North from the Mexico-Texas Border
In August, when school was about to begin again and everyone was happy to just sit an enjoy the last long days of summer, I met Hope. We were sitting at a picnic watching children play. I was still revering from a mosquito borne illness caught in Haiti and so was full of a concentrated effort to breathe through the lingering pain.
I had known Hope's daughter for over 15 years but had never met her mother. e talked about our lives; as educators and mine as a midwife. She then told me of her mother an dyer grandmother; of aunties and friends who were healers and midwives.
She had made the long journey to Santiam, each summer, where her family camped in tents and worked the fields. At sumer's end, they returned to Texas. They did this for many years and then one year her father died and they just stayed in Oregon.
Yesterday, I went to Hope's birthday/ retirement party. Her daughter said it might be a good place to get the women to talk about midwives and birth in the migrant camps in the 50's. I enjoy the drive to Woodburn and find the housing complex where so many of the family lives; three generations in avocado green wood apartments. We gather in a party room where there are decorations and food and a scattering of family and friends. I had known Maria all these years and her family had come to so many parties and meals at my house and we had gone to her house many times but this was different. I could see it was women who were older now; in bright make up and good clothes who sat at tables and served warm tortillas with beans and were both festive and stoic.
I was not sure that I should sit there at there tables and ask them about midwives. It was a long time ago. Their children were born at the Silverton or Salem Hospitals. There were no more midwives; in Texas and Mexico maybe but not in Oregon.
One woman tells me there mother delivered many babies, on both sides of the border. For white people too. She had promised to come and deliver her babies at home in Oregon but hehe died right before the birth. I can see this was hard on her. She said her mother told her never scream. "If you scream, the baby won't get enough air and will die." She tells me that her mother never let women scream and no one, mother or baby, ever died.
Hope says she cannot remember. A cousins says the old midwife had a book of remedies she kept but when she died and they wen town there someone had stolen it and they feel badly about that. Her daughter, Hope's mother, knew a lot of herbal remedies and lived in Woodburn but she died too.
I am trying too hard. "So, you came up here and lived in tents and had your babies int he hospital."
The cousin says well probably not because I deal with birth certificates and even white people of a certain age were born at home. It says so on the birth certificate. Everyone shrugs.
At the playground, in August, Hope remembered being a girl in the camps. She remembered playing and watching the children and babies being born there in he camps. I tell myself this is her party. Her sister says, "Everyone had to work in the fields. That's all."
Hope is my age. She was born on the Texas border. Her grandmother was her midwife and then they came and stayed in Oregon each summer and one summer they never returned; to Mexico, to Texas and to her grandmother. She has kids, a divorce, grandkids and a pension form working as a bi-lingual teachers-aide. She wants to dance, go to the casino and hold grand babies. Life with her midwife/ grandmother is a long, long, long time ago. They are sorry the book she wrote was stolen. They wish someone caed about the story of her grandmother. That the younger generation cared. We sing, take photos and cut the cake and then I drive throughout the dusk to Portland.
In the 1970's and 1980's, the same Mexico-Texas boxer became a place for midwives who wanted to be taught traditional midwifery to learn. I drive through El Paso where the midwifery school once was and there are walls and border control trucks everywhere. It is no place for a midwife to walk across the border; back and forth to deliver babies with no regard to nation or language or skin color.