BRONX, N.Y. — Now in its second year, Latinos por la Vida (Latinos for Life) got its start with a request from the March for Life to the Bronx-based Franciscans Friars of the Renewal.
“Latino participation in the March for Life was not that visible, especially considering we are 15% or 17% of the population of the United States,” co-founder Odet Bisono recalled. “They asked Father Agustino [Torres] to help them bring more Latinos to the March for Life.”
Working with Bisono — program director for the chastity-outreach ministry Corazón Puro (Pure Heart), which is sponsored by Father Torres’ order, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal — Father Torres developed Latinos por la Vida, which is known by the acronym LXV, to implement a strategy to inform, inspire and unify Latinos.
“Latino Americans are disproportionately targeted for abortion,” pointed out Jeanne Monahan-Mancini, president of the March for Life. “Data reveals that Hispanic women have one-fourth of all U.S. abortions every year, but the Hispanic population in the U.S. is only 16% of the total population.”
Additionally, nearly 80% of Planned Parenthood facilities are located within walking distance of minority neighborhoods. Part of LXV’s goal is to inform Latinos of the threat that the abortion industry poses to their community in particular.
“There is only one way to really inspire people,” Bisono said. “It’s by informing them about what’s happening.”
That’s where LXV comes in, reaching out with the facts about abortion through an annual conference and its online presence. “When we show people statistics, there’s an interesting double standard,” said Father Torres. “[Latinos are] pro-life, but they’re still having abortions — in [significant] numbers.”
Another double standard became clear through a series of surveys conducted by LXV. Representatives asked Latino Catholics if they were pro-life, and 100% said Yes, said Father Torres. Then they asked the Latinos if they felt they had a voice.
“One hundred percent said No,” he said.
“This is our fight.”
Founded three years ago this July, the organization faces the challenge of reaching two very different groups of Latinos: those who are predominantly Spanish-speaking and those who are fully bilingual or have greater facility in English than Spanish.
“We need to address both of them,” said Father Torres.
The annual conference is LXV’s primary outreach to both populations. Professionally organized and presented, the conference comes together after months of preparation. About 50 people attended this year’s — LXV’s second annual conference — Jan. 23 event in Silver Springs, Md. It followed on the heels of this year’s March for Life where, Father Torres said, he has observed an increase in Latino participation since LXV’s inception.
The conference featured keynote speakers Astrid Bennett Gutierrez, director of Los Angeles Pregnancy Services and a co-host on EWTN’s The Catholic View for Women, and Alejandro Bermudez, the executive director of Catholic News Agency, a service of EWTN.
Attendees chose from four workshops that addressed the abortion industry’s targeting of minorities; how to use social media to share the pro-life message; how to become an active participant in the pro-life movement within the Latino community; and how to help post-abortive Latino men and women heal.
Speakers addressed the audience in Spanish, but a translation service was available for attendees more comfortable with English.
“By just informing Latinos about how we are a target of abortion and speaking to them about [the evil of] contraceptives and the dignity of the person ... we will be able to inspire them and create a force that will definitely ... be able to have an impact in the decisions the government is making that affect people’s lives,” said Bisono.
Otherwise, she said, “We’re going to have a whole generation of Latinos we’re never going to see.”
Father Torres has received support from many longtime pro-life activists, he said, but LXV has also received emails from people questioning the need for a Latino-focused pro-life organization. “Shouldn’t we have a unified front?” one email asked.
“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” said the priest, adding, “It’s not surprising everyone doesn’t understand.
“People need to find their voice, know they’re welcome.”
Some critics phrase their uncertainty more strongly, said LXV conference organizer Eliana Perez, asking LXV why the organization is segregating Latinos from the rest of the pro-life movement.
“We’re not segregating: We’re calling you [Latinos] out,” she said. “We have our brothers and sisters calling out at the top of their lungs that abortion is wrong — we just want to add our flavor to it.”
Inspiration and Organization
Many dioceses have active respect-life programming that involves Latino parishioners, but there is still a great need to engage Latinos in the pro-life movement, said Carmen Portela, director of Spanish parish leadership support for the Diocese of Phoenix.
Portela led the LXV conference workshop on becoming involved in the pro-life movement. “We are a very proactive diocese, in terms of respect-life issues,” she explained.
“We [Latinos] have a strong initiative in California, in Arizona, in Texas — but we are more than just the Southwest. We also need to involve the Latinos on the East Coast and in the central United States.
“They need to be involved.”
With the annual conference, LXV strives to educate Latinos about the reality of abortion and its impact on their community. With its website and Facebook page, LXV keeps supporters informed about pro-life events and news, so they can participate in praying and demonstrating for an end to abortion and help raise awareness of the abortion industry’s impact on the Latino community and society as a whole.
“We are a coalition,” said Perez. “Whenever someone reaches out to us that they want to be part of the prolife movement or start something in their area, we refer them to current pro-life movements in their area.”
“There’s not an organization right now that can draw everyone together — a platform everyone can speak from,” added Father Torres.
“That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Elisabeth Deffner writes from Orange County, California.