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

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”.

Nicaragua

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

by

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.

Article on Abortion Rights in West Virginia, Salon

West Virginia could be the next abortion battleground

The state’s attorney general has launched what one advocate calls an “inquisition” into abortion clinics

By

Topics: Abortion, West Virginia, patrick morrisey,

We’ve seen abortion rights challenged all over the country, and now West Virginia looks like the next battleground state. On June 17th, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sent letters to the state’s two abortion clinics asking them to answer 17 questions about abortion regulation and medical procedures. The questions included:

  • “Are your physicians required to use ultrasound technology when performing a dilation and curettage procedure for midterm pregnancy?”
  • “At what gestational age do you refuse to perform an elective abortion procedure?”
  • “What are your policies should a patient revoke consent at any point before or during the procedure?”

The Women’s Health Center and Surgicenter, both located in Charleston, submitted short responses to Morrisey’s inquiry, but would not answer the attorney general’s specific questions about medical procedures performed at the facilities.

And many reproductive rights organizations, health care professionals, and activists are criticizing  Morrisey for overstepping his boundaries as Attorney General with this measure — they argue that he’s prying into medical procedures that aren’t part of his purview. “By launching an inquisition, the Attorney General is fulfilling a right wing campaign pledge to protect life,” says Margaret Chapman, executive director of West Virginia Free. “He promised to be a pro-life candidate, but that doesn’t have a place in the Attorney General’s office.”

Chapman says Morrisey’s actions mirror those of Virginia’s Attorney General Cuccinelli in his attempts to insert himself politically in the practice of medicine. Not only did he champion legislation to shut down Virginia’s abortion clinics, Cuccinelli was also instrumental in the transvaginal ultrasound bill that was proposed and partially passed in Virginia last year.

Historically, West Virginia has been much more liberal than Virginia. The death penalty was outlawed in 1965 and their state constitution guarantees more rights to health and safety.  In 1993, abortion became covered by Medicaid as a result of Women’s Health Center v. Panepinto ruling.


Recently, however, right wing money has been supporting coal mining and extractive industries, turning West Virginia into a more conservative state.

“We’ve been reminding Mr. Morrisey that we’re different from Virginia,” says Chapman. “As the Attorney General, he either doesn’t know the laws and regulations of our state or has launched an inquisition based on political agenda. Both answers are unsettling.”

Dr. Coy Flowers, president of Fairness-WV’s Board of Directors, responded to the Attorney General with a letter reminding him that all women’s health providers in West Virginia are subject to certification by the American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. And the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (a separate body) believes the government should not interfere with the patient-physician relationship without a substantial public health justification.

“A woman’s health is not just vitally important to her, but to the sustainability of the community and family unit,” says Flowers. “For government officials to start the process of trying to intervene in her decisions for herself is not healthy for anyone. We know that these healthcare providers and regulated like all other healthcare providers in the state. This is misleading people of West Virginia and wasting tax payer money.”

Despite the advice from medical experts and general outcry from the community, the Attorney General does have many supporters. The anti-abortion group Family Policy Council of West Virginia recently started the Illuminate campaign, which the group calls an effort to ensure safety in the abortion industry. In West Virginia, Medicaid pays for abortion for low-income women and group is against both private and Medicaid-funded abortions.

Wanda Franz, president of West Virginians for Life, says her organization is not part of the campaign, but agrees with their work. “Our positions is that if you have a medical facility doing invasive medical procedures, there should be regulations that protect the people who are going to these places,” Franz says. “Everyone assumes that these facilities are being regulated. We don’t know why this is causing such a fury.”

But Jim Lewis, a retired Episcopalian minister in West Virginia who has been working with the Women’s Health Center since 1974, doesn’t believe Morrisey’s measures are about safety. “When I see this attack on the Women’s Health Center and reproductive rights, it hits a big nerve for me. “He’s [Morrissey] here to interpret the law and everything going on at the Women’s Health Center is legal.”

Lewis has been working closely with reproductive rights groups and other clergy members to prepare for a rally at the state capitol on August 20th. “It’s hard to get religious people to speak out. Many are afraid because it’s a hot-button issue. There are a lot of meetings behind the scenes. We have to find a way to mobilize,” he says.

College student and activist Katelyn Campbell has also been preparing for the rally using social media to recruit young people. She says she’s been angry and upset about what is happening in her home state. “I’m West Virginian born and bred and I want to come back and raise my family,” she says, “but I don’t know if I can come back if this is how they’re going to treat women.”

Article on the Human Trafficking of Children, NBC Latino

Sex traffickers exploiting children along border; Latina legislators vow to improve detection

by Erika L. Sanchez

11:34 am on 08/08/2013

Currently, the screening at the border to identify victims of child trafficking is performed by Customs and Border Protection personnel who are not specialists in child welfare.  California Democratic Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard,  who has been working on immigration issues for the last 20 years, says that after extensive research, she and her staff became aware of the dire need for legislation. “This is a much bigger issue than any of us realized,” she says.

Last month, Rep. Roybal-Allard reintroduced the Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act to protect vulnerable children at the border. The reintroduced CTVPA bill proposes that trained child welfare professionals be placed at Border Patrol stations to identify victims and ensure they are provided basic humanitarian assistance, including food, clothing and blankets.

“Border Patrol was ill-prepared and didn’t have the training to care for these children,” she says. “Because of that, the children weren’t being treated properly.” She says her goal now is to include the same language in the House version of the bill.

Leticia Van de Putte, a Democratic member of the Texas Senate, has also been working on human trafficking legislation for the last 10 years. She says one of the challenges in addressing this issue is the lack of statistics. In 2011 she introduced House Bill 2014, which required collecting data from court cases to get more accurate numbers.

“We weren’t tracking cases of human trafficking,” she says. “We found that there were only 71 cases filed in 2011 for trafficking of persons, but many more for prostitution. We weren’t seeing the numbers reflected at the court level.”

Van de Putte says she has offered about 20 to 30 bills on human trafficking throughout her career. House Bill 300, signed by Governor Rick Perry in 2011, increased the penalties for the sex trafficking of children, making the offense a first degree felony. House Bill 4009 also requires all border officers in Texas to undergo training by Department of Public Safety to identify victims. She says that in order for this measure to be really effective, however, border patrol in all states would have to be trained.

While child welfare advocates say proposed legislation is a step in the right direction, there are larger issues which need to be addressed, and they warn trafficking is not just a border issue.   Dr. Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk, says the specific bill recently introduced by Representative Roybal-Allard  is positive but only addresses a small part of what happens.  A major issue, Sanborn says, is the U.S. demand for prostitution, which keeps the sex trafficking business thriving.

“Technology has really aided pedophilia,” he says. “We are working with Attorneys General trying to figure out a better avenue.”

Sanborn adds, “I think a lot of international victims are lured into the U.S. under false pretenses. Children searching for economic progress are tricked into sexual trafficking.” And he says that while some cartels do participate in the crime, many perpetrators belong to small human trafficking rings.

On July 29th, the FBI arrested 150 people across the United States on charges of holding children against their will for prostitution, a three-day weekend sweep that officials called the largest-ever operation against child sex-trafficking.

According to the International Labour Organization, an estimated 20.9 million men, women and children are trafficked for commercial sex or forced labor around the world today. Children make up 26 percent of the total number of victims. A Congressional Research Service report found that as many as 100,000 U.S. children may be victims of domestic human trafficking. The number of victims brought into the U.S. by traffickers each year might be as high as 17,500 people.

Many experts are also concerned that deported children will be vulnerable to human traffickers. The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently released a report confirming that 13,454 unaccompanied Mexican minors under the age of 18 were deported from the U.S. in 2012, according to Animal Politico. “They are easy prey for traffickers and I’m very concerned about these children,” Van de Putte says.

Roybal-Allard believes leaving children out of the immigration debate is a serious problem. “Much of the discussion around comprehensive immigration is focused on the male immigrants and not focused on women and children,” she says. “In my personal opinion, there are those trying to demonize immigrants and talking about children and family, that puts a human face on the issue.”

Article on Minimum Wage Campaign, NBC Latino

The fight for a “living wage”

by Erika L. Sánchez

2:08 pm on 08/02/2013

This week thousands of fast food workers staged a series of one-day strikes during peak mealtimes in seven cities across the United States. The campaign is pressuring fast-food chains to pay a “living wage” of $15 an hour.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama called to increase the minimum wage to $9 earlier this year, but labor groups and protesters are demanding about double the amount they currently earn.

Stephanie Hernandez-Gonzalez, a former cafeteria worker in Texas, says that raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour would help, but that it’s still not enough to live on.

Hernandez-Gonzalez began working at a school cafeteria after her temporary administrative job ended. She says it was the only job she could find at the time. As an administrative assistant, she was earning $14 an hour, but at the cafeteria she was paid minimum wage– $7.25 an hour– and was only offered 20 hours of work per week.

“It was not enough for food or to pay my bills,” says the single mother of four children. And because she was working and receiving child support, Hernandez-Gonzalez says she was unable to get food stamps.

“I ended up losing my apartment and going house to house. It was really hard because I didn’t know how to handle making such little money. It was depressing. I couldn’t afford to buy groceries like I used to.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that one in five Hispanics earns minimum wage while 23 percent of Latinos live in poverty.

RELATED: Opinion: Raise the minimum wage

Ana Guajardo, executive director of Centro de Trabajadores in Chicago, says that for many of her clients, the current minimum wage contributes to keeping households in poverty. One of the goals of Centro de Trabajadores is to organize workers to fight for their rights in the workplace and demand policies that will increase standards for immigrant workers. They are currently involved in the campaign to raise the minimum wage.

“The problem with the current minimum wage is that it doesn’t follow the inflation rate,” says Guajardo. “$8.25 is not enough. The price of food goes up. The price of living increases drastically, but salaries are not increasing.”

“The biggest consumers are the employees,” Guajardo says. “If they raise their wages, they can invest that money in businesses.”

Many opponents, however, believe that raising the minimum wage would negatively affect the job market. “In general, the government should not be setting wage rages,” says Daniel Garza, the executive director of the Libre Initiative, a free-market, center-right organization. Garza believes raising the minimum wage would shut people out of the job market.

RELATED: Pay gap tied to minimum wage; Latinas hit hardest, study says

“Only about 5 percent of workers earn minimum wage and 16 to 19 year olds make up 80 percent,” Garza says. “This [raising the minimum wage] would shut out teens from entry-level wages markets. Employers are unable to pay those rates and in the long run it will destroy job opportunities. Distorting the market could create a worse situation. We should be allowing the private sector to do what it does best.”

According to a 2011 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, a dollar increase in the minimum wage results, on average, in households spending an additional $2,800 the following year. The Center for Economic Policy and Research has also found that increasing minimum wage doesn’t impact employment.

Guajardo says that several states have raised the minimum wage without any negative consequences. “We have to see the importance of this in order to fight for it,” she says. “We can’t depend on these low wages to sustain families.”