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What We Need to Remember this National Hispanic Nurses Day


What We Need to Remember this National Hispanic Nurses Day

Author: Melina Lopez*

There’s no better time to think about what being a bisexual Mexican and Puerto Rican nurse means to me than when Bisexuality Awareness Week, Latinx Heritage Month and National Hispanic Nurses day happen at the same time. It’s hard, though, because I can never reflect on these identities as mutually exclusive. It’s even harder when I think about how within the greater scope in which these identities exist (i.e. bisexuality in the LGBTQ community, heritage in the Latinx community, and nurses in the healthcare field), each of these identities have long, deeply rooted histories of erasure and subjugation. 

For bisexuality, it’s the tendency to question the legitimacy of the sexual orientation and consider it less valid than being gay or lesbian. For heritage, it’s the phenotypical hierarchies of power that values lighter-skinned over darker-skinned Latinx people in sociopolitical contexts. For nurses, specifically Latinx nurses, it’s the use of gender as a rationalization to subject nurses to the male-dominated field that is medicine. 

I don’t have the privilege, or rather the ability, to separate these histories from one another since separating these realities would mean erasing their marginalized truth. In thinking about these identities, I’d like to specifically hone in on the role of U.S. imperialism in the history of professional nursing in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico, formerly a colony of Spain, became and still remains a colony of the U.S. under American Protestant missionaries seeking to bring salvation and civilization to Puerto Rico in the early 20th century by introducing hospitals and nursing schools to the island. These nursing schools adopted racist admission policies that excluded Afro-Puerto Rican women by arguing that allowing women of color into the nursing program was not in the best interest of the hospital, nor to the women. White nursing advocates for these ‘whites-only’ admission policies reveal an interesting acknowledgment, compliance, and continuation of women of color’s marginalization in nursing because they claim that Afro-Puerto Rican admission into these schools would not only undo all of the work to advance white women’s political power as nurses, their admission would be unfair to them because they would still be considered socially and professionally inferior to white nurses based on the island’s classification of race, which is a fluid hierarchy based on phenotypical registers of Blackness where money and education have the power to essentially ‘whiten’ Puerto Ricans and grant them higher social status. 

These imperial and local ideologies of race, in conjunction with the belief that Afro-Puerto Rican’s presence in nursing would weaken the white nurses’ political power in health, suggest that gender and social class superseded race when it came to the professionalization of Puerto Rican nursing. It’s important that we acknowledge these intersections this National Hispanic Nurses Day to show that while yes, Latinx nurses have made incredible strides in the advancement of nursing and deserve to be celebrated, we cannot deny how the execution of Nightingale nursing was done at the expense of Latinx, specifically Afro-Latinx, women. 

So, as we celebrate Bisexuality awareness week, Latinx heritage month, and National Hispanic Nurses Day, I urge you to pay special attention to the role American nurses have played in establishing the state of nursing in Latin America. I also caution us from celebrating the myth of homogenized, universal “Latinidad” this Latinx heritage month. Rather, let us all look at the US role as facilitators of these countries’ socialization into American norms and practices through the nursing field. 

Ellen Walsh, “’ Called to Nurse’: Nursing Race, and Americanization in Early 20th Century Puerto Rico, Nursing History Review 26 (2018): 138-171. 



* Melina Lopez is an inaugural NSRH Karen Edlund Fellow, providing insights to the NSRH Community for Bisexual Awareness Week (September 16-23) and Latinx Heritage Month (September 15- October 15)

Get To Know Our Fellows Series: Leslie Chase

This week NSRH’s student engagement coordinator, Rosie Laine, spoke with Leslie about what brought her to nursing and SRH specifically, and about our monthly value (Power) 

Stay tuned to learn about the amazing work Leslie is doing to support sex and bodyworkers through her Nurse Leader Project in Karen Edlund Fellowship 

NSRH: Tell us a little bit about your SRH journey? What led you to study nursing and how did you become interested in the intersection of nursing and SRH?

Leslie Chase: I always knew that I wanted to be in the medical field from a really young age. I think what really led me to sexual and reproductive health is I graduated college the month after the 2016 election, with my first undergraduate degree. I had always been comfortable talking about sex and answering my friends’ questions, giving them someone to talk to about topics t they were embarrassed about, or they felt a lot of unease about. Right after the 2016 election, I became really motivated to work in something that made a difference. I ended up applying to Planned Parenthood, and I knew that’s exactly where I wanted to be. I’ve been working with Planned Parenthood since I graduated with my undergraduate degree, and it’s done nothing but bolster my interest in SRH. There are so many avenues within it, and you can see really concretely where you’re making a difference in people’s lives. It just felt like a very natural progression of things. 

NSRH: You mentioned that you were interested in nursing, or the medical field, from a pretty young age. What led you to think about this health education degree as something to supplement? 

Leslie Chase: I think really it’s my work with Planned Parenthood. I think often people think of nurses as individual contributors. What I really liked about my exposure to Planned Parenthood is that because of my work on the administrative side, I got to see how organizations like that enact change on a high level, and the impact that you can have to change an entire health landscape with the community. I really liked that idea. I liked my master’s program in health education because it helps you learn how to take your knowledge of being an individual contributor, to assessing the needs of an entire population, or community, or region. I learned how to build projects and programs that have a high impact and impact a lot of people. I liked that perspective of service. 

NSRH: To play on the NSRH Value of the Month - Power - if you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

Leslie Chase: I think teleportation. I love to travel, and I love the experience without all the cost, waiting around, and the carbon emissions. So I think teleportation.