February 13, 2020

This is a series created and published by Generation Progress to highlight the young and diverse individuals who are dedicated to fighting for the rights and safety of immigrant communities throughout the U.S., and to share their perspectives on ways in which young people can be powerful forces for change.  The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interview subjects. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Generation Progress.

Dr. Johana Oviedo

Johana Oviedo emigrated from Colombia to the U.S at a young age and grew up in a predominantly immigrant community in Miami, FL. She was undocumented for some time after she arrived, but, in time, was able to obtain citizenship. As she grew up, she recognized that her community lacked sufficient medical care and faced difficulty accessing medical resources due to low incomes, lack of insurance coverage, citizenship status, and language barriers. When Johana decided to pursue a career in medicine, she was motivated by her strong desire to help improve conditions for immigrant communities like the one she grew up in.

Reproductive Justice is a framework for discussion and advocacy that centers the right to have children, not have children, and/or parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments. Reproductive Justice is not limited to abortion—it extends past that to the right to self-determination more broadly.

Johana is now an Obstetrician-Gynecologist with a specialty in Family Planning. Through her work Johana fights for basic rights and freedoms, such as access to health care, the ability to parent with dignity, and the right to be safe and free—all of which are essential tenets of both immigration justice and reproductive justice. Johanna ensures immigrant patients are properly accommodated when they come to her office so they don’t experience the same economic and social barriers to accessing health services that she saw growing up. Johana is working to ensure everyone can access the care they need to lead healthy and prosperous lives.

We talked with Johana to learn more about why she is in the fight and what YOU can do to be a part of it. Check out her Q&A below:

When did you get involved in the immigrants’ rights movement, and why did you decide to go into the kind of work you are doing now?

I am an immigrant who feels incredibly grateful for the sacrifices my mother made for me and for the support I received growing up in America. I was born in Colombia, and my mom brought me to the United States when I was nine years old. She wanted me to have the opportunities she never had growing up poor in Colombia. She didn’t graduate high school. She wanted my life to be different. I know that we were undocumented for some time, but thankfully our status changed. Because of this, I was able to receive financial aid, graduate college, and become a doctor.

I always wanted to provide care to communities that resembled the one that I grew up in, and this continues to be a driving force in what I do. Medical encounters can be scary, but it is rewarding to speak to patients in their native language and to be able to empathize with their struggles.

I remember going with my grandmother to the doctor as a kid and being the interpreter during those encounters. I know that was not ok. When I have patients that speak other languages aside from English or Spanish, I make sure to wait for a phone interpreter no matter how long it takes. I refuse to use their partners, friends, or family members as interpreters. My patients should be able to have all their questions answered accurately. They deserve information.

What is particularly unique about the work you’re doing at your organization, and how does it reflect your values as a young person trying to affect change in immigration policy? What are you working on right now that the media is—or should be—paying attention to?

I am an Obstetrician-Gynecologist currently specializing in Family Planning, which includes a focus on contraception and abortion. I am also a fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, an organization of physicians who are advocating to improve access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

The majority of my patients are Latinx/Hispanic immigrants, underinsured/uninsured, and low income. I see firsthand the hoops they have to jump through to get the medical care they need. Undocumented immigrants often defer care because they fear jeopardizing their own and their family’s futures in this country. No one should forgo seeing a doctor because they are afraid. I wish all my patients had equal access to quality medical care regardless of their race, income, immigration status, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

I also often see patients from countries in Latin America, where abortion is illegal. I am privileged to be able to provide my patients with abortion care. My patients know what is best for their lives and their families, and fortunately I can provide the care they deserve.

I recently had a patient seeking a medication abortion who came to our clinic with her adolescent daughter. My patient’s daughter kept asking me if this was legal, and if her mother would get in trouble. They had emigrated from a country where abortion is illegal without exceptions. I was able to explain to her that her mother had every right to have an abortion and that she could have a medication abortion. My patient and her daughter were relieved. A huge weight had been lifted off their shoulders.

What kind of future for immigrant communities are you working towards? How do you think the movement will help create a better future for immigrant communities? 

My hope is for a future in which all people, including immigrants, feel safe and empowered to live their healthiest lives. All people should be offered the full spectrum of health care choices, and being able to make decisions about whether or when to have children is a huge part of that. When people are denied health care, including reproductive health care, they suffer—and so do their families.

 Why should young adults, especially those who aren’t directly impacted by current immigration policies, get involved in the kind of work you are doing? 

When barriers stand in the way of comprehensive reproductive health care, individuals have greater difficulty in accomplishing their life and economic goals. This affects their communities at large. Young people should understand that barriers to reproductive health care affect all people, but people of color and poor people suffer most. It is the responsibility of all of us to stand up for what is right.

If you are an immigrant, how do you hope to see allies demonstrate support? If you are not an immigrant yourself, how do you demonstrate your solidarity with immigrants at this time in our country? 

As an immigrant, I feel that the most important thing allies can do is to speak openly and supportively of the immigrants who are important in their lives. Sharing stories about real people making strides for a better future— the families, the children, the ones working harder than you could ever imagine—can change minds. More Americans need to understand the concrete impact that immigration policy has on so many people in this country.

Get updates on these issues and more! Sign up to receive email updates on the latest actions, events, and updates impacting 18- to 35-year-olds.