Monday, August 31, 2009

Fitness Requires Speaking English?

Did you all see this? In an article by Tim Padgett and Dolly Mascarenas, Time Magazine reports that Baltazar Cruz, a woman from Oaxaca who has been working in a Chinese restaurant in rural Mississippi and gave birth to a child there, has had her baby taken from her-- essentially because the authorities claim that her inability to speak English constitutes both a present and future danger to her child. (The baby has been given to a US couple.) She's challenging the ruling. The Mississippi DHS claims that language is not the issue, but the article calls that spin on their decision into doubt. There's a gag order in effect now, but the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger accessed documents in the case and some of Baltazar Cruz's advocates made statements prior to the issuing of the gag order:

Before the gag order, advocates for Baltazar Cruz had charged that the problems sprang from faulty translation at Singing River. Baltazar Cruz arrived at the hospital after she flagged down a Pascagoula police officer on a city street. She was later joined there by a Chatino-speaking relative, according to MIRA, but the hospital declined his services and instead used a translator from state social services, an American of Puerto Rican descent who spoke no Chatino and whose Spanish was significantly different from that spoken in Mexico.

According to the Clarion-Ledger, the state report portrayed Baltazar Cruz as virtually a prostitute, claiming she was "exchanging living arrangements for sex" in Pascagoula and planned to put the child up for adoption. Through her advocates (before the gag order), Baltazar Cruz adamantly denied those claims. Since "she has failed to learn the English language," the newspaper quotes the documents as saying, she was "unable to call for assistance for transportation to the hospital" to give birth. The social-services translator also reported that Baltazar Cruz had put Rubí in danger because she "had not brought a cradle, clothes or baby formula." But indigenous Oaxacan mothers traditionally breast feed their babies for a year and rarely use bassinets, carrying their infants instead in a rebozo, a type of sling.

MIRA has accused Singing River and Mississippi DHS of essentially "stealing" Rubí. Citing the gag order, DHS will not comment on Baltazar Cruz's case, but before the order, an official insisted to the Clarion-Ledger that "the language a person speaks has nothing to do with the outcome of the investigation." Singing River spokesman Richard Lucas calls the MIRA charge "preposterous" and, while noting that the nonprofit hospital delivered Baltazar Cruz's baby free of charge, insists it "did what any good hospital would have done given her unusual circumstances" by alerting DHS.

Still, despite DHS statements to the contrary, language seems a central issue in the state's case against Baltazar Cruz. It wouldn't be the first time this has happened in the U.S. In 2004 a Tennessee judge ordered into foster care the child of a Mexican migrant mother who spoke only an indigenous tongue. (Another judge later returned the child to her family.) Last year, a California court took custody of the U.S.-born twin babies of another indigenous, undocumented migrant from Oaxaca. After she was deported, the Oaxaca state government's Institute for Attention to Migrants fought successfully to have the twins repatriated to her in Mexico this summer. In such cases, says the SPLC's Bauer, a lack of interpreters is a key factor. When a mother can't follow the proceedings, "she looks unresponsive, and that conveys to a judge a lack of interest in the child, which is clearly not the case," she says. She also argues it's hard enough for any adult to learn a new language, "let alone when you're a migrant working long hours for low pay."

One of DHS's apparent fears is that an infant isn't safe in a home where the mother can articulate a 911 call solely in a language spoken only by some 50,000 Oaxacan Indians. Bauer points out that children have been raised safely in the U.S. by non-English-speaking parents for well over a century. Had they not, thousands of Italians and Russians would have had to leave their kids with foster care on Ellis Island. "Raising your child is one of the most fundamental liberties, and it can only be taken from you for the most serious concerns of endangerment," says Bauer. "Not speaking English hardly meets that standard."

Nauseating, isn't it?


Josh said...

Wow. I remember that Tennessee case and am glad to hear a follow-up on it: so often the news reports the initial injustice and never lets us know whether it persisted or was mitigated.

I also wonder how many USians would be separated from their children for not having a bassinet and baby formula, if that 1950s standard was a criterion for everyone. Yuppies are allowed to use rebozos and breast milk all the time.

Foxessa said...

Thanks for the update on this story.

All the moms I've known in my age group would be appalled at the very hint that they should be using baby bottles.

Love, c.