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  • Writer's pictureJulie Quiroz


Updated: Apr 8

4.8.24 New Moon

A few weeks ago I helped bring together a small group of birth justice leaders from around the country. Meeting here in Puerto Rico where I live, my Birth Center Equity teammates and I hoped to create a loving, inspiring, and courageous space to vision and strategize together, so that the narrative and cultural power of Black and Indigenous midwifery can fully transform the systems and culture harming so many communities right now.

We began by dancing.

El Batay Comunitario de la Perla had generously accepted our invitation to open our meeting with Bomba, a traditional form of Puerto Rican music and dance created in the 17th century by African people forced to the island as slaves. Bomba remains a vibrant art form in Puerto Rico and plays a crucial role in social movements such as Puerto Ricans' fight for their land (Check out the 2023 release "Las Playas Son Del Pueblo," or "the beaches belong to the people.")

With our network of community birth centers so centered in the leadership of Black women, I felt strongly that we needed to make the connection to Bomba. It would have been easiest, of course, to plan a Bomba performance in the evening outside of the meeting. But I wanted to honor Bomba where it belonged –  at the core of our vision and strategy.

The first morning of our meeting, as the batey set up in the outside courtyard, the sky grew dark. A  surprise rain began to pour as we hurried the bomberos inside. Divine chaos ensued as we crowded ourselves, our children and partners who had dropped by for the special opening, and the large drums and microphones, into the living room.

The drummers pounded as Sharon Otero, an Afro-Carribean midwife with Centro MAM, spoke (in Spanish then English) of the deep connection between Bomba and midwifery. “Puerto Rican midwifery and Puerto Rican bomba share similarities in their essence, culture, and expression,” Sharon told the group. “Both practices are rooted in Afro-Caribbean heritage and reflect a blend of African, Spanish, and Indigenous influences.” “Both midwifery and Bomba,” continued Sharon, “serve as forms of cultural resistance and preservation, embodying the strength and resilience of Puerto Rican identity in the face of historical and contemporary challenges.” In both practices, Sharon concluded, “there’s a celebration of life, resilience, and the power of community.”

Then Sharon and the other batey members danced and invited us in. One by one, those of us who felt called approached the drums in rhythm with the batey. Goosebumps tingled on my arms as each of us took our turn moving with power, joy, and reverence. For the next two days we met, working our way through an ambitious agenda, with the echo of Bomba resonating in our words and ideas.

“Dance is a form of ancestral memory coded in our DNA,” writes Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz. “It’s storytelling archived in the form of movement.”

In these dark days around the globe, my heart surges as I see young people in Palestine, the US, and around the globe sharing videos of themselves dancing, with extraordinary dignity and joy, dabke, the traditional folk dance of the Levantine peoples of the region now boundaried into Palestine, Jordan, and Syria. Last month, my social media was flooded with dancers from Atlanta to England to Africa, sharing their choreography to Beyonce’s Texas Hold Em in a powerful collective reminder to the world of American country music’s deep African American roots. And anyone on IG will find me practicing salsa, cha cha cha/guajira, and other dances most nights, regenerating my energy to show up with love and vision in the morning.

I pray that as so many storm clouds hover, we make room in our work and lives to dance, in celebration of life, resilience, and the power of community. 

I pray we’ll dance like our ancestors are smiling.

I pray we’ll dance like everyone's watching.

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