There are a number of reasons why I was inspired to start this blog. It’s not the first one I’ve begun. For many years, I was the proud owner of a photoblog. And last spring, I set out on WordPress with the intention of sharing my experiences with research and writing–somewhat similar to what I hope to do here. (Unfortunately that last attempt only lasted for two posts…which was rather embarrassing because I’d sent out a big, showy email announcing it to my friends.)
I don’t know who will ever stumble across these posts here on the Daily Chicana. Perhaps–and this is quite likely–no one at all will ever read them. But that’s okay, because I have to learn to derive a certain amount of satisfaction just from the act of producing writing: Pulling the thoughts out of my brain, making them coherent, push them through my fingertips and over the keys and finally watching them pop up onto this screen. For me, this has to be about the process, not the end product. In fact, I am struggling to emerge from a long bout of writer’s block, a struggle that could potentially be career-ending, as I must publish my work in order to earn tenure. I am hopeful that this forum will get me back into a daily writing habit.
All that being said, there is a larger significance for me in writing the Daily Chicana: I’m the first woman in my family to be in a position to record my musings in this way. I come from a long line of smart, passionate, opinionated and amazing women…none of whom had the opportunities to pursue their educations in the way that I have had the fortune to do. I’m the first in my family to attend college straight out of high school, and the first to attend graduate school and earn a doctoral degree. I have had the honor of seeing my name in print (on obscure topics in academic journals that only other specialists will ever read), a thrill that never gets old. It’s something that I do not take for granted.
My paternal grandmother, Esperanza, actually had to walk to the US from central Mexico with her parents when she was only eight years old (in the 1910s). Once the family was established in Midwest, her father refused to allow her to attend school, although he encouraged her two younger brothers to do so. In his eyes, education was only for men. However, Esperanza was very close to her brothers, and so every day when they came home from school, they eagerly taught her what they had learned that day. So in this way, she managed to learn the basics of speaking, reading and writing in English.
Meanwhile, one of my great-grandmothers on my maternal side, Manuela, aspired to become a nun, a goal that for the time represented the highest educational goal for a young woman in Mexico. A the age of fifteen, and with the support of her parents, she was able to begin the process at a convent near her hometown. However, due to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution and increasing anti-Christian sentiment at the time, the nuns informed her family that they could not guarantee her safety, and Manuela was sent back home. Upon her return, she married my great-grandfather and they began their family…and thus her life took her down a very different path from what she had imagined just a few years before.
One of her daughters, my grandmother Claudia, attended school up to the fourth grade, which was more or less typical for urban Mexican girls of the late 1920s. Manuela had died when my grandmother was only twelve, and as one of the oldest children of the family, Claudia was then responsible for raising the younger siblings. Therefore, continuing her education would not have been an option for her, even if she had wanted to do so.
My own mother, born in the late 1940s and raised in the US, was a voracious reader who loved going to school and was an excellent student. Although my grandmother Claudia– who had a well-meaning but incredibly strict, old-fashioned view of women’s roles–pushed my mom to drop the books and pick up a spatula and broom, my mom always retained her passion for learning; it was her only means of escape and a way to travel around the world. In the mid-1960s, she graduated as the salutatorian of her high school class. However, not a single person in her family, nor any teachers or administrators, once encouraged her to consider attending college. The assumption was that with a high school degree, her education was complete, and the next step would be to get married, which she did at the age of nineteen.
My mother always lamented not being able to attend college, and it was her biggest dream for my sister and me to earn a bachelor’s degree. After my sister decided not to go (in favor of pursuing her passion for beauty and skin care, in which she enjoys a successful career today), my mother’s hopes were all pinned on me. Fortunately, I had inherited her love of learning and reading, and success in school came very easily to me. I am thankful that she pushed me so hard to take my classes seriously and enabled me to focus exclusively on school; for example, I was never required to have an after-school job in high school, even though my mom struggled as a single parent after the divorce. Some of my earliest memories center on weekly trips to the library with my mom, from which we both would return with a stack of books so high and heavy that we could barely carry it. And though she always refused to buy an Atari or Nintendo system for me, she never denied me a new book from the local bookstore.
So will the Daily Chicana represent at times a bit of navel-gazing? Perhaps…but I do it in honor of all the women of my family who came before me and who did not have the luxury of doing so. Through my area of research and now through my musings here, I hope to share their stories and legacies for other people to see.