By Maritza Ramos Pratt
Answering a consult for a pre-surgery prayer, I went to the pre-op room. “Hello, this is Chaplain Maritza, may I come in?” I asked from outside the curtains. “Yes, you may,” a female voice answered.
I saw a man in his 60s, ready for surgery, and his wife and daughter at the bedside. “I am Chaplain Maritza and I am here because you requested a chaplain,” I said.
“Yes, we did,” said the wife, “but not from you! Not a Black chaplain!”
There was silence for few seconds. So many answers passed through my mind. “Slow down, Maritza,” I thought, remembering my CPE units. “It’s not about you.”
Then, I answered aloud, “As you wish. But blessings come in different ways. You do not know what you missed. I will get you another chaplain. Have a blessed day.”
The wife and daughter were not a bit embarrassed, and I did not want to cause any distress to the patient, who was very quiet. Out of their room, I called a white CPE student to pray with them and told her that I would explain later.
That afternoon in the office, I debriefed with all four Hispanic chaplains, three CPE students, and my senior chaplain. I felt better having processed the experience. But it was a moment of truth for the students to realize that racism was still alive.
And for me, it was not the first time that something like that had happened. In my previous career as a hospital dietitian, I remember at least three times that white patients told me they did not want my services because I was Black – right to my face. All my degrees, certifications and licenses didn’t matter. In the hospital kitchen, about 90 percent of the employees were Black, and I felt at home among them.
I am a Black Hispanic woman who speaks Spanish and English with an accent. I was born and raised in a very low-income family, in a totally Black town in Puerto Rico. My father was a public transportation driver but his own boss. My mother had a sixth-grade education. She ironed clothes for a white family while keeping her own family united and strong.
But education and faith were very important for my father, who often told us, “No one can take this away from you.” My five sisters and one brother are currently working as an industrial engineer, two social workers, an executive secretary with the Puerto Rican government, a registered nurse, and a teacher.
The University of Puerto Rico was far from my town, and none of us had a car, so we had to take public transportation. Every morning, my mother would tell us, “You are beautiful, you are intelligent, and it does not matter what people say, you are a very special person.” It was her mantra. And we needed it, because the racism in Puerto Rico was silent and underground, but it was there. Many professors did not like Black students from my town.
After my graduation, I worked one year with the Puerto Rican government, spent 12 years in the Army dealing with my accent, and married my husband (a Black man from New York and career Army man). Our four sons always asked, “Are we Black or Puerto Rican?”
My answer was, “YES! We are Black Puerto Rican.” All my sons speak English without an accent, but I always spoke Spanish with them, since being bilingual would be an asset in their lives. Most summers, they spent two or three weeks in Puerto Rico with my family. I wanted them to recognize the importance of family (grandparents, aunts, cousins, new friends, and neighbors) and most of all the town experience. Most of their friends in the States were Black until we moved to Florida. There, they were also surrounded by a large Hispanic community at church, school, basketball games, and the neighborhood. They learned how to blend very well on both sides.
I am a board-certified chaplain, with a master’s degree in hospital administration, another master’s in theology, and a doctoral degree in hospital administration and leadership. But as I said, none of that matters to some people. Sometimes I feel so frustrated. But I think about my mother’s words to us every morning, I say, “Mom, you were right,” and I keep on going.
Maritza Ramos Pratt, BCC, is a clinical chaplain at AdventHealth in Kissimmee, FL