This post by IWA Student Specialist, Erik Henderson, is the fourth installment in our series highlighting African American history in the Iowa Women’s Archives collections. The series has run weekly during Black History Month, and will continue monthly for the remainder of 2020.
The Martha Ann Furgerson Nash papers are filled with information about her activism as part of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), plus insight related to the legacy of Furgerson and her family. Furgerson was born September 26, 1925 in Sedalia, Missouri. She later attended school in Waterloo, Iowa, graduating from East High School in 1943. While earning a BA in history with honors from Talladega College in 1947, Furgerson found love and married Warren Nash. While raising all of their seven children, Nash focused on community engagement, on the local, national, and international level.
For over a decade, beginning in 1962, Nash served as the director of the Black Hawk County Chapter of the NAACP. Throughout her time with the NAACP, Nash was a part of the Cities Task Force for Community Relations with the League of Iowa Municipalities, which emphasized housing, employment, education, and community relations with law enforcement as pressing issues for Iowa’s Black community. As director of the Black Hawk County Chapter of the NAACP, Nash had the opportunities to display her research and the work of the League of Iowa Municipalities. Within this collection there are a series of six editorials addressing issues of civil rights in metropolitan Black Hawk County on the KWWL television station. KWWL went on air in 1947 as Ralph J. McElroy, founder of KWWL, “realized that Waterloo needed more radio stations.” KWWL-TV aired in November of 1953.
The scripts for the KWWL editorial series, preserved in Martha Nash papers, aired between February 12-17, 1968. They addressed topics such as housing, education, employment and community relations which were areas of concern for the task force that Nash was a part of. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the program returned for a final address and call to action on April 8, 1968.
The first report provided the audience with an overview of recurring issues that the Black community encountered. The second report pressured members of the Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Evansdale communities to lend formal support in dismantling discrimination against non-white people seeking to buy a home or rent, by writing their city council in favor of an open housing ordinance. The third report detailed a “crash, saturation program” on appropriate techniques for police communication with Black residents. Not to be one sided, the report pushed the Black community to invite police officers to as many functions as possible to alleviate tensions between the two groups. The remaining reports encouraged businesses and labor organizations to “adopt resolutions supporting the elimination of racial discrimination in employment” and highlighted the disadvantages of segregation in schools.
These issues raised by the NAACP and the League of Iowa Municipalities are still being fought over today. Nash envisioned, that, as she stated “if our determination lags, if we become petulant, if we delay in facing up to the tough decisions immediately ahead, we will pay a huge price in the future.” While young Black and Brown people across the world continue to be targets of racial injustices, mass incarceration and murder, we all need to act now before it is too late. In the wake of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, the final report stated:
“We ask that Americans everywhere dedicate themselves to this proposition and work together toward the fulfillment of the dream of Martin Luther King. If we can’t, the future of this noble experiment in government by the people looks bleak. If we can, America has a chance to really be the land of the free and home of the brave.”
Sentiments such as the one above spoke to the need for societal change. Nash challenged Black people to advocate for themselves, while challenging non-Black community members to join the movement. Martha Nash will forever be an example of an individual who was optimistic for the future.
This post by IWA Graduate Research Assistant Heather Cooper is the third installment in our series highlighting African American history in the Iowa Women’s Archives collection. The series will continue weekly during Black History Month, and monthly for the remainder of 2020.
If you’re looking for a local history of civil rights activism, look no further than The Iowa Women’s Archives, where our stacks are filled with the papers and records of remarkable individuals and organizations devoted to the ongoing struggle for civil rights and social justice – the Virginia Harper papers are one such collection. Harper was born in Fort Madison, Iowa in 1929. She studied at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) and was one of five African American women to integrate the first residence hall on campus (Currier Hall) in 1946. Harper worked as an x-ray technician and medical assistant in her family’s Fort Madison clinic and was actively engaged in her community, serving on the state Board of Public Instruction, the Iowa Board of Parole, and as Secretary and then President of the Fort Madison branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from the 1960s through the 1990s.
As NAACP Secretary, Virginia Harper took on local issues with national import. Beginning in 1967, the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and Iowa State Highway Commission endorsed a plan to improve U.S. 61 in Fort Madison by re-routing the highway through the southwest corner of the city. These plans were meant to improve traffic conditions and ease of access to the city, but at the expense of the effected neighborhood, whose residents would be forced to relocate. The area in question represented what Virginia Harper called “the only truly multi-ethnic area in the city,” home to a significant number of African Americans, Mexican Americans, and low-income whites. Acting as Secretary of the Fort Madison branch of the NAACP, Harper filed a legal complaint against the project, alleging that it violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because a disproportionate number of those who would be displaced were members of the minority population. This was the beginning of a struggle that went on for several years as Harper and others joined forces with leaders of the Mexican-American community to protest the plan, gather signatures for multiple petition campaigns, and correspond with various government agencies and national civil rights groups.
At the heart of Harper’s analysis was a critique of the racist and classist views which deemed this area of the city worth sacrificing. In a letter to the Department of Transportation on June 30, 1970, Harper outlined fourteen reasons why the relocation plan was objectionable. She wrote, “The corridor which has been chosen for the Highway relocation, follows the tradition of disrupting minority group neighborhoods. … Chosen because it is the ‘cheapest’ area of the town, it is this way because the citizens of this area have been systematically denied the privilege of living in other areas of the community.” In a letter to the editor of the Evening Democrat, Harper added, “This is not quite the time for sitting back and telling minority group members and lower income whites that they must sacrifice for the good of society. They’ve been sacrificing all their lives and are accustomed to being used.”
Part of a larger series on “Iowa Racial Issues,” the Highway 61 material in Virginia Harper’s papers provides insight into historic patterns and practices of redlining and defacto segregation in Iowa. Come to the archives to learn more about Harper and civil rights struggles in the state.
For more information on this topic, check out Kara Mollano’s article about Highway 61 in the Annals of Iowa: “Race, Roads, and Right-of-Way: A Campaign to Block Highway Construction in Fort Madison, 1967-1976.” The Annals of Iowa, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Summer 2009): 255-297.
This post by IWA Assistant Curator Janet Weaver and Graduate Research Assistant Heather Cooper is the second installment in our series highlighting African American history in the Iowa Women’s Archives’ collections. The series will continue weekly during Black History month, and monthly throughout 2020.
The Iowa Women’s Archives is honored to be the repository for a collection of oral history interviews recorded with southern African American women who worked as maids for white families and later migrated to Waterloo, Iowa. These women were interviewed for the 2012 book, The Maid Narratives: Black Domestic Workers and White Families in the Jim Crow South, written by Katherine van Wormer, David W. Jackson III, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives collection at IWA includes nineteen of the original audio interviews (now digitized) and abridged transcripts of several of the interviews included in the book. In the oral histories, women engage with topics such as education, family, sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, sexual assault, and the civil rights movement.
Mamie Johnson was born outside Jackson, Mississippi in 1922 and spoke to David W. Jackson about growing up on a sharecropped farm and working for whites from a young age, just as her mother had. “I started working for white people when I was just big enough and old enough to do the dishes, and that was about seven or eight.” Speaking about the Tates, the first family she worked for, Johnson recalled having to learn and navigate the racial etiquette of the household.
You had to go to the back door. It was just a rule and you knowed it! And when the children got to be teenagers, it was Mister or Miss. When I’d be working in the house, they would show me what to say. They would tell me, ‘When you clean up Mr. David’s room, do this or fix his so-and-so, or don’t do so-and so.’ When they said, ‘Mister,’ that is for you to say it—‘Mister.’ And you know them little children and the teenagers—they loved it for you to say that! Yeah, they loved for you to say Mr. So-and-So. You know one thing, I was so glad when the time come around when black people would talk to white people to say what they thought. Now you talking about a shouting time, I felt just like shouting when black people stopped having to say Mr. So-and-So. And they would say it just for you to say it.
A keen observer of human behavior, Johnson also spoke about the terrible consequences of not understanding the social deference that was expected and demanded of African Americans in the South. She vividly remembered the details of Emmett Till’s murder and watching the trial unfold over three short weeks. “The boy just whistled at the woman, you know, didn’t know the danger he was in.” What she remembered most from the trial was the accused murderers “kissing their wives, hugging their wives, and rejoicing” when they were found not guilty. This stood in stark contrast to the image of Emmett Till, whose funeral service she also watched on TV. The interviews included in this collection are a testament to these women’s work, family ties, humor, and survival.
This March we will celebrate Women’s History Month by learning more about these remarkable women whose lives were shaped by domestic service in white households in the Jim Crow South. Recently described in a Time Magazine article as a “landmark collection of oral histories,” the interviews conducted by Charletta Sudduth and David Jackson III shine a light on the daily lives, struggles, and courage of the thousands of African American women who labored as domestic servants in the South but about whom relatively little is known.
Join us at the Iowa City Public Library on March 3 for a conversation with historians, social workers, and civil rights activists who are tied to this history:
Annie Pearl Stevenson is a civil rights activist and former domestic worker who was interviewed for The Maid Narratives.
Charletta Sudduth, Ed.D., is co-author of The Maid Narratives and Early Childhood Consultant with the Waterloo Community School District.
David Jackson III, Ph.D., is co-author of The Maid Narratives and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the African American Studies Program at the University of Iowa.
Katherine van Wormer is co-author of The Maid Narratives and Professor Emerita, Department of Social Work, University of Northern Iowa.
Catherine Stewart, Professor, Department of History, Cornell College, is currently an Obermann Fellow-In-Residence, and working on a book, “The New Maid: African American Women and Domestic Service During the New Deal.”
What: Iowa Women of the Great Migration: The Maid Narratives
When: Tuesday, March 3, 4:00pm to 5:30pm (Reception at 3:30pm)
Where: Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A
Co-sponsors – Iowa City Public Library, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies (University of Iowa)
This post by IWA Graduate Assistant, Heather Cooper, is the first of a series highlighting African American history in the Iowa Women’s Archives’ collections. The series will continue weekly during Black History month, and monthly throughout 2020.
The Grace Morris Allen Jones collection at the Iowa Women’s Archives consists of only one folder, but inside it you will find the history of three generations of remarkable African American women. Jones was born in Keokuk, Iowa in 1876 and grew up in Burlington, where she would later establish the Grace M. Allen Industrial School for African American students. After her marriage to Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones in 1912, the couple moved to Piney Woods, Mississippi, where together they built and taught at the Piney Woods Country Life School. Jones maintained contact with family and friends in Iowa and, in 1927, she wrote and published an article about her family history in The Palimpsest, a magazine published by the State Historical Society of Iowa.
In “The Desire for Freedom,” Jones tells the story of her family’s journey from slavery to freedom in the 1850s. Jones’ grandmother, Charlotta Pyles, was enslaved by the Gordon family on a large plantation in Kentucky, along with her twelve children. Her husband, Harry Pyles, was a free man, but under the laws of slavery he had no legal authority to protect his own wife and children. When she was fifty-four years old, Pyles was granted her freedom, along with most of her kin, and they made the arduous journey from Kentucky to free territory just as winter set in. The group, which ultimately settled in Keokuk, Iowa, included Charlotta and Harry Pyles, eleven of their children, and five of their grandchildren. The family lived in a large brick house, built by Harry Pyles, and belonged to the First Baptist Church of Keokuk. It was there that Charlotta and Harry Pyles were legally married in 1857, a right denied to them under slavery, where husbands, wives, and children could be separated at the whim of slave owners and traders.
But, as Jones describes, freedom did not bring an end to heartache, for Charlotta Pyles was forced to leave behind one of her sons, Benjamin, and two of her sons-in-law. Pyles was determined to purchase the freedom of her sons-in-law, who had wives and children that needed them. Clearly aware of the antislavery movement and fugitive slave activists like Frederick Douglass who wrote and spoke publicly about their experience, Pyles traveled to the East Coast to engage audiences and raise the necessary money. Speaking in major cities like Philadelphia and New York, she gained the attention of prominent figures like Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Lucretia Mott. Immensely proud of her grandmother’s bravery and commitment, Grace Morris Allen Jones wrote,
It was a difficult task for a poor, ignorant woman, who had never had a day’s schooling in her life, to travel thousands of miles in a strange country and stand up night after night and day after day before crowds of men and women, pleading for those back in slavery. So well did she plead, however, that in about six months she had raised the necessary three thousand dollars, returned to Iowa, thence to Kentucky where she bought the two men from their owners, and reunited them with their families.
Jones rightly noted that “the spirit of Charlotta Pyles found worthy expression in her children and grandchildren,” who made their own remarkable impacts on Iowa and the nation. The Pyles family is a reminder of the long history of African American settlement, community-building, and activism in the Hawkeye state. Check out the Grace Morris Allen Jones papers to learn more about the family, as well as Jones’ work in Piney Woods
In addition to the Grace Morris Allen Jones papers, this post references Betty DeRamus, Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad (New York: Atria Books, 2006), 109-123. A copy is available at Iowa Women’s Archives.
Ella Wagner, a PhD candidate from Loyola University is this year’s Linda and Richard Kerber travel grant recipient. Linda Kerber and her husband Richard founded this Fund for Research in the Iowa Women’s Archives that awards $1000 annually to a researcher, especially a graduate student, whose work would benefit from travelling to Iowa and using IWA’s collections.
Wagner, a public historian and graduate student, plans to use the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of Iowa records in her dissertation, “’The Saloon is Their Palace’: Race and Politics in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, 1874 – 1933.” When Wagner entered the PhD program at Loyola in 2015, she knew her future would be in public history, but wasn’t sure what her dissertation topic would be. But a class assignment in the Frances Willard House Museum and Archives led her to the WCTU.
Frances Willard served as the president of the WCTU from 1879 – 1898, during which time it became one of the largest women’s organizations in the country. The Frances Willard House keeps the papers of Willard herself and a variety of records related to the national WCTU organization. After her class, Wagner worked part time at the Frances Willard House as a public historian to curate a digital resource entitled “Truth-Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells” that focused on racial conflict within the WCTU. Wagner realized that her dissertation topic was right there: the racial and sectional politics of the WCTU.
In the late 1800s, the WCTU under Frances Willard was striving to expand from its original strongholds of support in the Northeast and Midwest and become a larger national organization. They formed sections of the group to attract members among black women, immigrant women, and southern women. The racial and party politics were never far from this effort as some members made publicly racist comments and couldn’t tolerate any affiliation with the traditionally abolitionist Republican party.
Iowa’s role in this dramatic conflict drew Wagner to IWA’s holdings. In the 1880s, the WCTU in an effort to subvert the two party system, officially endorsed the Prohibition Party. In response, the Iowa chapter of the WCTU elected to separate itself from the national organization and still other Iowa members split from the Iowa chapter and affiliated with the national group as the WCTU of the State of Iowa. The two would Iowa organizations would remain separate until 1906. Wagner hoped to find details illuminating that schism here and also look for the voices and involvement of women of color within the WCTU at this time. She hasn’t been disappointed. She’s found the minutes of the WCTU of the State of Iowa and also found records of several black women’s WCTU chapters in Iowa all the way to the 1960s. After a week in the Archives, Wagner can see there is plenty left to do, but she’s already imagining using the WCTU of Iowa records in the conclusion of her dissertation in 2021.
Taryn D. Jordan was researching Ella Fitzgerald at the Schlesinger Library in the Radcliffe Institute when she first encountered the papers that would bring her to the Iowa Women’s Archives. Jordan is a doctoral candidate in Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Emory University and an ACLS Mellon Dissertation Completion fellow who has been researching in the papers of Aldeen Davis this December.
Her dissertation, A Peculiar Sense: Feminist Genealogy of Soul is drawn from her interest in the domestic work black women did in their homes and how this created “soul,” which Jordan defines as “black collective feeling.” Soul provided a space of respite from racism and anti-blackness and helped to articulate a philosophy of endurance within black communities.
Jordan’s dissertation initially only touched on the concept of soul broadly, but after receiving an e-mail from a friend of friend she was inspired to dig deeper. The Ella Fitzgerald papers at the Schlesinger Library contained a number of cookbooks, the friend said, that complemented Jordan’s work. Although her prospectus was complete, Jordan arranged for a trip to Massachusetts to see these books and the three folders donated with them. Within one of these folders was a draft of ‘Miss Aldeen’s cookbook,’ by Muscatine, Iowa woman, Aldeen Davis. It captivated Jordan because unlike so many of the other cookbooks about black cooking that she had encountered, it treated cooking as more about feel than measurements, something that came from the soul. Jordan tracked down a published copy of the book, now titled Soul Food for Thought, at the University of Alabama but discovered that it had radically changed from the draft in Ella Fitzgerald’s papers that had been so captivating. Why were the books so different? This was the question that drove Jordan to the IWA and the Aldeen Davis papers.
Aldeen Davis, the author of Soul Food for Thought was a writer and community activist who moved to Muscatine, Iowa in the 1940s. She became thoroughly involved in Muscatine and its black community, serving on the Muscatine Human Rights Committee and the Equity Committee of the school board, and published articles in The Iowa Bystander, an African American owned newspaper. Her book was based on her long running column “Soul Food and Thought,” that combined recipes with African American history and descriptions of daily life.
In the late 1990s, Davis donated scrapbooks of her columns along with personal papers that recorded her community involvement in numerous causes and women’s clubs to the Iowa Women’s Archives. In these papers, Jordan found the answer to the question that had brought her to Iowa. The published book substantially changed from its draft, but not because Davis had changed her mind about it. In fact, she had written the draft in response to a soul food cookbook that she didn’t like because it was too precise. But the publishing world wouldn’t print a cookbook that measured by feel. Davis was forced to re-write. Soul, Food for Thought was published in 1984.
After spending a week immersed in Davis’ papers, it’s an open question how much of this will find a place in Jordan’s final dissertation. But she says the trip to Iowa has been worth it, to get to know Aldeen and her work. It’s “like she found me,” Jordan said, “I feel like we’re talking to each other across time.”
Over the next year, we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States. Already, we’re marking important dates. 100 years ago on June 4th, Congress passed the 19th amendment, and July 2nd was the 100th anniversary of Iowa’s becoming the tenth state to ratify it. Women’s suffrage is one of the United States’ greatest and perhaps best remembered women’s movements. In the Iowa Women’s Archives latest reading room exhibit, we tip our “pussy hats” to the many times since suffrage that women in Iowa have protested for rights and respect as equal citizens of their county.
The small exhibit draws from four IWA collections, touches on several women’s rights issues and protests and opens the doors to many IWA collections!
You may recognize the pink “pussy hat” from the 2017 Women’s March. Women knitted these pink (or sometimes purple) hats to wear to the January protest during President Trump’s inauguration. Some estimates say that 4.1 million women participated in Women’s Marches around the world, including sister marches in Iowa! This is just one of four examples of pussy hats preserved at the Iowa Women’s Archives along with photographs and protest signs of women who marched in Iowa City, Des Moines, and Washington D.C.
Right below the hat is a Daily Iowan article by Iowa City activist, Barbara Davidson, about the 1979 Take Back the Night rally Iowa City. The women who rallied in College Park that night dreamed of a community where women could walk at night safe from fear and from sexual violence. Davidson said, “… women of Iowa City will have a chance to support each other in a move to reclaim the freedom that comes from being unafraid.” Take Back the Night rallies are still held around the country and in Iowa City. You can see more recent examples of Take Back the Night activism in the Miranda Welch papers.
In the back of the case, you can see a large photograph from the National Organization for Women (NOW) Dubuque Chapter records. This particular chapter, founded in 1973, spent a large portion of its efforts on passing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA states simply that, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” In this photograph, you can see two young Iowans joining the campaign. Although Iowa ratified the ERA in 1972, it has struggled to pass a state ERA. State ERA legislation went to the ballot in 1980 and 1992 and lost both times. You can learn more about these campaigns in the Iowa ERA Coalition records, the Iowa Women Against the Equal Rights Amendment records, and the ERA Iowa 1992 records at the Iowa Women’s Archives.
Finally, the display features a sampling of political buttons from the Ruth Salzmann Becker papers. Becker was a nurse and community activist in Iowa City who was involved in the Johnson County Democratic Women’s Club. Becker’s papers have dozens of political buttons and this selection promotes some well known feminist topics such as the ERA and reproductive rights. For other political buttons, take a look at the Sarah Hanley papers and the Unbuttoning Feminism collection.
Does anything here peak your interest? You can see the display and any of the suggested collections during IWA’s open hours T – F 10 – 12 and 1 – 5.
Shirley Briggs had a lot of toys. As a very little girl in the early 1920s, Shirley had dozens of pictures taken of her ensconced in an oversized chair with children’s book, playing in a wheel barrow, sitting in the sun, all with a coterie of stuffed animals and dolls. The most frequent companion, and perhaps the most cherished, was Bunty, a baby doll in a bunny-like suit. Of all her toys, only Bunty made it into Briggs’ papers at the Iowa Women’s Archives. Today, you can clearly see that Bunty was a well-loved doll, with re-stitching around its face and a felt suit obviously different from its original clothes. You can see Bunty and a number of other dolls from IWA collections in our latest exhibit: Playing, Pretending, Becoming: Iowa Girls and Their Dolls, on display in the corridor cases on the third floor of the Main Library.
Playing, Pretending, Becoming invites visitors to connect these Iowa girls to the women they would become. Looking at an image of Briggs sitting outside with her line of stuffed animals, you can see the beginnings of a life-long love of nature. Briggs studied art, art history and botany at the State University of Iowa, earning a B.A. in 1939. While working as an Information Specialist/Illustrator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Briggs met and befriended Rachel Carson, the future author of the conservation classic Silent Spring. Later, Briggs would paint backgrounds for dioramas at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History and the U.S. National Park Service.
Naomi Novick, another woman whose toys are on display, was mayor of Iowa City from 1996 – 1997. She served on the City Council from 1990 – 1997. Her papers reflect her years in politics and her commitment to organizations like the League of Women Voters. But tucked away in the artifacts is a book of paper doll cutouts. “Betty” the doll in the book, looks like a perfect example of 1930s beauty and fashion. She has outfits and accessories for activities in every season and a wedding dress at the end of the book. Before she got into politics, Novick had a brief career in fashion, standardizing bra and girdle sizes for the Formfit company.
Novick and Briggs are just two of the women whose artifacts you can see in Playing, Pretending, Becoming: Iowa Girls and their Dolls. We invite you to see the exhibit in the cases outside of the Iowa Women’s Archives between now and October and to consider the girl at play behind every woman’s mind at work.
Below is a reflection from Micaela Terronez, Olson Graduate Assistant, on a recent talk about her interest in the Mexican barrios of the Quad Cities at a local community gathering in Davenport, Iowa. She will be giving a version of this talk at “Workers’ Dream for an America that ‘Yet Must Be’ Struggles for Freedom and Dignity, Past and Present” March 30th 9:00 – 3:30 in Rm 101 Kollros Auditorium Biology Building East.
Despite my family’s history in the barrios, this was my first time attending the Cook’s Point/Holy City Reunion. The reunion took place at the League of United Latin Americans (LULAC) Council #10 hall in Davenport, Iowa. It began with a brief introduction of the night followed by a prayer from a local Catholic priest. Afterwards, the lights were dimmed for a candle lighting honoring past residents of the barrios. As names were called, families and descendants placed a candle in front of a decorated alter in remembrance of their loved ones. I was amazed by the number of individuals in the room, walking up as each name was called. In all, there were over 200 individuals in attendance! Then, it was my turn to take the podium.
My talk discussed my early interest in the barrios, as well as my findings in the Iowa Women’s Archives. I reflected on the Mujeres Latinas materials at the University, as well as the current use of the collections in classroom instruction. I argued that these stories are still relevant to students today as they explore their own pasts. I recalled one of my favorite classroom experiences instructing a group of 20 Latino/a/x students from Upward Bound, a program that brings first-generation students from the state to experience life as a college student for six weeks. The students gravitated toward stories of migration in the Iowa’s Women Archives, and I saw firsthand how archival materials can resonate with students and the potential impact on self-identity. Several students read aloud the speeches and writings of Ernest Rodriguez in Spanish, while others pointed to where their families migrated from on a reproduced map of Mexico and the United States. As marginalized communities continue to face challenges of social economics, racism, and violence, students and others can find comfort in these stories and see themselves as history makers, resilient in the face of adversities. My talk ended with a bilingual poem by Luis Valdez to acknowledge the recent migrants and refugees escaping environments of violence and fear in their homelands. Their stories may be lost, purposely destroyed, or criticized. For many, a culture and history cannot be easily suitcased for safekeeping. Thus, I asked the room to continue sharing stories vastly and to actively support today’s migrants and refugees by speaking out about their stories, as well. The more we do so, the more that we are actively acknowledging and reproducing migrant experiences.
Like my own family gatherings, there was a lot of food and music throughout the evening, as well as discussions and laughter amongst families and friends. In all, I was overwhelmed at the extent of togetherness within the room despite years of separation and unknown faces. Additionally, the night highlighted a performance by the Quad Cities Ballet Folklorico, a Mexican folk dance troupe of students with many also descendants of the barrios. Despite the many great moments at the reunion, my favorite moment of the evening occurred at the end of the event as one of my nieces asked me, “What are we doing here? What is Cook’s Point?” I smiled, quickly got up, and showed her the numerous photographs that scattered the room of past relatives and descendants of the barrios. I realized then that the reunion served as an additional way to engage and learn more about the rich histories of this area. From here on out, I plan to continue attending the reunion and connecting the barrio histories to my family and others.
Tú eres mi otroyo. You are my other me. Si tehagodaño a ti, If I do harm to you, Me hagodaño a mi mismo. I do harm to myself. Si teamo y respeto, If I love and respect you, Me amo y respetoyo. I love and respect myself.