Women in Resistance, Part 2, The Dreamers
My youthful college experiences in Wisconsin were inspired by the civil rights movement and my friendship with Jim and Anne McWilliams. Then in 1961, I moved to San Francisco where I lept into the post beatnik whirl of the Bay Area’s international multi-lingual immigrant communities among the parents of today’s Dreamers.
Our place, they said, was in the home
My friend Anne and I would never have imagined that a half a century later young immigrants like her brought to the US as babies and children would openly and militantly fight for their right to education in a movement called the “Dreamers.” As women in those years, our fight went on quietly as we struggled to raise our children and pursue our own education. It was hard to get called on in class, or have our voices heard at a meeting, or to endure the whispers that went on behind our backs for breaking the norms. Social conventions, university officials, and even professors didn’t approve of mothers going back to school in those years. Our place, they said, was in the home. We met with a wall of disapproval. It wasn’t until decades later that adult women were welcomed into classrooms as returning students. What a contrast to today’s young women loudly taking their case before Congress demanding their civil and human rights.
As a young bohemian, I felt very alone in the mid western Madison mainstream culture, with its cheerleaders, and mostly white student body peppered with a sprinkling of foreign students. I was so lonely until I met Anne. We joined forces and formed a parent childcare coop with other mothers so we could attend classes.
In 1961, when I settled in the barrio in the Mission District of San Francisco, I reconnected with my Latino roots that I had left behind in New York City where I lived until age 19. Madison, Wisconsin was a culture shock for me after the multi-cultural environment of NYC, Spanish Harlem, Greenwich Village, and my pursuit of professional theater training.
The fight for justice and civil rights burst into the open in San Francisco
The fight for justice and civil rights burst into the open in San Francisco, when, in 1968, a broad coalition of San Francisco State students organized in the Third World Liberation Front and struck for expanding enrollment to include minority students and the creation of Ethnic Studies programs. I jumped from the anti-Vietnam war truck theater I had been directing back into the struggle for civil rights and justice in defense of Los Siete de la Raza, a group of seven Central American youths falsely accused of murdering a San Francisco policeman. I covered the Los Siete trials as a reporter for the San Francisco alternative press, the San Francisco Good Times. I joined the San Francisco poetry scene through readings at Basta Ya, the coffee house run by the Los Siete Defense Committee, as a venue to raise funds and consciousness. There, through my fellow poets, I joined the Latino publishing collective Editorial Pocho Che. Once again, I found myself immersed in a romantic political milieu. This time, the romance went beyond personal romantic love to poetic immersion in the international struggle against the Vietnam war and anti imperialist struggles in Latin America. This is the setting of my novel, Nicaragua Way, inside an international community fighting for justice at home and for liberation in Nicaragua.
These communities of resistance have intergrated themselves into the life of our cities and set the stage for today’s Dreamers. The inspiration I felt as a participant in the resistance movement for Nicaragua in the 1970s gave rise to my novel where I portrayed that world for today’s readers to share and deepen their historical understanding.
Women’s voices were becoming louder
During this period, women’s voices were becoming louder. Around the corner from my San Francisco home, a women’s consciousness raising group met weekly in my dear friend Judith Knoop’s house. A single mother of three, Judith was a leader and spokesperson for welfare mothers demanding their rights. As a result of these meetings, Judith returned to school in the San Francisco State University nursing program, graduating with honors. The women’s liberation movement was making space for women’s voices in everything. As a registered nurse, Judith focused on women’s health care and set up the first San Francisco women’s health center in a store front in the Mission barrio providing services for immigrant women. Later her program was integrated into the San Francisco General Hospital’s women’s health and birthing programs. From efforts like these, women’s health issues were forced into our national consciousness. Judith passed away a few years ago and was honored for her work in a memorial meeting of over 200 people. More women and mothers today are enrolled in schools, including growing numbers of immigrants. These gains for women’s health and education have now come under attack from the Trump administration.
The “Dreamers” are valiantly fighting for their right to an education. Women are among the leadership of this movement. They are called Dreamers after a law that has yet to be passed called “Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.” These young students today are threatened with mass deportations and the break up of their families as well as being excluded from our schools and jobs. The Dreamers demand their education and their right to stay in our country as part of their human rights. It is a new phase of the struggle that began in the movement to end segregation. It expands the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for equality and justice for all.
Keep the dream alive
Today, my friendship with Jim, and Anne is still strong. We are now all over 80, living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and still are laughing over Jim’s jokes. We try to keep the dream alive by re-enforcing the resistance against the policies and ideology of this current hate-filled administration. Anne works on administrating and singing with a freedom song chorus that performs at protest events. Jim works as an advocate for mental health patients and often recites Dr King’s words and narrates civil rights history. As a poet, author, film maker and radio producer, I continue working to keep the dream alive.