In the past few weeks, stories coming from Oaxaca Mexico have reminded us just how limited and threatened the reproductive rights of indigenous Mexican women are. Local Oaxacans have been using social media to document the repeated cases of indigenous women denied care at local maternal clinics and being forced to give birth in waiting rooms, clinic steps, or lawns.
At the same time, we are reminded of how oppressions can cross borders. Earlier this month, news arrived that Cirila Balthazar Cruz, the indigenous woman in Mississippi who was separated from her baby daughter will be allowed to proceed with her lawsuit against the state’s welfare agency.
Cruz gave birth to her daughter in November of 2008 at Mississippi’s Singing River Hospital. Afterwards, Cruz, who grew up speaking Chatino–an indigenous language native to Oaxaca—was interviewed in Spanish by a hospital interpreter. From Cruz’s very limited Spanish, the interpreter allegedly understood that Cruz was engaged in sex work and interested in giving her baby up for adoption. Cruz was deemed an “unfit” mother, whose failure to learn English “placed her unborn child in danger” according to court documents. As Kai over on Feministe points out we have no way of knowing how those details were possibly extrapolated from a conversation in a language that Cruz barely speaks. And what does it matter? Cruz’s baby was taken away from her and placed with a foster family for an entire year.
Hers is not the first case of an indigenous Latino in the U.S. being deemed an unfit parent because of the language they speak. Nor is it the first time that an indigenous child has been taken from their parent on the grounds that it “deserved” to be brought up speaking English and living under Western, white culture. Just read about the American Indian boarding schools of the 1970’s.
Cruz’s case is a great example of the racist policing of Latin@ parenthood and reproduction. Stereotyped as “hyper-breeders,” Latinas have been targets of involuntary sterilization campaigns from Puerto Rico to California. Since 1994, with California’s Proposition 187 which sought to prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing public services, we’ve seen bill after bill designed to deny immigrant women the reproductive health care they need to make healthy and safe decisions about pregnancy.
Within the past decade, under administrations that have some of the worst track records on deportation, immigrant parents have been further characterized as “unfit” to care for their children. The Race Forward report, “Shattered Families” documents how common it is for detained parents to lose custody of their children to the foster care system, all due to poorly designed justice systems, and assumptions about how one should parent.
The reproductive and parenting choices of Latinas, and particularly indigenous Latinas, are often attacked as greedy, backwards, or uneducated, their lifestyles considered unhealthy. Here’s what is wrong and unhealthy: the reproduction of nativist, racist beliefs, and stereotypes about the choices that indigenous women and Latinas make about their bodies, pregnancies, and parenting.
For now, the news about Cruz’s case is hopeful. She has been reunited with her daughter, and the U.S. government has decided that she can proceed with the lawsuit. However even if Cruz is lucky and wins the suit, the damage is done. It will not bring back the year she lost with her daughter.
Juliana probably dresses up like Frida Kahlo a little too often.