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Hispanic Heritage Month Brown Girl Spotlight: Juana Rosa CaverO

Juana Rosa Cavero is the Director of the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom .

What is your first political memory that made you say, “I love politics.”

My love of politics grew from the conversations my family would have at the dinner table. As you know in Latino cultures – mine being Peruvian – after dinner folks will stay at the table for the “sobremesa”, which are hours-long conversations filled with laughter, discussions, debates, and check-ins. In my house, these conversations would be led mostly by my dad and grandfather, who are very political. So, our conversations revolved around, “what did the president say”, “what did the congress do”, “who led the coup in the 70’s and how that impacted so-and-so’s lives”. But what fascinated me the most was that something so far away or what I thought to be incredibly distant (government) could make it to my dinner table. In my mind those unapproachable yet, important people in government were doing things that directly affected me. Their actions increased the price of gasoline or the price of groceries. Additionally, we were a military family and I distinctly remember feeling that Bush was deciding if my father - and all the other Marines on base - were going to the Gulf War. I can’t say that I fell in love with politics at those dinner table conversations, but I knew that politics was real, and I needed to pay attention.

What was your first job in politics and how did you land it?

My training in politics and advocacy is where my love for politics was cultivated. Beginning in college I was elected to the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Student Union, where I practiced my leadership in politics and advocacy for the $24 million budget I oversaw. Here I gained an appreciation for the role of politics in determining the allocation of monies, the process of prioritizing, engaging communities, and the need for research – this duty of care was fulfilling. Soon after, I was nominated to serve on a Board of a non-profit, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). Eventually becoming one the youngest Board presidents, COLOR gave me the Reproductive Justice framework which continues to inform how I show up in politics and how I make decisions as a policymaker. From there I went on to statewide legislative advocacy as a fervent advocate for policies and in support of elected officials that make real improvements for equity and justice in communities of color, and for women and young people.

What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

One of my biggest challenges came later in my career when I was elected in 2014 to the Mid-City Neighborhood Council to represent a constituency of 50,000 in Los Angeles. As an alumnus of Vote, Run, Lead I knew why women and especially mothers don’t run for office. A lot of the hesitation comes from the lack of hours available in one day - 24 hours is not enough! Yet, I ran, canvased the neighborhood and won. Eventually, I was elected as President of the Board. With at least one meeting each week, plus board management, constituent concerns, advocacy efforts, my regular job and home-making, I was facing stressful evenings, fatigue and anxiety. The “I can do it all” attitude is exhausting. Frankly, it creates unrealistic expectations of an unattainable “super-mom” that does not exist. So, I leaned into my family and especially my kids. They were all coming with me on this journey. At our monthly Board meetings, I intentionally set up a table for my kids behind me and the Board. As I chaired the meetings, you would see my children and they could also see the entire room, as well as who was talking. It is important that adults learn to do the people’s business in the presence of children. And as a mother of two boys, it is critical that boys see women in positions of power. Ultimately, the council and my constituents got all my leadership because I was fully present. (Also, it is a great facilitation technique to have kids present at stakeholder meetings, because meetings must stay on-time and people must respect the ground rules).

One anecdote I have is attending a hearing which I was not chairing. My son looks over at me and asks, “Why aren’t you talking?” He thought that I ran all the meetings I was at.

What has been the proudest moment in your political career (thus far)?

The saying about the “political being personal” resonates with me because I connect my political activism to a sense of responsibility to leverage my privilege (bilingual, college-educated, politically savvy) to help my community make real improvements for our lives. That said, my foremost responsibility is to my family and they gave me my proudest moment recently in Sacramento. I was part of an advocacy event sponsored by Black Women for Wellness Advocacy Project to address Black Maternal Health. I took my two sons and I was pregnant with my third child. That day my sons independently prepped their own statements for the legislative visits and testified in Committee about how this bill would keep me and the baby healthy. They took every part of the day seriously and we're proud of what they accomplished. At 6 and 8-year-old, they inspire me to do my best and use my voice.

This experience made 2019 even more memorable because I was also a recipient of the “Unsung Hero” Award from the California Legislate Black Caucus for my work as Director of the only statewide coalition for reproductive freedom (California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom) and on the neighborhood council.

Why is it so critical, now more than ever, for Hispanic, Latina, and Afro-Latina women to get involved in politics?

Because the solutions are already in us. Our ancestors left us with so much wisdom that all we need to do is act on it. Women of color have been leading movements for generations. Think of the original midwives in the US (Native and Black women). In most, if not all, social justice movements, it was women who initiated the fight for justice. I believe that we have the solutions in our bones. Black women, including Afro-Latinas, carry the Democratic Party, and Latinas influence their entire families and can make significant impacts on an election in their communities. We have an opportunity, especially now, when our families are so blatantly being attacked, to demand justice. The family values of Latinos can be a catalyst to demand better from our policymakers.

What should politicians be doing better when it comes to engaging the Hispanic community?

I see two important elements that should be addressed.

1. Recognize the diversity in origin, age, and immigration of the Latino community. We are not a “one size fits all” kind of people. Although women are leaders in their communities – they come from different communities. Peruvians and Mexicans have different experiences as immigrants in the US. From how they came to the US to the Spanish dialect, they are different people and need to be engaged differently.

2. The experts are already in your community. It is like when you see a horrible translation. Bad translations are now longer excusable because Latinos are everywhere – we are involved in Party politics and advocacy. If you can’t find someone to review your translation – you are not looking hard enough, and your campaign is not ready.

What advice do you have for those trying to enter into politics?

Bring your people with you. Just as I took my kids to the meetings, I also support my musician husband in organizing a local music festival, and my mom to table for my non-profit. Rather than your family and friends being your support, you are an ambassador to engage others in politics. For me, this perspective reminds me that my community made me who I am and I giving back by bringing others along.

With a strong commitment to reproductive justice, Juana Rosa Cavero has dedicated her professional career and community advocacy to projects that make real improvements to people’s lives. This vision has been crafted by roles within reproductive justice, public health, Latino/a policy research and civil rights advocacy. She gained her experience within the US and globally with organizations such as Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), Pacific Institute for Women’s Health, Advancement Project, and Women’s Policy Institute of California. Currently, she is Director of the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (CCRF), the largest statewide alliance dedicated to reproductive freedom in California. CCRF centers on building a movement that increases the capacity and visibility of the over 40-member organizations to fully participate in determining and achieving reproductive freedom. Since 2014, Juana Rosa has also served as President of the Mid-City Neighborhood Council, an elected position representing a constituency of 50,000 in Los Angeles. In 2019, Juana Rosa was appointed as a Delegate to the CA Democratic Party. She also maintains a side-hustle: taking care of three kids and a partner who call her “mimi” and demand that she read The Avengers-themed comic books over and over and over every, single, day.  

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