Mi Abuelita Ernestina

[Two photos of my fabulous abuelita, circa the 1950s]
[A photo of my fabulously beautiful abuelita, circa 1950s]
In honour of this weekend ushering in Día de los Muertos, today’s Historical Hottie post is going to be a little different. Today’s post will be a tribute to my beautiful and sometimes rebellious abuelita Ernestina (“abuelita Tina” as I used to call her).

Born in 1927 in la Ciudad de México in la Colonia Guerrero but spending the majority of her life living in the working class Colonia Ex Hipódromo de Peralvillo, abuelita Tina pulled off a lot of bad assery in her day. She only ever received formalized education until the fifth grade(ish) and never learned to drive, therefore limiting a lot of the opportunities she would have in her life. Because of this, she made sure that all of her daughters would not only learn to drive but make it to university as well in order for them to live a life that did not require them to be dependent on a “bread-winning” partner. *cue “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child*

[A photo of mis abuelitos on their wedding day, 1950]
[Photos of mis abuelitos on their wedding day, looking amazing in 1950]
Although married to mi abuelito, his work often took him to the north of México so she essentially raised not only their own children, but many other family member’s children alone. She raised countless children, some related by blood and others not, all while dealing with her at times difficult marriage (long distance relationships in a patriarchal society? Fun stuff). While she was by no means perfect (who is?) and definitely had her faults (who doesn’t?), she played a large influence in many people’s lives (especially my own) and did her best to raise progressively minded children and grandchildren even when her socioeconomic context didn’t always make it easy to do so.

So light a candle, put out some conchas, + maybe some flor de muertos for all las abuelitas that showed the rest of us what it takes to survive in a world that isn’t always kind.

~ M

[A photo of mi abuelita + cousin, circa early 2000s]
[A photo of mi abuelita + cousin, circa early 2000s]
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Mi Abuelita Ernestina

Fatima

There is very little information available about this week’s historical figure,* but what information there is makes her a hottie in my book. Fatima, an enslaved North African Muslim woman living in Christian Spain, tangled with the Spanish Inquisition in 1584. No mean feat. It is only through her Inquisition records that we know anything about her. Of course, such documents are rife with issues of unequal power dynamics, which must be kept in mind and navigated; nevertheless, Fatima’s rebelliousness is apparent.

Fatima came under the scrutiny of the Inquisition after a questionable baptism in a hospital in the city of Malaga. According to witnesses, during her time in hospital, Fatima, on death’s door, requested and accepted baptism. However, Fatima did not succumb to the illness, and, upon leaving the hospital, apparently continued to live as a Muslim.

The details of this case are muddy. What is clear, however, is that Fatima maintained throughout her interrogations that she had never agreed to be baptised a Christian, and, if she had, she was not in her right mind (i.e., her illness made her unfit to make decisions of such consequence). What is perhaps most striking about this woman, however, is her steadfast refusal to use her baptismal name (Ana) even when dealing with an institution as powerful as the Spanish Inquisition. Though inquisitors always address her as Ana (with the exception of noting her Muslim name in addition to her Christian one for the record), Fatima never bows to their conventions on this score. She insists instead that she is a Muslim woman, and correspondingly retains her Muslim name, directly flouting the deference expected in such a gendered, classed and cross-religious interaction.

It is of course important to resist the temptation to romanticise such a woman. We can never know exactly what took place while she was in hospital. It may be that Fatima had consented to baptism in order to receive the higher standard of care afforded to Christians. If she did consent, considering the severity of her illness (it was presumed by all that it would be fatal), such a decision might have been a last ditch attempt to save her life. It may be that she unwittingly accepted baptism when illness compromised her mental competence. Or, perhaps, she never had converted, but those at the hospital wished to have an inspiring story to spread around. We can only speculate. Whatever the circumstances though, Fatima, by denying the baptism and by refusing to call herself Ana, seized what power was available to her to stand by her convictions and retain her identity as a Muslim. She was ultimately sentenced to confinement in a convent for religious (Christian) education and 200 lashes. Whether or not she did eventually adopt Christianity is unknown.

~Spirit

*Full disclosure: absolutely everything I know about Fatima comes from Perry’s illuminating article, which is dedicated to interrogating her Inquisition records.

Mary Elizabeth Perry, “Finding Fatima, a Salve Woman of Early Modern Spain,” Journal of Women’s History 20, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 151-167.

Fatima

Prudencia Ayala

A photograph of Prudencia Ayala
A photograph of Prudencia Ayala

Today’s Historical Hottie is the revolutionary, beautiful, and total bad ass Prudencia Ayala. Born in 1885 in Sonzacate, El Salvador, Ayala was a voracious self-taught reader, writer, and activist. Often going unrecognized in Anglophone post-secondary institutions of education, Ayala was the very definition of a groundbreaking feminist.

Forced to drop out of school due to her family’s lack of financial resources, Ayala taught herself how to read and write, along with learning the craft of being a seamstress (which she worked as for a time). Ayala also claimed to be able to predict the future, with her prophecies being published in the newspapers of Santa Ana. Her predictions included the large scale events such as the entry of the United States into the First World War.*

Ayala was well-known in her time as an activist that concentrated her efforts on anti-imperialism, feminist issues, and Central American solidarity especially in the face of United States imperialism in Nicaragua and other parts of Central America. She continued to struggle for social justice throughout her life, even at the cost of her own safety as in 1919 she was imprisoned for her critical newspaper writing. Despite women not having the vote in El Salvador until 1939 and not being legally allowed the right to stand for election until 1961, Ayala ran for President in 1930. It was due largely to Ayala’s agitation that a larger feminist movement grew in El Salvador, leading to the 1939 decision granting women the right to vote. I can only dream of the wonderful things Ayala could have accomplished as President!

Thank you to Prudencia Ayala and all the other women of colour, Indigenous women, or otherwise marginalized women across the Americas who have struggled + continue to struggle for social justice in their own ways. We here at Historical Hotties have the utmost respect for Prudencia and all the other women like her.

~ M

* According to Prudencia’s own lived experiences, she was able to foretell the future. Therefore we here at Historical Hotties wish to respect her authority and will not be engaging in any discussions over whether telling the future is “real” or not.

Bibliography

“Central & South America Suffrage Timeline.” Women Suffrage and Beyond: Confronting the Democratic Deficit. Accessed October 16, 2015. http://womensuffrage.org/?page_id=109.

“Biografia Prudencia Ayala.”  Concertación Feminista Prudencia Ayala. Accessed October 16, 2015. http://www.concertacionfeministaprudenciaayala.org/quienes-somos.php.

Prudencia Ayala

Oscar Micheaux

[A photograph of Oscar Micheaux, date unknown]
[A (fantastic) photograph of Oscar Micheaux, date unknown.]
Oscar Micheaux, born in the state of Illinois, USA in 1884, was a Black American filmmaker, writer, and businessman. Micheaux used his artistic storytelling talents to fight against injustice during a time when White supremacy and anti-Black racism often resulted in lynchings, violent sexual assaults against women and men, and a legalized system of discrimination in the Southern USA called Jim Crow.

Micheaux founded the Micheaux Film and Book Company in 1918, and utilized his self-owned business to write, publish, and distribute novels and films across the United States. Due to the larger sociocultural context within which he lived, Micheaux (as many within Black communities in the USA did) was forced to utilize innovative techniques that allowed for him to succeed in a White supremacist society. Often promoting and hand-delivering his films in person to theatres across the United States, Micheaux embodied the themes of his films.

At the time that Micheaux was an active filmmaker and writer, many activists in Black communities utilized social uplift as one way to combat segregation, stereotypes, and broader White supremacist power structures. It was with these themes that Micheaux was concerned with in his films, and his everyday life. Although uplift strategies, from a twenty-first century perspective, can be viewed as problematic in many respects this by no means should detract from the efforts of those who fought racialized injustice in the USA (and many of whom paid dearly, often with their lives or those of loved ones).

Along with themes of social uplift, Micheaux’s films often drew upon the rich West African and African American traditions based around the trickster trope. As with those of social uplift, Micheaux, too, lived a life that embodied the trickster as he often would subvert White perceptions of Black Americans as unintelligent and utilize them to his advantage. For example, Micheaux’s 1924 film A Son of Satan was completely censored in Virginia. Yet Micheaux disregarded the censorship of this film (as he often did), and acted as though it was due to his ignorance and not cunning that the film had “accidentally” been shown.

As with all of the Historical Hotties featured here, Oscar Micheaux is a wonderful example of the many revolutionary, radical, and rabble-rousing people that make up our shared histories. Here’s to one fabulous trailblazing trickster + justice seeker.

~ Monique

Bibliography:

Ooten, Melissa. Race, Gender, and Film Censorship in Virginia, 1922-1965. Maryland: Lexington Books, 2015.

Oscar Micheaux

Ralph Josselin

A dead Puritan? Hear me out! Rev. Ralph Josselin (1617-1683) is featured here for a couple of reasons. Josselin, a rural vicar and farmer, is one of many historical figures whom we know about today because he was a prolific diarist. In his diaries, Josselin wrote of his daily life as a husband, father and vicar, and his observations of his experiences have helped to flesh out what life looked like for rural commoners in seventeenth-century England. In addition to enriching non-urban and non-elite English history, Josselin’s diaries haved helped overturn modern myths about medieval and early modern people and societies. Most importantly, Josselin’s writings about his family have contributed to undermining the formerly commonplace idea that parents before the Victorian era were unfeeling toward their children because the odds that they would die were so great.

If you can, read some excerpts from Josselin’s diaries. Oh, and have something cheerful standing by as a counter-measure. Josselin, who suffered the early deaths of several of his beloved children, documented his feelings of heartbreak as he watched them suffer through hideous illnesses and, in the worst cases, death. Contrary to old tropes about pre-Victorian parents, Josselin was not indifferent to the deaths of his children. Indeed, his diary entries that deal with death reveal his intense sense of conflict between his emotions and his devout Puritanism; despite his belief that his departed children had been embraced by God and relieved of the suffering of this mortal coil, Josselin could not overcome his grief. This seems to have been a source of shame for him–a kind of failure to overcome worldly attachments. This augustinian conflict made Josselin something of an unwitting transgressor of the gender prescriptions of his day, when men, as the supposedly rational masters of their emotions, were thought to bounce back from grief more quickly than emotionally-charged women (sound familiar?). Josselin actually writes of his wife’s comparative ability to cope with loss, and her admonishments for his inability to shake off his continuous grief. 

-Spirit

*No confirmed portrait of Josselin.

Macfarlane, Alan ed. The Diary of Ralph Josselin, 1616-1683. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Ralph Josselin