NEW YORK–Search for assistance in the U.S. health and educational systems can be a daunting task for non-English speaking immigrant mothers of children with special needs The problem is twofold: the battle to overcome the language barriers and not losing hope.
At age 19, Idalia Lozano, gave birth to her first daughter and was confronted with this dilemma. "After giving birth, I passed the first day without being able to hold my baby. I couldn’t have her at my side in spite of my many requests and my wish of rocking her in my arms. A voice from deep in my heart whispered that something was not right, but I could not imagine what it could be," said Lozano.
Her daughter Johana was born with serious respiratory and cardiovascular defects. She was in an incubator for two months and was fed through a tube.
Idalia recalls the specialists explaining to her that there was a possibility that her daughter Johana may never walk or feed herself.
With her hands over her empty womb and clothed in the white sheets of the Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, Lozano attentively listened to the doctors diagnoses. "They told me that my little girl had Down’s syndrome," she sadly recalled.
"Since I did not understand the instructions of the doctors I requested a translator. I felt I was not being heard," said Lozano.
Months later, Johana’s father abandoned the family. Alone, Lozano decided to tackle the language barriers and took full charge of taking care of her daughter.
"My daughter received medical attention, but it was through my insistence and tireless efforts," said Lozano.
During the day Lozano fed her little girl through her mouth and at night she was fed through the tube. At the age of one, little Johana was capable of feeding herself. Her heart began to beat normally at the age of five.
"The doctors were amazed at Johana’s progress. We both learned that under these types of situations, we need to be strong. I have been a loving mother but strict. At 10, my daughter is independent and that makes me proud," she said.
Lozano, despite the language limitations, searched for educational opportunities for her daughter. Only speaking Spanish limits taking advantage of the goodness and generosity of the educational and health systems of this great country.
Lozano feels fortunate having given birth to Johana in New York City. She states the in Mexico; her daughter would have fewer possibilities for a better life.
"If I could go back in time, I would not change anything. I would embrace my pregnancy with the same happiness. However, this is something the bothers me: With my language I was able to obtain many services for my daughter. If I could speak English, I would have gotten more," she said.
Speaking Spanish may be a slight advantage for women immigrants compared to other recent arrivals to the United States. In 2007, Spanish was spoken in 12 percent of U. S. homes. Thus, many more possibilities exist of finding a translator in governmental institutions and in public services.
There are other more vulnerable communities. The indigenous Mixtecos from Puebla, Guerrero and Oaxaca, who do not speak either Spanish or English, face a major challenge. Olga Porfiria, an indigenous Mixteca from Guerrero, Mexico, had to face these language barriers in 2008, in order to save Steven her then 6-year-old son. When Steven was diagnosed with leukemia, Porfiria, mother of seven children, her tranquil afternoons after school became the prelude to long nights,
"My son’s health worsens and he had to receive chemotherapy," she recalled.
Olga remembers her and her husband Juvenal Pineda’s emotions, when facing a health system that appeared impenetrable.
"Our language is Mixteco. We speak little Spanish. We do not understand English. We did not understand what the doctors were telling us. We did not know what our son needed," said Porfiria.
"Am I going to die?" was Steven’s first question to his parents.
"We trusted the doctors and we put our son’s life in their hands. We overcame the language barrier through faith," she said.
Three years later, Steven is happy and healthy.
It is my opinion that we immigrants have the responsibility to learn English. This is important in order to contribute to both our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the United States. However, the majority of Hispanics are low income and they use the public library to take English classes. But due to funding cut backs many of these classes are being cut. What are we the low income immigrant going to do?
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