Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sexual Risk Takers Get An Ethnic Identity, Or Do They?

Cross-posted from my Media Justice Column

Last week the internets were a blaze with a particular story about the “sexual risk taking” of Latino youth. Surprisingly, or not so, most of the people in the sexual science field who shared the story either via email or on twitter had nothing to say about the article. I found that interesting because I have a lot to say about this topic! The articles that have been written reference a piece of literature titled “Sexuality and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among Latino Adolescents and Young Adults” written by Marcela Raffaelli and Maria I. Iturbide.

Both researchers are academics with a focus on sexuality and Latino communities. Marcela Raffaelli’s biography can be read here and from what I can tell Maria I. Iturbide may still be a graduate student working with Marcela Raffaelli. I have to say that I think if this is the case, this is great to have an advisor agree to publish with a student; this is rare in graduate school (usually we do bibliography and research and get an thank you at the end of the article)!

I share a few of my initial thoughts on Love Isn’t Enough (LIE) (formally Anti-Racist Parent) yet wanted to go more in depth with my ideas and thoughts about the literature and findings. There are a few areas that stand out to me and these include the date of publication, how Latino is defined, how Whiteness and Blackness is defined, gender discussions, cultural values, and issues of consent.

As I wrote on LIE about the date of research:

The first thing that came to mind was the date of publication. The text this article was published in was 2009. That means that some of the research was conducted a while ago, if not a decade ago. Many of the citations that are used and some of the longitudinal statistics are from data that was collected over 5 years ago.

The date of publications is important, because, as you can imagine, if you are writing a research paper for school it takes a while. Imagine if you had to wait for funding from an organization or the government to approve, and agree to have you perform the work so that you can get paid to do it. That’s often what happens in academic research publishing. However, some publications are created because specific funds have been set aside for such work. Regardless, this type of work and research does not happen over night, or even in a few months. Examining data alone can take months.

This publication being included in this book in 2009 and using data, which may have been collected almost 5 years ago, tells us a few things. First, what many of us have known all along was confirmed years ago. Second, we’ve known about this topic and these findings for some time but not much has changed with regards to funding and program evaluation and development. Third, if we have had this data and information for years, why hasn’t there been a shift or a good amount of proactive efforts to respond to the multiple issues that are present? These topics lead me to then ask the question: are Latinos even a priority in the sexual science field?

As the US “celebrated” Black History Month in February, many conversations were going on about the diversity of the continent of Africa. It was not until the 21st Century that many academics, scholars, and researchers realized this difference and began to incorporate it into the analysis of people who were/are descendents of African slaves in the US. Why have we yet to come to this understanding about people who are identified as “Latino”? For all over the world? I’ve shared that I struggle with being identified as a part of a group simply because we share a similar history of exploration, conquest, and colonization when in reality that is almost all we have in common. This is one of the challenges with the term “Latino.”

Many people have heard me share that I was not raised in a “Latino” home but in a Puerto Rican home, a Caribbean one that has very specific rituals, values, traditions, and expectations. For this reason I find more similarities with people who are also from the Caribbean versus people who are from some countries in Central and South America. Why is that you ask? Because, surprise! We are different. I’d also like to mention that the term “Latino,” and how it has been constructed and used, leads me to wonder if people who have a history of colonization by non-Spanish empires are included. Folks often forget that countries such as Belize, Brazil, Suriname, and Guyana are also parts of Central and South America. Are they considered “Latino” in the way the term is used in the US? I have my own answer to that question, yet think it is still important to put out there for discussion.

As a result, the research allows youth to self identify as “Latino” yet does not give information on how that identity is constructed, or how inclusive or exclusive youth are guided to gain clarification. There is also no discussion of race among Latinos that I have seen in this publication. My impression is that “Latino” is being used as both a racial and ethnic identity, which, hopefully from my last several articles on Blackness among Latinos, you realize is not always accurate or inclusive.

For example, when data is used such as “Latinos are less likely to have sex than Blacks but more than Whites” does that represent LatiNegr@s or Latinos who racially identify as White as well? See where I’m coming from? Still with me?

I completely agree with the authors regarding a need to examine “Latinos” as subgroups (i.e. ethnicities such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, etc.). This also forces researchers and program developers/evaluators to recognize the privileges and unique challenges that many specific ethnic groups experience being identified as “Latino.” The article discussed differences between ethnic groups and that is real. I can’t begin to explain to you how real it is, especially for im/migrant youth and families. Even the ways that people arrive or were born into the US differ, and those must be recognized as a part of socialization.

There are two things I’m so tired of reading about when discussing Latino sexuality: acculturation/assimilation, and specific cultural norms. This article addressed some aspects of acculturation/assimilation, which many people have very strong feelings and thoughts about , including yours truly. Yet, research has shown that when Latino youth are raised to embrace all aspects of their cultural and national identity (that’s their Latinidad and US specific experiences) they are happier, healthier and less likely to do “bad things.” Why hasn’t this data fit into a discussion on Latino Sexuality, yet? Oh, is it because I have yet to write it? Ok, I’ll work on that!

The topic of cultural norms and values always makes me roll my eyes because it’s the same thing I’ve read decades ago when I was in high school! I will admit that when I wrote my first publication Si Podemos! Yes We Can! Helping Latino Youth Prevent Pregnancy (here’s an article from that publication) on pregnancy prevention efforts targeting Latino youth one of my main issues was the topic of racial and ethnic diversity as well as cultural beliefs and values. The literature at the time was filled with the terms “machismo,” “familialism,” and “marianismo.” I too implemented the same approach that many authors have when discussing sexuality among Latinos: assuming these ideologies are norms and values within a community BEFORE the community can confirm or deny.

I remember when I first got my hands on the book Erotic Journey’s: Mexican Immigrants And Their Sex Lives by Gloria González-López, which focuses on using feminist ethnography and research methods to get the testimonios of heterosexual Mexican Immigrant couples. This was revolutionary! It still is as there is nothing similar at this moment that uses these approaches to talk to/with heterosexual Latinos (if you know of some PLEASE let me know!). One of the things I really loved about González-López’s work is that she did not introduce the term “machismo” (the expectation for Latino men) at all and only used it after one or more of her participants used it first.

Often people think Latinos have a monopoly on the concept of “machismo,” but as I’ve written in the past, that can be found in every community and culture. I also have shared that my experience with “machsimo” in my family is nothing like what you read about in the literature. I had something similar to a “stay at home dad” during my early adolescence as my mother had the full time job. I was also raised in an agnostic home so the idea of “marianismo” (expectations for Latinas, connected to representing the virgin Mary/enduring sacrifice hence the name) was foreign to me. I know I’m not the only one. So creating a program or approaching Latino youth with these two ideas in mind will result in a loss of an opportunity.

Other lost opportunities in this piece was an inclusion, or even an attempt to recognize, Latino youth who identify as something other than heterosexual. There was also a very rigid discussion of “gender” that fits too nicely into a gender binary that ignores transgender men and women and people who identify as gender queer. Then again, who knows if researchers consider any activity outside of a heterosexual encounter to also be categorized as “risky.” Ugh! This makes my head and heart hurt!

Finally, I’m incredibly disturbed that the ideas of “sexual risk taking” are assumed/normalized to be read as consensual encounters. This is not always the case. There are some levels of coercion for some youth (not only females, but males and gender queer people too), as well as sexual assault and rape. Yet there is no discussion in regards to safety when it comes to protection of such encounters. This not only disturbs me, but it saddens me as well. Why can’t we talk about safety for Latinas and all women of Color in the same way we talk about it for White women? Why can’t we talk about it and include gender queer and transgender people?

Some exciting pieces of information from this article include: Latino mothers desire to have an open conversation with their daughters about sex and sexuality, oh, but then that “marianismo” issue gets in the way. Unfortunately, we don’t know if that’s what all Latino mothers think and believe, or if they can’t find time to talk to their children because they work two jobs or work a job that consumes their time as many high paying corporate jobs do, or because they don’t speak English as a first language and don’t know the terminology to use, or that they don’t ever have privacy to discuss such topics because they live in a multi-generational home, or because their daughter is so involved in school and extra-curricular activities they assume everything is ok (perhaps the original article cited answers these questions). There are also some good things about increase condom usage among Latino males who are more “acculturated” to US society and norms. Perhaps this is connected to the patriarchal society in which we still live that grants more privileges to men in general.

What more can I say? Homies, we got work to do! But I’m glad that those of you reading this are down for doing this work!

1 comment:

  1. "I was also raised in an agnostic home so the idea of “marianismo” (expectations for Latinas, connected to representing the virgin Mary/enduring sacrifice hence the name) was foreign to me."

    Great point. As an Italian American raised without any of the RCC and becoming a self identified atheist/agnostic at five, I always wondered if this made me have an automatic "disconnect" with my culture. Do I have to identify with the Commies? Hmmmmm...

    I think the larger issue is that focus groups and test groups are still mostly in the Reagan era if not referenced from it. There is nothing stopping those who create test groups and studies from being getting specific about how someone defines themselves/their background.
    I think white supremacy and anti-immigration is ultimately going to continue to endanger the reproductive health of POC.

    A great book/blog you may want to read if you have yet to check it out regarding Latino people and how they have been either assimilated or classified in the US is The Legal History of the Color Line
    by Frank W. Sweet

    Skip Gates' work is addressed as well