Partner Profile: Tannia Esparza

Tannia Esparza is a Queer Xicana from Santa Barbara, CA. As the Executive Director, Tannia carries Young Women United’s change making vision, cultivates a diverse resource base, and supports staff in strategically building YWU’s work. For the last decade, Tannia has been active in social justice movements working on racial justice, gender justice, and LGBTQ justice. During her time at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, Tannia worked to center the experiences of LGBTQ Families of Color in combating homophobia and transphobia in Los Angeles public schools. Tannia believes in the power of embodied knowledge and collective healing and applies this in her own life through her work as a performance artist.

1. Tell us about the proposed ordinance, and why this first-of-its-kind local ban on abortion was launched in Albuquerque.

In the summer of 2013 anti-abortion activists gathered over 12,000 signatures to propose a City of Albuquerque ballot measure that would ban safe and legal abortions after 20 weeks. This was the first municipal attempt at restricting access to abortion in the country.

With attacks on reproductive health continuing to limit access to abortion in many surrounding states, New Mexico has become one of the only places that provide safe access to abortion after 20 weeks. Albuquerque is home to one of 4 clinics that provides abortions after 20 weeks across the country. As a result anti-abortion activists have made strategic investments in New Mexico to eliminate access to abortion altogether.

2. Why did Young Women United decide to get involved in the fight against this initiative and what was your role?

Young Women United (YWU) joined this fight because we believe people should make decisions about their lives for themselves. As a reproductive justice organizing and policy project by and for young women of color in Albuquerque, Young Women United’s mission is to ensure all people have the access, education, and resources to make real decisions about their bodies and lives. For years, Young Women United has been keeping careful watch over conservative tactics against reproductive rights and has strategized to maintain access women and families have to full range of reproductive health options in New Mexico.

Together with women, families, and partner organizations, Young Women United was a proud leader in building the Respect ABQ Women Campaign centered on keeping personal decisions about abortion in the hands of New Mexican women and families, without government interference.

Young Women United was one of seven organizations leading the strategic direction of the campaign. As YWU’s Executive Director, I was proud to represent the voices of our Spanish Speaking communities serving as the campaign’s spokesperson in Spanish Language Media as well as developing civic engagement strategies with our partners and supporting the cultural production of Young Women United’s communications team.

3. What were some of the reactions to the ballot measure in the Latino community?

While the common stereotype about Latinos and abortion insists that Latina/o communities are conservative, we were excited to see many Latina/o Families come out against the ballot measure. My dad, for example, is an Immigrant Domestic Worker from Mexico and was raised Catholic. His reactions to the measure weren’t based on the common Reproductive Rights language many of us are used to hearing. He put it very simply, “They’re your bodies and you should be the only ones who can make decisions about them and no one else.”

Many multigenerational New Mexican Latinas and Chicanas also came out against the measure, challenging the Latina stereotypes and having important conversations with their families.

4. What were some highlights from the Respect ABQ Women Campaign?

One of the Respect ABQ Women Campaign’s most significant contributions to this fight was shifting the narrative on abortion from an ideological battle between Pro-life and Pro-choice to a conversation that many New Mexican Families could be a part of. The campaign slogan, Our Bodies. Our Lives. Our Decisions, really got to the heart of what this ballot measure was all about- leaving decisions about abortion in the hands of women and families. It was this shift that opened the door for many communities to join the conversation and ultimately got us to a 10 percent margin win. In just three months, we were able to mobilize voters in a municipal special election only weeks after a mayoral race. In the face of such challenges, it’s important to note that our win would not have been possible without the collaboration of many organizations working alongside each other.

This campaign was a true testament to the power of people coming together. One of our greatest highlights at Young Women United was having the honor of working with labor justice leader, Dolores Huerta. Early on in the campaign, she extended her support for our work, rallying with students at The University of New Mexico and eloquently contextualized this fight in her civil rights work during press conferences. Later, she graciously recorded radio ads with YWU to get out the vote and if that weren’t enough, she even went door-to-door canvassing with us. Her dedication to this fight and her belief in our work re-energized our staff and volunteers and echoed what we at Young Women United believe- that Reproductive Rights are part of a larger vision of Reproductive Justice, one that has many openings for cross sector movement building and acknowledges the complexity of identities and intersections.

5. What long term impact will this campaign and your victory have in Albuquerque and beyond? What will the impact be on Young Women United?

The lessons we learned in Albuquerque are not just for New Mexico, they extend to all of our partners, allies and communities across the country, facing attacks on reproductive healthcare. I am proud that our collective campaign embraced the complexity of abortion by having honest conversations with our communities- this in the long term will impact how our Reproductive Rights community continues to open dialogue about abortion. As Young Women United, we know our work is not over. Every year we continue to face attacks on reproductive rights at the legislative level and we will keep defending the access our communities have to reproductive healthcare alongside our communities who mobilized prior and during this campaign.

Young Women United (YWU) is a community organizing project by and for young women of color in New Mexico. YWU believes in the rights of all people to access the information, education, and resources needed to make real decisions about their bodies and lives. They work with women and families to identify issues impacting their lives and collectively organize and build policy efforts at the intersections of their identities and lived experiences. YWU believes social change should come from those most impacted by an issue.

YWU’s cross-sector strategies in creating community-based systemic and policy change include: Albuquerque based community organizing, statewide campaign and policy initiatives, leadership development of young women of color, creation and distribution of media by and for communities, mind-body transformative practices, art and culture shift, and movement building within state-based and national social justice movements.

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