For our second installment of immigration stories we are sharing, I have the story from Rosa Rodriguez, one of our K’iche’ interpreters. Rosa’s story offers a really telling perspective on what it can be like to be in a new country, needing medical care, and not being able to speak the language. It reminds us all of why what we do is so important, and why it is a right in the U.S. to receive care in your native tongue. A huge thanks to Rosa for sharing her story with us.
I am the daughter of two immigrants who came to the mainland United States from its territory, Puerto Rico. One would think that the political and economic relationship between the U.S. and its island territory would make immigrants’ transition easier, but this has not always been the case, even for educated ones. My parents married in Puerto Rico, and afterward, my mother joined my father in the U.S., where he had been since the age of 13. In Philadelphia, my younger sister and I were born.
One of the things that impels me to help other immigrants is the story of my own birth as related to me by my mother. She went into labor and was rushed to the hospital. Her attending obstetrician was not available, so she got another who did not know her, nor much about her pregnancy. She had back labor because of my positioning. I was not facing her back, but rather her front, with the back of my head pressing on her tailbone—not a good position for a smooth exit. Because my mother hardly spoke any English at the time, and because of the ignorance of the nurses, she suffered terribly. They treated her like an animal, and actually sat on her belly in the hopes of squeezing me out from the outside. The stand-in obstetrician botched her episiotomy. Because of some nerve damage during delivery, she went home unable to walk normally because one foot was turned inward. It took several weeks for it to right itself. My belief is that my mother’s culture and language led to this inhumane treatment by medical staff.
I am happy to report that most of the medical professionals I have encountered as an interpreter are much more humane. They make a genuine effort to understand immigrants and their needs. On the rare occasion, however, I do hear disgust or contempt for immigrant families, especially the indigenous people of Guatemala. The primary cause of this is fear and ignorance about their culture and language, and about the extent of their poverty in their home country. If we remember that somewhere in every family tree there are people who have struggled and suffered, we can continue to serve immigrants transparently and without judgment.