Teen Pregnancy is Not a Life Sentence for Failure
Reflections of a former teen mom and university graduate
I look at her face. She speaks with strength, endurance, experience. She is 18 and has two babies already.
Published on LatinoLA: August 22, 2003
So what does not only our gente but all of society do?
They automatically silence her, reject her, torment her, tell her she is finished, she is useless. She will be nothing more than the dumb girl walking the boulevard, pushing her stroller to Planned Parenthood getting more help she doesn't deserve just so she can mess up again.
I listen to her talk about how the community college counselor, a Chicano, laughed at the thought of her taking science classes, laughed at the thought of her taking classes two weeks after having her second baby, laughed at the thought of her having dreams of going to a real University.
I tell her I know what she feels.
One of the hardest and saddest things about being a teen mom is you are not allowed to even think of a future. Your familia says you're finished. Who will want to marry you now? The teachers and counselors chuckle at your thoughts of even attempting to obtain a degree. How do you expect to do that? Your peers don't really know what to say because most of them are dealing with enough of their own problems.
So for the Latina teen mom, who is there to encourage her, to tell her she is not finished, to tell her she matters to her baby, to her people, to this world? Not too many people are willing to do that.
I got pregnant when I was 16. I didn't think I could be much of anything before I got pregnant but when I did it was like OK, I guess I need to get married now. But my boyfriend was abusive (something very common for teen mothers) and he wouldn't let me do anything. I couldn't finish school, I couldn't have friends, I had to live in this little world that revolved around him.
Eventually things got so bad, I had to get out (which is not an option for many women), and once that was done I had no idea who I was, what I was going to do, who I could talk to. All my friends were going through the same thing so it wasn't like I could turn to them. All I had was my little papasito who seen his mama cry too much.
After a year of on and off community college, fights with my X to try to get him to leave me alone, I figured out what I was going to do. I was going to go to college, no not just community college but a big University, the kind that no one ever thought I could ever even think of getting into.
And why couldn't I get into one?
I had the intelligence; the only problem was money and childcare. So those were the things I focused on to get squared away first.
I found out the big universities had subsidized childcare programs, there was financial aid, there was student family housing, all these things no counselor I ever spoke to knew about.
For the young girls I have workshops with -- like the one I described earlier -- I tell them higher education for the former teen mom is very hard but worth the struggle. I tell them to research everything for themselves because too many people will give you their personal opinions instead of the professional factual information they are supposed to. I tell them that it is not impossible, because once I started attending classes at UCLA there were many young women of color just like me, single and married mothers who were doing amazing things at this University.
Yes, I agree that the teen pregnancy rate for Latinas is far too high. It is a sad thing but the more our gente says it is a disgrace, the more they attack these young girls, the higher the numbers are going to get.
(Note: Why aren't the boys being held responsible in there somewhere?)
These young people are people. They have the capability to change the course of their lives in one night and that is a power that most adults fail to recognize. As a former teen mother I know the answer is not in the church, it is not in control, it is not in authority. It in the simple recognition that our young gente need to find an importance in themselves.
However, to add to that they need unbiased education, real education, I'm talking real sex education [for BOTH girls AND boys], their real herstory & history, things that show them that they mean something in this society. How can a young Latina ever dream of a life of education when so many people tell her she is incapable of achieving it. How can a young teen mother expect to be anything but a mother if no one ever tells her she can be something more?
These young mothers ARE NOT a disgrace. They are not weak, they are not lacking intelligence. It is quite the contrary and most of them do not even know it.
These young women face obstacles and discrimination on a daily basis and who are these people to talk down on them when they do not even have a clue of what is it like to be in that situation? Being a mother is one of the hardest (unpaid) work mujeres young and old do on a daily basis all over the world. So how can you deny them the optimism that they can make a future for themselves, that they have the intelligence to compete at a University, to fight for their rights to education and respect, to completely support their children and give them a good life?
"So why do they keep making the same mistakes??" I have heard this question so many times. Because this is all they know. In high school, out of my eight best friends, all Latinas, six of them had babies by the time they were 18. Most of them had two or three before they were 20.
This is reality.
We are not doing enough to teach these young mujeres that they can be the fierce doctor, the lawyers, the strong community leaders, the professors, the Undergraduate/Graduate/PhD students at UCLA.
My message to Latin@s in Los Angeles, in California, and all over the country: Do Not Give Up on our Youth. They need us. Experienced adults do not need to tell them how much they have failed but instead to say HOW CAN I HELP YOU TO GET TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
It is a harsh and still very racist/sexist/classist/homophobic world out there. If these kids don't even have their own people supporting them, then they have no one and we as adult Latinos are denying them the possibilities.
UCLA senior race & gender studies. Familia: Emilio 5 yrs, Marisol 5 months, mi compa?ero Ricardo. I'm active in Raza Womyn de UCLA, email@example.com, an artist, & present workshops on College & family.