Evangelina Holvino

Evangelina Holvino is a creative non-fiction writer and a free-lance consultant on issues of social differences and justice in non-profit organizations.

While Vermont is the whitest state in the nation, as many as thirty-four thousand of its residents speak a language other than English in their home. And as many as sixty different languages are spoken in some of our schools: French, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, Polish and Vietnamese, among them. Language is a ready source of diversity in our state and a rich tool for intercultural learning and human understanding.

In 1955, Rosa Parks inspired the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama when she refused to give her rightful seat to a white man. I was seven years old and living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Dr. Martin Luther King led this boycott, and for thirteen months blacks walked and carpooled everywhere, refusing to take the bus.

As early as I can remember, I’ve considered Christmas the happiest holiday. A photo of a four-year-old me, dressed as a shepherdess, reminds me of the Christmas dramas I loved to participate in at church.

One of the hardest decisions of my life was telling the oncology nurse at the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital that I was not submitting my 87 year old mother to the painful daily treatment the blood specialist was recommending. It was clear the treatment was not going to cure her or make her life more comfortable and she had trusted me with her end of life care when she could not decide for herself. Though I knew she did not want extraordinary measures or aggressive treatments to prolong of her life, it was still a gut wrenching decision.

This winter, my brother lay in a comma in a San Juan Regional Hospital bed dying from Kaposi’s sarcoma. This fatal type of cancer had spread to his internal organs and was now shutting them down. Rober, as we affectionately called him, had abused heroin for more than thirty years and this was the final result and my last moment with him.

This year, a fox the color of fire took up residence in the lower part of our overgrown garden. She built an enormous den and proceeded to play, feed, sleep, sunbathe, run, sit and nurse her pups at a prudent distance from the house. Ordinary days looking out the window in my office were turned into extraordinary days looking for and watching Mama Fox and her five pups. It turned out that the bathroom with the smallest window had the best view of the den, a mound of brown dirt hidden between the trees where color and movement signaled that the foxes were there.

I came to appreciate the importance of language in health care when my bilingual mother returned to live in Brattleboro after spending a few months with her sister in Puerto Rico. Suddenly and without apparent reason, she began to speak only in Spanish.

In the eight months before her death, only one of the many nurses, caretakers, therapists, lab technicians and emergency personnel who attended her spoke or understood Spanish.

As my mother’s health deteriorated and her dementia progressed, I became more and more involved in her care.  My brother in Puerto Rico could not help.