In recent weeks, the startling story of Cirila Baltazar Cruz has been stirring outrage and splitting spleens in certain corners of blogland, though it has yet to receive mainstream attention. Some details remain fuzzy, and we have yet to hear directly from the person at the center of the story, Ms. Cruz herself; and indeed we aren’t likely to hear from her anytime soon because her case is currently under a court gag order.
Here’s what we have so far: Cirila Baltazar Cruz gave birth to a baby girl, Rubi Juana, on November 16, 2008, at the Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It is, as you might imagine, a predominantly white area. The hospital provided Cruz with a Spanish interpreter. However, Cruz doesn’t speak Spanish; she speaks Chatino, an indigenous language from the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Two days after the birth, the hospital reported the baby as a neglected child to the Department of Human Services, after which Rubi Juana Cruz was promptly taken from her mother and placed in the custody of an affluent couple in Ocean Springs.
According to court records obtained by The Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, the child was deemed neglected in part because Cruz “has failed to learn the English language” which “placed her unborn child in danger and will place the baby in danger in the future”. In addition, the hospital report noted that Cruz “was an illegal immigrant” who was “exchanging living arrangements for sex”.
Of course, it’s a bit of a mystery how they were able to establish these facts when there were apparently no Chatino-speakers on hand. More to the point: it’s irrelevant. I’m no legal expert, but in my understanding, immigration status, language skills, and highly-questionable allegations of sex work are not grounds for snatching a baby from her mother and initiating adoption proceedings. But that’s exactly what’s happening. The case is currently in the Jackson County Youth Court, where Cruz is being represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As mentioned, the case is under gag order so it’s been difficult to get updates on the situation and the fate of Rubi Juana remains unknown.
Unfortunately, the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform’s Child Welfare Blog notes:
The case is not unique. In 2005, the Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat, revealed that, at least twice, a local judge ordered Mexican mothers to learn English — or lose their children forever. [...] In one case the child still lived with the mother, in the other the child was in foster care. In both cases, the mothers spoke an indigenous language rather than Spanish.
Over at Vivir Latino, Maegan La Mamita Mala places the story in the larger context of the “good immigrant vs. bad immigrant” narrative which has come to dominate mainstream liberal discourse in the immigration debate:
Quick. Choose. The house is burning and you have to choose. Your mother or your child? Who do you save?
Your mother, Maegan writes, “didn’t make it like Sonia Sotomayor. Didn’t graduate from college and in fact can’t even speak English”. On the other hand, your child has assimilated, can speak English, has received a formal education, and “won’t be a burden on the system”.
Is it the correct choice to abandon your unassimilated mother?
This is the morally untenable dead-end into which liberals propel themselves when they adopt tactical discourse which appeases the xenophobic forces of the right-wing for the sake of electoral expediency, rather than a discourse fundamentally grounded in universal human rights.
Now I’m not suggesting any less respect for the remarkable achievements of someone like Sonia Sotomayor. But when liberals hold her up as the shining example of The American Story — a model minority, a false compliment with which Asian Americans are all too familiar — they are actually Othering the majority of immigrants, ordinary hard-working people who have never had the opportunities or life situations or sheer good fortune to rise to such societal heights. The implication is that those less-accomplished immigrant stories are somehow less American, and therefore those other immigrants are unworthy of the magnanimous acceptance extended by the mainstream to a select few.
What is the plight of the unworthy? Ask Cirila Baltazar Cruz.
Please consider writing, faxing, or calling the presiding judge in this case and asking that (1) Rubi Juana be re-united with her mother, and (2) all adoption proceedings against the will of the mother be stopped. Here’s the contact info:
Honorable Judge Sharon Sigalas
Youth Justice Court of Jackson County
4903 Telephone Rd.
Pascagoula, MS 39567
Call (228) 762-7370
Fax (228) 762-7385
ETA: Thanks to Maegan for sending me this radio interview, recorded on June 1, in which we hear from Cirila Baltazar Cruz herself (in Spanish and Chatino).
Cruz says she doesn’t know why they took her daughter, though she calls herself “ignorant” for not being able to speak Spanish or English (though she does speak some Spanish, as you can hear in the interview). She’s a homeowner in Oaxaca with two other children being cared for by her family there. She works at a Chinese restaurant in Biloxi and lives in an apartment owned by her employer — an arrangement which the hospital interpreter either misunderstood or misrepresented. Cirila says that the interpreter told her that she must leave her Chinese employer or lose her baby; furthermore, the interpreter offered her a job with a wealthy family who would take care of the child. When she refused the offer, the interpreter became irritated with her, and we know the rest.
Cruz says she wants her daughter back. All the information she receives from the court is in English. It was her cousin Esteban who implored the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance (MIRA) to get involved, which is how we now know about this case. Vicky Cintra of MIRA (also interviewed) says red flags went up at the organization when they learned that Esteban had been barred from serving as an interpreter for Cirila at the hospital, even though he repeatedly offered; he was told he would be arrested if he didn’t leave. MIRA claims that the family that took custody of Rubi Juana are lawyers with connections to the judge; they threw a baby shower to greet Rubi’s arrival.
November 18 is the next court date. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this story.
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