California Latino families debate abortion, Proposition 1 before election

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Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra stands outside his home in Tahoe Park on Oct. 1, 2020. He is running for an Assembly seat and has the support of Planned Parenthood.

Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra stands outside his home in Tahoe Park on Oct. 1, 2020. He is running for an Assembly seat and has the support of Planned Parenthood.

File Sacramento Bee

Throughout their careers in politics, Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra and his mother Ampara Perez Quintero, 68, have found common ground on nearly every issue — education, immigrant rights, public safety and housing.

But when it comes to reproductive freedom, they’re nowhere near in agreement.

Quintero, a devout Catholic, opposes abortion, believing that unborn children have a right to life. And although Hera was raised in the same religious beliefs, he began to question orthodoxy in his teenage years. By the time he graduated from college, Guerra had completely changed his mind about abortion.

Hera, now 44, is a staunch supporter of women’s reproductive rights. Most recently, Planned Parenthood endorsed Herr in his campaign for an Assembly seat and said “his track record of advocating for reproductive freedom speaks for itself.”

With sharply different views, Guerra and Quintero most often rejected abortion.

“Our conversation about reproductive freedom was not a conversation,” Guerra said.

That all changed after the Supreme Court struck down nationwide abortion protections by overturning Roe v. Wade, handing reproductive rights to voters before the midterm elections.

Democratic California lawmakers responded by putting Proposition 1 on the November ballot. If passed, the measure would enshrine the right to abortion and access to contraception in the state constitution.

Political experts predict that the debate will mobilize Latinos and could halt the GOP’s gains in the electoral bloc.

A poll by Change Research found that 64% of Latinos in battleground states are motivated to vote in November because of the Supreme Court decision. And more than 70% of Hispanics said the procedure should be legal, according to an August survey conducted by the human rights group UnidosUs and the civil society organization Mi Familia Vota.

But for some Latinos, including Guerra and Quintero, the abortion rights debate also gets at the center of family dynamics. While some families remain at odds, others unexpectedly find common ground.

It took them 51 years to talk about abortion

For most of her life, Sen. Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, assumed her mother, Estella Rubio, 76, opposed abortion rights.

Rubio, 51, drew on her “extremely religious” upbringing and the fact that her grandmother always strongly disapproved of abortion and contraceptives. As a child, she said, the family avoided talking about sex and reproductive health. The few discussions of abortion usually arose as an example of sin.

But weeks after the Supreme Court’s decision, Rubio finally asked her mother directly. To Rubio’s surprise, her mother had a nuanced, more “progressive” take on the issue. Estela Rubio views abortion as pecadaor sin, but believes that the decision should be made by the individual woman.

“No es para nadie decirle que tiene que hacer con su cuerpo o vida.” Eso le queda a cada persona a decidir a sí misma depending on the circumstances.”

“No one should tell you what to do with your body or your life,” Rubio recalls her mother saying in Spanish. “That’s left up to each person to decide for themselves depending on the circumstances.”

Estela clarified to Rubio the memory that had shaped her view, reminding her that her aunt’s child had starved to death in Mexico.

“She explained to me that for as long as she can remember, her aunt’s story has stuck with her when they had no choice and lived in constant regret,” Rubio said.

Lina-Maria Murillo, assistant professor of gender, women’s and sexuality studies, history and Latinx at Iowa State University, said Estela’s opinion is not uncommon among older women of color. Murillo said her research shows Latinos have long been open to the issue.

She also rejected the stereotype of Latinos who oppose abortion because of their faith. Murillo said the misconception stems in large part from the influence of the Catholic Church.

Voto Latino poll released in May found that 68% of Latino Catholics support women’s right to choose.

“There’s this mythology that older generations, Catholicism and religion automatically determine how we’re going to feel about access to reproduction,” Murillo said. “And I think it’s actually quite dangerous to continue the narrative because it’s not accurate.”


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More emphasis on the positive

Paula Villescaz, who is running for state Senate from Placer and Sacramento counties, also only recently learned that her mother supports abortion rights.

Vileskaz’s conclusion, however, did not follow from the consequences of the Supreme Court. It happened in July after the 33-year-old Villeskaz found out she was pregnant.

Speaking about her mother’s pregnancy, Maria Ollis, 69, said she received health care from Planned Parenthood during her pregnancy and understood the need for that “safety net.”

“The support there really shaped her beliefs,” Villescaz said.

Villeskaz, also raised Catholic, never intentionally avoided the conversation, but assumed that Olis’ religious beliefs would guide her stance on the matter.

“I’m much more likely to talk to a complete stranger about my choice and why it should motivate them to run than my mom,” Vilscaz said, laughing.

Former Assemblyman Roger Niello, Villequez’s Republican opponent in the senatorial race, said opposes abortion with exceptions. He also opposes Proposition 1.

Belinda Campos, a professor of Chicano and Latino studies at the University of California, Irvine, said there is a cultural preference among Latinos, especially Mexican-Americans, not to discuss controversial topics. The approach emphasizes expressing emotional positivity and avoids engaging in conversations that may be unhelpful. Compass called it an advantage sympathyor sympathy.

“Culturally ideal ways of managing emotions involve more emphasis on positive things and less emphasis on negative things,” Campos said. “It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is.”

“The rights of others are peace”

Both Guerra and his opponent in the Assembly race, Elk Grove City Councilwoman Stephanie Nigen, are Democrats and both support abortion rights.

The few times Guerra and Quintero discussed abortion usually ended in an argument.

But after Planned Parenthood announced its support for Guerra, they had their first “honest conversation”. The approval came just after a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to Politico, revealing which side the court would rule on.

The endorsement led to calls from Quinter’s friends asking if it was true that her son was being supported by an organization like Planned Parenthood.

“The mama bear came out, she didn’t like her son being singled out,” Guerra said.

Although the two could not agree on the matter, Guerra believes they have come to a common position of respecting the person’s decision. The breakthrough came after Guerra read a famous quote from 19th-century Mexican president Benito Juarez.

El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz or respect for the rights of others is peace.

“She respects President Benito Juarez … so when we started talking about our shared values, well, it’s respect for each other,” Guerra said.

He hopes they can continue to have “fruitful conversations,” even if it ends with Quintero pulling his ear, as she has done throughout his life.

“It was nice and joyful to be able to talk to my mom as a peer… “If there’s one thing from this experience that I want to continue to do, it’s to have conversations more often,” Guerra added. .

Related stories from the Sacramento Bee

Matthew Miranda covers Latino communities for the Sacramento Bee. Matthew has featured writers in the Chico Enterprise-Record, Richmond Pulse, Oaklandside and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He is a native of Los Angeles and the proud son of two Salvadoran immigrants.

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