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Linda Pedro (1946-2015): Reflections on a Río Arriba Wise Woman / Warrior for the Disabled
My home is important to me.
It’s my anchor in the storm.
It means my very life, my spirit and light in my life.
I love my home, family and community.
I met Linda in the early 1990s. We both had been appointed to a Home- and Community-Based Services Task Force by then-Gov. Bruce King. Our mission was to make recommendations for improving in-home services for New Mexicans with disabilities.
Linda had a lot at stake in the fight for community- and home-based services. In 1979, the state of New Mexico attempted to force her, a vibrant young woman with a disability, into a nursing home. On top of that, the state was seeking custody of her son and to have him placed in foster care.
Linda enlisted a couple of young lawyers from Legal Services to file the first Section 504 lawsuit in New Mexico. Section 504 is a federal civil-rights law that provides protection against discrimination for individuals with disabilities. Linda was seeking the right to live in her home and in her community, despite her disability. No one, including her lawyers, thought she had much chance to prevail. But Linda carried a force that projected well beyond her physical self. With her lawsuit, Linda demanded that no one was going to take her son Daniel away from her! On the day that the court ruled in her favor, Linda broke through the barrier of forced institutionalization. That freed her to continue living on her land in Chimayó, where she raised her son. Her victory led the way for thousands of others across New Mexico and across the country to live normal family lives, without the fear of institutionalization.
As her national profile rose, Linda had many opportunities to work across the country but, instead, she chose to remain anchored in her beloved Chimayó home.
I always viewed Linda as a rebel with a cause, fighting in her own way for justice and human dignity, running against the wind, flying into the storm. I recall watching the 1984 Democratic National Convention and being astounded as I listened to a young woman in a wheelchair, whom I had never heard of. I found myself entranced by her presence and her words. Little did I know that we would meet and eventually become friends and allies. I consider myself fortunate to have provided some assistance in our never-ending battles with the state for disabled people to be able to live at home with appropriate services and support.
During our long friendship, Linda and I talked about things that needed improvement, many of which we knew we would not be around to experience and enjoy. But we knew that our children and grandchildren would. The level at which she and I were most deeply connected always came back to Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS). For it was HCBS that allowed Linda to live in her beloved home with her beloved family and friends and the community she deeply cared for. She lived life to the fullest, until her strong spirit had another place it needed to be.
When I see her picture, hear her words, see her artwork or think of her smile and laughter, I remember what I always told her when I left, “I’ll see you, dear one.”
Jim Parker is director-emeritus of the New Mexico Governor’s Commission on Disability and a long-time disability-rights advocate.
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