Maria Elena Garcia has her Masters of Public Health from the University of Texas. She is a frequent contributor to the Honeycomb, typically writing about sex education, policy, and personal experience.
@__maria__elena and @whatspublichealthgottodowith
Tell us about yourself! Who are you, what do you do, what motivates you each day?
I am a Research Associate at the UTHealth SPH. I am also a first-generation Latina which is what impulses my passion for public health. I've seen first-hand the impact that adequate Sexual and Reproductive Health care has on the population, while also seeing the damage that a lack of thereof produces. In the era of internet access everywhere, fighting the wave of misinformation surrounding reproductive care has become my fuel.
Who are the people you connect with through your job? Your key demographic, communities you're passionate about educating or working with...
Most of my work is focused on the unincorporated areas east of Austin: Del Valle, Montopolis, Manor. This area is over 79% Hispanic and my work is with people between the ages of 12-40. There is this notion that minority groups are very conservative about teaching their youth sexual health educaiton, but my work has demonstrated the opposite. Parents are increasingly willing to allow their youth to learn best and safe practices around sexual health and healthy relationships. The bodies of women from Latin American descent have often times been stripped of their agency and allowing them to reclaim the power of knowing their bodies fully is important work.
Why are you passionate about reproductive wellness? What about this subject is important to, or speaks to you?
The first demographic that sparked my interest in reproductive wellness was pregnant people. I began my work with a small community of pregnant women in a program called Centering Pregnancy. For many of the participants it was the first time they learned how their bodies worked and how they were able to form a pregnancy. It was also the first time they learned about contraception and how to best prevent unintended pregnancy. From then on I felt committed to giving people the best set of tools to make informed decisions about their bodies. Reproductive education to me means power and agency over oneself and it is something that everyone deserves to have the right to.
Do you have any recent accomplishments you'd like to share? Moments that have been special, have reminded you why you do what you do, or launches we can share about?
I was able to have an abstract accepted into the American Public Health Association annual conference in Boston which I will present at the Latino Caucus. The research that I will share there fully encompasses my mission to give youth their own voice to take ownership over the place they live, as well as merge different styles of research that put the participant as the lead.
What's one struggle you've faced working in the reproductive wellness space, and how do you work around or mitigate that problem?
Living in Texas has been one of the biggest challenges on my SRH career journey. Watching people in power make the issue of sexual health a political and partisan issue feels disheartening. At the same time, the number of people that I've seen rise up for their own communities when our leaders don't, gives me strength. There is so much power in community work!
What's one thing you wish was included in sex education?
How to navigate a doctor's appointment for annual wellness visits! Best practices for advocating for yourself (heating pads, having a companion, anesthesia) and feeling like you are a willing participant of your pap smear or any health exam. Learning how to communicate with your provider in an honest manner and choosing a provider you can fully trust!
What's one thing you wish you had known before you started having sex or being intimate with partners?
Wetness ≠ arousal! I can be extremely aroused and yet not wet and that is OK! Lube is amazing and using it does not mean that my reproductive system failed.
What's one thing you wish you had known before you got your first period? (if applicable)
How to dispose of a pad!! I made so many mistakes, used up so much paper, and was careless about it because I was never taught how to dispose of it in a way that is safe and does not leave residue exposed.