• Cicely Blain

Julia Santana Parrilla on Reproductive Justice through Storytelling

Updated: Aug 26, 2019


Representation isn’t an easy thing to come by – and this is especially true for marginalized individuals. Intentionally or not, some initiatives tend to favour the pervading societal norms, forgetting about those who don’t fit those restrictions in the process. Creator of So, I had an abortion… and Expressions of Self Julia Santana Parrilla hopes to inspire a shift towards a more open-minded way of thinking.

Motivated by her own experiences, Parrilla’s desire to champion inclusion is twofold: So, I had an abortion… aims to rewrite and correct the narrative of “it’s a [white] woman’s choice" and centre intersectionality in the reproductive justice movement - "a term coined by Black women in the 90s,” while Expressions of Self prioritizes “the stories of people who self-identify as marginalized in the interest of challenging our relationships to/with dominant social narratives (femininity, masculinity, belonging, intimacy).”

Parrilla is well aware that correcting this imbalance is a difficult feat, considering just how embedded they are in society. “In both initiatives attitudes shaped by supremacy are pervasive,” she explains. “Still, it’s most palpable in my ‘So, I had an abortion…’ work, as Reproductive Justice is just as much about racial, economic, gender, sexual, ability, environmental and social justice at large as it is about equitable access to pregnancy prevention (including inclusive and sex-positive education), care, and/or termination (and childcare).”

Given their vulnerable nature, Parrilla’s initiatives have also experienced struggle along the way, among which include garnering public participation and understanding the limitations of her knowledge on certain issues. “This work is about public education,” she explains. “So other challenges I have include the limitations of my knowledge, the inexperience and unseen areas of my privileges and the awareness that I am not a suitable megaphone for all topics.” Taking care of her mental health has been difficult at times too. “As the sole organizer of both storytelling initiatives, having people who oppose what I do with fervor is a constant challenge.”

As far as what other organizations can do to help rewrite this narrative? Ask more questions. “Always ask: ‘who is missing?’ and ‘how can our language indicate that we are mindful of the diversity and complexity of lived experiences (and the needs therein),’” she says. “Oftentimes, organizations get bogged down in a singular mission, siloing themselves, excluding people who need them and justifying it as needing to position themselves as experts in X (women’s health – which in North America is white-centric) and in the interest of changing policies (abortion access). By doing so, they do a disservice to us all.”

Parrilla hopes to continue increasing awareness on the essentiality of giving voice to groups that may not fall into the normal categories proposed by society. This fall, Expressions of Self will be holding a live storytelling series. “This 3-parter invites people to share their relationships to/with survival, resilience and healing. All will have counselors with trauma-informed training in the space to ensure the safety of all event attendees.”

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