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Traditional Midwifery: Partera Practices

The story of one midwife and curandera whose tradtitional Hispanic practice spans seventy-six years.

| September/October 1997

  • Jesucita Aragón began delivering ­babies at age thirteen. Now eighty-nine, she estimates that she has helped ­ deliver more than 30,000 babies during her lifetime.

In northeastern New Mexico is the small city of Las Vegas, once a thriving mercantile center on the Santa Fe Trail. The city was founded in 1835; the surrounding region was settled by Hispanic col­onists between 1598 and 1821. Today, the ranching community in this corner of New Mexico extends east from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the vast plains along the Texas border.

An important member of this community is Jesucita Aragón, a partera, or midwife, who has delivered thousands of the region’s babies during a practice that began seventy-six years ago.

Young apprentice, young midwife

Aragón was born in Las Vegas in 1908. In 1918, after her mother died of influenza, Aragón moved with her father and seven sisters to her grandparents’ ranch thirty-six miles east of Las Vegas, near Trujillo. There, the young girl learned to do a man’s work. She fixed fences, lassoed and branded cows, sheared sheep, herded flocks of sheep and goats, and hoed the family’s bean fields. Her younger sisters stayed in the house and tended to domestic work with their grandmother, Lola Gallegos.

Gallegos was a popular partera and curandera, or folk medicine practi­tioner, among the community’s ranching families. Although Gallegos relied on Aragón’s siblings to help run the house, she selected Aragón to be her apprentice in midwifery.

“She was a very good partera, and I learned from her when I was quite young,” says Aragón, adding that she never knew why her grandmother selected her to carry on the tradition, rather than one of her sisters. Gallegos only told her young protégé to stand and watch everything she did during a baby’s delivery. “You won’t have me forever, and I want someone to remain in my place,” Gallegos told her granddaughter.

The training and special attention paid off. One night, Gallegos was summoned to a ranch house far from Trujillo to deliver a baby. During her grandmother’s absence, one of Aragón’s aunts entered labor, and the adults on hand all panicked. Without hesitation, Aragón took charge and delivered her new cousin. She remembers feeling no anxiety or pressure; rather, everything seemed to come quite naturally. Later that night when her grandmother returned, she praised her granddaughter. “Very good, Jesucita, you can now become a partera! A thousand thanks to the Lord, because you will not have me forever!”

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