Oral History – Blog Post 6

Transcribed below is the interview that I conducted with my mother who was born in 1965 Brooklyn, NY. She lived with her mother and three older sisters in a private home supported solely by her mother who worked two jobs at the time to support herself and her daughters. Her youth was very carefree and separate from the wave of activism that was crashing through during this era.

Self: What was it like growing up as an African American girl/teen in Brooklyn, NY circa the 1970s? 

Mom: My childhood was very fun. I enjoyed school and hanging out with my small group of friends. We lived right on Nostrand avenue in a very cultured neighborhood. My friend group consisted of 4 girls. One of my friends was named Evelyn. She was a Puerto Rican girl whose family owned a nearby bodega. That was one of our main hang out spots ; the corner store. We used to throw fish from the fish market at the buses as they passed the store ; we were bad (laughs). I also had three other friends named Rhonda, Mildred, and Darthia who happened to be sisters. They lived around the corner from me. We had a “clubhouse” across the street from their house that we all hung out in. it was actually just an abandoned house (laughs).

Self: What kind of clothes were girls your age wearing?

Mom: I would see a lot of girls in leather miniskirts and vest combos, eskimo coats, sneaker streakers, pro-keds, and my favorites, earth shoes. Easter was when you’d see people put on their best outfits; it was the time to show off! My mother dressed me very formally. While I’d see other kids casually dressed I’d always have on a dress or skirt with stockings. The clothes were great quality but, they weren’t “cool”. She’d put me in such frilly girly outfits for special occasions which was not me at all. The worst part were the stiff patent leather shoes she’d make me wear with the huge buckle. I begged my mom and sisters for a pair of earth shoes (sneakers) and when I finally got a pair one day I couldn’t wait to try them out. I used to run up and down the block full speed in my sneakers ; I always thought that if you were wearing sneakers you HAD TO run so, I made sure to test them out. They were so comfortable.

Self: What about boys?

Mom: Denim, corduroys, bomber jackets, sneakers, stuff like that. Very casual.
Self: How does that differ from the stylistic choices of kids/teens you see in present day?
Mom: I see too many holes in their clothes nowadays. The 70s were all about glam, more flashy, more funky.

Self: What kind of work did your mom do as you were growing up?

Mom: My mother was a teacher during the daytime and worked as a postal clerk in the evenings. 

Self: What was it like growing up in your household specifically? Did any of your siblings or your mother participate in movements that advocated for women’s rights?

Mom: The house was spacious and beautiful. Everyone had their own quarters. There wasn’t much conversation around activism in our house. It was more of a fun and creative environment ; very light. My sisters made clothes, had lots of friends, and threw LOTS of parties when my mother was not home.

Self: As an adolescent growing up in this era of activism did you feel that it impacted the way in which you grew up? Why or why not? 

Mom: No, activism wasn’t a huge part of my life. I was very young and just growing up day by day, year by year. A lot of those years were spent learning how to take care of myself.

Blog Post 6: Oral History By Ramy Mohamed

Wafaa Mohamed

For this post I decided to interview my mother, Wafaa Mohamed. During the 70’s my mother was 9-19 years old and lived in Alexandria, Egypt.

Q: when you were living in Egypt was there any women’s rights activists?

A: Yes, there was but that happened after the Russian alliance.

Q: Why did Egypt ally itself with Russia at that time?

A: During the 70’s Egypt was at war with its neighbor Israel and seeked an alliance since Israel had an alliance with England and France.

Q: How did Russia cause social change during this time?

A: Well, before the alliance women were much more conservative and by this I mean women wore conservative clothing, women mostly wore chanel lengths(a skirt or dress that went past your knee). Once the alliance was formed cultural appropriation occurred. During this time there was more emphasis on women to show their beauty rather than hide it. Women decided to embrace this new change and wore mini jubes and later micro jubes(a type of skirt or dress that was above the knees).

Q: How did this effect society?

A: This caused a lot of conflict within Egyptian households, the elders/parents of women would argue with them and try and convince them to be more conservative with their clothing. That they should revert back to chanel lengths and that skirts were far too revealing and thus shameful. I heard stories of women being disowned by their families for failing to change their appearance.

Q: Did any policies/ laws change because of this?

A: Yes, laws for divorce and custody changed after about ten years of cultural appropriation.

Q: Did you decide to embrace the new fashion trend at the time?

A: I was very interested in fashion back then as I am now, So yes I did. I kept it a secret from my family to avoid conflict. I would wear a long skirt and fold it once I was away from home.

Blog Post 6: Oral History

My mom was born in the early 70’s in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but lived most of her life on the island on Mustique before coming to the USA in the early 2000’s.

Q: When you were living back home did you see a lot of movements and activism for women’s rights?

A: No

Q: Did you feel like women during your time had a voice or a dominant place in society?

A: I am not sure, because I lived in Mustique [small private island]. So I did not really question or was not really exposed to things like that. I never felt that division while living there. But I did remember the Teachers Union March in St.Vincent.

Q: What was that about?

A: A group of teachers walked out to protest their rights on certain things, it was a powerful thing, but still sad.

Q: Was it successful? Did it bring about any change?

A: Very little change. The Prime Minister at the time, ordered troops to tear gas them during the protest.

Many countries are not as powerful and educated as America. We just go with the flow sometimes. Women knew their place and stuck to it. I never questioned my role as a woman.

  • My mother also detailed to me about a time she was slapped by my grandmother for not giving food to her step-father at the time. She felt like as the man of the house he had a responsibility to take care of them. But my mom had to support my grandmother and her 5 other siblings, along with her step-father. My grandmother enforced obedience to men in the household. My mom also mentioned that her role as the care-taker and the bread-winner gave her a sense of independence and she thinks it made her the strong and assertive person she is today.
3 Obstacles Mentally Strong Women Have To Overcome That Men Don't

Blog Post 6

I interviewed my family about the women’s liberation movement, but as they grew up in the Dominican Republic during the 60s and 70s they didn’t know much about it. They do remember hearing about “Las Hermanas Mirabal” which was a group of sisters that helped free the country from the rule of the dictator Trujillo. With their actions they advanced a revolution that ended the dictatorship. Their actions set up to free a country that eventually trickled down to my family where they saw how strong women can be. As my grandfather died at a young age, my grandmother now had to take care of her 4 children. Although Dominican culture is still behind in terms of progressive views, women like las hermanas mirabal helped change the perspective of women being weak, and showed that they can be history altering figures.

Blog Post 6: Oral History

I was able to interview my grandmother for this assignment. My grandma moved to the Bronx from Puerto Rico when she was 17 and raised 3 daughters all on her own. When I think of women liberation, I think of her and her strength and independence of doing that. Although many women raise children on their own, it was not as common back in the day and there was not as much support as there is now. My grandmother said the women’s liberation movement influenced her to raise her daughters to have goals for themselves beyond becoming a mother. She wanted all of them to attend university and all of them to obtain careers and establish themselves. My grandmother always said she was for feminism and that there was no better time to raise her kids when all this reform was happening.

The untold side of second wave feminism: a multinational ...

My Best Friend

My grandma (my best friend) was born in 1952, making her sixty eight in October. She was born in Odessa, Russia when it was still a part of the Soviet Union. She had my mom when she was only nineteen years old, while practicing medicine and working night shifts as an EMT. She took my mom and immigrated to America, in between they moved to Italy for three months before coming here. When she came here, she had to go through medical school another time, except this time without knowing the language, which made it twice as hard, but nevertheless she graduated from it and got her degree.

As I was interviewing my grandma, she seemed to not enjoy this process as much as I would have liked however these are the answers I got from the questions she would let me ask.

Q- Did you experience oppression or discrimination based on your gender growing up?

A- “Yes, absolutely. Many of my male colleagues in the field didn’t take me seriously because I was a women, so I had to work more diligently to prove my intelligence in medicine”

Q-What was it like immigrating to America as a single mom?

A- “It was certainly a struggle and very intimidating to come to this country, with no connections but I was thinking about my daughters future, and I wanted better opportunities for her and myself. I was confident in my ability to achieve my goals, and I never looked back.”

Q- Did you face any oppression or discrimination when you were in America?

A- “Yes most of the time, when I was learning English and couldn’t defend myself I faced a lot of oppression based on my gender. One time I was working in this laundry mat and a man came in with a gun, aiming to rob the place just because he thought as a women I couldn’t do anything about it. Thank god, a man who worked in a neighboring store came in and saved me.”

Q- Do you ever miss Russia? Did you ever go back?

A- “No I don’t. When I left I promised myself to not look back. At the end of the day, life in America was a dream for us and it was up to us to fulfill that dream. I fulfilled it and so there’s no point of going back. It seems like a different life time thinking about my life in Russia.

Q- Were you ever scared for your daughter?

A-“Of course, but I believed in her and I believed in myself. I was always taught that fear is an excuse, thats something I live by.”

Blog Post 6: Oral History

I interviewed retired NYPD Detective Mollie-Ann Gustine. She recently turned 90 years old in February. Given her position, she remained at the frontlines for many social and political movements. Since she is 90 she remains in a nursing home currently so I had limited time to engage with her, so I shall sum up some things I’ve learned about this amazing woman.

Retired Detective MollieAnn Gustine served with the NYPD from 1963 to 1983. Being an African-American woman at this time, she faced much adversity. She marched beside Malcolm X, became the first African-American woman to become a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) delegate, and she was gunned down in Queens in the 80s by three teens who attempted to rob her. She fired back after being shot in the chest and arm and of course, she survived the injuries.

Though it isn’t much information about her life in the 60s, she is nonetheless a hero and was only recently commemorated for her work with the NYPD.

4/4/20 UPDATE

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the passing of Ms. Mollie. She passed away last night (4/3/20) from coronavirus (COVID-19) complications.

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