new sites in English and Spanish to help everyone understand what the law means, how they can benefit, and why it’s important to have health insurance. Additionally, they can sign up for email updates and text SALUD to 97779 to get important information about the Affordable Care Act. Their new site will also include a guide for women who are searching for insurance coverage in the marketplace. Since many will be searching for a plan for the first time, the interview guide can help women select the best plan for them.

“In our community there’s a sense of ‘I’ve never had healthcare and why should I have it now?’” says Gonzalez-Plumbloff, who hopes that with the proper information, those who have been uninsured will be willing to enroll. She points out that that birth control benefits will be especially beneficial to Latinas because they have the highest unintended pregnancy rates and are most likely to skip birth control due to cost. “Eliminating the copay is huge,” she says.

Planned Parenthood says it is prepared for the challenges they might face in promoting the Affordable Care Act in the Latino community, especially among undocumented immigrants. “When you have a large government program, it can make people in our community a little nervous. Planned Parenthood is canvassing to provide people information at their homes. If they can’t qualify, we’re encouraging them to register the rest of their family,” Gonzalez-Plumhoff says.

Article on Maternal Health, NBC Latino

Improving maternal and child well-being at heart of “global health,” says Latino expert

by Erika L. Sanchez, @ErikaLSanchez

9:05 am on 09/20/2013

A country’s progress is measured in large part by the health of its population.  Recently at a conference in Panama, U.S. and Latin American leaders went further, saying it’s very much about a particular group.

“Maternal and child health,” says Ariel Pablos-Méndez, MD, MPH, Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Global Health at the USAID, “is at the heart of global health.” Pablos-Méndez, who is a board-certified internist, immigrated to New York from Mexico 35 years ago to pursue a medical career in the United States. He says that his early work with AIDS, as well as tuberculosis treatment and prevention, eventually led him to work in the global health space.

In March 2011, Pablos-Méndez was nominated by President Obama to help steer the Bureau for Global Health’s efforts to accomplish scalable, sustainable and measurable impacts on the lives of people in developing countries. Pablos-Mendez says he is passionate about preventing child and maternal deaths, and believes that with the continued efforts of USAID, this ongoing global problem can finally be eradicated.

“We see a future when we can indeed end child and maternal deaths,” he says. “The rest of the world can join us.”

Pablos-Méndez was one of a group of high level representatives from Latin America, the U.S. and other countries who convened in Panama City for “A Promised Renewed For the Americas.” The aim of the conference was to reduce inequities in reproductive, maternal, and child health as well as identify key interventions and strategic shifts in the Americas.

RELATED: Health care, education key to combating rising poverty rates among children, say experts

While AIDS and tuberculosis have gained a lot of attention through The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, maternal and child health has unfortunately lost visibility, according to Pablos-Méndez. Many women and children continue to die from preventable causes all around the world.

The numbers are staggering. The Pan-American Health Organization has found that more than 180,000 children under the age of 5 and nearly 9,000 mothers still die annually in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Each year, over 121,000 babies in Latin American countries will die during their first month of life. Nearly a quarter of these neonatal deaths are due to premature births and low birth weight. These deaths are more likely to happen if the baby is born to a mother who is poor, uneducated, or lives in a rural area. 95 percent of indigenous children are malnourished, and stunting is 20 percent more prevalent among them. In addition, their life expectancy is 7 to 13 years shorter than the national average.

Fortunately, favorable economic conditions in Latin America have increased in the last decade. Due to years of rapid growth, the World Bank estimates that 70 million people in Latin America have risen out of poverty and 50 million have joined the middle class during this time. A new report from UNICEF found that the world’s neonatal mortality rate fell from 33 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 21 per 1,000 in 2012.

Being from Mexico, Pablos-Méndez is immensely proud of what Latin America has been able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time.

“It’s truly incredible that 50 years ago we couldn’t imagine this possible,” he says.

RELATED: Latina Leaders: From East LA to the White House, trying to improve the health of Latinos

Despite overall progress in the region, Pablos-Méndez explains that some countries are lagging behind due to the disparities between the rich and poor. “A Promised Renewed,” he says, is to advance the goals of bridging those wealth gaps. He believes that Latin American countries can accomplish these goals on their own, but it’s crucial to hold governments accountable.

“In order for this to happen, you need better measurements within countries,” he says. “We want to map out where this is occurring and monitor the disparities between the richest and poorest.”

Less than one percent of the total federal budget, Pablos-Méndez states, goes to USAID, though they work in over 100 countries. Still, millions of child and maternal deaths can be prevented.

“American people are helping with their tax dollars,” he says. “And thanking the American people is what I would like to convey.”


Article on Diabetes, NBC Latino

Latino advocates combat diabetes: “In order to save ourselves, work to be done”

by Erika L. Sanchez, @ErikaLSanchez
5:00 am on 09/12/2013

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez began blogging about living with diabetes in 2010. “It helped me find a community that would understand what I was going through,” she says.
Rodriguez, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was only seven-years-old, felt the need to share her experiences with other Latinos who suffer from the disease. “I don’t have it. I live with it,” she says.

“There were so many people of Latino descent – that had nowhere to turn to,” she says. “It’s about not having resources, not having education. We need the community to start educating themselves and want to be educated. In order to save ourselves, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

RELATED: NYC diabetes program offers personalized treatment with heart
Hispanic/Latino Americans, African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes.

According to the Office of Minority Health, Mexican Americans are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician. They also have higher rates of end-stage renal disease, caused by diabetes, and they are 50 percent more likely to die from diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also found that the disease is more prevalent in women– of the 25.6 million adults with diabetes in the United States in 2010, 12.6 million were women.

The rates are showing no signs of slowing down. A 2012 study released by research affiliates with the American Diabetes Association found that the number of Latino children and youth under 20 years of age diagnosed with diabetes is rapidly growing, faster than any other ethnic group in the U.S

Estela Barraza, director of Power1K Kids Program in Arizona, is working to prevent diabetes in Latino children. During the 12 week program she has developed, a group of overweight fourth and fifth graders are taught how to increase their physical activity, cook healthy meals, and make better choices. Because the program is centered on the entire family, parents are also required to attend.

Barraza believes that there are few diabetes interventions focused on Hispanic populations. “One of my biggest passions as been exercise,” she says. “My degree in Kinesiology has made me aware of the disparities and how exercise can prevent it.” In addition to her work at Power1K, Barraza is currently working with researchers on a study called Every Little Step Counts, a community-based diabetes prevention program for obese Latino youth.

Por tu Familia, a Latino-focused program from the American Diabetes Association, is also committed to preventing diabetes through community-based activities. “The goal is to get rid of all misconceptions,” says Alexandra Santana, manager of Por tu Familia in Chicago.

During many of their events throughout the city, members of the community have the opportunity to ask doctors and other medical professionals any questions they might have about the disease. All of their activities are free and they often offer glucose and cholesterol screenings. They will be holding 10 events this month in celebration of Hispanic Heritage month.

Por Tu Familia also trains doctors, nurses, and anyone interested in promoting diabetes prevention and awareness to educate their patients or communities about the disease through their Promotores program. According to Santana, all the the training materials have been evaluated and approved by endocrinologists and doctors and are available in both languages.
“We’re celebrating that we are one of the key markets in the U.S.,” she says. “We want to continue improving and reaching out to more people.”

Article on Cervical Cancer, NBC Latino

Latinas have highest incidence of cervical cancer; groups work to provide information and care

Three months after Patti Murillo-Casa retired from the New York Police Department, she was diagnosed with stage 2B cervical cancer. She was 45-years-old and had been happily married for 11 years. .

Because her gynecologist moved back to his home country, Murillo-Casa says didn’t have a pap smear for three years. “I was lazy to find another person and I was in a monogamous relationship,” she says.

When she kept spotting in between menstrual cycles, she realized something was wrong. “I thought it was because of stress,” she says. But the bleeding progressed until she couldn’t ignore it any longer.

“I was ashamed and scared,” she says. “I was afraid of what my husband thought. That’s the myth and stigma the disease has,” she says. At first Murillo-Casa says she withdrew and became depressed, but her husband motivated her by researching the disease and educating her about it.

Murillo-Casa first received her diagnosis in November of 2008, and after 35 treatments of radiation, seven rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments, she was cancer free in May of 2009.

High-risk HPVs (human papillomaviruses) cause virtually all cervical cancers as well as other types of cancers. Though cervical cancer is almost 100 percent preventable, Latinas continue to suffer and die of the disease. They have the highest incidence of cervical cancer among all ethnic/racial groups and the second highest mortality rate after black women.

The situation is even worse for Latinas in Texas whose rates are 19 percent higher than the national average and 11 percent higher than the national average for Latinas. Women living in counties on the U.S. Mexico border are 31 percent more likely to die of cervical cancer compared to women in non-border counties.

“It’s not that the sexual behavior is any different. They’re just not getting the care they need in a timely manner,” says Jessica González-Rojas, executive director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “It’s not anything different about Latina’s bodies, but it’s about barriers.”

According to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Latinas are less likely than other groups to have access to employer sponsored health coverage or private plans. Sixty-six percent of immigrant women don’t have access to employer sponsored coverage. González-Rojas says thatimmigrant women often don’t know how to navigate the patchwork of healthcare services, which vary from state to state.

In addition to lacking access to healthcare, Latinas also face cultural and linguistic barriers.González-Rojas points out that many patients have a hard time communicating with their health care providers and sometimes require their child to translate for them, which can create an awkward situation when discussing sexual health.

“I see women who have had two or three children in their countries and have never had a pap smear,” says Dr. Nilda Moreno, director of Family Planning Section and Fellowship at MedStar Health. “If you come from a country that didn’t have access to healthcare, you don’t know where to get care.”

Moreno also points out that though the HPV vaccine is now widely available, many parents assume that in giving their teenagers the vaccine, they will become sexually active. A 2012 study found that fewer than half of low-income and minority adolescents receiving health maintenance services initiated HPV vaccination, and only 20 percent completed the series. Provider failure to discuss vaccination with their patients appears to be an important contributor to a lack of vaccination.

“Everything comes down to education,” says Moreno. “There is a lot of focus on breast cancer and heart disease and not enough on cervical cancer.” Moreno believes that because prevention has decreased the actual incidence of the disease, it’s lost visibility though it continues to be a problem among certain populations.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women begin getting pap tests when they turn 21. Under revised recommendations released in 2012, women should have a pap every 3-5 years, depending on their age.

Murillo-Casa, who is president of New York Chapter of the cancer organization Tamika and Friends, now raises awareness in Latino communities. “This disease isn’t because you’re promiscuous,” she says. “If you’re sexually active, you’re going to get the virus. You have to go to the doctor. I tell women they don’t have to go through what I went through.”

Article on Abortion Restrictions in Latin American, The Guardian

Thank the Catholic church for terrifying abortion restrictions in Latin America

Women in these countries are fighting for the right to choose what happens to their bodies and we need to support them

Chilean President Sebastián Pinera said an 11-year-old girl who is having a baby conceived by rape has shown ‘depth and maturity’. Photograph: Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty

States have adopted 43 restrictions on access to abortion, the second-highest number ever at the midyear mark and the same number enacted in all of 2012. These numbers are alarming and many American women are rightfully worried. I’m terrified by the trend.

If women in the US aren’t careful, we might find ourselves in a similar situation as our southern neighbours in Latin America and the Caribbean, which still have extreme abortion restrictions (pdf). Although most Latin American countries are supposedly secular, the Catholic church continues to insert itself into governments. Abortion is broadly legal in only six countries, which means it’s permitted either without restriction as to reason or on socioeconomic grounds. These countries only account for less than 5% of the region’s women aged 15 to 44. Because of these limitations, many women resort to “traditional practitioners” who use unsafe methods and purchase abortion-inducing drugs from pharmacists and other vendors.

The World Health Organization estimates that in Latin America and the Caribbean a staggering 12% of all maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortions in 2008. In the name of religion, girls as young as 9 years old have been inhumanely denied abortions though their pregnancies were life- threatening. Their family members and doctors have even been threatened with excommunication.

Why is Latin America so far behind the US and Europe in terms of abortion rights? In her article “The Politics of Abortion in Latin America“, Cora Fernandez Anderson points out that while feminist movements were gaining momentum in Europe and North America in the 1960s and ’70s, Latin American countries were busy fighting dictatorships and civil wars.

Mónica Arango Olaya, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Center for Reproductive Rights, however, believes it’s more complicated than that:

While there have been dictatorships, there have also been revolutions. Supposedly, these ideas should be accompanied by abortion rights. Though there has also been strong feminist movements in many countries, reproductive rights have yet to be translated into state laws.

She uses the example of the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, a country that later banned abortion in 2006.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons Latin American women are still struggling for the basic human right to control their own bodies, but the indelible influence of the Catholic influence paired with a tumultuous political history has clearly been a dangerous combination for women. But Olaya, who has litigated several groundbreaking cases before international human rights bodies and courts in Latin America, says there have been significant advancements and legal victories in the past few years. There is hope, no doubt, but these women still face a long and arduous journey.

Here is a brief list of a few countries with the most stringent abortion laws and the consequences of their legislation.

Costa Rica

Although Costa Rica is considered to be one of the most prosperous of Latin America countries because of its tradition of egalitarianism and civilian democracy, and investment in health and education, it is far behind in terms of reproductive rights. Abortion in Costa Rica is illegal in most cases, although the county’s penal code allows for the procedure when a woman’s life or health is at risk. This seems to be only true in theory, however. Recently, Aurora, 32, was denied the therapeutic abortion she requested though she was carrying a foetus with a fatal impairment and suffering from depression and physical pain. In a testimonial provided to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Aurora writes:

But the worst moment of the ultrasound was when I saw my baby’s twisted back and his organs exposed. … What an image. I will never be able to forget it.

El Salvador

El Salvador’s ban on abortion is considered to be one of the most extreme in the world. The procedure is even prohibited to save a pregnant woman’s life and the government imposes harsh criminal penalties on both women and their physicians. Anyone who performs an abortion with the woman’s consent, or a woman who self-induces or consents to someone else inducing her abortion, can be imprisoned for up to eight years. Most women, however, end up being prosecuted and sentenced for aggravated homicide, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Recently, Beatriz, a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman who was five months pregnant with a non-viable anencephalic (without a brain) foetus and was suffering from complications related to lupus and kidney disease was denied a potentially life-saving abortion. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered El Salvador officials to allow her medical team to take all necessary steps to preserve her life and, after 27 weeks of pregnancy, she was given a C-section. Her baby was born without a brain and died soon after.


Chile is one of only five countries worldwide to prohibit abortion in all instances. Although it once allowed therapeutic abortion, it was abolished by the military dictatorship in 1989. Abortion is illegal even in the case of rape, foetal malformation and ectopic pregnancy. Last year, the senate rejected three bills that would have eased the absolute ban. In 2010, Claudia Pizarro, a 28-year-old woman was denied both an abortion and treatment for cancer despite being pregnant with an anencephalic foetus and recently, an 11-year-old girl, Belen, became pregnant after she was repeatedly raped over the course of two years by her mother’s partner. At 14 weeks along, Belen said she wanted to give birth to her baby and President Sebastián Pinera praised her by saying her decision showed “depth and maturity”.


In 2006, Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega, once a supporter of abortion rights, passed a complete ban on abortion that offered no exceptions for women’s health, victims of rape or incest or women whose lives are at risk. In 2010, a 27-year-old woman named Amalia was admitted to a hospital and was diagnosed with an advanced case of cancer that had metastasised and may have spread to her breasts, brain and lungs. Because she was pregnant, she was told she couldn’t be prescribed an aggressive chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment. Amalia delivered a severely malformed baby at seven months and she lived another 17 months. In 2009, Delegates from Amnesty International who visited the country said young girls subjected to sexual violence by family or friends are forced to give birth even when they are carrying their own brothers and sisters. The ban continues to this day though the Amnesty International Report claims the law is in conflict with the Nicaraguan obstetric rules and protocols issued by the ministry of health, which mandates therapeutic abortions in specific cases.

Despite the bleakness of these cases, women in these countries continue fighting for the right to choose what happens to their bodies and we need to support them, even from afar.

Article on Latinas Leaving Home to College, NBC Latino

More Latinas leaving home for college


5:00 am on 08/16/2013

Gaby Ramos, 21, decided to move away for college against her parents’ wishes. “Having a Hispanic family, you’re expected to stay home until you get married. I knew my parents would freak out. They didn’t understand why I needed to move out.”

Ramos, who is from Chicago, attends St. Xavier University on the south side of the city. She says she could have commuted to college like her brother, but felt that she needed to become independent. To ease her parent’s anxiety, however, she compromised by going home every weekend.

“I work at admissions and I know a lot of Latino families who don’t let their daughters live on campus,” Ramos says. “I think in a way it’s kind of hindering them. You’re not going to live with your parents forever. Why not try it during college? I think it’s an experience that everyone should have. That way you would see how you could be on your own.”

RELATED: Latinas leaving the nest sooner than men

Latinas are obtaining a higher education more than ever. In 2010, Latinas earned three out of every five associate or bachelor’s degrees granted to the Latino population. And according to the 2011 census survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, 17 percent of Latinas (ages 25-29) have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 10 percent of Latino males.

Not only are Latinas becoming more educated, they are also becoming more independent than their male counterparts. According to a study by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in 2007, before the recession, 12 percent of Latino men returned home. The figure has now grown to 21 percent. For Latinas the figure only increased from 9 to 11 percent.

Estela Sanchez, 19, who attends the University of Texas at Arlington, was the first girl in her family to move out on her own. She says that because she’s first generation, her parents had no idea what college was going to be like. Although the idea of a girl moving out to attend school was foreign to them, they became very supportive of her choice. “It was in order for me to see what’s out there and for me not to take everything they’ve given me for granted,” Sanchez says.

Like Ramos, Sanchez had to agree to go home every weekend, but after a while she realized that she was missing out on events at her school. Sanchez says that living in dorms has helped her get involved on campus and meet new people.

In a study of Latinas and higher education, graduate researcher Andrea Gomez Cervantes found that while Latino families did encourage their daughters to attend college, they are often expected to stay closer to home to help their families. Family support was clearly significant for Latinas when making decisions about college.

Though her parents’ support was important to her, Martha Ruvalcaba, 19, says she decided to dorm at the University of North Texas because they were so strict. Ruvalcaba says that Hispanic parents are often too overprotective of girls. “I feel like they see girls going away to college as pretty much opening the door to sex and drugs.”

Ruvalcaba also had the option to stay home and commute, but decided not to because she wanted independence from her family. “I needed space so we could both grow,” she says. But like the other girls, she too had to promise to go home every weekend.

“They eventually accepted it and helped me out and were really good about it,” she says. Though Ruvalcaba would recommend living on campus to other Latinas, she thinks it’s important that they talk to their parents first.

“Living in the dorms opens your eyes to different cultures and you see so many different things,” she says. “I really like meeting new people and learning on my own and having my own responsibilities.”

Interview with David Tomas Martinez, NBC Latino

From gangs to literature, a Chicano poet’s frank look at machismo

by Erika L. Sanchez, @erikalsanchez

5:00 am on 08/13/2013

Chicano poet David Tomas Martinez received an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Houston where he is an editor of Gulf Coast literary journal. His first collection of poems, Hustle, will be released by Sarabande Books in the spring of 2014.

NBC Latino contributor Erika L. Sánchez spoke to Martinez about his childhood, his family, and his frank examination of machismo.

1. Tell me about growing up in San Diego and becoming involved in gangs. What did you think your future held during this time?

I was fortunate to grow up near the border. I think being from Southern California and being Chicano, there is a definite strong sense of Chicano culture. As a kid, I just thought I was American like everybody else, but as I grew older, I began to understand identity. I got involved in gangs after my parents got divorced when I was twelve. The way everything went down, I got angry. We moved around a lot, but my grandmother’s house was always home base. There was a kid across the street who I had always been close to starting banging and got jumped in. I wanted to bang, so I got jumped too. It’s given me a lot of fodder to write about and to think about who I am and why I chose that. I was looking for some sort of familial ties. I never thought I was going to be a writer during this time. Never. I didn’t graduate high school. I thought I was going to jail and that was it.

2. How did you become a writer?

When I was 21, I decided I wanted to go to college. I had already gone to the Navy and gotten kicked out. After that, I went to Job Corp to get a painting certificate so I could paint houses. I took an English course at a community college and I remembered I liked to read. I was also interested in slang and talking slick when I was in high school, so I knew I had a certain faculty for language. My poetry instructor suggested I take a writing course at San Diego State University. I ended up taking one my first semester there as a junior. The first poem I ever turned in was a poem that could be read up or down the page and I thought it was ingenious. The professor, Glover Davis, who became my first mentor, told me it was a one trick pony. I got pissed and wouldn’t listen to him. I think writers have the strongest and most fragile egos. I ended up taking his advice at the end and we became friends. Then one day he asked me what I thought of getting my Masters and I applied a week later. Once I started to get my Masters, I started getting some poetry tattoos and was like, alright, I’m going to take this seriously and be the best poet that I can be.

3. A lot of the manuscript seems to deals with coming to terms with your relationship with your father. How did writing Hustle help you understand him?

Growing up, I can say without a doubt, that I did not like my father. One thing I can say about my dad is that I love him, but it was begrudgingly. I felt that he was too hard. The real turning point in our relationship was when I was 16 years old, I had known a woman for about a month and I got her pregnant. I told my mom and she freaked out and told me I ruined my life, and my dad was calm and said, “you made a mistake and there’s nothing we can do about it now.” It really changed our relationship, and then as I became a father and saw the difficulties of it, I stopped blaming my dad for everything. When you become an adult, you stop blaming your parents for everything. I saw my grandfather, rest in peace, chase my dad, my uncles, and even some of my aunts with a machete. My grandfather was a hard man and as I began to see things a little more clearly, I had a lot more respect for my dad. And that’s what I deal with in my book, the idea of masculinity.

4. I do see a deep interrogation of machismo throughout the manuscript. The speaker has so many moments of startling clarity and self-awareness. Tell me more about that.

In Latino culture it’s important to be macho and it’s important to be tough, to be strong and support your family– these kinds of anachronistic ideas of masculinity. I’m not saying those things aren’t right, but I look at them and wonder how much my grandfather was pushed to be the kind of person he was because of the societal expectations, and how much, as a man, do you get away with? Just thinking about the discrepancies when it comes to sex– a man can sleep with a whole slew of women and he’s a pimp, and a woman sleeps with the same amount of people, and she’s a woman of ill repute.

6. How did it become important for you to explore these issues through your art?

You know in any good piece of art when their truth is poking through. I know those moments when I write. I think, “This is true, this hurts, and this is not ok.” I indict myself in so many poems. I think that to a certain extent, you have to be unafraid to make a fool of yourself.

7. What are your future plans?

I plan to go on the job market this year as a practice run. I’m in the fourth year of my PhD and will soon be Dr. Martinez, so I plan on getting a tenure-track position. I will also continue to edit Gulf Coast and go on a book tour to promote my book.