Rebozos in Birth Work | Meadville PA Labor Doula | Northwest PA Doulas

Rebozos in Birth Work: 

Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation

If you’ve spent any time on the Internet over the past few years, you’ve likely heard of this hot-button issue known as cultural appropriation. Before we talk about rebozos for pregnancy & labor, the first thing to establish about cultural appropriation is that it is indeed very real and very prevalent, especially in our Western society, and that it truly does cause lasting damage to the overall well-being of many millions of people. The second is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Cultural appreciation is not only possible but seriously vital in our modern world. And birth work - supporting our very beginnings and our collective futures - is a great place to start.

I focused on issues of culture and identity in much of my work during college. However, because I myself am not of distinct Latinx/a/o descent, I also asked for the insight of my friend Anna, a first generation Mexican-American who is interested in pursuing birth work herself as a midwife.

That brings up the first and foremost aspect of the appropriation versus appreciation debate: Include people from that culture in the conversation. You see, we can read all the articles and blogs and books that we want, but if we neglect to include and even prioritize the voices from within that culture, we’ll lose the whole point.

It’s sort of like using a map drawn by someone who has never even traveled, implying to other travelers that your map is genuine and the standard, and refusing to ask any locals for directions. Or to even consider that they might actually (pretty definitely) know and deserve better.

And let’s admit it: we’ve sort of got a bad habit of this in the West, stretching back a few eras.

 Mexican Rebozos 

Mexican Rebozos 

Which finally brings us to the rebozo.

You may have heard of or come across this multifunctional shawl (as the word translates) already, but here I am going to give you a quick basic cultural lesson. Rebozos have been a part of Mexican culture for centuries, worn as an accessory across the shoulders, for warmth, and used by women for a plethora of carrying purposes. Traditionally around 4 to 5 feet long (extra long ones tend to measure around 9 feet) and varied in both colors and materials, these wraps help to support and relieve pressure and weight, particularly for a woman in labor. The rebozo can actually be used through the entire pregnancy, labor, and postpartum period. In Mexican culture, as early as 3-4 months along, it protects the hard-working woman while also physically supporting her pregnancy. As such, a rebozo around the waist of a pregnant woman is actually seen as a sign of respect.

Appropriation happens when there is no regard for the history and significance of something within a culture - be it attire, spiritual ceremonies or garb, art, ideology or adornments, whatever.

In effect, whoever is taking this something, especially if they’re using it for their own gain, is now co-opting from this culture. As of 2015, an expert in textiles spoke on how the craft of weaving rebozos is actually teetering on the brink of extinction, with an estimate of less than 200 people dedicated to it in all of Mexico - even while rebozos have gained popularity and use in Western cultures.

This is appropriation at work - taking a piece of culture with you and claiming it as your own, but leaving the culture itself behind and with little to nothing to show for it.

However, if one were to make it a point to be a source of education on these deeper and significant aspects of the rebozo and not just its uses and benefits to labor, that’s a good start to showing basic due regard to the culture.

It is also massively important - and I cannot stress this enough - to make sure that the purchases are coming from Latin-American artisans, especially and preferably if it is a family or community-owned sort of establishment (rather than a bigger company that treats its employees deplorably).

Purchasing rebozos from non-Latinx/a/o developers again disregards the culture of the piece.

Do your research, listen to people who know and care what they’re talking about, and put your money into the hands and communities of those artisans.

Anna: “Give credit where it’s due”.

This will also encourage and support artisans in Mexico to return to the craft, helping to preserve this aspect of vibrant culture for future generations.

We love these from Sharon Muza. 

Woman ties mexican rebozo on mother to babywear

Enlightening people to the culture of something really doesn't have to take much time or even effort beyond what really should be taught as common decency. "Rebozos have been used in Mexican culture for centuries for supporting and relieving the weight and pressure of pregnancy and labor, and are actually seen as a sign of respect and heritage in Latin American communities." Boom, done.

I'm not talking a full Rebozo History 101 workshop right off the bat because obviously nobody's in the headspace for that in the middle of transition during labor. But if you're pulling the rebozo out anyways, you may as well give at least a little background, beyond just “Hey, this can help make things a little easier and here’s how”.

Otherwise - and this is a totally acceptable option - utilize your basic bedsheet without calling it a rebozo, and leave it at that.

Remember that map from earlier? Sure, maybe it’s just accurate enough to get you where you need to go without too many problems. But the journey is simply going to mean a whole lot less for you, and anyone else sharing that path. Not to mention it’s more than a little damaging - more than “just” emotionally - for the people who were here long before your map was.

Anna: “This is really important.”

In use of the rebozo, be explicitly respectful, considerate, and grateful of Latin-American people & culture for the contribution of such an amazing tool for the shared experience of labor and birth.

If you take the time to learn the “what” and the “how”, you can and should also take the time to educate yourself and others interested or involved in birth on the “who”, “where”, and “when”. Why? Well, that’s simple and universal: Because birth takes strength, and strength requires support.

So let’s all support each other, shall we?

 

 

References:

The Rebozo: a transcript of a rebozo workshop given by Doña Irene Sotelo and Naolí Vinaver, published in Midwifery Today.

Rebozo is endangered, says textiles expert