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Center for Theory Colloquium: Erin Murrah-Mandril

Erin Murrah-Mandril, Associate Professor of English, "Transnational Parteria: The Feminist Genealogy of Borderlands Midwifery"

Abstract: In 1935, 100-year-old Felicitas Provencio was sent to an El Paso jail for practicing midwifery without certification. Provencio would later report that she had assisted over 10,000 births in her 70-year career. Her imprisonment is one of many ways the U.S. sought to colonize Latina bodies.  Meanwhile, WPA workers were recording local tales of nuevomexicana midwifery to memorialize their cultural heritage at a time of rapidly changing modernization. One tale describes a midwife who navigates a difficult birth by discovering that her patient is miserly. The midwife cooks and instructs the laboring woman to feed all the hungry children of the neighborhood during labor, after which she immediately gives birth and is transformed into a generous woman. Another tale describes a midwife’s adoption of an orphan, likewise highlighting midwifery’s role in the social cohesion of Mexican American communities. My presentation explores the way that criminalization and memorialization are two interlinked colonial practices that functioned to contain the social power of women who assisted in the bodily and spiritual formation of Mexican American people along the U.S.-Mexico border. Like many Latina testimonies, these midwives’ voices are accessible only through layers of colonial translation and transcription. Their recovery is thus also a work of uncovering. I argue that borderlands midwifery is both a helpful metaphor and a material praxis of future Chicana feminist theory. 

Bio: ERIN MURRAH-MANDRIL, author of In the Mean Time: Temporal Colonization and the Mexican American Literary Tradition, is an Associate Professor of English and a core faculty member of the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT Arlington. Her recent scholarship focuses on Latina midwifery in the early 20th century and Latina birth culture of that period. Dr. Murrah-Mandril’s peer-reviewed articles have appeared in Aztlán, Arizona Quarterly, Western American Literature, and the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage series.  

Monday, February 21, 2022 at 12:00pm to 1:00pm

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