Children bustled into the warm halls of Cesar Chavez School with cheeks and noses chilled pink by the 23-degree morning. Parents offered rushed hugs and jogged back to cars idling outside. One mother reminded her son as she hustled away, “don’t forget your coat after school!”
A few parents stayed behind. They walked down the yellow and pea-green corridor, past the kitchen with its hundreds of hamburger buns, down a cool concrete staircase to classroom 11.
Miguel Canales and Molly Franks, of the Multnomah County Health Department, along with volunteer Veronica Gomez, welcomed them. It was the third class in a series on sexual health and how to talk to their kids about sexuality.
“A lot of people talk about how little sexual education they had when they were younger and how scared and alone and ashamed they felt,” Franks says. “Many parents want it to be different for their kids.”
Opciones y Educación, or OYE, aims to promote more open dialog about sexuality, gender roles, and LGBT issues in Latino communities. It is a coalition of organizations helping parents and young people feel more comfortable talking with one another about sexual health.
Health Department staffer Ismael Garcia recently wrapped up a series on sexual health for Latino youth called “Cuídate” (“Take care of yourself”) with eighth-graders at Cesar Chavez.
OYE’s next four-session class for parents begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan.15 at Cesar Chavez K-8 School, 5103 N. Willis Blvd. in Portland.
The class is free, conducted in Spanish, and open to anyone in the community who wants to learn more about sexual health.
The sessions address puberty, sexually transmitted infections, preventing unplanned pregnancy and community resources for youth and families. They help parents practice talking about subjects they may not be used to discussing, and help people reflect on how our cultures and society influence our health.
“There’s a stereotype that Latinos are so conservative. They tell me, ‘We never talk about this,’” Franks says. “What I find is that people are really eager to talk. They say this is very needed. We can discuss things that normally are uncomfortable, and we can have some fun with it.”
During one exercise, Franks holds two fingers in the air. Canales stands beside her and tears open a purple condom.
“Check the expiration date and open it with your fingers,” he says as he rolls the slippery latex over Molly’s fingers.
Franks dumps a paper bag of multicolored condoms on the table. They pair up and giggle, covering their neighbor’s fingers in yellow, red and green, then slipping them off, tying a knot at the base and tossing them in the trash.
“Remember not to flush them,” Canales says. “It can clog the toilet.”
The levity makes participants comfortable enough to talk about the hard moments in life; things they wish could have been different.
“I’m Catholic and the priests say 'No contraceptives. It’s a sin,'” one mother says. When her teenage son came to her asking about sex, she forbade him from having sex outside of marriage or using contraception.
“I did the wrong thing because he got his girlfriend pregnant because of the advice I gave,” she told the class.
Participant Maria Guadalupe Cortez, who has a teenage daughter, says every parent should take this class.
“People are embarrassed to talk about these things or they don’t know much about them,” Cortez says. “No one talked to us about this [when we were young]. It was taboo. So we also feel embarrassed to talk about it.”
But the class has taught her things she didn’t know, and made her comfortable enough to talk to her daughter.
“And now she says, ‘Mom, are you talking about this again?!'” Cortez says and cracks a wide smile. “Now I know how to start a conversation. I didn’t know how to do that before.”
Questions? Contact OYE at 503-806-3946 or email OYEoregon@gmail.com.