Appreciating my Hispanic colleagues and the many issues they face

As Hispanic Heritage Month concludes, here are ways philanthropy can support the Latinx community.

Written by: Brandi Collins-Calhoun

Date: October 21, 2020

As we conclude the final week of Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to take a moment and some words to appreciate our Hispanic and Latinx comrades1.   

No matter my work, defunding the police, abortion access and everything in-between, they met me on the frontlines and had my back.  

We found ourselves intentionally sharing space and being in community with each other. And we often stand in solidarity with one another also because our movements and lived experiences tend to intersect.  

As people of color, we constantly find our communities with the same foot, just a different shoe, on our necks, and showing up for each other has become an act of survival.    

I choose this space and moment to honor the history and many contributions of Hispanic greatness across movement areas and sectors.  

Shared battles confronting America living history of violence 

This year I began my work with NCRP as the new senior movement engagement associate, curating space within the Movement Investment Project to focus on reproductive access and gendered violence. These frameworks wouldn’t exist without the contributions of activists like Luz Rodriguez and the late Lorena Borjas 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched movement leaders and organizations holding the work at the intersection of Latinx communities, reproductive access and gendered violence. Not because it’s my job, but to make sure I plug into their work celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and provide support as needed as they’ve done for me time and again.  

But what they’ve reminded me of is that, as people of color, we do not have the privilege of living single issue lives. So, in the moments we reserve to celebrate and honor our history and accomplishments, there are often moments that call for a pause.  

Since the first week of Hispanic Heritage Month, folks have had to shift their capacity and focus to the violence that Latinx folks experience, all at the hands of the state.  

In mid-September, we learned that a doctor in Georgia was performing hysterectomies on immigrants detained at the Irwin County Detention Center without their consent.  

Multiple people explained that they were taken to an outside medical space where they were coerced into the procedure through the lack of translation services and extreme tactics like malpractice. 

A woman reported that the doctor removed the wrong ovary during a surgery that was scheduled to relieve her of an ovarian cyst, and another explained that she was simply getting a cyst drained. Both received hysterectomies and were left sterilized.  

But the current presidential administration using immigration as an entry point to revoke bodily autonomy and inflict reproductive harm isn’t a new strategy.   

In September 2017, the world learned that a shelter under the watch of the Office of Refugee Resettlement was holding a pregnant 17-year-old, Jane Doe, hostage to prevent her from getting abortion care.

For a month, the shelter refused to let Jane attend appointments for her abortion. They forced her to receive coercive religious counseling from anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and medically unnecessary ultrasounds to guilt her into carrying the pregnancy to term.  

The staff also took it upon themselves to inform Jane Doe’s parents of the pregnancy despite Jane already securing a court order to avoid bypass their involvement.  

At the end of September, the 3-year long battle between the ACLU and the administration came to an end when the absurd policy that banned abortion access to unaccompanied immigrant minors was overturned.  

The news of the win for Jane Doe and other minors who have since received counsel from the ACLU was a major win, but was also a reminder that the prison industrial complex has a variety of ways it exists and harms Latinx folks. 

As October came, I continued to watch for ways to support frontline efforts. 

On Oct. 4, organizers and their communities in New York City and across the nation made sure we said Layleen Polanco’s name, a loved transgender woman in their Yonkers community who lost her life a year prior.

That Sunday would’ve been her 29th birthday, but a $500 bond and her killers at the Rikers Island Prison Complex stole that from her.  

She was left in solitary confinement with known physical and mental health needs, as prison guards left her unresponsive for hours before calling for medical attention. Solitary confinement is a weapon the carcel systems uses to inflict gendered violence especially against transgender kindred.  

And while the state has offered her family $5.9 million in settlement money and “disciplined” 17 guards and captains employed by Rikers, we know that justice has not been served and actions haven’t been taken to prevent this from happening again.  

How can philanthropy step up? 

I’ve tried to think of ways to support my comrades holding this work, sharing their content and sending what coins I have the capacity to give, but let’s remember there is a sector with greater means and capacity we can call in.  

NCRP will continue to hold space beyond October to discuss the ways funders can invest in the safety of Latinx folks. Some ways philanthropy can immediately be helpful include: : 

  • Supporting the leaders on the ground holding this work and holding their communities close.
  • Following movement leaders such as those at Project South, who have made it their personal missions to shut down the Irwin County Detention Center and fight for those that have been sterilized.
  • Funding abortion access work through the Janes Due Process whose team alerted the ACLU about Jane Doe’s case and is at the forefront of the fight for abortion access in Texas in these uncertain times.   
  • Give coins to the COVID Bailout, an organization committed to freeing incarcerated folks being held hostage by New York City’s bail system.  

There are movement leaders like NCRP member National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice that commit to working at this intersection and require ongoing support to hold the cross-movement work that their mission reaches.  

Considering all that is going on in the world as we speak, the best way for philanthropy o celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by is by investing in the safety of our Latinx neighbors and colleagues on the frontlines and in their communities.      

Brandi Collins-Calhoun is NCRP’s senior movement engagement associate. 

1. Editor’s Note: How to classify U.S. residents with heritage from Latin America is an ongoing debate. For clarity’s sake, we are choosing to refer to the time from Sept. 15 to the end of October as Hispanic Heritage Month, using the most generally used governmental term. We are choosing to refer to the current community that shares that heritage as Latinx. While we see using the suffix “x” as the most inclusive, non-gendered based term, we understand that desire to use the more traditional Latino/Latina term. This is by no means a settled debate.  

Image by The COM Library. Used under Creative Commons license.