Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Jose Pablo Rojas, but everyone calls me JP. I currently live in Brownsville, Texas, and have lived here almost all of my life. I grew up crossing the US-Mexico border almost on a daily basis, back and forth. My family is originally from Mexico, and we immigrated to the United States. So although I was born in the United States, my family comes from Mexico and our culture is very much that of a traditional Mexican household. I describe myself as American by birth and Mexican by way of being.
I am currently an undergraduate student and the student government president at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). My major is biology with a focus in medical entomology. Not only that, but I recently added a minor in political science. I would like to try to go into medicine and apply to medical school during the next cycle and eventually be able to intertwine my political, scientific and medical interests.
I want to shed some light on the issues happening in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) regarding healthcare because healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. Nowadays, healthcare is treated as a privilege and many people in my community don’t even have access to basic treatments.
What is your experience with sex education in Texas?
Well, Texas has not done the best job in spreading awareness or promoting anything regarding sex education. Sex education is seen by some people as something taboo that shouldn’t even be talked about – especially here in the Valley. In the Valley, we have a culture that stems from the conservative Mexican background. This culture then pushes the idea that “there is no need to talk about it.”
For example, many of my cousins were able to get birth control because, fortunately, they have understanding parents in comparison to some of my friends. When my friends asked their parents for birth control, their parents would respond with, “why do you need birth control” or “you shouldn’t be having sex.” But many people don’t know that birth control can be beneficial in other ways such as alleviating cramps and regulating a menstrual cycle.
Growing up, I attended a lot of elementary schools because I moved a lot because of my migrant status. Something I noticed is that the elementary schools would touch on puberty in 5th grade. This topic was covered in 10 minutes with the help of a video about what boys and girls go through. They didn’t talk about sex, they didn’t talk about how to prevent STIs, STDs, or pregnancy. The school’s main form of prevention is abstinence. This is very unfortunate because abstinence is not feasible; we are humans. Whenever sex education is touched on in the RGV, it is always geared towards cisgender, heterosexual individuals. The LGBTQIA+ community is never even thought of in those conversations. Additionally, textbooks never really talk about sex education. In middle and elementary school, I experienced that students were not given the resources to open up a book and see how the reproductive system works. Most students did not know in detail about their reproductive system until late high school, or sometimes even until university.
What do you want teens right now to know?
The internet can be a very useful resource, but don’t rely on it too much because not everything on the internet is correct. I would also tell my younger self to not believe everything on the internet and take the information on the internet with a grain of salt. From my personal experience, there was no sex education taught to me and there was no sex education geared towards me or my community. I had to rely heavily on the internet and I had to rely heavily on some older friends. Although you can get recommendations or advice from a friend that’s older, they’re not a licensed professional.
What I recommend is seeking places that allow youth to be able to go to the facilities and inquire about sex education. They may even be able to help you speak to someone that you are able to create that trust with. I would also say, speak about sex education with your parents. For many topics, you might have to teach the older generation that these things are going on, and it’s best to speak about these things instead of just leaving it, and never knowing what could happen. One of the reasons HIV is so prevalent in youth nowadays is because they don’t feel comfortable speaking about this topic with their parents and their parents don’t want to address it.
What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?
Access to resources such as condoms and knowing what preventive measures are available would have made me feel more supported. That way, I would have known about those resources. Also, knowing someone else that knew about resources, like a friend that could have told me, “hey there are places you can get condoms from” or “hey I know these organizations where you can go get tested.” Additionally, I believe that if my school was a little more transparent and understanding that everyone is different and everybody acts differently, then my decisions on sex and relationships would have been more supported. I believe that it’s better to be transparent about these issues and have the resources available than having someone get an STI or have an unwanted pregnancy.
Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were working through these decisions about sex and relationships?
There were two services that helped me. One was UTRGV Health Services and the other one was Valley Aids Council. I went to get tested for STIs at UTRGV Health Services. Although I was very well-versed in the understanding of STIs, there was still this thing in the back of my head telling me, “shoot, I probably have something.” The fear of contracting an STI all probably comes from stigma that has been developed throughout many years in my community that sex is taboo and that it shouldn’t happen – especially if it’s with someone of the same sex. The UTRGV Health service really helped me because it made me realize that I was overthinking. That service then referred me to the Valley Aids Council so that I could have regular check-ups if I ever needed to get tested again. They were so helpful because they were able to get me on PrEP. Now I am able to be a little bit more self-aware, and also have all of this knowledge that they were able to give me. I can now spread this information around to others, and they can seek the same help that I found.
What do you wish you had, what would have been helpful, or what support do you think was missing that would have been most helpful to you?
I feel lucky because I can go to my parents with any of my problems, and they would understand. Sometimes situations came up where I had the opportunity to re-educate them, and then they were able to offer advice to me because they know a lot from their past experiences.
How do you wish to help others in your community?
I wish to help others in my community through spreading awareness and educating others. I want to educate those that have been limited to a certain way of thinking about sexuality or sex education, because their way of thinking can cause a lot of harm to others. For example, I wish to help the older generation understand that having access to knowledge about preventative measures relating to sex should no longer be taboo.