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.”

Article on the Morning-After Pill, NBC Latino


Increased access to “morning-after” pill benefits Latinas, say groups

Earlier this month, a federal judge approved the Obama Administration’s decision to stop blocking a court order that would make the morning-after pill available over-the-counter to all women and girls. Women of all ages will soon have access without a prescription.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman said that the administration’s reversal was due to the efforts of women’s rights groups.

Some organizations believe this is a particularly important victory for Latinas and immigrants.

“Planned Parenthood is delighted by the decision. We’ve been advocating for years to make sure that this very important medication be available without barriers. This is a step forward for all women, for Latinas, especially young Latinas since they disproportionally experience unintended pregnancy,” says Leslie Kantor, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Though a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the teen Hispanic birth rate plunged at least 40 percent in 22 states, Latina teen pregnancy rates continue to be much higher than those for blacks and whites in most of the states with the largest Hispanic populations. Latinas also face an array of barriers when it comes to contraception.

“Latina women are less likely to be insured,” says Kantor. “Having it over-the-counter makes it more accessible rather than having to go through a doctor or insurance.”

The U.S. Census Bureau found that 30.1 percent of Latinos were uninsured in 2011. A 2013 report from the Guttmacher Institute showed that immigrants are about twice as likely to be uninsured.

“We knew it was a long overdue victory and were pleased that they allowed science and common sense to prevail. We’re committed to see this through the end. When emergency contraception is on store shelves next to the condoms where it belongs, it will make it that much easier for young Latinas and immigrant women without an ID,” says Kimberly Inez McGuire, associate director of government relations and public affairs at The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

The recent ruling, however, applies only to Plan B, the brand-name, one-pill version of the emergency contraception product, not the less expensive, two-pill versions.

“We know that Latinas face many barriers, so we need to make methods as accessible as possible. It’s not enough to have the product on the shelf,” she says.

Kantor believes that although the ruling is a significant achievement, there is still a lot of work to do to ensure the reproductive health of these populations.

Planned Parenthood, Kantor says, is trying to dispel myths or confusion when it comes to the morning after pill.“First and foremost we have to make sure that young people have access to good sex ed,” she says. “We want to make sure that people understand how emergency contraception works. It’s important that people understand that it won’t do anything if someone is already pregnant.”

Some conservative groups believe the emergency contraception pill causes abortion. But Plan B, when taken within 72 hours of having sexual intercourse,  postpones ovulation and prevents sperm from coming in contact with and fertilizing an egg.

In addition to all of the recent measures, Kantor believes it’s important to keep a watchful eye on the Affordable Care Act to make sure all the benefits that were promised get implemented. She also feels it’s critical to provide the proper information to Latinos to get them signed up, as well as  provide services to the undocumented.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health also plans to be vigilant  when it comes to the reproductive health of Latinas. “We’ll be watching closely and advocating for more affordable contraception options,” McGuire says. “This is a major win for Latinas, but we have a long way to go.”

Article on Health and Migration Center, NBC Latino

A center focuses on migration and Latino health – inside and outside our borders

by Erika L. Sánchez

5:00 am on 06/08/2013

Michael Rodriguez, MD, MPH, is a Latino here in the U.S. whose focus and passion goes beyond our borders. As a researcher and director of UCLA’s new research institute, The Blum Center, Rodriguez’s work focuses on ethnic and racial health care disparities, and the focus is Latin American populations.

The center’s goal is to bring poverty and other social determinants of health to the forefront of research and training. Rodriguez says the center is unique because other similar organizations are solely focused on Africa and Asia, whereas the Blum Center focuses south of our border.  “There’s an irony given the proximity to Latin America,” he says.

According to Rodriguez, the center is committed to studying the different forms of migration, and its subsequent health implications. They are interested, for instance, in the migration of people from less developed countries to more developed countries within Latin America, and they address the health impact of documentation status, for example, as well as language.

RELATED: Latina Leaders: A Cuban-American founds a Crohn’s and Colitis Center in Miami

The center has developed extensive course work in the areas of poverty and health to train the next generation. Rodriguez says they engage students from their very first day. The year-long course, “Poverty and Health in Latin America” has attracted many students. According to the center, the course helps freshmen develop an understanding of how a person’s place of birth, as well as where they grow up, work and age, impacts their health and access to health care.

“This fulfills core educational requirements and provides them with very in-depth relationships with faculty,” Rodriguez says. “They end their year with seminars and we provide them with information to help them with their subsequent work.”

In addition to what is offered on campus, some undergrads work with community-based organizations and some are sent to different countries for research. This summer six students will complete an 8-week structured course and will be engaged in internships or field experiences with Latin American immigrant communities in Los Angeles. Additionally, a graduate student will be studying sexual health at the University of Peru’s Cayetano Heredia Sexual Health Unit, and a doctor will be in Brazil researching food-borne diseases in Latin America.

“The work we do is done collaboratively with Latin American institutions and individuals,” Rodriguez says. “We’re here to work as equal partners.”

RELATED: Opinion: How health care bureaucracy hurts underserved communities, Latino families

On May 1st, the center held its first symposium to increase their support and engagement and find solutions to improve health in Latin America. The day-long event offered panel discussions, workshops, and poster presentations.

Rodriguez says that the center aims to see policy translated into action. “We want to move from having a policy on a national level to actual programs, to people who are serving on the ground,” he says.

“I envision the center as being a key entity in L.A.,” Rodriguez says. “We want equal collaboration with folks from other parts of the world to find solutions that have the highest likelihood of being effective and sustainable.”

Article on Machismo, NBC Latino

by Erika L. Sánchez
6:22 am on 02/04/2013

Yosimar Reyes began to notice machismo when he was a young man being raised by his grandmother.

“I saw it was my grandma who was always doing everything,” he says. “She thought that was her role.”

Now, he challenges this kind of repressive masculinity in his poetry. “Everything that I write is celebrating masculinity without being in an oppressive form,” he says. “It’s a burden. Sometimes you don’t want what comes with this privilege. When it comes to growing up as a boy, there’s a blueprint to how men should act. I reject that.”

Many young Latino men like Reyes are both exploring and challenging traditional masculinity through their work and their art. Abraham Velázquez Tello became interested in the different manifestations of machismo in Latino culture and began documenting them through photographs. His photographs in his series titled “Machos” were taken in various Chicago venues. They are intimate glimpses into the lives of vaqueros, indigenous dancers, low-rider groups, wrestlers, and men at gay clubs.

“A lot of images I sought out to make were a mixture of cultural traditions,” he says. “You can embrace your masculinity and embrace your culture. You just have to get rid of sexism.” As the editor of the Chicago culture website, Gozamos, Tello also encourages conversations about machismo. The column “Modern Macho” is one example. “As media makers, we have a responsibility,” he says.

Pablo Valeria Tachiquin Paredes, youth mentor at 67 Sueños, makes an analysis of machismo a priority when working with migrant youth. “We try to have a privilege critique early on,” he says. “It’s an ongoing conversation.”

RELATED: Latina bloggers draw attention to the urgency of amplifying women’s voices

In 2011, 67 Sueños created a mural to document the migrant experience. The project began with chronicling the stories of undocumented youth– many of whom had experienced rape, domestic violence, and other kinds of abuse. They discussed these kinds of issues at their unveiling event. “We were highlighting stories and had a whole session discussing toxic masculinity,” he says.

Most conversations about machismo are centered on the experiences of women, though it also affects men negatively. “One of the pillars of machismo is that men are stronger than women and it pushes men in a robot-like way of dealing with trauma. Young men have a hard time telling their story and allowing themselves to be vulnerable,” Paredes says.

This kind of guarded behavior, say some experts, can be contributing to the Latino male achievement gap. 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.

RELATED: How to increase Latino college enrollment in 2013

Victor B. Saenz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin, has been researching the causes behind this disparity. “A big part of machismo is the kinds of identities that they need to take on,” he says. “They can be at odds with academic success. It manifests itself with help-seeking behavior. They may not see a counselor because it’s a sign of weakness.”

A lack of male role models can also contribute to this problem. “Urban youth– the majority are without fathers and won’t find male teachers who will be an early influence,” Saenz says. “They find it in gangs and social groupings that affirm their values as young men.”

To address this problem in education, Saenz and his research team launched a research and mentoring effort called Project MALES, which is composed of two initiatives– a research project focused on Latino males in higher education and a pilot mentoring project. Part of the program also includes a monthly Pláticas series that features prominent Latino male speakers who facilitate small group discussions among mentor participants.

Reyes also believes in the need for dialogue and safe spaces where men can discuss how patriarchy has affected their lives. “We’re not used to having conversations about our deep wounds,” he says.

For Paredes, discussions are more fruitful when they are focused on solutions, which is how he approaches his community work with young men. “Across the board, sexism and male privilege is alive and ripe in every community. Offering alternatives is more important than offering critiques.”