I chose to interview Nardina Solano, a longtime family friend, for my Oral History Project. Oral history is defined as “a recording containing information about the past obtained from in-depth interviews concerning personal experiences, recollections, and reflections”. It is also the study of such information. In this project, Nardina’s personal experiences and recollections are used to better understand her thoughts and views on issues of discrimination and oppressions.
Nardina Solano is 79 years old and lives with her husband Joe in El Sereno, CA. She was born in San Bernardino, CA and grew up in Lincoln Heights, CA where she attended elementary and high school. Both her mother and father immigrated to the United States from Mexico long before she was born in search of better job opportunities. Nardina has lived across from my grandmother in El Sereno for more than 50 years. She has not only watched my sisters and I grow up, but she has also witnessed the upbringing of my dad and four uncles. More importantly, Nardina is Mexican American and identifies as a straight female. Although I have seen Nardina all my life, I never really knew much about her and that is one of the reasons why I chose to interview her. Going into this interview, I was interested to learn more about her family’s past and oppressions and/or discriminations she may or may not of faced throughout her life relating to specific issues of race and gender. A couple things I knew about Nardina going into the interview is that she is liberal and very religious. I was interested to see if her religion, Catholicism, would influence the way she interpreted certain questions of her views on human sexuality and if she would refer to the Bible as the “end all”. Throughout the interview, it became clear that Nardina preferred the way society was “back in the day” rather than what it is today. This was interesting to note because although discrimination against people of color tended to be worse “back in the day” in the 50s and 60s during her childhood, she felt the opposite in that she noticed discrimination more in her adult life rather than in her childhood.
Nardina Solano is 100% Mexican. Both of her parents were born in Mexico and came to the U.S. in search of better jobs. They knew they would have to settle for low-paying jobs because they were immigrants that did not speak English well. Her father came to the U.S. when he was seven years old but was sent back because of a bad papers. He then came back when he was fifteen and was hired by the Southern Pacific Railroad. “As far as when I grew up, we didn’t have [racial slurs]. We respected all our neighbors. We had a lot of Italians, a lot of Mexicans, where we grew up they all worked in electric companies, brewery companies. Most of the immigrants worked in those places, which my mom did get a job there. My dad worked for the railroad laying tracks all over from Las Vegas, Nevada to Pocatello, Idaho. But never heard any bad slurs or ‘you this’ or ‘you that’ like you hear today. Not at all. My mom used to say ‘out of all the races you pick the best people to say hello to, goodbye to, ‘have a nice day,’ but you respect them. There’s bad people in every race.’ And there was. I mean you have the mafia, you had the Black Panthers, but we didn’t seem to have any problems with our regular neighbors or the friends we picked. They were all different races. It was nice. I see it different now; kids bullying each other, and they do all different kinds of stuff, bad words. No we didn’t have anything like that because your parents would get after that if you did. The lady who used to live across the street, if we did something wrong of were bothering the plants on their lawn and they come out and scold you, okay, you take it. And if you didn’t take it, your parents would make you understand that you were to stay away and not do that. That’s it. That’s how we were raised. I have all kinds of friends, different races, and they’re all nice. I always keep the best of each race and that’s how you do it. Because there’s good and bad in every race, that’s how it works. But today it’s much, much different. Name calling, people don’t like each other, they don’t respect each other, it’s bad, and I see it”.
Nardina explained that once her father was in the United States, the only way he could gain citizenship was if he worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. When I asked if Nardina felt her father was mistreated and assigned a dangerous job because he was Mexican she responded with “No”. Nardina quickly corrected me and explained that everyone working there was an immigrant and they were all treated the same. Although her father was treated similarly to everyone else, Nardina told stories of what her mother used to go through. When Nardina’s mother was shopping, male storeowners would stare at her and ask in a rude tone if she was going to buy anything or if she was just standing there. Oftentimes her mother left stores because she felt threatened. Interestingly, her mother being discriminated against while her father was not plays to the hegemony of men being able to defend themselves while women are “too weak” to speak up and defend themselves. These white male storeowners felt it was acceptable to torment a female immigrant because she was “less than” them.
When asked about the time period and where Nardina grew up she responded by saying she preferred society more when she was young and as she got older, she noticed changes in the way people communicated and how they treated each other. She believes she is apart of a better generation because she always felt safe and cared for. All of her neighbors were friendly and did not judge her or her family for their ethnicity. “It was safer, nicer. People respected one another. Um, and it was just different. It was nice. Where we lived was in Lincoln Heights. We’d walk to school, long distance, and never had to worry about the back door being left open, no one bothered. We had a lot of great neighbors at that time, a lot of immigrants”. Nardina appreciated feeling safe and attributed this feeling to everyone around her being immigrants. She believed it does not matter what race you are because “there are bad people in every race”. She felt like she was apart of a community of immigrants that were more interested in thriving in America rather than judging others based on their appearance. Nardina said, “We didn’t have time to judge, you were what you were because that is how God created you”. Nardina also mentioned that she would receive a beating if her parents ever heard she was being racist or judgmental and that could have also influenced her views. If she would receive a beating for being racist, she would not be racist. When she was younger, no one even considered what color you were because it did not matter. Back then, people worried more about what kind of person you were rather than what you looked like. It was interesting to note that Nardina felt race was not even considered when she was younger but it became more of a topic discussed as she grew older.
Although Nardina Solano is very religious and lives her life the way she believes God would want, she has interesting points of view regarding human sexuality. When asked if she believes her religion affects the way she treats people she responded strongly that she does not discriminate, because that is the way God would want. Nardina lives the Bible and treats everyone equally, including lesbians, gays and transgenders. It is interesting that despite Nardina’s strong religious beliefs, she does not let the negatives in the Bible outweigh the golden rule of treating everyone the way she would like to be treated. The Bible teaches that being anything other than straight is wrong but Nardina believes “everyone is equal” outweighs “God hates gays”. Nardina told a story of when she used to work as a health clerk and a woman felt the need to explain that she was lesbian. Nardina was confused as to why the girl felt she needed to identify her sexuality as well as her name when all that was required was her name.
Nardina explained that this was when she realized our society is changing. When she was younger people introduced themselves just by their name, now, she noticed people introduce their name, the pronouns they identify with as well as their sexual orientation. Nardina mentioned she knows many lesbian, gay and transgender people and it has never affected the way she treated them. “In the ‘50s they didn’t say too much about it. And we knew families who had kids like that or whatever, and it didn’t make a difference to us. That was it. We didn’t go around teasing them or calling them names. No, never. So it’s a big difference. A lot of people say “oh there weren’t that many gay people” or whatever, but no, there was. They didn’t bother anybody and we didn’t bother them. But that’s the parents that have a lot to do with that too. But I didn’t see it as a big thing in those days, and I was a teenager then”.
Throughout the interview, it was clear Nardina noticed a change in society from when she was young to what it is now. Although she said, “It was a better time back then” she meant that to describe how everyone treated each other. Back when she was younger she expressed that everyone treated each other as equals, now there is more judgment and discrimination. She expressed sadness when she noticed that as the years have gone by, people have always been gay, lesbian and transgender, but society has not changed and is not welcoming. When asked if she thinks the world as a whole has gotten more accepting Nardina responded with “I really don’t know, I don’t get it. I don’t think they need to say ‘I’m this, I’m that.’ I don’t think you need to know that. If you’re a good person, that’s all that counts. I don’t think it’s getting better because I understand that there’s people that do things to gay people and beat them up and whatnot. I don’t know, if you grew up in my generation or with the people I know, we never say anything like that. I have a lot of friends that had gay children and so what? You are what you are”.
Nardina believes everyone is equal as it relates to sexual orientation as well as gender. When asked if she agreed with John Berger’s quote “to be born a woman has been to be born into an allotted and confined space into the keeping of men” she responded with “I don’t believe that”. Nardina strongly believes that everyone is created equal no matter what. Further questioning her faith and the Berger quote I asked about the Bible verse from 1 Corinthians 11:7 that says “a man not ought to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” Nardina responded with, “The Bible also says to respect one another and to care for one another and that is what I live by, above everything.” By strongly disagreeing with Berger, Nardina proves she does not believe men have superiority over women. She does not focus on the bias the Bible has but rather the positive messages. Although Nardina liked conforming to society and staying at home and taking care of her children and house while her husband was out making the money, she never felt as if she was less than. Gender roles meant nothing to her because she lived the way she wanted. Even though she knew she was living the stereotype, she was happy and that was all that mattered. What was interesting about asking Nardina about jobs and if she believed men held higher position jobs was that she agreed and did not seem to be bothered by it. She said, “I think it’s been like that for many years. Men have had more power and maybe knew more, I don’t know. But it never turns out good with a woman, I don’t know why. Because maybe they have other things to do. I mean it’s hard for a woman to run a country and do whatever. It would be nice, but as far as jobs and so forth and CEOs it’s always a man, always. They’re very good at whatever they do and it would be nice to see a change but it won’t. And it doesn’t bother me. If men are up there, I hope they do it right and that’s the main thing. I couldn’t care less if you’re a man or woman”.
The interesting part of this is that Nardina is aware that men have always held higher position jobs and she believes it is because men are more capable. This was interesting because she expresses throughout the interview that “everyone is equal” but when asked about high position jobs, she feels men would be better suited because they “know more”. Nardina is fascinating because even though some of her views contradict each other, she still believes overall that men, women, gays, lesbians and transgenders are all equal.
After introducing Chela Sandoval’s “Methodology of the Oppressed” and reading brief descriptions of each category of feminisms it was clear that Nardina is a liberal feminist. Throughout the interview Nardina expressed that men and women are equal in all ways, unintentially labeling herself as a liberal feminist because she believes that everyone is equal above everything. The only area Nardina believed men might have the advantage over women is holding a leading position. She said, “I would immediately recognize myself as liberal. I don’t care about anything else like that. I know men have bigger jobs and get better pay, that’s been going on forever. I don’t think its ever going to change. I see women hold the same job as men in power, but they don’t do as well. I don’t know, men have power. I don’t think it is going to change, I mean it would be nice, but I don’t know. I believe women and men are equal. It doesn’t matter what color, race, if you are gay or lesbian, we are all the same. God teaches us in the bible to love one another over everything else.” Nardina experienced Institutional Oppression because she was Mexican, not directly because she was Mexican but because she was the daughter of immigrants. When she was young, immigrants were the norm but they were still being discriminated against by people who were born in America. Most of her neighbors and the people she went to school with were immigrants. But when she went out into the “real world” other than school, she noticed discrimination. When her family was first looking for houses in the US, she often came across signs that said “No Mexicans” or “No Italians.” She even had a family friend that opened up a “Mexican-American” market and they were told to remove the word “Mexican” so that it would just be an “American Market.” When discussing the Three Dimensions of Oppression in Patricia Hill Collins’ “Toward a New Vision,” Nardina noticed that although indirectly, she experienced Institutional Oppression most of her life. When Nardina’s mother was being treated unfairly while shopping, she was experiencing institutional oppression as well. Nardina knew her family was being discriminated against when she saw signs that said “No Mexicans” in front of houses they were trying to rent, but she was unsure of the technical term.
Nardina was fascinating to interview because although she fit the stereotype of a stay at home mother for a lot of her life, she did not fit the stereotype of conforming to sexist beliefs. She believes everyone is equal but also expressed that men tend to be a better boss than women. She is very religious, but does not let sexist Bible verses interfere with believing everyone is created the same. She is Mexican and has experienced oppression, but not in the same way most Mexicans have. She believes society has changed over the years, but not necessarily for the better. Listening to Nardina, I came to understand that although she may be fitting hegemonic stereotypes, she was doing it because it made her happy. I learned that some people who were aware they were living hegemonic stereotypes were happy and did not feel like a statistic. Nardina was happy to stay at home and care for her child while her husband was making money. After interviewing Nardina I learned that a person’s view does not have to be black and white and it does not have to apply to everything. In Nardina’s case, even though she is very religious, she does not let the Bible dictate her life completely. She does not agree with the Bible when talking about women being in the image of men, but she agrees when the Bible preaches that we should all treat each other with respect and equality. Nardina showed me that the community one grows up in could influence you for the rest of your life. Nardina grew up with many immigrants and because of it she was taught to respect everyone, regardless of race, color or sexual orientation.