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.
(#7)The Breastfeeding Revolution, Part 2
My son had calmed down, pacified either by the rapt attention of a roomful of women, or a few drops of poppy-seed tea.
We had momentarily veered off the topic of breast-feeding. Maria Varela and Valentina Martinez were sharing the history of their local clinic.
“At first,” said Maria, “we organized an agricultural cooperative, Ganados del Valle. We wanted to grow our own food, and add value to products. Selling raw product doesn’t earn local farmers enough for their own subsistence. You have to add value locally to raise the local standard of living. In Tierra Amarilla, we were herding sheep, and using traditional dyes to make yarn. We started Tierra Wools as a way to market our products so that we could reap the benefits.
“But then we realized we needed to direct our own health care, so we raised the money to found La Clinica del Pueblo de Tierra Amarilla.”
“We needed a place to birth our babies!” interrupted Valentina. “We didn’t have nowhere to go. We wanted to choose our own doctors and nurses and to run the clinic ourselves. It was the first clinic in America started and run by a community of color!” Valentina sat up proudly and her eyes sparkled.
“Yeah,” said Henrietta. “They even called us the ‘Communist clinic.’”
She added, “That’s how we first started fighting with Sam Hitt.”
Sam Hitt was a radical environmentalist living in Santa Fe in the mid-nineties. He had sparked outrage by bringing a lawsuit against the US Forest Service, closing Rio Arriba forests to wood-gathering, sheep herding, and cattle grazing. His lawsuit was strangling mountain village hamlets, where farmers relied on small herds for subsistence.
“Wait,” I asked. “I don’t understand! Sam had something to do with health care in Tierra Amarilla in the 60s and 70s?”
“A la vey!” exclaimed Maria. “He was one of the founders of La Cooperativa and La Clinica. He lived up here then. But he didn’t agree with us about a lot of things. He didn’t agree we should control our own health care. We had an election for president of the La Clinica board. Sam ran against Ikey and Ikey won. Sam left town.”
“Ikey?” I asked, surprised. “Ikey DeVargas??”
Ron looked confused but he kept writing. He had no idea who we were talking about. He had expected a focus group about health care problems, not environmental lawsuits. “Who’s Ikey?” he asked.
Ike DeVargas had been a Navy Seal and demolitions expert in the Vietnam War. He once told me a story about swimming eleven miles out to sea to rendezvous with a submarine, but the submarine didn’t arrive so he swam back. He did this daily till he caught his ride.
Ikey was a tall, slender man with white curls, a white beard, and vivid green eyes. Nobody ever forgot Ikey’s laugh, or, if they crossed him, his temper.
Ike had recently been hired by Rio Arriba County as its first Risk Manager. A few weeks later, controversy erupted when he and Richard Cook, a wealthy Española land baron, marched down Main Street, and hung Sam Hitt in effigy from a light pole.
“You’re kidding me!” I exclaimed. “You mean this whole crazy lawsuit is a vendetta stemming from a clinic board election twenty-five years ago???”
“What?” asked Ron, looking up from his note taking. “What lawsuit?”
“Yup,” said Gumi. “That’s what we’re trying to say!”
I didn’t know what to do with that information. It didn’t seem to fit into the format provided by the Department of Health for its needs assessments.
Just then, Ben woke up and began fussing.
“Do you mind if I nurse my son?” I asked.
“Go right ahead,” they responded in near unison.
Henrietta added, “That’s what chi-chis are for!”
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!”)