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‘Unconventional’ Mothers: Latina Immigrants in the Early & Late 20th Century U.S.

During women’s history month, I highlighted not only trailblazing, pioneering, “noteworthy” or famous women, but also controversial, lesser-known, and everyday women. All women have been a part of history and, like men, deserve to be remembered, documented, studied, and presented in all of their complicated, multifaceted glory. Today’s post explores the ultimate woman in many people’s lives: the mother. But not just any mother, the Latin American immigrant mother of the early 20th century, who sacrificed much for the improvement of her children’s lives. This post also explores the differences and similarities between Latina immigrant mothers in the early 1900s and those of the 1990s who were more often not just working mothers but also transnational mothers.

In the early 20th century in the United States, the ideal mother was one who stayed at home as a homemaker. Immigrant mothers (as well as working class women of all races and nationalities) often did not meet the criteria of what Americans saw as the ideal mother because they were working women. Having a job outside of the home or bringing work into the home made these women unable to perform the role of full-time mother, according to the American society at the time.

In early twentieth century America the family was the woman’s sphere; therefore, women were expected to be home-makers and full-time mothers. “Americanizers,” those who worked to assimilate immigrants into American culture during this time, saw women as the key to the assimilation of entire families, but first the women must be made into the traditional mothers of American society. However, most immigrant mothers could not follow these traditional standards because they needed to have a job, take in boarders, do work from home, or send their children to work in order to make ends meet. Being a working mother made these women incapable of living up to America’s standards of the “perfect mother.”

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UCAPAWA negotiating committee, including labor leader Luisa Moreno, far left, and Carmen Bernal Escobar, third from left with hands around her son Alfred.

Economically, these women simply could not afford to be “ideal” mothers.  In 1920, immigrant women made up just slightly less than half of all the female wage-earners in the United States, despite being in the minority in overall population. Most of these immigrant women worked in either manufacturing factories or in domestic service. Many other women worked at home, producing goods for manufacturers from their own kitchen or living room rather than in a factory. Sometimes, these immigrant mothers also included their children in their work as helpers or occasionally even as extra wage-earners for the family. The advantage of working from home was that mothers could still spend time with their children. Working at night was another option some mothers chose so they could still be at home for their children during the day.

Another way many immigrant women made money was by taking in boarders. Usually, the boarders were friends or extended relatives and were normally men, who were more likely to immigrate alone. These boarders provided women a way to both help friends or family and make extra money for the household.

Work, be it outside the home or from it, was considered outside of the traditional role of women. Boarders also violated the average American’s idea of the home and women’s roles in it. Many Americans worried that the male boarders would act inappropriately toward young daughters of the household. This fear was not entirely unfounded, but did represent a difference between American and immigrant families. It was less common for American families to have extended family or friends living with them; however, to immigrant families this was necessary to help others make the transition as immigrants, help they had probably received from someone else upon their arrival in the United States.

The reason that women would exert themselves, both at work and at home, was that “they saw their children as the main beneficiaries of their endless, exhausting labors.” Immigrant women’s main goal was to provide for their children. But because of the need to engage in economic activities for the family, immigrant women had to find other ways make sure their children were cared for. Immigrant women made use of family ties to help provide for their children, utilizing their kin and their older daughters to provide child care so that they could continue providing financial support.

Kinship was and remains very important among immigrants for many reasons. Kinship networks were important for the facilitation of immigration and transition to the United States. Already established immigrant families would allow newcomers to live with them while they became oriented to the United States. This arrangement often caused two or more entire families to live in one home. In return for allowing the family to live there, the arriving mother would help the hosting mother. One mother would work outside the home, while the other mother stayed home and took care of the children. Thus the children were still well-cared for even if their mother had to work.

Another example of using family ties to help provide care for young children was that of “little mothers.” This child-care practice involved immigrant mothers having their older daughters tend to their younger siblings so that the mother could return to her other domestic duties or work. The use of “little mothers” prompted Americans to allege neglect of the immigrant children, and demonstrates another way in which immigrant mothers differed from the American ideal mother. Immigrant mothers saw the practice of “little mothers” as beneficial because it fostered sibling bonding and taught young girls an important life skill. Through the help of other family members and kinship ties, immigrant mothers were able to better provide for their children economically and ensure they were well-cared for.

Children of immigrant mothers often saw their mothers as strong and not neglectful, as Americans often insinuated. Children also acknowledged all of the sacrifices that their mothers had made in order to provide for them. A mother’s sacrifices in order to provide for her children’s needs communicated her love to her children.  While American society at the time looked down on working immigrant mothers, these women sacrificed their own rest, well-being, and personal time and money in order to provide for their children’s needs. They also made careful arrangements to help ensure that their children received care. They either combined work with their domestic activities by taking on jobs that allowed them to be home with their children, or they used their close family ties to secure the care of their children.

More recently, Latina immigrants have violated the traditional idea of motherhood by being transnational mothers, working in the United States while their children remain in their home country.  In early Latin American immigration history the majority of immigrants were men, whose wives and children may have followed later, but in the past few decades there has been a trend of mothers immigrating to the United States without their children. These women who live and work in one country while their children live in another are called transnational mothers. In one study, forty percent of the domestic workers who had children were living in a separate country. The transnational mothers of more recent decades have used financial means, transnational ties, and communication to provide needs, culture, and encouragement to their children.

Economic need is the main reason why women decide to immigrate to the United States. National economic decline, lack of job options for both men and women, or civil war in the country of origin are the most common conditions which cause many transnational mothers to immigrate to the United States. Usually Latina mothers plan to spend only a certain amount of time in the United States so that they can save enough money to achieve a certain goal such as pay off debt, buy a house, pay for their children’s education, or be able to start a new business when they return to their home country. Some women, however, do not want their children to live in the United States because of fears about safety of travel to the U.S., loss of culture, and economic difficulty, among others.

Some women migrated to the United States to join a husband who was unsuccessful at finding lasting work. In the late 1990s there was a high demand for live-in housekeepers in cities such as Los Angeles, making female immigrants more likely to secure a job quickly than male immigrants.

Transnational mothers rely on family ties in their home country for the care of their children while they are away. Even though the children’s basic needs will be provided for by family ties back home, the transnational mother provides financial support, and advice and encouragement. Continued communication is the key to maintaining close emotional bonds between mother and children. Letters, photos, phone calls, and occasional visits, if circumstances allow, facilitate a sustained connection and relationship between transnational mothers and their children.

Many transnational mothers experience feelings of depression and mental anguish while away from their children. In one mental health clinic, it was found that many Latin American patients’ mental illnesses, such as depression, were accentuated by or stemmed from separation from their families.

Many transnational working mothers were traditional homemakers before coming to the United States. They had been accustomed to being home and seeing their children every day, but felt that they had to sacrifice that part of their lives in order to provide for their children. By providing financial support, using family networks, and maintaining communication, transnational immigrants of the recent decades have managed to sustain relationships with their children.

While the working immigrant mothers of the early twentieth century and the transnational mothers of the late twentieth century are thought of as nontraditional for different reasons, they share many similarities. Both sets of mothers stood out to American society as imperfect types of mothers, and faced economic hardship and necessity as the reasons they could not be traditional mothers. Immigrant mothers of the early twentieth century had to work to support the family financially while transnational mothers left their children in order to pursue better economic opportunities in the United States. Both sets of mothers looked to the United States for the answer to economic difficulties. The difference is that early twentieth century immigrant mothers mostly immigrated with their families or followed their husbands to the United States, while more recent decades have seen immigrant women arriving on their own. Because these immigrant women also share similar socioeconomic backgrounds, transnational mothers were essentially working mothers as well; however, they were working mothers during an era where that practice was much more common. These immigrant women of different eras also have another thing in common: the reliance on family and kin networks, which gave mothers the ability to earn money for the family and the reassurance that their children were being cared for.

A majority of immigrant women cite their children’s needs as their reason for migration. What is the main similarity between the early twentieth century working mother and the twenty-first century transnational mother? Both have found that the definition of mother does not have to be confined to narrow limitations. A mother is a woman who cares deeply for the well-being of her children. As demonstrated, the ways in which a mother shows her love for her children can vary immensely given differing circumstances.

*This post adapted from an paper I wrote for a class entitled History of Latinos in the United States.*

Reflections on Women’s History Month

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March was Women’s History Month and I was reminded of how much I love women’s history. From seeing others posting about the women of the past who inspired them, honoring trailblazers, pioneers, and rebels, to doing my own posts, researching, writing about, and revisiting past work I’ve done on women in history, I am feeling so inspired and motivated to continue to research and write about these stories that interest me and are so important to tell.

Like Black History Month, Women’s History Month deserves to go on all year, everyday, for women’s history, black history, and other minority history to be more fully incorporated into the story of American history because these stories are American history. They are all part of what brought us to today.

I still have so many ideas, as well as several partial draft posts already queuing up, about women’s history. Therefore, I will be continuing to celebrate Women’s History Month well into April and likely beyond.

In case you missed any of my Women’s History Month content, I’ve rounded it all up below. Check it out and let me know what you think! 

Betsy Ross & The Myth of the First American Flag

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Women & Family Ties in Immigration: Anna, Julian & Paranka Debaylo

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Marie Curie: Guest Post by a Budding Historian

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La Malinche: Traitor, Victim & Survivor, or Mother of Mestizos?

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Also, I’ve highlighted a few other interesting women, such as Violeta Chamorro, the first female head of state in the Americas, Myra Pollack Sadker, a researcher on gender inequity in schools, & Selena, the Queen of Tejano music, in shorter posts on my social media profiles. Check me out on Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook for more content and little bites of history on the daily. I’ve also started playing #TuesdayTrivia with women’s history each week in my Instagram Stories.

Betsy Ross & the Myth of the First American Flag

Many elementary school children have heard of Betsy Ross, one of the few female figures of the Revolutionary War period of early American history that receives attention in classrooms. She is commonly known as the seamstress that created the first American flag. However, historical evidence actually does not exist to support this well-known “fact.”

The claim that Betsy Ross created the first American flag didn’t actually come up until the 1870s, about 100 years after her supposed accomplishment and when the nation was on the brink of celebrating its centennial of independence.

The story goes that George Washington himself, along with signers of the Declaration of Independence Robert Morris and George Ross (a relative of Betsy’s), went to Betsy Ross’s home in Philadelphia in June 1776 to discuss the need for a flag for the soon-to-be-declared independent United States. Ross looked at their design and suggested a change from a 6-pointed star to a 5-pointed star because it would be easier to sew and accepted the job of making the first flag. End of story? Not so much. 

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However, there are no written records of this meeting, of Betsy’s accepting the job, or of her completing the first American flag. Only oral tradition exists. The first time the public heard tale of Betsy Ross was when her grandson William Canby made a presentation in 1870 to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania claiming that his grandmother “made with her hands the first flag” of the United States. His source was another relative, making it simply family oral tradition without proof. 

Myths are often rooted in some truth and Betsy Ross was indeed an upholsterer (not a seamstress, but a related trade) and she did make flags for the burgeoning United States during the Revolutionary War, specifically for the Pennsylvania navy. But her role in the creation of the first American flag is contested.

Those who argue that the story isn’t true point to the lack of archival evidence–no letters, meeting minutes, resolutions, receipts, etc.–and to the fact that the first time it was brought up was 100 years after it supposedly happened. In the 1870s the public was quick to believe the story as patriotism geared up in honor of the nation’s centennial celebration in 1876 and looked for heroes and heroines of the Revolution to honor and revere. Also, there were many upholsterers in Philadelphia that could have made the flag.

However, those that argue its truth have several interesting points as well, as outlined by the Betsy Ross House house museum’s website. Betsy’s relation to George Ross through her marriage could mean that she would have been selected to work on the flag over the many other upholsterers in Philadelphia. Betsy and her husband John had made bed hangings for George Washington in 1774, making him familiar with her work. Also, Betsy made other flags for the United States and had many government contracts over the years, well into the 19th century.

At the end of the day, one must decide for themselves. It remains a historical question that simply cannot be answered. It has not been proven true nor false. 

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The attention placed on Betsy Ross has meant that much about her life is known and preserved, which regardless of her role in the creation of the first flag, is important historical information about women’s lives during the Revolution and the early years of the new nation. She certainly led an interesting life. A few quick facts about Betsy Ross:

  1. She was born into a Quaker family, but was expelled from the Quaker church (and cut off from her family) when she married John Ross, a son of a revered of the Church of England. The two fell in love when they were both apprenticed to the same upholsterer and they eloped.
  2. They were married just a few short years before John died, possibly in a gunpowder explosion in his role as a member of the local militia.
  3. Her second husband, Jacob Ashburn, also died just a few years after their marriage–he died while imprisoned for treason in a British jail.
  4. She married for a third time – John Claypoole – and had several children, but all the while she continued the upholstery business.
  5. Her business efforts supported the Continental Army for which she made and mended uniforms, tents, blankets, etc. Acts that were technically treason against Britain.

Read more about her:

From the Betsy Ross House: http://historicphiladelphia.org/betsy-ross-house/woman/ 

From Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: http://www.common-place-archives.org/vol-08/no-01/ulrich/

Ulrich’s Review of Marla Miller’s biography of Betsy Ross (which I also recommend): https://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/books/review/Ulrich-t.html

Marla Miller’s book Betsy Ross and the Making of America: https://www.amazon.com/Betsy-Making-America-Marla-Miller/dp/B00BFQCIDA

What do you think? Truth or myth?  

Women & Family Ties in Immigration: Anna, Julian, & Paranka Debaylo

For Women’s History Month I am revisiting some of my favorite research projects I’ve undertaken and focusing on women of all walks of life, not just “great” or notable women –though I love that many are highlighting the wonderful, trailblazing, inspiring women of the past this month. 

Introduction

Today’s post is about Anna, Julian and Paranka Debaylo, 3 regular people whose lives represent major trends in immigration in the early 20th century. This research began as an assignment to write a biography of individuals buried in the St. Helena Cemetery in Pender County, North Carolina as part of the Volga to Cape Fear Project which resulted in an exhibit entitled Push and Pull: Eastern European and Russian Migration to the Cape Fear Region. 

I chose three related individuals, Anna, Julian, and Paranka Debaylo. Anna was a widow when she immigrated. Her passage was paid by her stepson, Julian. Paranka came to the U.S. to marry Julian and care for his children from his first marriage. Their interlocking stories led me to research the importance of family for immigrants, especially for women, as well as women’s experiences in immigration. I found that there were restrictions at Ellis Island that prevented women from traveling alone unless sponsored by someone already in the United States due to the fear of them becoming public charges. Also, family and community facilitated the transition to life in the United States, helping men to find jobs and older women, like Anna Debaylo, to adjust to U.S. life.

Finding Anna, Julian, and Paranka on census records, Ellis Island ship manifests, birth indexes, city directories, and transit receipts brought them to life in a way, recreating their journey to the United States and their life once they arrived. Why do people leave their homelands, travel on crowded ships, and pay good money to go to a foreign place? For a better life? Is that what they found? How were women’s experiences of immigration different from those of men?

Beginning with the End: Biography from a Gravestone

The St. Helena Cemetery, established for use by the Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church, includes graves of community members regardless of church affiliation. St. Helena, a community in Pender County, North Carolina was founded as a farm colony by Wilmington businessman Hugh MacRae. One of six such colonies established between 1905 and 1912 by MacRae’s Carolina Trucking Development Company, St. Helena attracted immigrants of various ethnicities, especially Italian and later, Russian and Ukrainian (or Ruthenian). Immigrants initially came directly from Europe; however, the majority moved to St. Helena from other locations in the United States, learning of the opportunities there from members of the immigrant community or promoters. Advertised as an area fit for farming, St. Helena promotional material boasted the availability of land and a fast and easy way to own a home. The reality of St. Helena did not always live up to the assured conditions; the promised homes were not of the advertised quality and the land was not immediately ready for farming.[1] Despite the difficulties, a community of immigrants grew there and remains a part of St. Helena today.

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The St. Helena Cemetery testifies to the lives of the initial immigrants and their descendants. The headstones, relationships, and lives of three individuals, Anna, Julian, and Paranka Debaylo, all demonstrate the various gendered experiences of immigration and the importance of family connections in enabling immigration and adjustment to life in the United States. Many female immigrants fell into two categories: young women, traveling to reunite with a husband or to meet and marry a man, and older women, usually widows or divorced women, immigrating to join their adult children. Paranka and Anna are examples of these two phenomena. Also, as we will see through the exploration of Anna, Julian, and Paranka’s lives, family connections were important for both men and women, but were more essential for women’s successful immigration.

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The gravestones of Anna, Julian, and Paranka Debaylo introduce visitors to the significance of family in the lives of immigrants as well as to the positions of women in the community. Anna Debaylo (January 21, 1867 – February 11, 1960) lived to be 93 years old. Her headstone reinforces the importance of family and her role in her own family. Her headstone is simple, with few words and limited adornment. Made of granite, it is engraved with her name, birth and death dates, a Russian Orthodox cross, a simple design of grapevines across the top and the inscriptions “Our Dear Mother” and a Ukrainian phrase which translates to “Eternal Memory.” Together with the cross, both the grapevine design and the inscription’s reference to eternity are likely religious references to Christ’s sacrifice and eternal afterlife.  It is clear from the inscription and the flowers present at the grave that Anna was a loved member of her family as well as the community. The headstone also attests to the religious faith of Anna and possibly that of her children who likely commissioned this headstone in honor of their mother.

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The headstone of Julian Debaylo (May 6, 1886 – January 31, 1934) also invokes family. His gravestone is very similar in size and design to Anna’s headstone.  The granite headstone is engraved with his name, birth and death dates, the inscription “Our Father” and a simple design of leaves. However, it does not include the Russian Orthodox cross as Anna’s does. The inscription here signals Julian’s position as a loved and respected member of the Debaylo family. The lack of religious imagery may signal less involvement in the church of either Julian or his children who, again, appear to have commissioned the headstone.

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In addition to the imagery and inscriptions on the headstones, the placement of them also alludes to relationships and connections between the deceased. Paranka Debaylo (September 26, 1899 – November 29, 1960), Julian’s second wife, is buried beside Julian. Her gravestone is identical to his save the name and dates and the term mother in place of father. Her gravestone was clearly designed to accompany that of her husband’s and both stones were most likely chosen by Julian and Paranka’s children. Together with Julian’s grave, Paranka’s headstone reinforces the position of parents in the family and the connections established through marriage. The three headstones described above sparked further questions of family connections, the experience of female immigrants, and the role of family in the lives of immigrants to St. Helena as well as in the lives of immigrants to the United States more generally.

Family Ties in Immigration

The lives of Anna, Julian, and Paranka demonstrate the scenarios that women commonly faced in immigration, that of moving to be with their children or that of moving for marriage, as well as the necessity of family connections in order to enter and adjust to the United States.[2]

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Anna Debaylo (commonly spelled Dybajlo on documents) was born in 1867 in Cholojow in what was Galicia in the Austrian province of Poland and is modern Ukraine. She was the third wife of Hrehory (Gregory) Dybajlo. Gregory already had four children from his two previous marriages. His first wife was Anna Lotocka who had three children: Michael, Emilian or Julian, and Dmytro. His second wife was Teklia who had one daughter, Anastazia (Nascha). Anna Shainoha became Anna Debaylo and Gregory’s third wife. They had four children: Paulina, Ilko (Elias), Sophia, and Peter. According to her granddaughter, Anna had wanted to be a nun but was convinced by family that marrying the widowed Gregory and caring for his children would be a better way for her to serve. Gregory passed away in 1914. Anna remained a widow for the rest of her life.[3]

Anna immigrated to the United States in 1923, at the age of 56, with her son Peter (Piotr) on board the George Washington which departed from Bremen, Germany. The ship manifest listed Julian Debaylo as her son (he was her stepson), and as the party who paid for her and Peter’s travel.[4] At that time it was necessary for female immigrants, especially if traveling alone, to be sponsored by a male already in the United States who agreed to be responsible for the woman. This policy was based on ideas that women were more likely to become public charges if not cared for by a male relative or husband.[5] Likely, Julian not only paid for Anna’s ticket, but also served as her legal sponsor. Between her arrival in New York City in 1923 and when she moved to St. Helena in 1928 Anna may have lived with Julian or another one of her children already in the United States. Once she settled in St. Helena she was a member of the household of Eli Debaylo, her biological son. The household at the time of the 1930 census also included Eli’s wife and two daughters. [6] Anna lived in St. Helena until her death in 1960.

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Anna’s life after immigration is an example of the experience of many other widowed, divorced, or separated women who immigrated in order to be with their adult children who had already established a life in the United States. Anna being an aging widow likely made her economically vulnerable and immigration an appealing option. Anna seems to have been part of an increasing number of widowed women who immigrated after 1915 in order to rejoin children. Prior to that time, few older women immigrated.[7] When they did, older women, as well as older men who immigrated, depended on their children and ethnic and religious communities in order to adjust to life in the United States.[8]

Julian Debaylo, whose birthdate is disputed between May 6, 1886, the date on his headstone, and July 1, 1886, the date on his first marriage certificate, immigrated to New York in 1908, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1913. Julian likely came to the United States in search of a better economic situation. In Galicia, economic conditions deteriorated after 1848 when the government ended serfdom. The peasants remained on the land, but partible inheritance was enforced rather than primogeniture. Landholdings became smaller over time, eventually leading to the inability to support a family on one parcel. Adding to the reasons for immigration were high taxes, potato blight, and epidemics.[9] Julian may have had additional reasons for immigrating, but economics were likely a great factor.

In 1916, at the age of 29, Julian married Anna Mikariya Spivak, or Annie as she is identified on the 1920 census, and they had two children, Nick and Helen, born around 1917 and 1918 respectively. At the taking of the 1920 census the Debaylo household was living in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. Also included are the birthplaces of each member of the family. Annie and Julian were both born in Galicia while both of their children were born in New Jersey. The census also gives insight on how Julian and Annie perceived themselves ethnically; a notation appears to replace Russian with “Ruth” (perhaps an abbreviation of Ruthenian) as their mother language and might indicate their ethnic affiliation. The ethnicity of immigrants from Eastern Europe was often unclear. Immigrants entering the United States were sometimes misidentified by officials. Also, the region of Eastern Europe underwent many geo-political changes during its history. Ruthenian was used by those individuals from Galicia or Carpatho-Ukraine, differentiating them from other Ukrainians as well as from Russians.[10] Finally, the census listed Julian’s occupation as a tailor in a clothing factory.[11] No occupation was listed for Annie who most likely stayed home to take care of the children.[12]

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Annie Debaylo passed away sometime between 1920 and 1923. Julian wrote home to his family for a second wife to care for his children after the death of their mother. Paranka, or Frances, Shainoha, a relative of Julian’s stepmother, was sent to be his wife. According to family stories, Paranka did not wish to marry Julian after she saw him due to his “hunchback.” Julian broke his back in a childhood accident in which he fell from a woodpile on a wagon. Paranka ultimately chose to marry him; the other option being to return home.[13] Julian and Paranka had two children, Anna, born in 1923, and Julian Frances Debaylo, born eight months after his father’s death in 1934.[14] Julian and Paranka lived in New Jersey for several years following their marriage. Julian seems to have moved sometime between December 6, 1923, the date of his stepmother’s arrival in New York City, at which time Julian’s address was listed as 515 E 16th St, New York, NY, and the release of the 1924 city directory in Passaic, New Jersey in which Julian is listed as a tailor at 136 Columbia Avenue. Julian continued to be listed in the city directories of Passaic, including the Clifton area, through 1930. The address of his tailor shop changed at least once. Paranka (as Frances) was listed as his spouse in the 1929 directory.[15] Julian, Paranka, and their children moved to St. Helena between 1930 and January 1934, when Julian died at the age of 47 from pneumonia in Burgaw, North Carolina.[16] Paranka gave birth to Julian Francis Debaylo in September, 1934.[17]

Paranka went on to marry Walker Augustine and her, Julian Francis, and Freddie Augustine are listed as members of the Augustine household in the 1940 census. Still living in Pender County, Paranka was listed as a farmer while her new husband Walker was listed as a farm manager.[18] After 1940, Paranka had another son, Walker Don Augustine. All four of her children dedicated a page in the St. Helena History to her memory.[19] Paranka’s motivations for immigrating were likely a combination of economic and personal and possibly included pressure from her family. It was common at the time for Eastern European women to prefer an Americanized husband and many would take the chance of moving to marry a stranger; however, it was also common for parents and other family members to make decisions about immigration for young women as well as to arrange marriages.[20] It is unclear whether Paranka and Julian knew each other before marrying, but she was related to Julian’s stepmother and it was her family who likely made the arrangements for the marriage and Paranka’s passage to the United States.

Once in the United States, the reasons that Anna, Julian, and Paranka moved to St. Helena specifically are not completely known. Julian’s position as a tailor was one of the best in the garment manufacturing industry, but was still low paid.[21] Also, having likely been landless peasants back home, most immigrants saw in the United States the opportunity to own land.[22] It is likely that Julian, as well as his brothers, moved to St. Helena in order to own land and try to prosper as farmers. Other motives likely included the desire to be with family already in St. Helena. For Anna who came to live with her son Elias, it is more evident that family was a major factor. As far as Paranka, it is difficult to determine from the sources if she had much of a choice in moving to St. Helena; however she moved there with her husband and remained there after his death.

From the lives of these three members of the Debaylo family, the importance of family connections in aiding immigration and settlement in the United States is evident. For women especially, these connections legally and economically enabled immigration and assimilation. Julian’s sponsorship of Anna and marriage to Paranka facilitated both women’s entry into the United States, where they likely hoped to encounter better economic circumstances. Women’s experience of immigration often followed the same paths: immigrating for marriage, to follow a husband, or to be with children or other relatives. However, while especially important for women, family connections were important for men as well. Julian Debaylo not only sponsored his step-mother’s immigration, but also at least two of his half-brothers, Peter, who immigrated with Anna, and Elias Debaylo. Julian filed the necessary paperwork to bring Elias and his sister Sophia to the United States while another brother, Michael Debaylo paid for the tickets. Michael was also instrumental in finding work for Elias.[23] The benefits of having relatives already in the United States eased the transition.

[1] W. Frank Ainsley, “’Own a Home in North Carolina’: Image and Reality in Ethnic European Colonies,” in Journal of Cultural History, Vol 5:2, 1985, 61-69.
[2] Maxine Schwartz Seller, ed., Immigrant Women, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press), 1981, 20-21.
[3] Ann Mizerak, “Debaylo Family Genealogy,” 2012, Private Collection of Ann Mizerak, Burgaw, North Carolina; and Personal Communication with Ann Mizerak, Burgaw, North Carolina, September 6, 2013.
[4] Ship Manifest, Ellis Island Foundation, “The American Family Immigration History Center’s Ellis Island Archive,” Ellis Island, (Online:  The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., 2009), <http://www.ellisislandrecords.org/&gt;, accessed September 4, 2013.
[5] Seller, 18-19, 34-35.
[6] Mizerak, “Debaylo Family Genealogy”; and 1930 U.S. Census, Burgaw, Pender, North Carolina; Roll: 1712; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 2; Image: 569.0; FHL microfilm: 2341446, Digital image, Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.
[7] Seller, 21.
[8] Seller, 65-66.
[9] Paul Spickard, Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity, (New York: Routledge), 2007, 193.
[10] Myron B. Kuropas, The Ukrainian Americans: Roots and Aspirations, 1884-1954, (Toronto: Toronto University Press), 1991, 5-7.
[11] Copy of Marriage Certificate, Emilian (Julian) Debaylo and Anna Spivak, January 10, 1916, in Mizerak, “Debaylo Family Genealogy”; and 1920 U.S. Census, Manhattan, New York, New York, Accessed via HeritageQuest, ProQuest LLC, 2013, Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1920, accessed via Heritage Quest, accessed on September 4, 2013.
[12] Seller, 66.
[13] Personal communication with Ann Mizerak, Burgaw, North Carolina, September 6, 2013.
[14] Mizerak, “Debaylo Family Genealogy”; and Birth Certificate of Julian Francis Debaylo, Ancestry.com. North Carolina, Birth Indexes, 1800-2000 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Register of Deeds. North Carolina Birth Indexes. Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina State Archives. Microfilm.
[15] Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Passaic, New Jersey, City Directory, 1924, 1925, 1929, 1930.
[16] Death Certificate of Julian Debaylo, Ancestry.com. North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: North Carolina State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics. North Carolina Death Certificates. Microfilm S.123. Rolls 19-242, 280, 313-682, 1040-1297. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
[17] Birth Certificate of Julian Francis Debaylo.
[18] 1940 U.S. Census, Rocky Point Township, Pender County, North Carolina, accessed via Heritage Quest, ProQuest LLC, 2013, accessed on September 4, 2013. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940.
[19] “History of St. Helena”, Community Publication, Private Collection of Ann Mizerak, Burgaw, North Carolina.
[20] Seller, 20, 117.
[21] Doris Weatherford, Foreign and Female: Immigrant Women in America, 1840-1930, (New York: Schocken Books), 1986, 108-113.
[22] Timothy Walch, ed., Immigrant America: European Ethnicity in the United States, (New York: Garland Publishers, Inc.), 1994, 64.
[23] Baltic American Line Receipt, Mizerak, “Debaylo Family Genealogy”, 2012, Private Collection of Ann Mizerak, Burgaw, North Carolina.

#WomensHistoryMonth: Marie Curie — Guest Post by a Budding Historian

In Women’s History Month, I am writing about women from the past including inspiring women, controversial women, unheard of women, and everyday women. I am also taking the opportunity to support and lift up today and tomorrow’s women.

The following post was written by my 10-year-old niece, Tori, for her 4th grade class project about biographies. When she found out she was doing a biography project at school, she called me for ideas about who she should write about. She wanted to choose someone from history rather than a current figure, and she wanted to write about a woman. Granted, she knows I’m a historian and I’ve been pushing children’s books about women’s history on her since she before she could talk, so she probably said what she thought I wanted to hear.

But at any rate, I was thrilled. I went through several women and girls I thought she would find interesting and she settled on Marie Curie, the Nobel-prize winning scientist. As they worked on the project at school, she called me with updates. It was so much fun to hear how excited she was about what she was learning. Below, rendered just as she wrote it, is her paper. She got a 100 on it. I’m a very proud aunt. Hope you enjoy learning a bit more about the inspiring Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win two. 3242_001

Full text below for ease of reading. 

Maria Salomea Sklodowska also known as Marie Curie was born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. Her parents Wtadystaw Sktodowski and Bronislaw Sklodowski were both teachers. She had four siblings three sisters and one brother. Marie was the top student high school which people called secondary school. She earned her Master’s Degree in physics in 1893. The following year she got another degree in mathematics. When Marie was ten years old her mother died of Tuberculosis, a disease that makes you cough up blood. To make matters worse her sister died in 1876.

Marie Curie accomplished many things! ln 1895, she married Pierre Curie. A couple of years later in 1897, she gave birth to her first of two children, Irene! Five years passed and in 1902 she starts to work with radium, a chemical element. A year later in 1903, she and her husband win a Nobel Prize with radioactivity and physics! Three years later, in 1906, a sad thing happened to Pierre Curie, he was in a traffic collision. He died on April 19, 1906. He was buried in Pantheon, Paris, France. Marie took his place in teaching. Later in 1911, she won another Nobel Prize, but this time for chemistry. ln 1922, she became a member of the French Academy. Ten years later, in 1932, Marie joins the fight for cancer. Marie Curie was a pioneer in the study of radiation!

Marie Curie discovered many things! Sadly, Marie Curie died on July 4, 1934 from aplastic anemia, a disease that mostly has to do with large amounts of radiation. She died of 66 years of age. She was buried in Pantheon, Paris, France. She is remembered for her discoveries that help us out every day. She discovered Radium and Polonium. Her discoveries helped change the world!

La Malinche: Traitor, Victim & Survivor, or Mother of Mestizos?

La Malinche, whose given name was most likely Malinalli, was an indigenous woman in what is now Mexico in the early 1500s. She has also been known as Malintzin and Doña Marina (as the Spanish called her.) Most well known as the indigenous woman who helped the Spanish conquer the Aztecs by serving as translator, La Malinche could be considered, and is by many Mexicans, a traitor to her people. However, others consider her a victim or a survivor who made the most of the position she found herself in. Still others see her as the mother of mestizos and modern Mexicans. So which is true or can it be all of them?

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Hernán Cortés and La Malinche meet Moctezuma II in Tenochtitlan, November 8, 1519. Facsimile (c. 1890) of Lienzo de Tlaxcala [History of Tlaxcala].
Malinalli was born sometime between 1496 and 1501.  She was born between the Aztec empire in central Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula where the- Maya lived. As a child, her father was a cacique (what the Spanish called indigenous leaders); however, he died and her mother remarried another cacique and had a son. Malinalli’s family then sold her to Mayan slavers.

Those slavers then sold her to the Mexicas (Aztecs) where she learned their language, Nahuatl. War between Mayas and Mexicas resulted in Malinalli being given as tribute (possibly a sex slave) to the cacique of Tabasco (Mayan) where she learned the Maya-yucateca language.

It was Malinalli’s language skills that made her role in the conquest possible as she could speak at least two major native languages. It was in Tabasco where Malinalli met Hernán Cortés, a relationship that altered her world and that of Mexico. The Spaniards arrived in Tabasco and defeated the indigenous people. After the battle, the Tabascan people “brought a present of gold, consisting of four diadems, some ornaments in the form of lizards, two shaped like little dogs and five little ducks, also some earrings…,” as well as twenty indigenous women, including a “most excellent person who when she became a Christian took the name of Doña Marina.” (Yes, these enslaved women were given as peace tokens together with inanimate objects.)

Doña Marina was described as “the prettiest, the most active and lively of the number” and as having an appearance that attested to her status as “a truly great princess, the daughter of Caciques.” Doña Marina was originally given to conquistador Puertocarrero, but upon his return to Spain, she “lived with Cortés, to whom she bore a son named Don Martin Cortés.”

So this summarizes Malinalli’s life up until meeting Cortés. Her story and that of the conquest is complicated and unfortunately her own viewpoint, goals, and intentions are lost to history as she did not write her own story. Her life is documented purely through the lenses of others, both Spanish and indigenous.

The Spanish considered her a great asset and regularly described her as a princess–beautiful, regal, great, and “most excellent.” Several conquistadors claimed that without her they would not have been able to conquer the Aztecs, or at least not as quickly and they would not have been able to communicate with [and ally with some of] the indigenous people they encountered along the way.

One of the most detailed accounts of the Spanish conquest of Mexico is that of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a soldier under the leadership of Hernán Cortés. He described Doña Marina in a positive light in every mention of her in his memoirs of the conquest of New Spain.

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English translation of Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s memoir.

Diaz relates the story of when Marina was reunited with her mother and brother. Upon seeing Marina, they felt guilty and anxious, but she “comforted them” and “freely forgave the past.” Bernal Diaz saw this incident as proof that “God…turned her away from the errors of heathenism and converted her to Christianity.” He even compared Doña Marina’s story to that of Joseph and his brothers in the Bible, in which Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery because it ultimately led him to a place of power.

Indigenous people also depicted Malinalli in codices relating the events of the conquest. The Aztec codices always show Malinalli next to Cortés, demonstrating how closely she worked with him, helping him to negotiate with Aztec leaders. The Tlaxcala, an indigenous group that allied with Cortés to defeat the Aztecs, also depicted Malinalli (who they called Malintzin). In fact they so closely associated Malinalli with Cortés that they called them both by the same name — Malintzin, identifying him as being with her. (The -tzin suffix is an honorific or formality much like sir or lady.)

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La Malinche and Hernán Cortés in the city of Xaltelolco, in a drawing from the late 16th-century codex History of Tlaxcala. 

Some indigenous codices and other evidence have caused some historians to speculate that Malinalli had power beyond her role as translator–that she influenced diplomacy and decisions during the conquest. One story exists that she warned Cortés about a planned trap and attack by indigenous people. This story, along with her overall role in helping Cortés to be successful in his defeat of the Aztecs, has caused her to be known as a traitor-traiconera. However, not all indigenous groups in the area were allied with the Aztecs and some suffered from the empire’s requirement for tribute, making some historians argue that she saved her people from the Aztecs.

Outside of her role as translator, Doña Marina’s life was not all that different from the lives of many other indigenous women who the Spanish encountered. She was given as a peace offering to the Spanish, baptized and renamed as a Christian, and then given to one Spaniard after another.

She, and the other nineteen captive women given at the same time, had no choice in their placement with the Spaniards, but Doña Marina’s actions while with the Spaniards demonstrate that she saw in her new position an opportunity to survive and maybe even improve her station in life. Her ability to translate for Cortés elevated her status in the party and granted her certain protections.

Less is known about her later life, but it seems she lived outside of what is now Mexico City, married Juan Jaramillo and had a daughter. Her son with Cortés, commonly thought of as the first mestizo or first Mexican, was taken to Spain and raised by his father’s family. Malinalli died either in 1529 or 1551 as is disputed by historians.

Her role in the conquest remains contested & debated by Mexicans as well. The word malinchista means a disloyal citizen who prefers foreign influence and is used as an insult in Mexico. But many feminists have defended her, pointing to her lack of choice as an enslaved woman and the difficult situation she was placed in.

Traitor, survivor, victim, mother of modern Mexicans? All of the above? What do you think? 

Quotes are from: Bernal Diaz, The Conquest of New Spain, Trans. J.M. Cohen, (London: Penguin Books, 1963).

You can read more about the mythology and legacy of La Malinche in the below interesting article which compares her life and legacy to that of Pocahontas. 

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/11/25/457256340/despite-similarities-pocahontas-gets-love-malinche-gets-hate-why 

Some of this blog post was inspired by and adapted from an academic paper I wrote during undergrad about how the Spanish conquistadors used indigenous women to help accomplish the goals of conquest: God, gold, and glory. In it I argue that Doña Marina’s life demonstrates two major themes present in the Spanish conquest of Mexico: the use of conversion to Christianity and interracial relationships in order to promote assimilation and loyalty. Both of these tactics were used to achieve the goals of conquest. Spanish conquerors sought to claim territory, convert and assimilate natives, and find wealth. Through the writings of Cortés and Diaz, it becomes evident that the conversion of indigenous women to Catholicism, and Spanish men’s relationships with them, were not secondary aspects of colonization.  Rather, this paper argues that it was through their relationships with indigenous women that Spanish men achieved their goals of conquest. You can read the full paper here

Truth in Fiction: The Tattooist of Auschwitz & the Problem with Novels “Based on a True Story”

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I recently finished the novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. It was a Christmas gift from my wonderful sister-in-law who knows I love history. She actually tricked me into telling her I wanted it. I had seen the book on lists of books for history lovers, best seller sections of stores, and online from bookstagrammers I follow. I hadn’t looked much into it other than the basic premise and so I was intrigued and wanted to read it. It is the first book I’ve read in its entirety in a while (still suffering from on and off spells of post-grad school reading issues). It was a relatively quick read, a light, paperback love story in most ways. Except of course its setting–Auschwitz. Nazi-occupied Poland. World War II. The Holocaust.

Potentially an important book–a tale from the perspective of a Jewish prisoner, but not just any Jewish prisoner–one selected to work as the Tatowierer — the prisoner assigned to tattoo his fellow prisoners upon arrival. A prisoner, that because of this position, was given special treatment, better conditions relative to the other prisoners, and some small modicum of relative freedom.

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However, because of the way this book was written, it missed the opportunity to fully explore that viewpoint and what it could have told us about the Holocaust. Instead, the book focuses on the love story at hand. And it is an incredible, love-affirming, heartwarming story of how two people met under the worst of circumstances, survived, found each other again, and lived happily ever after. And that is an unbelievable love story. However, the tale of Lali Sokolov could have been that and so much more.

The book is a novel, but its cover attests that it is “Based on the Powerful True Story of Love and Survival.” Author Heather Morris spent the last 3 years of the real Lali Sokolov’s life listening to his story for the purposes of turning it into a screenplay. She later decided to rework the screenplay into her first novel.

As a historian, I think historical fiction can be a wonderful way to engage non professionals (and even professionals alike) with the past, encourage interest in history, and spark desire for more knowledge. However, when done without a certain level of accuracy, it can create myths, misunderstandings, and confusion with audiences who may not know which parts of the book are history and which are fiction, especially when the marketing for the novel attests that it is based on a true story. This declaration will make many believe more of the novel is indeed true than might be the case.

I am no Holocaust expert but I did study it in a semester long seminar and I found a few aspects of the novel to be unbelievable, literally. The amount of freedom of movement that Lali had in the camp seemed to me to be unrealistic and overstated. This feeling brought me to look into the accuracy of the novel and I found that the leading experts on Auschwitz, those at the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum, found the novel to be virtually useless as a text for understanding life at Auschwitz. Writing in the November 2018 edition of the site’s magazine Memoria, Wanda Witek-Malicka from the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center provided a number of examples of inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and blatant mistakes in the novel. Malicka’s conclusion was that “given the number of factual errors, therefore, this book cannot be recommended as a valuable title for persons who want to explore and understand the history of KL Auschwitz.”

You can read Malicka’s full fact-checking article here: https://view.joomag.com/memoria-en-no-14-11-2018/0766192001543510530/p6?short

Perhaps the most stunning mistake was the number tattooed on Gita’s arm. Such a pivotal moment and important symbol in the book, and a relatively easy fact to verify, and it was simply wrong. Lali’s name was misspelled throughout the novel as Lale. These small details may not impact the overall story, but if no care was taken to verify the small, easy details, how much was taken to accurately recreate Lali’s story?

Larger issues are also brought up in Malicka’s fact check including the extreme unlikeliness that prisoners had the freedom of movement within the camp that this novel purports. It was this inaccuracy that most concerned me as the novel at times made the concentration camp experience seem much less atrocious than most other sources make it out to be. The utter terror of what happened there is missing from this novel not only in the way facts are misrepresented but also in the style of writing. There is not enough description, build up to climactic or important moments, and little reflection on such moments. Most likely, this is because of the original intention of this story to manifest on screen where the impact of moments could be achieved through visual and auditory ways; however, even the dialogue of the novel is severely lacking.

I feel that Lali Sokolov’s life story would have been better served if written as non-fiction–a memoir, a biography, or similar, or even as a novel but with context given and verified with documentation by a historian. Not only would nonfiction have provided valuable context and better understanding of Lali’s unique situation, it also would have presented his story in a more dignified way. Morris’ work, while an interesting topic and readable, was not especially well-written. Dialogue falls flat; the plot feels disjointed. Important moments happen with no build up or examination. Character development lacks depth. And the plot itself seems improbable at times, leading me to wonder which aspects of the story are truth and which are fiction.

Morris writes in her acknowledgements a thank you to two persons “for their brilliant investigative skills in researching the “facts” to ensure history and memory waltzed perfectly in step.” However, that the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum was not consulted and the records they possess not sought to corroborate details makes me feel that the proper amount of effort needed in order to achieve Morris’ self stated goal of making history and memory waltz in step was not carried out.

Have you read The Tattooist of Auschwitz? What did you think? How much does accuracy matter in a novel set in a time period like the Holocaust?


I recommend reading the complete fact checking article from the Auschwitz Memorial and Research Center: https://view.joomag.com/memoria-en-no-14-11-2018/0766192001543510530/p6?short

You can also read summaries of the inaccuracies and the author’s response in various news articles such as here : https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/dec/07/the-tattooist-of-auschwitz-attacked-as-inauthentic-by-camp-memorial-centre

https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/veracity-of-tattooist-of-auschwitz-challenged-by-auschwitz-museum-in-poland/

If you are interested in reading more about the Holocaust, particularly about survivors, and wanting books that read more like novels and are more accessible than dense academic history texts I’ve recommended a few below.

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman – a graphic novel about a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story.

Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke – nonfiction about the revolt and escape of Jewish prisoners from the Nazi death camp at Sobibor.

Into the Tunnel: The Brief Life of Marion Samuel, 1931-1943 by Gotz Aly- “A generous feat of biographical sleuthing by an acclaimed historian rescues one child victim of the Holocaust from oblivion”

The Heart has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers and Their Stories of Courage by Mark Klempner – Collection of interviews with 10 Dutch rescuers of Jewish children