SOURCE: Southern Methodist University
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Sally Steenland: My name is Sally Steenland with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. With us today are Bishop Minerva Carcaño and Silvia Henriquez. Bishop Carcaño is bishop of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church. She is the official spokesperson for the Council of Bishops on immigration and has spoken on the importance for the church to be welcoming to gay and lesbian people. Silvia is a principal at Conway Strategic and a respected authority on reproductive health and justice issues. Silvia was previously executive director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Welcome to you both.
I would like to start off by asking you the same question. When people think about the Latino community, some characteristics might come to mind. People might think it’s a Catholic community or a socially conservative community. But no community is monolithic or unchanging. So when it comes to complex issues of reproductive rights and gay and lesbian equality, what would you say is the most important thing people should know about the Latino community? Silvia, why don’t we start with you.
Silvia Henriquez: I absolutely agree that the Latino community is not monolithic. When it comes to support and engagement on reproductive health and rights issues, we need to remember that reproductive health and rights encompass a spectrum of services—everything from access to prenatal care, health care and health insurance, birth control, sex education, and also abortion rights. Latinos are incredibly supportive of most of these issues when it comes to prenatal care, birth control, and contraception.
When it comes to abortion, Latinos are not as socially conservative as one might think. For many Latinos—at least in the work that I have done as an activist and advocate—it really is about supporting other women to make their personal decisions. We can’t judge and don’t know what the circumstances of every woman. And so we find that people are willing to listen and also support the decision-making process around abortion, specifically. That is an important piece to consider. As advocates, and as we start to think about the Latino community as a political community, we need to take in to consideration these nuance and differences if we are really going to engage.
Sally: Bishop Carcaño, you are United Methodist and that is a mainline Protestant tradition. Can you unpack the complexity and nuance of the various religious identities and what that might mean for Latino communities?
Bishop Minerva Carcaño: In terms of the Latino community, Latinos are Catholics are greatest in number. There are Protestants, and there is a growing Pentecostal movement that’s the fastest growing movement of faith—Assembly of God, Pentecostals, Baptists. They are growing and they represent a great number of Latinos. I am also finding Latinos who are becoming Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarians. There is a great opportunity in this country for people to find own journey of faith and find their own spiritual place in the world.
So the Latino community just can’t be identified as simply Catholic. It’s very diverse. And in these particular issues of concern, we are going to have to figure out how to create a conversation across the many different faith expressions. Pulling together Latinos that value family and community. Those are bedrocks of identity in the Latino community and I think we are going to have to use those in order to create the conversation around these very critical concerns.
Sally: What you both just said is that the community is not monolithic. That is absolutely right. At the same time it’s not static. It’s a dynamic community and things are really changing. We know that the community is growing in numbers. We know that there are generational differences. Religious differences and political differences as well. So in terms of these two complex issues of reproductive rights and LGBT equality, do you have any predictions for the years ahead for the Latino community?
Bishop Carcaño: What I would say about the Latino community in terms of reproductive rights and justice is that our women in growing number are dependent on having support around those issues. When you have 25 percent of Latino women living in poverty, they are dependent on organizations like Planned Parenthood for their basic well-being. We need to be concerned about our women and stand with them on that need and that right and justice issue. In terms of the LGBT community and striving for communities of faith that are inclusive, I find great hope in the fact that our younger people are more progressive. I believe they have a more loving heart and view all of God’s children as worthy of God’s love and God’s grace—and will lead us. But in the meantime we have got to continue working with and providing opportunities for young people to express their opinions and form the church of today, as well as the church of tomorrow.
Silvia: I agree that young people in the Latino community are more open and much more progressive in terms of these social issues. I certainly see that as an opportunity, which is why as we look to 2050 and changing demographics, we have to move from a deficit model to a model of strength and power.
We often cite statistics on the challenges the Latino community faces. We don’t often hear about the progress and the contributions that Latinos are making to society. That contribution will just increase as more and more young people are becoming politically engaged, achieving educational attainment, and being productive members of society. We have to shift the conversation to start from that place. That will open up many more opportunities for changing politics in this country to better represent the needs of all people.
Sally: Thank you so much. I feel like we just scratched the surface and there is so much to say. But these were words for good thought. Thanks so much for being with us today and thank you for your good work.
Bishop Carcaño: Thank you.
Silvia: Thank you.
Listen to this interview (mp3)
Sally Steenland is Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. For more on this initiative, please see its project page.