Philip Vera Cruz

philipvc_pa016916a

[A fantastic photograph of Philip Vera Cruz in later years, found on the great blog https://fromthevcvault.wordpress.com/tag/philip-vera-cruz/]

More often than not, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta are the two people who are most prominently remembered to be associated with agricultural worker’s unionization efforts in the United States. And while they are important in the histories of agricultural labour unions in the United States, the story of the United Farm Workers (UFW) is much larger than them. Rarely if ever does the name Philip Vera Cruz get mentioned in popular histories of the United Farm Workers labour union (UFW) outside of one or two lines, except for perhaps in Asian-American history texts.

Born in 1904 in Saoang, Ilocos Sur, Philippines, Vera Cruz was a critical driving force in unionization efforts amongst a broad racial coalition of agricultural workers in mid-20th c California. At a young age he immigrated to the United States as part of the early wave of Filipinx migration from an American Empire-controlled Philippines, carrying the legacies of American colonial rule to the United States with him. Entering the United States through Seattle in 1926 and later moving to Chicago, Vera Cruz spent his early years in the USA working as a physical labourer and sending money back home to support his family in the Philippines. Following the Second World War, Vera Cruz left Chicago for Delano, California in order to work as an agricultural labourer.

Vera Cruz, along with many other Filipinxs and Filipinx-Americans from his generation became involved in the growing agricultural labour movement after his move to Delano. In the 1950s Vera Cruz became the president of the Delano local of the National Farm Labor Union which represented mostly Filipinxs along with some Mexican and Mexican-American workers. At the same time that he was working in Delano as a farmworker, the demographics of the agricultural workforce were shifting as the Bracero Program (1942-1964) was bringing in thousands of Mexican men, many of whom returned to the USA on a regular basis after their contracts finished or stayed permanently in the USA as undocumented workers.

In 1959, the AFL-CIO organized the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, and within three years César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla, and other agricultural workers created the National Farm Workers Association. The strike that would ultimately provide the catalyst for the nation-wide (and eventually even international) grape boycott and strike took place in September 1965, when the predominantly Filipinx and Filipinx-American workforce voted to strike against the exploitative grape growers in the broader Delano area. The Filipinx community in the United States “had a strong labor consciousness,” in Vera Cruz’s words, because they had been continuously exploited since arriving in the United States decades before, as it was extremely difficult to leave the United States for the Philippines due to geographic, immigration, and economic reasons. Even more, many had left the Philippines while it was under American imperial control and had therefore experienced American capitalist exploitation from even before their move to the USA.

Vera Cruz would go on to play a major role in organizing Filipinxs and Filipinx-Americans through the UFW, which he helped found, all while attempting to balance the delicate and often difficult racial coalition that existed amongst Mexican, Filipinx, Arab, and Black American agricultural workers in the union. Ultimately, Vera Cruz left the UFW (which he served as second vice president at the time) in 1977 over intense ethical and political disagreements with how Chávez led the union, ignited especially in regards to the visit Chávez undertook to the Philippines where human rights abuses were state-sanctioned at the time. Despite leaving the UFW, Philip Vera Cruz continued to be a strong advocate for the labour rights of agricultural workers until his death in 1994.

Vera Cruz remains an important but often overlooked (at least outside of Asian-American academic circles) historical figure who can teach us a lot about the experiences of colonized peoples under American imperial control in Asia, the attempts of some of the most marginal people in capitalist economies – impoverished, racialized agricultural workers – to unionize, and the difficult yet necessary work that goes into creating racial coalitions and solidarities. The effect of Vera Cruz’s activism and life can be felt today in the United States, even if his name remains relatively unfamiliar to many outside of his community. We hear at the HHBlog tip our hats to Vera Cruz, and we hope you seek out more information about him and his radical work as a labour organizer!

~ M

Bibliography

Fujita Rony, Dorothy. “Coalitions, Race, and Labor: Rereading Philip Vera Cruz.”  Journal of Asian American Studies Vol. 3, No. 2 (June 2000): 139-162.

Lyons, Richard D. “Philip Vera Cruz, 89; Helped to Found  Farm Worker Union.” New York Times, June 16, 1994. Accessed June 9, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/16/obituaries/philip-vera-cruz-89-helped-to-found-farm-worker-union.html.

Scharlin, Craig, Lilia Villanueva, and Elaine H. Kim. Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999.

Philip Vera Cruz

Mifune Toshiro (Toshiro Mifune)

la-estockly-1480376875-snap-photo

[Mifune Toshiro* for the film Seven Samurai, looking like the talented hunk he was. Photograph courtesy of Janus Film]

Today’s Historical Hottie is none other than the prolific Chinese-born Japanese actor Mifune Toshiro, known in the western world as Toshiro Mifune.* Mifune was born in April 1920 to two Japanese missionaries in Shandong Province, China. After nearly two decades of living in China, he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War and, because of his experience working in his father’s photography studio, served as an aerial photographer.

After the Second World War, Mifune went on to work in the Photography Department of Toho Productions, where he would meet the masterful film director Akira Kurosawa during film auditions. This meeting would go on to shape both of their careers, creating a partnership that spanned 16 films, many of which such as Rashomon (1950) – a personal favourite of mine, Seven Samurai (1954), and Throne of Blood (1957) – another favourite! – influenced, and continue to influence, the art of cinema around the world. Despite later difficulties in their professional relationship, Kurosawa continued to believe that he was “proud of nothing I have done other than with him [Mifune].” His acting career was not, however, limited to just these 16 films with Kurosawa – which would have been prolific on its own. Mifune acted in over 120 films, various TV shows, and inspired the likes of people like Clint Eastwood in his portrayal of a rough, lone warrior. Mifune’s portrayal of samurai and ronin was groundbreaking as, at the time, film representations never ventured into portrayals that centred on rough or coarse characters, but instead depended upon particular stereotypes of refinement which Mifune broke. After a long, illustrious career that at times was wrought with difficulties (a failed film school from the 1980s, for example), Mifune passed away in 1997,

Mifune is one of the most important screen actors of the 20th c, despite the fact that perhaps few outside of cinema lovers know his name or the impact he has had on modern film. At a time when North America was hostile to East Asians, especially Japanese people due not only to the Second World War but decades of anti-Asian racism enshrined in law and culture, Mifune’s rise to worldwide prominence is even more astounding. In honour of Mifune, we here at the HHBlog urge you to check out some of his films if you haven’t already! What better tribute to a rich and creative body of cinema acting than to sit and watch one of his many incredible performances.

~ M

*Traditional Japanese naming customs place the family name first and given name last, unlike common western naming customs which place given name first and family name last.

Bibliography

Lyman, Ryan. “Toshiro Mifune, Actor, Dies at 77; The Primal Hero of Samurai Films.” New York Times. December 25, 1997. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/25/movies/toshiro-mifune-actor-dies-at-77-the-primal-hero-of-samurai-films.html

Turan, Kenneth. “Review: In documentary ‘Mifune: The Last  Samurai,’ Spielberg, Scorsese and others  she light on the legendary Japanese actor.” LA Times. December 1, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-mifune-review-20161128-story.html

Mifune Toshiro (Toshiro Mifune)

Zora Neale Hurston

rc10403

[A fabulous photograph of Zora Neale Hurston in Eatonville, Florida. Found at https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/33048 ]

In celebration of the start of Black History Month here in the United States, today’s HHBlog post is dedicated to the poet, fiction writer, anthropologist, and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama in 1891 and spent the majority of her early life in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated Black township in the United States. Raised by her mother Lucy Potts Hurston and her father John Hurston until Lucy’s untimely death when Zora was thirteen years old, Zora Neale Hurston remembered her childhood as a relatively peaceful time where she was surrounded by Black success, inspiration, and support. After her mother’s death and her father’s remarriage, Zora struggled through school. Eventually Zora ended up, at age twenty-six, in Baltimore with no complete high school education. She enrolled in public school, claiming to be sixteen years old in order to receive her education for free; from this moment onward, her publicly-stated age was always to be ten years younger than her real age.

After living for a time in Baltimore, Zora made her way to Harlem, New York and became an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance, becoming friends with the likes of Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, and Sterling Brown. In 1928, she graduated from Barnard College (the women’s college attached to Columbia University). Throughout the 1930s and 1940s she wrote several short stories, novels (Jonah’s Gourd Vine published in 1934), and folklore collections (Mules and Men published in 1935). Perhaps her most famous work was 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God – a must-read novel for anyone and everyone, in our opinion here at the Blog. It was not until the publication of her autobiography in 1942, however, that she gained more prominent recognition. Even then, though, she received little compensation for her writing, as demonstrated by the fact that when she passed away in 1960 from a stroke, her neighbours in Florida had to cobble together money for her funeral. From 1960 until 1973, her grave remained unmarked – something that Zora had foretold in a letter she wrote to W.E.B. Du Bois regarding how often Black people’s graves went unmarked in the United States. It was not until 1973 when Alice Walker, a then-young Black author, made a pilgrimage to the segregated Florida cemetery Garden of Heavenly Rest that Zora’s grave received a tombstone, reading “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South.”

In honour of Zora Neale Hurston and all the Black women artists, writers, and cultural workers who came before and after her, we ask our readers to seek out, listen to, or watch the work of Black artists who dedicated themselves to displaying Black joy, complexity, and nuance in a world that affords little space for complicated understandings of Blackness.

If you haven’t read anything by her, check out this wonderful reading by Alice Walker of an excerpt from Their Eyes Were Watching God:

~ M

Bibliography

Boyd, Valerie. Wrapped in Rainbows:The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Lisa Drew Books, 2004.

Boyd, Valerie. “About Zora Neal Hurston.” Accessed February 3, 2017. http://www.zoranealehurston.com/about/index.html

Zora Neale Hurston

Ella Josephine Baker

ella_baker_and_sncc_2

[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

ella_c_deloria

[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

07135r

[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

Mi Tía Alicia

baby_tia

[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.

lol

[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.

fullsizerender

[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.

tia_y_abuelita

[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.

img_2906

[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.

regal

[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

img_2912

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

Mi Tía Alicia