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.]

Advertisements
Mi Tía Alicia

Américo Paredes

am_rico-paredes

[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

La Comandanta Ramona

Comandanta_Ramona_by_bastian

[A photograph of la Comandanta Ramona, taken by Heriberto Rodriguez]

What is the line between the past and present? And what is the difference between history and the past? These are questions that often plague academic historians and broader students of history, especially when prompted by the question “what is history?” Today’s post – the first of 2016 – does not attempt to answer any of these questions, but instead attempts to infuse our understandings of the rebellious, radical, and revolutionary people whom we look up to here at Historical Hotties with them. Often times, these questions are brushed off as purely theoretical, as not worth the time of “real” historians that study a “real past.” This is where La Comandanta Ramona comes in.

La Comandanta Ramona was an essential leader in the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) – often referred to as Zapatistas – until her untimely death in 2006. Born in Chiapas, México in 1959, La Comandanta Ramona was an Indigenous Tzotzil woman who fought with the Zapatistas against capitalism and continuing colonialism in México as perpetrated by the state and corporations. As quoted in La Jornada upon her death in 2006 from cancer, Ramona “era uno de los símbolos más emblemáticos del EZLN,” with her small stature, her traditional clothing, and her covered face becoming one of the images that come to mind in relation to the EZLN. Ramona was highly involved in the social struggle in the 1980s in Chiapas, fighting for the rights of Indigenous women to education and healthcare, and for Indigenous women’s artisanal skills to be respected by broader society. Together with la Mayor Ana María, Ramona helped to draft la Ley Revolucionaria de Mujeres in the early 1990s. Ramona was critical to el Comité Clandestino Revolucionario Indígena, which was what helped the armed insurrection of January 1, 1994 that led to the capture of San Cristóbal. Ramona then participated in the important diálogos de la catedral de San Cristóbal with the emissaries of the Salinas Government.

Ramona – and the EZLN more broadly – elicits us to pick apart the demarcations of past/present. We must contextualize these struggles in a much longer history that begins in 1492, and yet also contextualize them in the present as the effects of centuries old colonialism, genocide, exploitation, racism, and patriarchy all intermingle to create our present realities. The EZLN has made these connections central to their struggles, as illustrated in their comunicados. Furthermore, Indigenous Peoples are often relegated to “the past” in the settler colonial imagination. As historians and students of history, it is our responsibility to fight against this racist and colonial narrative from both within and outside the academy.

Ramona passed away in 2006 – is this the past or present? For those of us that feel as though 2000 was just yesterday, 2006 feels like it is still “the present.” 1994 was within many of our lifetimes – is this the past or present? The EZLN continues to fight, their struggle is not over as their 22nd anniversary comunicado from January 1, 2016 attests. Yet histories are already being written about them. La Comandanta Ramona is someone whose life, struggles, and history is still very, very fresh. Her radical defense of her community, her people, and her own humanity in the face of colonialism, patriarchy, and capitalism are worthy of more than just applause. Ramona is demonstrative of how the past is never over, of how it continues to inform our present, and of how we are always engaging in the politics of memory.

~ M

Bibliography

Garrido, Luis Javier. “La comandanta.” La Jornada. January 13, 2006. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2006/01/13/index.php?section=opinion&article=021a1pol

Marcos, Subcomandante Insurgente. Our Word is Our Weapon. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004.

Rodriguez, Heriberto. [Image] Accessed January 7, 2016. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicalibre/83655677/in/photolist-8oKVg

 

La Comandanta Ramona

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]
Mi Abuelita Ernestina