I wrote about my introduction to working with immigrants in ICE Burns: My Early Doula Clients. In 1990-1991, I volunteered as a doula at a Planned Parenthood Prenatal Program in San Diego, California.
El Paso, Texas
When I moved back to Orlando in 1993, I stopped for 3 months at Casa de Nacimiento, a birth center (now closed) in El Paso, Texas. 99.9% of the clients coming through Casa were immigrant women from Mexico, usually Ciudad Juárez. My Spanish, school-acquired, then practiced with the doula clients in San Diego, became second-nature in El Paso.
While Casa gave me an amazing education and taught me many skills, there are lingering worries about being a White person using the immigrant women as practice specimens… a reverse voluntourism experience. I will write about these feelings separately; they are deep and complicated.
I was not as woke about the White Savior Complex as I am now, so merely tried to be the best student midwife I could be. I loved these women and their families. I loved talking to them, learning about their Mexican lives (which were slightly different than the Mexicans’ experiences in San Diego). I purposefully kept my heart open, wanting to be a positive birth worker for the women coming and going through the center’s doors. Those 3 months in El Paso remain some of my most wondrous life memories. While most people despise the city, I found it alive with culture and magic.
Getting from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso for prenatal appointments was often a hit or miss experience for the birth center’s clients depending on which officer was patrolling the border bridge that day.
“It had not been easy: The visa that allowed her to cross back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. is expensive, and she had had to prove she had money in the bank and a reason to return to Mexico to be granted it. The lines at the border between Juarez and El Paso can take hours, and border agents are said to sometimes tear up the visas of women who are noticeably pregnant. Some women end up giving birth on the bridge between Juarez and El Paso because of delays….”
When the border was closed to even those with visas, the pregnant and laboring women, with their families, trudged through the Rio Grande River… day and night… to cross into the United States. They often walked miles to reach the birth center.
Crossing the Rio Grande was bad enough, but the water was/is disgustingly polluted. American maquiladoras rose on Mexican soil years ago as a way to bypass manufacturing regulations implemented in the United States. With so little oversight, the maquiladoras also freely dump their waste, including poisonous chemicals, directly into the river… the same one laboring women were walking through. On several occasions, we would give a river-soaked woman a shower before she felt clean enough to have her midwifery appointment or birth her baby.
I remember one visit down to the edge of the river to help a nursing mom up the slope, the surface of the water had an oil (or gasoline) slick on it as well as scum like this:
All because Border Patrol would feel holier-than-thou and not let people over the bridge even with valid visas.
I’ve not been to El Paso or Ciudad Juárez since 2002, but the border topic, with #45 in power, has a new focus.
In Raids, they are knocking on doors, stopping people in shopping centers, going to workplaces, setting up checkpoints to examine papers and licenses and other vile ways to take, what seems to include, non-criminal folks who have been in this country sometimes for 20+ years.
Hiba Ghalib, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, said the ICE detentions were causing “mass confusion” in the immigrant community. She said she had heard reports of ICE agents going door-to-door in one largely Hispanic neighborhood, asking people to present their papers.
“People are panicking,” Ghalib said. “People are really, really scared.”
I cannot even imagine how terrifying it must be to hear footsteps outside your door, then even worse if there is a knock.
My Early History with Immigrant Women
I’ve spent an enormous amount of time with birthing immigrant families, most from Mexico, but others from all over Central and South America, as well. From Orlando, El Paso and San Diego, I was a midwife and doula to several hundred immigrants over a 20-year period.
My first experiences were when I volunteered to work at Planned Parenthood as a doula to their (99%+) Spanish-speaking-only prenatal care clients. My Spanish was school-learned at that time; I became fluent over the years. I made many language mistakes along the way.
While the women did not all work, a myriad did, usually cleaning houses and/or being a nanny for White, often English-speaking-only people. The partners (almost always husbands) worked anywhere they could. Plenty were migrant farmworkers.
A White Observer
My care as a doula began by going to all prenatal visits during the pregnancy and visiting their home twice, making sure they had the supplies necessary for the new baby. It was not uncommon to take mom to the store, kids in tow, and buy her bags of groceries because there was nothing but rice in the cupboards. Everything from toilet paper to diapers were needed by my clients. I foraged wherever I could to find what they needed.
It had to have been difficult to have (yet another) White person enter their home and see how they lived. Would I judge? (No!) Would I think they were bad parents and turn them in to CPS? (No.) It was nice after the first couple of women let the others know I was a decent person and could be trusted.
My role as doula continued by going to the client’s home when she was in early labor, then taking her to the hospital as labor progressed. (Doulas do not transport clients anymore because of liability.)
Once in the hospital, I remained with the client and her partner (if he chose to come and/or stay in the room) until after the baby was born, including helping her get started with breastfeeding. I translated from Spanish to English so the nurses and doctors knew what she was saying and needing.
You know how many women choose an epidural for pain relief in labor? Back in 1990, an epidural was not an option for women on Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid).
Do you hear that?
Women on Medi-Cal could not get an epidural for pain relief.
If my immigrant clients thought they might want an epidural, they had to give a $1000 down-payment or it was simply not an option.
The controversy over Medi-Cal rates was highlighted further through news stories about physicians charging Medi-Cal recipients for services. The Los Angeles Times reported on the practice of some physicians and hospitals illegally forcing Medi-Cal beneficiaries to pay cash for epidural anesthesia during childbirth. The physicians named in the story maintained that they had to demand payment from the patients to cover their costs because Medi-Cal payments were insufficient.
My History with Immigrants
Over the years, I worked at Planned Parenthood, overseeing one of their Prenatal Programs, then, in 1993 and again from 2000-2001, went to Casa de Nacimiento in El Paso, Texas, my path towards becoming a midwife. In 1994, I worked under a CDC grant at the Farmworker Association of Florida as a Spanish-speaking HIV/STD educator for female migrant farmworkers.
As we watch the decreasing rights for immigrants in the US, ICE hunting men, women & children down for deportation, my heart aches. I know, because I know, some of the people being shoved out of our country are the women whose hands I held during labor, the babies-turned-children-turned-teens I helped into the world and the fathers who took care of their families working the fields and doing whatever they could to pay the bills.
I am watching the Women’s March on Washington and while I had learned about Intersectional Feminismpreviously, seeing how women’s lives overlap with race, religion, genders, abilities, histories (jail, being on welfare, etc.) and more, live right in front of me, is profound.
And then, as I am writing this, I see that intersectionality itself has been a controversial part of the Women’s March! Well, the organizers made it clear, to me at least, that intersectionality is a major part of the event.
It did not come without conflict, even causing white women to stay away from the March after they felt left out of the planning and implementation of the event.
“Intersectionality simply means that there are lots of different parts to our womanhood,” Brittney Cooper, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University, explained. “And those parts — race, gender, sexuality, and religion, and ability — are not incidental or auxiliary. They matter politically.”
So, reading about intersectionality in general and the March in particular, I am learning the history.
Crenshaw also pointed out that she came up with intersectionality to address a specific legal problem: As she put it, “To capture the applicability of black feminism to anti-discrimination law.” An example she frequently cites in explaining the need for intersectionality is the 1976 case Degraffenreid v. General Motors, in which five black women sued General Motors for both race and gender discrimination.
I know that understanding where intersectionality comes from gives me context from which to pull.
I was raised completely different than who I am now. As a young girl, I learned the ways of the white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied and middle-class world. Yet I am a super-fat mother & grandmother, a femme Dyke, Cubanx/Latinx (knowing virtually nothing about my culture), mentally ill, disabled, a-theist, sex worker, non-TERF feminist who loves a Muslim man and who learnt Spanish as an adult. I don’t know how I would figure out my intersections without all those labels… and the ones I forgot to list.
Watching the end of the March’s rally, I am incredibly happy to see the wide variety of women represented , many of whom do intersect with my identities.
I’m sure the arguments for and against the Women’s March on Washington are being formulated or written about even now, but I am extremely pleased… more than that… excited, energized, inspired… by the speakers, poets, musicians, singers and leaders who were on that stage today.
The day your so-called ally status can prevent a cop from developing irrational fears of Black people & prevent cops from going into itchy trigger finger mode is the day you might actually become a true ally. The day your so-called ally status you seek can get a cop sentenced to prison for taking the life of an unarmed Black person, you might actually become a true ally. The day your so-called ally status decides to vote to funnel necessary funds into these Black communities that have high levels of Black on Black crime to create economic & educational opportunities so that Black people in these communities won’t have to resort to a life of crime, you might actually be a true ally. The day your so-called ally status walks up to a political figure with an agenda that is SPECIFICALLY catered towards BLACK PEOPLE that deals with OUR issues ONLY…not this “minority” double talk bullshit…you might actually become an ally. The day your so-called ally status allows for you come up from behind that computer or smartphone to venture off into the Black community to spend your money in Black establishments as much as possible in order to further help the wheels of Black economic empowerment roll along, you might actually become a true ally. Until you can actually do that, then what the hell are you actually good for?
Even to me, I sound like I am making excuses for not being more active, but I know these are my very real limitations: my disabilities (including my size), my mental illness and my financial status.
I cannot physically go out and demonstrate without being in amazing pain as well as the logistical issue of being trapped or hurt if a confrontation with people or the police occurred. I would be a liability instead of a help. Just writing that makes me sad, but I have to soothe my Activist Self with I have marched for LGBT rights, rights for people of size, against the Iraq war and any number of other causes and issues over the last 30+ years.
What I Can Do
I might forever remain on that bottom rung of the Ally ladder, the top being awarded the Ally Medal of Honor, but I can only do what I can do. (I keep repeating that to myself to assuage my feelings of inadequacy.)
I can write: Blog posts. Comments to other blog posts and articles. Tumblr posts. Tweets. Comments to both posts and Tweets.
I can give rides to those who need them to get them off the street and out of harm’s way.
I can get a tattoo that represents my support for different people and their fighting oppression. At the moment, the Safety Pin is the concept with an LGBTQIA+ rainbow, a Muslim flag…not sure what exactly yet, but something from Islam…, a peace sign, probably a rainbow one combining the two symbols… a #BLM and a flag for immigrants… probably Cuban because I am born of a Cuban Refugee even though they/we are not the Refugees of the Minute. I want a tattoo to show my support… a symbol of support that cannot be taken off like a safety pin. Hijabis, Blacks, People of Color, Disabled folks and many Gay or Transfolks cannot just take off the parts of themselves that bring, not just oppression, but (especially now), violence and death. And I have been looking deeply at my motivation for the tattoo. Is it to make me feel better with my White Guilt? Or is it really as a demonstration of solidarity. At this moment, I feel it is the latter. I have until December 6, 2016 to figure it out.
I don’t want anyone to feel alone, especially in this political climate.
Latinx is the gender-neutral alternative to Latino, Latina and even Latin@. Used by scholars, activists and an increasing number of journalists, Latinx is quickly gaining popularity among the general public. It’s part of a “linguistic revolution“ that aims to move beyond gender binaries and is inclusive of the intersecting identities of Latin American descendants. In addition to men and women from all racial backgrounds, Latinx also makes room for people who are trans, queer, agender, non-binary, gender non-conforming or gender fluid.
The “x” makes Latino, a masculine identifier, gender-neutral. It also moves beyond Latin@ – which has been used in the past to include both masculine and feminine identities – to encompass genders outside of that limiting man-woman binary.
Latinx, pronounced “La-teen-ex,” includes the numerous people of Latin American descent whose gender identities fluctuate along different points of the spectrum, from agender or nonbinary to gender non-conforming, genderqueer and genderfluid.
How I Got to “Latinx”
It took a lot of thought for me to get to the point of using Latinx in my verbal and written language.
I’ve identified as a Latina (Anglo-Cuban) for 55 years. And then my former partner Zack, my Beloved, came out trans and transitioned from female to male at the end of our marriage. I’ve been in the LGBT community since I was 17 years old, quite aware of the transfolks from drag queens (and yes, I know many do not include drag queens in the trans community), crossdressers, sissies and transitioning women, but hadn’t considered the dilemma of the gendered language of Spanish until quite recently.
I struggle with some LGBT PC issues, getting cranky at times with all the changes/additions of words for gender differences. Really had a hard time with the they-them-their pronoun discussions, but have chilled and found a place of peace with it as time has passed.
It is in my own acceptance, not even grudgingly, of the they-them-their pronouns that I chose to begin using Latinx instead of more gendered Latina and Latino.
Under the “degenderization” of Spanish advocated by proponents of words such as “Latinx” words such as latinos, hermanos, and niños would be converted into latinxs, hermanxs, and niñxs respectively. This is a blatant form of linguistic imperialism — the forcing of U.S. ideals upon a language in a way that does not grammatically or orally correspond with it.
I don’t anticipate my changing all the female and male pronouns when I speak Spanish, just the Latinx, but feel the linguistic imperialism moves in the other direction, actually re-writing, re-claiming the creation of language instead of using the language of the conquistadoran invaders from Spain… those who committed genocide of millions of people and wiping out hundreds of indigenous languages. I believe grabbing even a small bit of our heritage before the “conquest” of the Spaniards can only be a good thing.
Latinx It Is
So, as you read in my blog, you will my using Latinx. It’s a personal political statement I can make on behalf of the LGBTQ and Latinx community.
I initially wrote this on my Navelgazing Midwife blog, but it needed to be shifted over to here. It was written on July 4, 2016. I remain endlessly in awe of those that responded to the call for help in saving lives on June 12 and 13, 2016.
I have wanted to write this since 3am on June 12, and every day since, but it took awhile to even begin to formulate the right words; there was simply emotion and incredible sadness hindering my fingers.
I was a midwife and doula for 32 years, holding lives in my hands many times, resuscitating babies and stemming the tide of postpartum hemorrhage in mothers. Yet I have but a whiff of what our First Responders (and others named below) experienced the night of June 12 and all these days since. I have tried to think of a way to thank these people, have an intense urge to seek each one out and hold them close to my heart while whispering, “Thank you,” over and over again.
The scope of actions from those that were there… are there… for my gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and straight family, Latinx or Anglo, (for they are family to all of us) is enormous. The incredible amount of love, care, detail, sweat, tears and even shock must be acknowledged. As a care provider myself, I listened to the incredible unfolding of the hospital staff’s descriptions of their work as the waves of dying and injured flooded through their doors. I sat through their first press conference with survivor Angel Colon front and center, enraptured, yet sobbing with gratitude and awe at their choreographed and executed dance to save lives.
I know I could never begin to thank every agency that pulled together those first 24 hours, but I need to try. Each profession or organization I list is a thread in the whole, beautiful tapestry that is #OrlandoStrong.
Please feel my overwhelming love and gratitude… and know there are thousands and thousands of others who feel the same. You people, my Superheroes, are a gift to humanity. Never, never let the finger pointing touch you. Do not claim that bureaucratic static that will certainly grow to a cacophony before too long. Stay true to your knowledge that you did everything right, you saved so many. You did the very best any of us could ever have done. No, you did far, far better than most of us.
Thank you a hundred million times plus 102 to those mentioned below. If I have forgotten you, just add yourself to the list; it was merely an ignorant oversight. You, too, belong here.
Thank you to:
– The entire Orlando Police Department who risked their lives, over and over again, to save as many people as possible. I am filled with so much gratitude, my heart overflows with tears streaming down my cheeks.
– Everyone at the Orlando Sheriff’s Department who also risked their lives multiple times and kept communications between the different agencies running smoothly. I also weep with gratitude for your agency.
– Orlando’s amazing SWAT Team who found ways to get into the building to save people and then removed that evil animal from this earth. You all are incredible.
– All the tireless Paramedics who used their minds and skills, even when the solutions were unorthodox, to help save lives.
– All the Ambulance agencies that responded and tended to the wounded while getting them to the hospital as fast as possible.
– All the EMS personnel who had many roles to fulfill in saving lives.
– All 911 Dispatch Operators… my heart aches for you wondrous folks who comforted the injured and dying throughout the several-hour ordeal. You gave genuine love to those that died while you were on the line with them and helped keep others alive until help arrived. Your professionalism and note-taking will not be forgotten as the information continues being disclosed. I send you special wishes for emotional and spiritual healing from this horrific experience.
– Orlando Regional Medical Center Hospital, especially for their readiness drills that helped set them up for success with extreme situations such as this. No words can possibly express my pride in your response, care, and skill when you were least expecting it.
– The ORMC Trauma Team, all those years of study, school and thousands of hours working in the hospital and learning specialized skills culminated on June 12, 2016, saving untold lives.
– The Emergency Room Team, thank you for always being ready for anything. You were there. You were there for all of us that night.
– The dozens and dozens of Doctors – ER, OR & ICU – for utilizing everything you’ve ever learned (and things you surely had only heard about) to save so many. There really are not enough words to offer my gratitude and love for you all.
– The Orthopedics teams… your amazing skills working with the back and muscles was most assuredly crucial that night. I am sure you saved so many from being paralyzed with your gift during surgeries. Thank you so very much.
– The Microsurgeons, your extremely specialized skills surely saved so many from bodies that would be unable to feel or move properly once healed.
– The Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgeons, your specialization was crucial with the horrific injuries to the chests of too many. Thank you for keeping so many hearts pumping.
– The beloved Nurses – Trauma, ER, Triage, OR, ICU & Surgical Recovery… it is beginning to sound trite, but I promise, I am absolutely speechless with gratitude for your gifts of kindness and skilled caring. Nothing that night (and since) could have been done without you incredible human beings. You are the Angels of Mercy.
– All the Surgeons of an endless variety, thank you for specializing in your individual areas and to the General Surgeons, thank you for attending to the multiple types of injuries that night. Thank you all for remaining strong and focused during the assembly line of cases that surely seemed never-ending at times. Your hands, in the most direct way, saved so many lives that night. Thank you.
– Residents – who used every moment of training to step in wherever you could.
– OneBlood blood bank personnel including Blood Collection sites, thank you for assuring there was ample blood at the hospitals for all the cases that needed it. Thank you, too, for opening up sites on Sunday to collect blood and organize getting that blood back to those whose lives depended on it.
– The Phlebotomy team, your job had to have been incredibly challenging that chaotic night of terror, finding veins and arteries, keeping the vials organized and then running the thousands of stat samples to the lab, over and over again… thank you for your skills and dedication.
– The Radiology team – your job was infinitely complicated by the sheer numbers of people working on each person, yet crucial to examining the patient in a life-saving manner. Thank you for knowing how to peek inside the bodies that needed so much help.
– The Respiratory Services team who were called into action to keep massively injured people breathing, either from the assault or the incredible shock and fear they were experiencing. You all are wondrous healers for those who cannot breathe.
– To Environmental Services, who were said to have cleaned and set up a room in 30-45 seconds; miraculous! It is challenging enough to keep things pristine and safe from cross-contamination under normal circumstances, but that you worked with all that blood, tissue, drapes, gauze, tubes, gloves, and then cleaning beds, rails, the floor and emptying the contaminated trash while patients were waiting for a place to lay… doing all of this in mere seconds, really is worthy of immense gratitude.
– To you amazingAnesthesiologists and Nurse Anesthetists… while I know you are highly-trained for emergencies and working with people in dire pain or unable to communicate their medical history, I am sure this night multiplied the need for your skills and knowledge dozens-fold. That you were able to anesthetize our precious friends and family so they might be saved under such circumstances is a miracle to behold. Immense gratitude.
– ToORMC Laboratory Services, the tasks thrown at you June 12 and the days immediately after had to have been enormous, yet you were there as the backbone for the entire health and safety of the injured, getting blood to whomever needed it, organizing the lab results so all providers could coordinate proper care, the list surely continues endlessly. Thank you for your amazing skill and meticulous attention to detail under extreme duress.
– To the Orlando Medical Examiners, especiallyJoshua Stephany for your immense sensitivity in keeping that madman separate from our lost souls. The unbelievable task you all gently and respectfully undertook is appreciated beyond words.
– To the Physical Therapists who began working with the survivors almost immediately so they could have as full a life as possible once they are recovered, thank you for your skills and knowledge of the body and its nuanced possibilities through movement and touch.
– To theChaplains of the Orlando Police Departmentand the others around Orlando, thank you for rushing to the spiritual aid of our First Responders, the families of the injured and dying and praying with the mass of disbelieving friends and relatives in their moments of spiritual questioning and anger towards God. Thank you for your love and patience with so much inner pain.
– To our Mental Health Therapists & Psychiatrists who flooded the different locations where families waited for news of their loved ones, knowing crisis counseling was an immediate need and you provided it, with zero regard for payment of any kind except knowing you were helping someone in emotional pain. Mental health needs will reverberate for years and years for so many of us, so thank you in advance for all you will do for everyone as time unfolds the mental and emotional anguish of this horrific night.
– To the Pharmacists at ORMC, your enormous task of providing the correct medications for scores of critically injured patients has not been overlooked. Filling order after order in the middle of the night had to have been daunting, yet when you, too, called for help, it came in in droves. Thank you for your education and extreme attention to detail.
– To the LGBTQ Center of Orlando, who immediately opened their doors to anyone who needed a place to talk, be held, cry or mourn. No words can express my gratitude for all you have done, are doing and will continue to do for our incredibly awesome and diverse community. May our Center grow as much as our hearts have for you after this disaster.
– To the Cell Phone companies for keeping those injured and dying in touch with loved ones and 911 operators.
– To those inside Pulse that struggled to save lives as the horror unfolded, who shielded others with your bodies, who comforted the injured and dying as you hid anywhere you could, who held friends as they bled to death in your arms… no amount of tears and thanks can explain how full my heart is for you beautiful people. Your unspeakable pain will never be forgotten or taken for granted. You are incredible human beings who were in a horrible situation, but your soaring kindnesses outshone any evil that man tried to snuff out. Bless all of you.
– To those who work at Pulse for your belief in human rights and dignity – you will never be forgotten… especially Barbara Poma – you are so loved.
– To the civilians who just happened to be in the area and helped the injured, comforted the dying and transported anyone they could to the hospital, thank you. Clearly, we needed you there that night.
– Special note to the Religious Community… Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and many denominations of Christians… who pulled together to pray and offer support to all who needed it. In the days afterwards, church services were held to assist the mourners who found solace in religious healing.
One national speaker, Victoria Kirby York of the National LGBTQ Task Force, spoke at a local church service and she must be held aloft and applauded. In a sea of religions not understanding the LGBTQ community, Ms. York stunned everyone with her ability to use Scripture to affirm the LGBTQ experience and right to love who we choose. Her words were a spiritual salve for so many who have been alienated by the religions in our neighborhoods and the policy-makers’ pens.
To the hypocrites among the religious folks (you know who you are), I hope you are able to rectify the doublespeak you drooled off your tongues after our tragedy because our LGBTQ family keeps dying because of your hate and damning judgment. It needs to stop. Now.
Ongoing Love & Support
While the above list, surely not complete, reflects the care and love from only the first day or two post-massacre, I could continue for another three days thanking the multitudes of restaurants, airlines, hotels, businesses, those that brought Comfort Dogs to love on those that needed a tender doggie hug, and then the ongoing monetary donations to the Pulse GoFundMe Page.
I must also thank the rest of the United States and the World for their endless support through vigils and moments of silence for our 49 beloved murdered friends and 53 recovering victims.
Please take a moment to offer thanks to everyone I’ve mentioned and those I have forgotten to name.
And lastly, please remember the families of those who have died and been injured. Their lives are forever changed. May they find at least a moment of peace through all of our love.
To our most precious doves, we will never forget your names or who you are: