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Blood Is Thicker . . .

April 28, 1996

I'll bet I'm not alone in my outrage over April Smith's underlying classism and hypocrisy ("Is She Family?" March 17). She may be concerned about the condition of her housekeeper, Maria Alcivar, but she makes sure to tell us that she pays a whopping $9 an hour to someone who has worked for her for 10 years--that isn't much to brag about. What family, particularly a single woman with three small children, can survive on that?

And what about health insurance? As a caring employer, Smith could have offered some sort of coverage. Instead, she informs us in wondrous tones how her sick housekeeper happened to land in the finest of all hospitals and with Medi-Cal footing the bill.

But what if that hadn't been the case? As the concerned family member Smith claims to be, would she have located better care elsewhere and covered the enormous expense? Probably not. Considering the circumstances, I can understand why the hospital staff and Smith's own inner voice said: "You don't belong here."

Andrea L. Santiago

Sherman Oaks

*

I salute Smith for her article. My little girl's nanny, Nila, is a remarkable woman from Mexico who has been with us for nearly five years. It is impossible not to love her warmth, intelligence and sensitivity.

Nila has taught me that joy comes from life, not from possessions. I am grateful that she is teaching the same lesson to my daughter. When I feel needy and lonesome for the family I no longer have, Nila offers me the warmth formerly provided by my mother. For me, Nila's role in our household is not at all complicated. I pray that she will always be part of our family.

Candace Green

Redondo Beach

*

While it is surely commendable that Smith cares about Maria's well-being, I wonder if at least part of her concern isn't self-serving. It was abhorrent to me to read that "by getting pregnant" Maria "had strayed from the path" that Smith had approved.

I have news for Smith: Maria, "this working-class resident on Medi-Cal," is a woman with her own life, not an unconditionally devoted pet. And the family nickname for Maria is very revealing. Monde is not, as Smith asserts, an idiom; nor is it translated as "What is it? I'm here." It is used by servants to say, essentially: "At your service. Command me."

After 10 years of being called "the commanded one" by someone who has not even bothered to learn its meaning--I'd say, no, Maria is not family.

Mikal P. Sandoval

Pacific Palisades

*

I am a bit confused. Should I feel distressed for Smith because she is getting dirty looks from the woman in the ICU waiting room or because her children won't have "Monde" around anymore?

Or is the issue more disturbing: a lack of fundamental respect for Maria, whose personal life--complete with spousal abuse, Medi-Cal benefits and mispronounced nickname (mande is not like Monday but rather mahn-dhe)--is laid brutally bare for all to see?

Many of us care more than a little about those who clean our houses for a living. Some of us give them financial assistance and any other support we can. We share our histories with one another, too. But most of all, we call them by their names, correctly pronounced, and we have a sacred regard for their privacy.

Victoria Lee-Jerrems

Van Nuys

*

I share with Smith her pain in not being able to comfort her housekeeper and friend, Maria, and not even be admitted to her room. I would experience similar feelings if Martha, my former housekeeper-friend, a person who has been in my "family" for more than 30 years, was in a similar situation. I can't imagine not being at her side?

Perhaps a good lawyer could come up with an appropriate form or document that would be legal and usable in similar hospital situations for people who have no relatives nearby, individuals for whom friends or employers are all the "family" they can expect to have.

Sydney Turk Porter

West Los Angeles

*

Smith implies that her housekeeper was like a sister. Yet, I didn't read that Smith had offered to be tested for tissue compatibility with her "sister," who, near death, needed a liver transplant. I am pointing this out in no way to disparage the love and respect Smith seems to have for Maria but as a caution against confusing bonding with equality, against blurring the very real distinctions between the privileged and the poor.

Hilma Cohn

North Hollywood

*

I was stunned to read the statement, "He speaks limited English," implying that the communication problem was all the fault of the baby's father. In fairness, Smith should have added, "And we don't speak Spanish."

Susan Shields

Santa Barbara

*

We were saddened to read of the ICU visitor's experience at UCLA Medical Center. Our critical-care nurses pride themselves on putting patient and family at the center of care. Ironically, we were one of the first centers nationwide to establish open 24-hour visitation for families and significant others in critical-care areas, believing this to be a right of the patient and family, not merely a privilege.

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