Gracias Papi: Talking About the Unspeakable
Yaneth is 14 and looks 18. David is 29 and could pass for 20. David works for Yaneth's father. David's on the make, and Yaneth is more than a little interested.
The story has all the elements to make a steamy, sleazy telenovela on Spanish-language TV. But it's a comic book produced by Virginia's health department, part of a bold and refreshing effort to put aside politically correct language and confront a real cultural difference, one that clashes with American law and social standards.
The comic book, an online version of which is here, will be distributed across the state next month. It's the latest step in a campaign that Virginia began in 2004 called "Isn't she a little young?" Designed to raise awareness among Hispanic youth about statutory rape laws and give Latino girls some tools with which to say no to older guys, the campaign is aimed at kids who have come to the U.S. from countries where older men date girls fairly commonly.
The comic book is the work of Robert Franklin, an outreach coordinator for the state health department who realized that Virginia's efforts weren't reaching Latinos. Franklin checked hospital records in the state and found that more than half of Latina teen mothers had been sexually active with older men.
Nationwide, Latinas lead in teen births, with a birth rate twice that of the national average for teens ages 15 to 19. Federal numbers show Mexican and Puerto Rican girls are at the highest level of risk. In Virginia, while the overall teen birth rate has been dropping steadily for both blacks and non-Hispanic whites, the rate shot up by 50 percent for Latin teens from 1990 to 2003, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy told the Associated Press.
The fotonovela--a comic book with live actors in the place of drawn characters--is not exactly a naturalistic performance. The dialogue is stilted and will elicit a fair amount of groans from kids who might read it: "I'm texting David," Yaneth announces, as if to a technomoron. "Quien sabe? I'd meet him anywhere!"
Still, it's a neat little morality play, if overly optimistic--in real life, not too many Davids would back off so graciously when confronted by the dad, not enough dads would react as calmly and wisely as this one, and not enough Yaneths would recoil at some sweet-looking guy's "What does that short skirt mean?" and demand to be taken home.
Virginia's government gets so much grief for insisting on tucking the state's collective heads in the sand on social issues, so it's a pleasure to see the state out front on a touchy issue such as this.
By Marc Fisher |
March 22, 2007; 7:50 AM ET
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