Photos and words by Mia Milosevic
Karina Sorto-Kai, whose parents immigrated from El Salvador, grew up in a Hispanic community in Nassau County on Long Island. A CCNY film and video production major, Sorto-Kai knew from a young age that she wanted to seek out a different life path from what she was seeing around her. “Growing up, it was so common among my neighborhood to be pregnant starting in junior high school,” recalls Sorto-Kai. “I didn’t want to go down that road, because I saw how difficult it was. In a sense, it was always my worst nightmare.”
Now 26, Sorti-Kai hopes to pursue a career in photography and filmmaking. She insists she is at least five to 10 years from having children. “I want to graduate and establish myself in my field before having children.” she says. “I constantly think about having kids and being married, but I feel that it would side track me for my dreams.”
More and more young Latinx women are making the same choice.
According to a new study conducted by the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families, birth rates for Latinx women have fallen to an all-time low. The fertility rate for Hispanics in the United States — defined by demographers as people who report they are of Hispanic origin on birth certificates — fell by 31% from 2006 to 2017, compared to 5% for white women and 11% for black women. This shift is driving an overall drop in the U.S. birthrate.
A recent article on the topic in the New York Times reports that, “2017 had the country’s lowest rate since the government started keeping records.” The Times article also explains that two thirds of all Latinx people in the U.S. are American citizens, which was not the case a generation ago, and young American-born Hispanic women are now less likely to be poor and more likely to be educated than their mothers and grandmothers.
Sorto-Kai says this rings true to her experience. “When [my parents] came here, money was always tight,” she admits. “Having grown up in a family where money was always an issue, I know I don’t want my kids hearing arguments about money from their parents, and worrying about it for them.”
Cynthia Dunston, a film student of mixed Black and Puerto Rican descent, says her parents pushed her to pursue her education, stressing the importance of graduating from college. “My mother had kids starting at 19 years old,” says Dunston, 25. “I think that if I had gotten pregnant before I graduated even at the age that I am now, there would have been a disappointment.”
But even Latinx women who have not followed the trend, and are raising young children, understand the value in obtaining a degree. Carla Robles, a 29-year-old student of Dominican origin who is raising two daughters while attending classes, says nothing will stop her from graduating from CCNY in May. “My mother had me when she was 18 years old,” says Robles. “I wanted to finish school before having my daughters but I became pregnant, and I just kept pursuing my dream of getting my diploma. It’s difficult, but not impossible.”