Ella Josephine Baker

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[A photograph of an impassioned Ella Baker, date and photographer unknown. Retrieved from http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker]

I had planned to write the first HHBlog post of 2017 on a different day, one removed from Inauguration Day and all of the trauma and violence going on today with this incoming American administration. But that would have felt false to me on multiple levels. The violence of this election season and of this inauguration are not housed within the confines of particular calendar dates or in the bodies of particular human beings, no matter how vile we may feel they are. This violence is systemic. It is a foundational part of the very institutions upon which the United States – as a settler colonial, capitalist, white supremacist, and patriarchal state – is built upon. So today – January 20th, the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States Mr. Donald Trump – marks our first HHBlog post of the year to both remind us that this is an interconnected struggle that has been going on long before our lifetimes, and to celebrate those who have been en la lucha in the generations before us.

Today’s inaugural post of 2017 is therefore dedicated to the one and only Ella Josephine Baker, a radical Black woman who helped lead the fight for Civil Rights in the twentieth century United States. Born in December 1903 in Virginia, she was an organizer and activist for the majority of her life, working primarily in less public roles than some of the more prominent men of the Civil Rights Movement, although she was no less important! While working alongside several Black activists such as W.E.B. du Bois and the Southern Chiristian Leadership Conference (SCLC), she also mentored a younger generation of radical Black activists such as Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture.

Baker was a proponent of radical participatory democracy who disavowed what she called “professional” leadership. She believed that “strong people” did not need “strong leadership.” She began her engagement in activism as a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), traveling widely throughout the United States gathering funds and recruiting new NAACP members.  After some time, she returned to her adopted city of New York and worked with various local Civil Rights organizations until 1957 when she joined the SCLC as the executive director – at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Her work with the SCLC eventually led to the organization of the event that created the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), of which she remained an active member and supporter long after having let the SCLC.

After the demise of the Civil Rights Movement – due to American legislation, FBI infiltration, and assassinations of prominent leaders – Ella Baker continued to fight for racial justice, lending her support to the Puerto Rican Solidarity Committee and the Third World Women’s Coordinating Committee. Ella Baker fought for justice for over five decades, eventually passing away on her 83rd birthday in 1986. Baker serves as an inspiration for those of us who fight – in whatever way we are able to – for intersectional racial justice. Baker understood that although she was principally concerned with Black Americans receiving justice, that this was a struggle connected to entire systems of oppression and injustice that affected everyone. Ella Baker serves as a critical reminder that women of colour, especially Black women, have been at the forefront in fighting for justice and rights for all of us. I encourage our readers to seek out the words and wisdom of women of colour who have led fights for justice, and who continue to do so in our communities today. Thank you, Ella Josephine Baker, and the countless Black women and non-Black women of colour who continue to fight on behalf of our communities.

~ M

Bibliography

“Ella Baker: Biography.” Accessed January 20th, 2017. http://www.biography.com/people/ella-baker-9195848#synopsis

“Who Was Ella Baker?” Accessed January 20th, 2017. http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker

 

 

Ella Josephine Baker

Ella Cara Deloria

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[A wonderful photo of Ella Cara Deloria, found on the website for the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center]

Ella Cara Deloria (Anpetu Wastéwin “Beautiful Day Woman”) was born in 1889 on the Standing Rock Reservation in what is known as the state of South Dakota, USA. Deloria was born to a prominent Christian Dakota family, with famous Dakota activist academics such as Vine Deloria Jr. (her nephew) and Philip J. Deloria (Vine Deloria Jr.’s son) making up part of her familial relations.

In 1915, Deloria received a Bachelor’s degree from Columbia Teacher’s College. During her time at Columbia, she met the famous anthropologist Franz Boaz with whom she began to collaborate with. Her knowledge of both Dakota and Lakota Sioux dialects became an asset within the early twentieth century world of anthropology, a discipline which was born of colonial, exploitative inquiry into the lives of Indigenous peoples by mostly white men. With her introduction to Boaz, Deloria began to become involved in anthropological work as a key translator and critical analyzer of Sioux texts.

Her work in the academy demonstrates some of the ways marginalized people navigated early twentieth century academia, and specifically how Indigenous women were intrinsic in the development of anthropology as a field of academic inquiry. While anthropology is embedded within a colonial history of exploitation, figures like Ella Deloria complicate what can often be painted as a one-dimensional narrative of academics exploiting Indigenous communities. Deloria demonstrates, quite literally, how Indigenous peoples spoke back with and against anthropologists during the twentieth century, often making space for themselves to work in helping their own people.

Outside of her work as an anthropologist, linguist, and ethnographer, Deloria was also a novelist and – interestingly – an advisor to the Camp Fire Girls, an early version of a settler girls “back to nature” style camp. Although camps such as the Camp Fire Girls utilized stereotypes of Indigenous peoples as “noble savages,” people like Deloria hoped to change these harmful stereotypes by working from within. From 1929 to 1931, Deloria taught Camp Fire Girls about different Indigenous philosophies, songs, and dances, advancing what Philip J. Deloria has referred to as “her own cultural mission – constructing positive images of Indians around the primitivist foundation laid by the Camp Fire Girls. Just as the Camp Fire Girls used a universal Indianness to reproduce specific ideals of middle-class womanhood, so too did Deloria seek access to American cultural institutions in order to reshape popular conceptions of Indianness” (122).

Deloria’s work spanned not only the academy, but everyday middle-class settler contexts such as summer camps for children. She worked tirelessly within institutions that were not meant to accommodate the voices of Indigenous people in general, and specifically not Indigenous women. Ella Deloria was of a generation of middle-class Indigenous activists who gained entry into settler academic institutions, albeit in often marginal forms, and attempted to work towards change from the inside out. Deloria, like many other members of her family, paved the way for later generations of Indigenous activists. As the recent and ongoing defense of Indigenous land, water, and treaty rights at Standing Rock demonstrates, the fight for justice continues. We here at the HHBlog tip our proverbial hats to Indigenous women such as Ella Deloria who fought – and continue to fight – in myriad ways for their respective peoples.

~ M

Bibliography

Deloria, Philip J. Playing Indian. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

“Ella Cara Deloria, Anpetu Wastéwin (Beautiful Day Woman).” Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center. Accessed December 9, 2016. http://aktalakota.stjo.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9006

Ella Cara Deloria

Shirley Chisholm

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[An absolutely fantastic photo of the brilliant (and one of my personal fashion inspirations, I mean the severity of a tightly buttoned, bright collared shirt with a big necklace?! Hello!) Shirley Chisholm, announcing her candidacy for Presidential nomination on January 25th, 1972 in Brooklyn, NYC. “Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm announcing her candidacy for presidential nomination,” Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog,  http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/ds.07135/ ]

We here at the Blog pride ourselves on taking the time and care to curate accessible snapshots of lives lived in search of justice, with a strident political commitment to paying tribute to the voices of rabble rousers, radicals, and all around historical badasses who challenged injustice, marginalization, and oppression in a myriad of ways while celebrating the beauty (sans fetishization) of historically subjugated and denigrated communities. The last several weeks have quieted us, however, at least in our writing at the Blog as we have taken time to reflect, discuss, and heal in light of the outcome of the recent American Presidential election. In tribute to the countless communities across the United States who are continuing the multilayered fights for justice amidst emboldened white supremacy, patriarchy, settler colonialism, and capitalism, today’s HHBlog post is dedicated to none other than Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman elected in the United States.

Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, NYC in 1924 to a Barbadian mother and a Guyanese father, and was raised between Barbados by her maternal grandparents and Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn by her parents. After graduating high school in the 1940s, she went on to attend Brooklyn College and earned a degree in sociology. Following her graduation, she worked in childcare and, after marrying Conrad Q. Chisholm, returned to post-secondary education, this time for a Master of Arts in early childhood education from Columbia University.

In 1964, she was elected to the New York state legislature, only the second Black woman at that point to have done so. According to the U.S. House of Representatives biography of Chisholm, it was a “court–ordered redistricting that carved a new Brooklyn congressional district out of Chisholm’s Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood [that] convinced her to run for Congress.” After defeating several other Black candidates in the Democratic primary election of 1968, she went on to face off against Civil Rights activist and Republican-Liberal James Farmer, utilizing the argument (in her words) that “women [had] been in the driver’s seat” for too long in Black communities. Chisholm handily won her Congressional seat, gaining 67% of the vote in her district.

Chisholm served in Congress from 1969 until 1983 (91st to 97th Congresses), sitting on several important committees throughout her time as a congresswoman. While a congresswoman, Chisholm championed the causes she had fought for in her own community, including the right of domestic workers to receive benefits, federal funding for education, and immigrant rights. In 1972 she announced her candidacy for the Democratic Presidential ticket, the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s President nomination and the first Black person to run for President in the history of the United States. At the Democratic National Convention (DNC), she received roughly 10% of the delegate votes, which was rather sizeable considering the lack of access to large funding sources she had. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in her bid, due to a combination of factors including a division in the Congressional Black Caucus (which she helped found, no less).

Chisholm was a luminary in American politics and embodied many “firsts” in the political history of the United States. While she was a champion of Black rights, she never once flinched at criticizing Black patriarchal practices and norms alongside white patriarchy – something that garnered her both respect and incredible amounts of criticism. Chisholm, who once said that “[i]f they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” continues to be an inspiration to communities of colour, especially Black communities, across the United States despite often being ignored in white American mainstream history.

Although it is difficult to see how a political system built on stolen land and the labour of enslaved Africans and their descendants can ever deliver true justice to the most marginalized people in this society, Shirley Chisholm continues to be a shining ray of  inspiration. Thank you Shirley Chisholm, and all the other Black women and non-Black women of colour who continue to fight oppression and injustice. Today, we pay tribute to Shirley Chisholm, who remained “unbought and unbothered” (her campaign slogan) until her passing in 2005.

~ M

Bibliography

“CHISHOLM, Shirley Anita.” History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/10918

Vaidyanathan, Rajini. “Before Hillary Clinton, there was Shirley Chisholm.” BBC News, January 26, 2016. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35057641

Shirley Chisholm

Check Back Tomorrow!

Check back tomorrow for the second Día de lxs Muertxs post, sweet Internet friends! Having been at the Yale RITM Ethnic Studies Conference in honour of the one and only Don Nakanishi (look him up if you don’t know the name because I promise you he is a big deal), my brain is a little too fried to put together a proper post worthy of your eyes!

~ M

Check Back Tomorrow!

Mi Tía Alicia

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[A photograph of mi Tía Alicia taken as a toddler in 1928, looking so cute and fancy!]

Every year that passes, I feel as though I am one more year removed from some of the most important people in my life. The entire generation that makes up mis abuelitxs had passed away by the time I was eighteen; I often feel that I did not get a chance to get to know them as well as I wished because I was so young when some of them died. Because of this, commemorating them has grown in importance to me as I’ve gotten older. In honour of el Día de lxs Muertxs next week, the next two posts on the Historical Hotties Blog will be dedicated to two women de mi familia, one from each side of my family. Today’s Blog post is for mi Tía Alicia (1925-2008), known to many in our community in her later years simply as Tía.

Alicia Gómez Mota was born in May 1925 in la Ciudad de México to Josefina Mota Ávila and Samuel Gómez Jiménez. My great-grandmother (Josefina) was the daughter of a midwife who, on the day of Alicia’s birth, was away helping another woman give birth. In desperation as she began to go into labour, Josefina walked to where her own mother was catching another baby. Mi Tía was born literally minutes after Josefina arrived to see her mother; there was so little time between Josefina’s arrival and mi Tía’s birth that they only had time to slip a bag of corn under Josefina before Alicia was born. This story of mi Tía Alicia being born purple from Josefina’s strain on a bag of corn was a constant point of reference in mi Tía’s life that I heard (re)told often throughout my own childhood and adolescence. The story’s constant repetition in the frequent tellings of family history that made up family dinners in our household is instructive of the story’s meaning to mi Tía y mi familia.

Mi Tía’s life was shaped by circumstances that were common to many working class mestiza, city-born women of her generation in México. Growing up as one of the darkest people out of her four other siblings (she was the oldest, born just ten months – ! – before her younger brother Jorge) and the extended family, she suffered the combined effects of colourism, internalized self-hatred and colonization, and misogyny from both her own family and the broader society she was a part of. She often told the story of how, as a young girl, she had gone to a cousin’s birthday party but as the darkest child there, was refused a piece of chocolate cake by her own tía. She understandably carried a life long hatred of chocolate cake that was only intermittently broken late in life by politely eating my burnt attempts at Betty Crocker cakes I passionately made as a child.

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[Mi Tía Alicia is the oldest girl, centre, sporting a big grin and long wavy hair. Above her is her next closest-in-age sibling, Jorge, followed by mi Abuelita Ernestina to her right, and youngest brothers Manuel (directly in front of her) and Samuel (infant in front of Tina). This photo dates to roughly the mid-1930s]

The daughter of working class, urbanized Mexican parents who laboured with their hands (her father building road scales for trucks, her mother running their household), Alicia and mi Abuelita Ernestina did not finish the sixth grade as it was incorrectly believed that school was “just for sitting” aka because the labour involved in education went “unseen,” you were therefore “lazy.” As the oldest child – and specifically, oldest daughter – of the family, when her mother Josefina passed away early in life it became mi Tía’s responsibility to care for her father. Her (often unwillingly performed) labour in running a household went relatively unacknowledged, and led to her living a somewhat lonely life populated in great part by the various non-human animals she rescued, including geese, ducks, parrots, 100 canaries, a mountain goat, and even a lynx.

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[Mi Tía, sitting, beside mi Abuelita, for someone’s wedding that I should probably ask my mom about but for the moment will remain unknown.]

While she bitterly worked away at caring for her aging father Samuel, her life was, however, filled with other pleasures and rather remarkable events. She was one of the most gifted chefs imaginable who cooked for every family wedding, eventually taking a course or two in specialty baking in later years. She was also extremely lucky in being able to travel widely in her middle age, going to the United States, parts of Western Europe, and even China when it was first opened up for public travel under Communism. The child of parents who lived through the Mexican Revolution and the Great Depression, saving money was one of her greatest skills  and allowed for her to journey out into the world beyond México. Her impact on many people’s lives, including my own, spans literally across decades and borders/fronteras, especially due to the events in her life that took place between the Second World War and the 1980s.

During the Second World War, one of her brothers met a Welsh man serving in the British navy while in the United States. The Welsh man – Herbert, Bert for short – wanted to practice his Spanish, so they exchanged addresses and promised to write to each other. Bert began to write, but his letters went unanswered. Mi Tía, taking pity on this random man’s letters who kept arriving but remained unopened, began to write to Bert. Alicia and Bert wrote to each other over the course of several decades, each living incredibly distinct lives but never missing a letter. Bert went on to return to Wales, marry a woman (sending mi Tía a piece of cake from their wedding in the mail), have children, and move to the small Canadian city of Victoria, BC because he had found it pretty while stopping there during the Second World War.

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[A snapshot of mi Abuelita Tina on the left, and mi Tía Alicia on the right]

Eventually, after many years, Bert and his wife divorced each other and he randomly ended up in México on a missionary trip in the 1980s (ick missionaries I know, but the world is strange). After over two and a half decades of writing each other and Bert sending pictures (but mi Tía never once sending one of herself), Bert decided to go and meet mi Tía in la Ciudad de México. When he arrived, he was greeted by the entire family in true Mexican fashion. Finally meeting in person in their mid-fifties, after hundreds of letters, wedding cake slices, continent relocations, and who knows what else, mi Tía packed a single suitcase and moved to Victoria, BC with Bert – much to the consternation of her own father because what good is patriarchy for if not to scold middle-aged daughters! Mi Tía’s move to Canada was what precipitated my own mother – then just a teenager – to buy a lottery ticket in the airport at her send off, winning just enough money for a plane ticket to visit La Tía and eventually meet my dad, whose own aunt was mi Tía’s (future) neighbour.

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[The world’s happiest holder of a giant papaya, mi Tía Alicia]

Mi Tía lived the rest of her life in Victoria, BC and was one of the integral figures in my life. She helped to raise me, giving my parents the night off to go see the odd movie while my brother and I stayed home to watch animal documentaries and eat all the delicious food imaginable. Some of my fondest memories from childhood involve standing on a stepping stool and being taught how to make tortillas, sopes, and cakes at her side. Despite living a difficult life, she did not do so silently or without complaint. Tía Alicia was well known in my family for being a fighter – both physically and verbally – and for being as stubborn as possible (Taurus born in the Year of the Bull, just as a clue to the level of stubbornness I am talking about!). Her passion for life could not, however, be stifled by the bitterness and self-hatred that she lived with due to her earlier life experiences. For years, she took care of every non-human animal that crossed her path, including buying dog food, boiling eggs, and feeding Maria cookies to the raccoons who frequented her patio for over a decade in Victoria.

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[One of my favourite photos of mi Tía, looking regal as fuck while at the Eaton’s Centre Santa Breakfast in the early 1990s]

Even at the end of her life, she refused to give up her fighting spirit. In the last few months of her life, she became quite ill but refused to go without a fight; Tía Alicia lamented that her hospital bed was placed on the second floor where the windows didn’t open, because she was determined on throwing herself out the window rather than die laying in a bed. Eventually, on April 24, 2008, she passed away, ready to see her sister Ernestina and husband Bert again.

~ M

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[Mi Abuelita Tina, me, y mi Tía Alicia cutting up vegetables in mi Tía’s home, early 1990s.]

Mi Tía Alicia

Américo Paredes

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[A rather handsome photograph of Américo Paredes – with his guitar in his hand – in later life. Photo found on the University of Houston’s Houston Public Media Obituary https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/shows/2015/09/26/127130/writer-and-folklorist-amrico-paredes/ ]

Born in the fronteriza city of Brownsville, Texas in 1915, Américo Paredes was one of the foundational figures in the development of Chicano Studies. Working first as a newspaper delivery person, and later as a reporter for the Brownsville Herald during the Great Depression, Paredes served in the Second World War in the Pacific and only returned to the United States in 1950. Upon his return, he enrolled at the  University of Texas and became the first Mexican-American to obtain a PhD from the university.

His first book, “With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (1958) is considered to be one of *the* foundational books in Chicano Studies and has proven to be a classic folkloric text in the historiography of the borderlands/frontera.  This book helped pave the way for his career, which spanned decades and always focused on what he referred to as the “Lower Border” region. His work concentrated on cultural creations like corridos (popular Mexican ballads), fronteriza humour, and folktales. He helped to inspire countless people after him, ranging from historians within the academy to working class people interested in reconnecting with their cultura.

Although it has been several years since Paredes passed away in 1999, his work continues to inspire both already established scholars and those of us like myself who are just beginning our academic careers. His work outside of the academy as a singer-songwriter was just as influential as his work as a scholar taking pride in studying his own culture. It is through the diversity of his passions that his work helped to create the modern discipline of Chicano Studies as it stands today.

~ M

Bibliography

Holley, Joe. “Americo Paredes, a Pioneer In Chicano Studies, Dies at 83.” New York Times, May 7, 1999. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/07/arts/americo-paredes-a-pioneer-in-chicano-studies-dies-at-83.html.

Medrano, Manuel F.  Américo Paredes: In His Own Words, an Authorized Biography. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010.

Américo Paredes