Birth control message is not reaching Latinas
Hispanic communities are blossoming in nearly every city, town and hamlet in the United States, but the flower of Hispanic girlhood is wilting badly.
A young Latina is more likely to live in poverty, drop out of school, get pregnant as an unmarried teenager, succumb to drug use and attempt suicide than any other demographic group.
They are in worse shape than young black males, who had previously held the title of this country's lost souls.
These girls and young women are caught between the cultural traditions to which their immigrant parents expect them to adhere - particularly, service to the family - and the galloping teen culture in which they find themselves in this country, a culture about which their parents are particularly uninformed.
The result can be a sense of desperation.
According to The New York Times, a government study found that one in six young Hispanic women have attempted suicide, a rate 1 1/2 times as high as that among non-Hispanic white and black teenage girls. Fortunately, most survive.
According to Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center in Washington, Hispanic teens reported the lowest levels of all racial and ethnic groups in the use of any contraceptive method the first time they had sex.
Worse, when asked whether they used any birth control method the last time they had sex, only 36 percent of Latinas said yes, while 72 percent of non-Hispanic whites reported that they used birth control.
"That is not an exact measure for consistent use of birth control," said Kerry Franzetta of Child Trends. "But it is a good proxy for consistency."
Child Trends also found that Hispanic girls are less likely to talk to their parents or their partners about birth control than any other group.
And Latinas are more likely than other girls to have older male partners - five years older or more - so there is likely to be a significant power differential in the relationship.
In addition, Child Trends found, Hispanic girls have a less-negative view of pregnancy than other girls and more of them were likely to see pregnancy as a positive event, compared with other teen girls.
The result of all this?
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 51 percent of Latinas get pregnant at least once before age 20, compared with the national average of 35 percent of all teen girls.
While teen birth rates for other demographic groups have declined, the birth rate for Latina teens has actually increased.
And teen births no doubt explain the disproportionately high rates of poverty and school drop out - Latino teens are more likely to drop out of high school than are white or African-American youth.
Non-English speakers face added challenges
Anti-illegal-immigrant groups multiply