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Mónica's Story

Listen to Mónica's Story:

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Mónica and her mother in front of the ocean.

My name is Mónica, I’m Peruvian but I’ve lived in the United States for almost 20 years. I’m married, I have a daughter and I’ve worked for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) for the past 10 years. When I meet someone for the first time I always tell them where I work. I know other colleagues don’t for the fear of reproach, but I do it because working for PPWI is part of my identity. Over the years, I’ve learned that the concept of identity is complex and evolves over the years but I think it’s important to remember where we come from to know where we’re going. PPWI helped me consolidate my identity in the United States and thanks to what I’ve learned in this organization, I can proudly say that I’m a Latina woman who believes in social justice and in sexual and reproductive justice. But being born in Peru during an era of political violence was an experience that marked me and planted a seed in me: the desire to defend human rights, social justice, and reproductive justice. 

I was born and raised in Peru in the 80’s and 90’s. The country experienced an internal civil war that left more than 60,000 people dead. It was an episode in the life of my country that divided the population in two groups: the military force of the state and the terrorist groups of Senedero Luminoso and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (TARM). The civilian population found itself in the middle of both fires and the result was hundreds of thousands dead, mainly people from the poorest, rural areas of the Andes. 

 

My childhood was marked by the constant threat of terrorist attacks, car bombs, electrical blackouts, an unstable economy, and a devalued currency. Despite the reality of the country, I had a privileged childhood. My parents were young and successful professionals; a product of the education they received in Europe. They gave me a good education and I can’t say that I experienced financial hardships. I lived happily at home, content, and secure but I knew and saw that this was not the reality of other Peruvian children. My parents were always grateful for the opportunity they had studying abroad and they taught me to share with the less fortunate.

Just like in other Latin American countries, Peru went through a period of political violence due to a dictatorial regime that lasted 20 years. When I was a senior in high school, I remember watching a live news broadcast, the reveal of a video in which the presidential advisor was shown bribing businesses, media owners, and Peruvian politicians to make themselves available to the Fujimori regime. I asked my dad why the country has so many amoral people and what could be done. He looked at me with an expression of sadness and bewilderment for asking such an obvious or innocent question, I don’t know. He told me, “Mochi, this has been the Peru of my grandparents, of my parents, and of my generation. I don’t know how it could change.” His response made me very angry so I told him, "That's your response?

A political mural in Peru.

That nothing can be done? That’s why the country is the way it is because there are conformists like you.” He then said a bit resignedly, “Well, hopefully that drive of your generation is useful for something.” Seeing the videos of corruption and the desire of not being a part of another generation of Peruvians who conformed and accepted the situation in the country became my strength; That is to say, my strength is my capacity for indignation to not accept things I don’t agree with and do something to make a change. I must proudly say that this strength continues to live in my daily actions and thoughts. 

 

In 2000, Peru returned to democracy and President Toledo authorized the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to explain to the country what happened during the 20 years of political violence and to be able to look to the future with hope. The commission was made up of great academics, especially sociologists, lawyers, and humanists from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PCUP). The PCUP has been part of my life since I was a little girl. My entire family attended that university and as a child, I knew that I would follow in my family’s footsteps. Besides it being the best university in the country and one of the best in South America, my dad worked there and as his daughter I had the right to receive my education there completely free. There was no other option: I had to attend PCUP. 

A picture of the book, Hatun Willakuy: An Abbreviated Version of the Final Report of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Spanish.

In 2002, I entered Law School and had the opportunity to transcribe some testimonies that the survivors gave to the commissioners in which they recounted the atrocities they suffered at the hands of terrorist groups or the State forces. Those two testimonies changed my life, they put before my eyes the reality of a forgotten group of Peruvians and I became aware of the privilege of my position. Many of the students became volunteers for the National Human Rights Commission because it was the entity that led the reparations for survivors. This stage in my life was of much learning and growth but above all, I made long lasting and unforgettable friendships. 

That same summer, as a way to relax a little, I traveled to the United States as part of the “Work and Travel” program and my life took a 180° turn. Not only did I meet my now husband but I experienced a new reality; that of being an immigrant. Up until then, I had traveled to the United States as a tourist, on vacation, or to visit family. In 2005, my husband and I got married and I came to live permanently in the United States. I knew that I had to

finish college so I transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and I graduated with two majors: Political Science and International Studies. Like every immigrant, I had no health insurance, so I traveled to Peru every eight months to go to the doctors and dentist. It was cheaper for me to buy a plane ticket than to pay for a doctor's visit without health insurance. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t offered medical insurance through my work but the premium was so expensive that it wasn’t realistic to have it. 

 

The cost of medicine was sky high and I simply couldn’t afford it. My parents sent me birth control pills by mail every six months, but on one occasion, the package didn’t arrive. I knew that I didn’t want kids, at least not while I was in college but the reality of it is that I couldn't pay $120 for a pack of pills. A friend recommended I go to PPWI and when I arrived they treated me very well. Thanks to PPWI I was able to buy a pack of pills for $10 each. When I left the clinic I felt so grateful that I made myself promise to help that organization in some way. I didn’t know much about PPWI, so I went online to understand a little more and discovered that PPWI was much more than contraceptive methods. Every time I would pass the clinic and saw people protesting against PPWI, I asked myself, “Don’t they know that PPWI is much more than abortion? It made me very angry that they were so closed minded and that they didn’t listen to reason. I confess that sometimes I would pass by the clinic just to scold them. I laugh at myself now because I’m the one who tells people that they have the right to protest. In 2014, I was presented with the opportunity to work for PPWI-Delavan and since then I’ve learned a lot. This path hasn’t been easy because it’s taken me a long time to find my identity within the organization. 

 

The CCmáS program with the health promoters came into my life by chance but it was like a refreshing breeze in my life. I was at a lonely stage in my career within PPWI. I felt like my bosses weren’t listening to me and didn’t understand me. I was one of the few Latina managers and I felt like my ideas weren’t being heard. The truth is, I felt like the ugly duckling within a white women's organization. Due to things in life, María Baker, the director of the program CCmáS, invited me to one of the weekly meetings she had with people on the team and since then I’ve been in love with the program.

Mónica with promotores and PPWI staff at a CCmáS anniversary event.

I felt very content and rejuvenated to have found a group of Latina women fighting for the same cause within the organization. I wanted to work with these women directly because I consider them part of my team. So I contacted Maria and I told her the Delavan clinic needed a health promoter. She gave me the green light to find a person who was able to work in the clinic and almost a year later I found her. Months passed by, two other women were added to the team and now we have the opportunity to help other people in the community. The presence of the health promoters has made the Delavan clinic see more patients but also strengthened PPWI’s position in Walworth County. The Health Department and various social organizations want to work with our team because they know that the community trusts us and we’re effective when it comes to helping our people. Our work helps the Latino community make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, as well as providing them with the assistance and resources they need.

Mónica and a group of women at a formal event.

Mónica and health promoters wearing masks behind a CCmáS table.

I started this story in search of the components of my identity and how PPWI contributed to forming it. Every time I teach a young woman how to use a contraceptive method, I remember that scared Monica who didn’t want to be a mom but couldn't pay for her contraceptives. Luckily now I can keep the promise that I made years ago through my job, which I carry out with passion. Now more than ever I’m convinced of the importance of women defending human rights, social justice, and reproductive justice because the future of our daughters depend on it. Just as PPWI was there for me when I needed it most, I know that it will be there to take care of my daughter, no matter what.

Mónica's daughter reading a book.

Mónica's daughter with a sign that says "Hands off my uterus" at a protest event.

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