Reclama El Rebozo: Reclaiming the rebozo in white dominated birth work spaces
Updated: Apr 20, 2019
Since starting my journey as a first generation Mexican-American birth doula, I have seen another form of neo-colonialism take form. Surprisingly in birth work spaces. Colonization in birth work takes form in erasing the history and ignoring the origins of a helpful tool used by many labor companions (doulas).
The rebozo (a classic Mexican garment) has been used as a tool in labor support since the 1800's, popularized by Mexican women, yet originated from indigenous Mexican populations pre-colonialism. In the indigenous language of Nahuatl, the rebozo has had many names, "that of which touches woman and looks like her" and "cloth of a thousand colors."
The rebozo has been utilized in the modern birth worker movement to alleviate pain, discomfort, and pressure in the abdomen of pregnant people. The rebozo is a great tool with many benefits. At the same time, what birth workers must be conscious of (despite ethnicity) are the origins of the tools used in birth work. Reclaiming the rebozo as a Mexican-American birth worker doesn't mean that I am excused from dismissing my own privileges (I am light skinned and of U.S. American nationality). What it means is that white birth workers need to also reflect on their privileges and deconstruct the power structures set in place; as to make it so Mexican indigenous women are empowered, recognized and applauded for the creation and blessing of the rebozo.
Unknowingly, white birth workers do a disservice in not giving credit where credit is due. The issue here is not white birth workers being white, it is the power structure and social hierarchy in which white people are able to easily commodify, financially benefit, and are seen as "specialists" in having access and using indigenous knowledge for their gain. The very people who we must thank for these birth tools and knowledge are left ignored, impoverished, and erased from the birth worker movement.
Knowing the history is knowing the beauty of indigenous birth work and decolonizing how we move forward. To give to indigenous Mexican women as a thank you for the rebozo, donate here: https://schoolsforchiapas.org/store/gifts-of-change/women/
If you are a birth worker (not of Mexican descent) giving trainings on how to use rebozos, please contribute to the work of indigenous women and acknowledge the history before presentations. Together, we can create a future of hope. Passing down valuable knowledge for generations to come.