Column: Rancheros Con Huevos
By Lauren Reichelt
Rancheros con Huevos is a column written by me where I share some of my memories and experiences of the “old days” in Rio Arriba County (or at least the old days from 20 years ago when I first came to work for the county). The people and places I’ve written about mostly existed and I gave everyone the right names if I remembered them. Sometimes, if I didn’t like a fellow, I renamed him “Dirk.” I hope I have not offended any of my old or new friends, as I love you all. Rio Arriba is my home and my passion. Gracias!
Click HERE to read the last edition of this column.
(#6)The Breastfeeding Revolution Part 1
Gumi Salazar, a perpetually cheerful elementary school principal and pillar of the Tierra Amarilla community, was chuckling.
Ben, my month-old son, was not chuckling. He had colic.
Every time Ben shrieked, Gumi tittered. Gumi was almost as wide as he was tall, and his belly jiggled with mirth.
“Try boiling some poppy seeds,” suggested a woman sitting at the table. “Put a bit of the water on your finger and place a few drops in your jito’s mouth. You don’t want to overdo it though.”
Women in the room took turns soothing Ben. I pulled crayons and paper out of my diaper bag and set them in front of Chloe. “Your jita’s beautiful!” exclaimed Valentina Martinez.
Valentina’s black bob surrounded a square face with high cheekbones. At one time, she’d been Reyas Tijerina’s sister-in-law. Valentina told lively stories about raids, clinic burnings, cattle pens and encampments at Echo Canyon.
At the moment, she was wiggling her fingers in Chloe’s direction. Chloe stared seriously back, not yet convinced of Valentina’s sincerity.
Gumi chuckled some more.
In an attempt to build some sort of intelligible infrastructure for County Government, Alfredo had assembled county employees for a weekend Ghost Ranch planning retreat. We decided through consensus to conduct a series of town meetings to solicit public input. If we were going to build a County government, we were informed, we were going to build one based on the will of the people.
I was assigned to convene meetings in Rio Arriba’s diverse villages to ask what the County could do to support families. Coincidentally, I’d been awarded a small grant to conduct Rio Arriba’s very first comprehensive health care needs assessment.
I had no idea what a needs assessment was or how to conduct one, so I hired a consultant named Ron Hale to help. We quickly discovered that in 1995 no organized data existed. We paid community leaders stipends of $75 each to bring at least twelve people together over milk and cookies to talk about health.
Valentina and her neighbor, Sophie Martinez, had organized our first gathering at Ganados Del Valle, an agricultural cooperative based in Tierra Amarilla. Gumi was the chair of the Ganados board.
Ben was our unwitting ice-breaker.
“Are you nursing?” asked Sophie. “Maybe he needs to be nursed. You know, I provide day care in my home and something that really bothers me is that Moms don’t nurse anymore. They don’t know how to feed babies. I have two-year-olds with their teeth rotted out because they’re given juice and even Coca-Cola in their bottle. We have kids who can’t socialize or learn because their mouths hurt too much to eat!’
Ron sat in the corner writing furiously. He looked simultaneously horrified at babies drinking soda, and pleased that we didn’t even have to introduce the topic of health care.
“Oh my God! That’s terrible,” I exclaimed. “Yes, I do nurse. You know what’s funny though? Getting through labor was fine, but then that first time you nurse? I was such a whiner! I guess your body stops producing whatever it is that gets you through labor, and then every little thing hurts.”
“How about that first bowel movement?” someone asked. “A la vey!”
Now Henrietta Esquibel was bouncing Ben on her shoulder and whispering to him. She was sitting next to Maria Varela, the founder of Ganados. Henrietta had run for office in the 70’s on behalf of La Raza Unida and was a founding member of La Clinica. Maria was a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award for her efforts developing the agricultural cooperativa.
The room was a hotbed of medical socialism.
“Where was your jito born?” asked Henrietta.
“Española Hospital,” I answered.
“Y jolé! What’d you think of that place?” she asked.
“Honestly,” I answered, “I loved it. The nurses were great. Before I had Chloe, I went up to Los Alamos Hospital, but when I told the doctor I wanted to deliver without using drugs, she laughed in my face. So I switched hospitals. The nurses were great at Española and I was able to give birth both times without anesthetic. It was an amazing experience and nobody made fun of me. What about you guys? You’re so far. Where do you have your babies?”
“I wanted to go to Española,” answered Sophie, who’d recently had her fourth child. “But the last two times I gave birth, it snowed so hard the midwife couldn’t get in and I couldn’t get out. So Mario delivered the babies at home.”
Mario was her husband.
Ron stopped writing and his jaw dropped. “You gave birth without any support other than your husband???”
A few women nodded their assent. “That’s why we started up La Clinica del Pueblo,” said Maria. We needed a place in the community for birthing, and we wanted to choose our own health care providers. It was a real struggle. We built it but some arsonists burned it to the ground. So the community came together and built it again.”
Valentina added, “Then a few years ago, La Clinica stopped delivering babies because they couldn’t afford the liability. So now, if it snows when we go into labor, we just have to do the best we can on our own.”
“We’re glad that at least we have an ambulance now,” said Gumi. “In some communities up north, if a person is sick or hurt, you just throw them in the car and drive as fast as you can towards Española. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet the ambulance halfway.”
“That’s why we need to start an early childhood development center,” explained Delfin Quintana. Delfin was a retired school superintendent and the chair of El Bien Estar de Familias, a non-profit Sophie had formed to start an early childhood development center. “We need to teach Moms to breast feed and to feed their kids the right food. We need to start teaching kids early in ways that make sense for their age. Everyone used to know these things in the old days before grocery stores and western medicine.”
She added, “We need to teach in Spanish as well as English. Kids need to know their own language. They need to learn about their own culture and tradition.”
“You know Dottie Montoya, the school nurse in Española?” I asked. People around the table nodded. Of course they knew Dottie.
“She told me some amazing stories. She said that when she was a little girl, they’d travel from Dixon to Española in a covered wagon and that the trip took days. And the women in the village who were nursing would just grab a baby if it was hungry and nurse it. Communal nursing.”
“Yeah,” someone answered. “That’s how it was. Nobody was embarrassed. Communal nursing.”
“That’s what chi-chis are for!” exclaimed Henrietta. The rest of the room laughed approvingly.
To be continued… (And don’t forget to attend our World Breastfeeding Week celebration at the Rio Arriba Health Commons on August 6th from 11-2pm. This year’s theme is “Breastfeeding and Work “ “ Let’s make it work!”)