Latinas Carrying on Without the Rebozo August 17 2011

When we traveled down to Nicaragua and Honduras last year when the toddler was 9 months we left our regular stroller at home and instead took the Bjorn baby carrier and another baby sling I got from Target. It was an easy decision to make -- all I had to do was imagine the route from my husband's grandmother's house to his aunts' and uncles' houses about two blocks away. Okay, there are steps at the front door of abuela's house, a street that may have been paved at some point but that is now mostly dirt and rocks with charcos and perros callejeros crossing your path. I should probably also mention the pig tied up to the neighbor's fence -- which forces you to walk mid-street, just to be safe. Sidewalks? Ha, maybe there's one here and there but any sliver of concrete is basically a mirage that suddenly ends just as you're starting to enjoy its smoothness.

In other words, this is stroller HELL. Even a jogging stroller with its inflatable bicycle tires wouldn't last a day in these dusty streets. It would be an exercise in frustration managing it. So the Bjorn and my brazos were all we needed. And with so much family around to carry baby, who needed a stroller anyway?

I've mentioned it in this blog before, but the decision for me to use a baby carrier or sling when the toddler was a wee baby was always a practical matter  -- because sometimes it just makes more sense to have the baby tied close to you when you need to have free hands and the ground underneath isn't compatible with a stroller. So it was pretty interesting to read this piece that aired on NPR's All Things Considered two weeks ago about Bolivia's younger generation rechazando the sling, or the aguayo, as they call it in Bolivia, in favor of the more western stroller. Here's a snippet. Lourdes Condori is a young woman they interviewed:

That's because in La Paz, carrying an aguayo marks people as indigenous — and Condori wants to be considered more Western, more "modern."
Condori proudly shows off the stroller — a secondhand blue canvas one. But the surrounding neighborhood is full of puddles and potholes, no sidewalks, and a lot of stray dogs — not good terrain for a stroller.
It takes almost 10 minutes just to get it out of Condori's house, with lots of lifting and some three-point-turns.
Condori's mother, Patricia, thinks strollers are ridiculous.

The line in there -- carrying an aguayo marks people as indigenous -- is interesting food for thought and me stop to think about who the baby-wearing set is here in the U.S. and in Latin America. What does a Bjorn mark its wearer's as? Stretchy slings? Or for that matter, Graco strollers? Jogging stroller? Maclaren stroller? Chicco stroller?  What do they say about the parent? What does it say about you?

Let's face it, I see lots of slings at the farmer's market or the food co-op. Not so much at Wal-mart or Dollar Tree (where they don't know what BPA-free is). I've seen men wearing their children in slings here in the U.S. -- on just a few occasions, I might add -- but I'm pretty sure that's not a common thing in countries like Mexico. Or for that matter, not all Mexican women are walking around in Mexico with rebozos. I have an image from my childhood of the poor working mothers who sold their artesanias on the sides of the street in the border towns. Sometimes they had a baby held close to them in a sling. Sometimes their older children hawked Canel's chicle for a few cents a pack.

In any case, I wonder what other Latinas here in the U.S. think about baby-wearing. Are crunchy Latinas rare? If you look at the stats, most Latinas have their babies really young, and I wonder how much economics or even maturity plays into the decision to be a more attached parent. Or even cultural attachment, and by that I mean wearing a sling as a way to connect to our forebears. My mother didn't use a baby sling. Heck, she didn't use a car seat either. I'm not sure she even used many strollers because even after a hundred times of explaining to her how to close the stroller, she STILL would rather put it in the car unfolded. Aye mi mama.

Back to the NPR piece, I like the way it ends, and the way the young girl reconciles her decision on what to use is not too different from my own reasoning. We live in a world where both a sling AND a stroller have their place. And we can use both, and not be defined by either.