A Week of Spouses and People

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on November 3, 2015 10:15 pm

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By Rumela Lahiri

Rumela is an international spouse from India who just arrived in Berkeley. She is following her husband who is doing a post-doc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Rumela has a  Master’s degree in Communication Studies and, before accompanying her husband to Berkeley, taught Communication at a college in India for 3 years.

Here she talks about her first time at the Friday Morning Coffee, a group for international spouses/partners facilitated by Yvonne Lefort that meets weekly at Caffe Strada in Berkeley.

rumela“Do you like meeting new people?” I am sure all of you have at least once or twice faced this question. Well I am no exception to this rule. But unlike many of you I never answered this because I never knew what to say. I have rarely met “New People,” and all the “New People” I have met in my home country (India) were the people whom somehow I always knew. But it is past. Now I have an answer. Yes I like meeting new people, thank you very much. And the person who made me realize this, is Yvonne Lefort.

A week ago this name would not have meant anything to me (though it would have sounded a bit different from the random names) but now it has become a symbol of solace. She arranges a group meeting (among many other activities) known as Friday Morning Coffee for people who are new in Berkeley without any friends. This group mostly consists of spouses whose husbands are connected to UC Berkeley. Being a university town, Berkeley has got its fare share of foreign students, visiting scholars and post docs. Many of them come to the United States accompanied by their families. When the husbands become busy in their academic and professional duties, most of the spouses start feeling domesticated and lonely, which leads to depression. Hence, there is no way the problem of the spouses can be taken lightly. Moreover, it also affects their partners and kids adversely.

Yvonne, having spent her early life in Germany for a couple of years, has witnessed the same thing that a lot of the spouses of UCB people go through. It encouraged her to design the course “CREATING A FULFILLING LIFE IN AMERICA,” taught by her only at UC Berkeley. But it was not enough to cover all the people who wanted to enroll in her classes as there is a seat limit. To counter that crisis Yvonne managed another solution: Friday Morning Coffee at Caffe Strada. It is a gathering of spouses of foreign people in Berkeley that provides a wide scope of networking to overcome the unhappiness of a lonely life. The two-hour coffee sipping also results in a unique friendship of diversities.

My first day in the coffee meeting was a week ago. I waited a bit before entering. I was waiting to see if I could identify anyone from the the photos of the meeting which I found on Facebook. So, after wasting ten to fifteen minutes I found myself inside the cafe looking for a bunch of women whom I have never seen ever. There were a few scattered small groups here and there crowding the cafe. My morning group was nowhere to be seen. Then I walked towards the outdoor tables of the cafe. At that moment my face must have been a mixture of confusion, coyness and inquiry because suddenly I saw Yvonne Lefort smiling to me as if she knew I was looking for her. Well, I was looking for her. She was surrounded by a group of women. They welcomed me to the clan. Since then I have not only met delightful ladies from around the globe but also have experienced a series of heartwarming generic discussions including a fine dinner at another place with my new found friends and of course, my first ever Halloween party. If all these can happen in a week, I wonder what can be achieved over the length of my stay in Berkeley….

 

My Support Group

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on June 9, 2014 8:03 pm

Tags: Berkeley, Friday Morning Coffee, International Partner, International Spouses, Yvonne Lefort

By Ruth Weinhold-Heße

Ruth is a journalist and an international spouse from Germany who is currently living in Berkeley while her husband does a post-doc at UC Berkeley. Here she talks about the Friday Morning Coffee, a group for international spouses/partners facilitated by Yvonne Lefort that meets weekly at Caffe Strada in Berkeley.

Friday mornings, my mood generally is in the pits: getting up early, the long week, trying to convince my 2-year old for the fifth time in a row to leave the house quickly… and, as I mentioned recently, I feel lonely. For friendships with the locals are still quite sparse. My husband and my child are gone during the day. So what to do when one (unfortunately usually the woman) is in a foreign country, the partner is totally occupied with his job, you yourself have no work permit, and the children finally are well taken care of?

Drink coffee? All day long? That’s what I do on Fridays. I meet with other women who, almost all, have accompanied their scientist-husbands. I call it my support group. Because every time I’m there, I feel so much better afterwards. I get to know other women, all of whom are in a similar situation and have to cope with similar problems, and they all have very interesting stories. Even the mix of cultures is exciting:

Miki comes from Japan, Diana from Italy, Anna comes from Poland, Berit is Norwegian, Sarina is German, Xia originates from China and Yvonne is American.

When Yvonne was a young woman, she lived in Germany and out of this cultural experience grew her life’s work: to support women from abroad in adjusting to the United States. Every Friday at 11, she is at Caffe Strada across from campus and listens, asks questions and gives a few little tips. It may not sound earth shattering, but here I’ve learned that there are compostable plastic cups in America that are made from corn, or where you can park and for how long. This gives me the feeling of understanding American life just a little bit better. (Americans don’t just give up their plastic cups but manufacture more environmentally friendly ones instead… although this is not true for all disposable cups. But that’s another topic.)

My Support Group

My Support Group

And even though it’s a pity that I haven’t hung out yet with more Americans, it is perhaps only natural to feel attracted to those who have a similar or live in a similar situation. Almost all of the women have children or have used the time abroad to have children (which is the only thing mostly left for accompanying spouses to do!). We’re allowed to get irritated about American customs and learn, on top of it, how the same things are handled from China through Poland.

Recently, we even took ​​a small day trip. We went to Sonoma, a town north of the Bay Area that is known for its vineyards . Of course, we also did some wine tasting at a small winery whose founders were two Germans, which you can still see by the name (Gundlach Bunschu).

Here’s a picture of my support group, in no longer completely a sober state (except for the drivers who were nursing, of course!).

Note:   This blog post was translated from German into English by Yvonne Lefort.

The original blog post in German can be found on Ruth’s blog:

http://ruthroyal.blogspot.de/2014/05/meine-selbsthilfegruppe.html

 

Moving Through Transition

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on October 14, 2013 5:02 pm

Tags: Creating A Fulfilling Life in America, Creating a life in America, fulfilling life, International Partner, International Spouses, Transitions, UC Berkeley, Yvonne Lefort

My work as a career consultant and intercultural trainer brings me into contact with many people in career and life transition. At UC Berkeley, where I have been working as a consultant and teaching a course called “Creating A Fulfilling Life in America,” I have met many international spouses and partners going through intercultural, career and life transition.

Some have never lived or even traveled outside their home country, and living far away from friends and family is a daily challenge. Finding a place to live, setting up the apartment, opening a bank account and knowing where to shop or get a good haircut are some of the practical challenges of living in a new place, but there are also psychological challenges. Most people from other countries experience some degree of “culture shock” and loneliness, while others can get paralyzed with fear, depression and anxiety, and not know how to “get out” of what may feel like a big, black hole.

I often refer people to William Bridges’ book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Every transition, according to Bridges, begins with an “Ending.” When you move to another country, you experience many endings: an end to your job and to the sense of identity you got from your work, an end to time spent with close friends and family, and an end to being in a culture where you know the norms and can feel safe and comfortable, to name a few. You may go through a period that Bridges calls the “Neutral Zone,” where you feel lost and confused, unproductive, and not sure who you are anymore. It’s not a comfortable place. But in this period of confusion, there is growth happening as you begin to sort through who you are, what’s important in your life, and what you need to have to feel fulfilled. Your new identity is trying to take shape. Eventually, you will experience a renewed sense of energy as you begin to get new ideas and take action. You have moved through the neutral zone to a new beginning!

I have witnessed this process with the spouses and partners at UC Berkeley with whom I have had the privilege to work. To them and to you, I say, “Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.” It may feel scary because you don’t know the culture, your English isn’t perfect and you have an accent, or maybe you’re not used to starting up conversations with strangers. I understand, but don’t let this stop you from fulfilling your dreams. Take your inspiration from some of these spouses:

Satu, a spouse from Finland, applied for work authorization but her application was denied. So, she decided to form the “Language Café,” an informal language exchange where people meet weekly at a coffee shop to practice different languages.

Mila from Mexico is a marine biologist. After volunteering at a nature center, she applied for a grant from UC Berkeley and received a sum of money to start a program on sustainable living called “Nature Village.” (http://www.naturevillage.org). She received an award for her work from the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.

Ernani from Brazil is a high school physics teacher and musician. Since he couldn’t work on a F-2 visa, he decided to join a band and volunteer at a children’s science museum.

Doro from Germany didn’t know anyone when she first arrived in the U.S. and wanted to meet new people. She started a social group called the “Berkeley Wives” and created a website (http://berkeleywives.jimdo.com), and now she has a membership of almost 300 spouses.

Kathy from Chile is a veterinarian who volunteered at an animal shelter for several months before getting a part-time job as a veterinary assistant.

Kirsty from Australia loves to sew and make her own clothes. She started writing her own blog, “Tea and Rainbows” (http://www.teaandrainbows.com), to show off clothes she has made and talk about sewing techniques, patterns, fabric and anything else crafty.

These are just a few examples of spouses who have created or seized opportunities, taken risks, and stepped outside their comfort zone. You can too.

If you’re a new mother, find a mothers’ club to join where you can meet other moms to share the joys and frustrations of motherhood. Or, start your own new moms group.  

If you’re looking for work, learn the American way of networking and asking for informational interviews, and begin to make contact with people who can help advance you in your career. Take job search classes to learn how to write an American style resume, interview for a job, and “toot your own horn.”

If you are unable to get work authorization, find other ways to make your time in America meaningful and fulfilling. Is there something you’d like to try that you’ve never had the time to do? Is there a class that you could take or certificate that you could get to upgrade your professional skills? Can you think of some ways that you could be of service to others and volunteer your time? Or perhaps you’ve been too busy with your career to just take the time to have fun and relax. Allow yourself to do what makes you feel good and what makes you come alive.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy your life in America!

Finding A Job in America: Laura’s Story

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on September 24, 2013 8:53 pm

Tags: Getting a Job in America, International Spouses, Job Search, UC Berkeley

Laura GrauLaura is from Barcelona, Spain and is 37 years old.  She first came to the US with her boyfriend three years ago. When she arrived, she was holding a fellowship that allowed her to work in the communications department at the Advanced Light Source in the Lawrence Berkeley Lab (LBL).  After that, she returned to Barcelona for 4 months and decided to come back to Berkeley to do a masters in Project Management. As soon as she finished her masters, her boyfriend and she decided to get married so that she could stay in the US. Her husband is a postdoc at UC Berkeley. 

I interviewed Laura about her job search and how she got her first job in America. Here’s her story.

What was your professional background before you came to the U.S. and how did you conduct your job search here in the San Francisco Bay Area?

In Barcelona, I worked for 6 years as an event manager in a research center and I wanted to further my career in the US. It took me more than half a year to find a position. It was harder than I thought it would be. During that time, besides spending lots of hours every day in front of my computer searching for a position and getting ready for interviews, I took advantage of all the opportunities that are offered here in the Bay Area: English classes, workshops and courses at UC Berkeley, the program English in Action, Berkeley Toastmasters, informational interviews, movie clubs, etc.

Where are you working, what does the organization do, and what is your current position? How long have you been there?

One month ago, I started working at OWASP  (the Open Web Application Security Project) as a Global Event Manager. The OWASP is a worldwide not-for-profit charitable organization focused on improving the security of software. Its mission is to make software security visible so that individuals and organizations worldwide can make informed decisions about true software security risks.  Everyone is free to participate in OWASP and all of its materials are available under a free and open software license.

How did you find this job and how long did it take?  How was looking for a job here different from looking for a job in Spain?

I found this position through LinkedIn, but I also used other resources to search for a position. I regularly checked UC Berkeley Jobs, UCSF careers, Glassdoor, Careerbuilder, Monster, etc.  I subscribed to some career websites so that every day I would receive e-mails advertising positions for event managers.

The first thing I did was to write a resume in “the American way.” I asked for advice from some Americans to make sure it was all right! Apart from that, I wouldn’t say the process would have been different if I had been in Spain. However, for me, the interviewing process was hard. I felt frustrated after every interview I did because I am not a native English speaker and I can’t express myself as I do in my own language.

What was the most difficult interview question you were asked? 

Once I was asked what my communication strategy was in my previous job. To me it is funny how some interviewers use grandiloquent expressions. He just wanted to know how and how often I communicated with my team. Apart from that, the questions are more or less always the same and the more common job interview questions can easily be found on the internet.

Given that you’re from another country and didn’t have American work experience, how were you able to sell yourself to your employer and get hired?

OWASP is a foundation that involves people from all over the world. A couple of months ago they were looking for a Global Event Manager able to organize conferences across the five continents. I don’t know much about selling myself, and actually I don’t like doing it. I know that there are plenty of people out there very well prepared to do what I do, but I also know that I am a very good Event Manager, I have six years experience, and I enjoy doing my job.  I think that was enough for them to see me as a good match for the organization.

What is one thing that you wish you had known at the beginning of your job search that you know now?

I wish I would have known that it would be such a long process. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated during those months.

What advice would you give to other spouses who are looking for employment in the U.S.? 

What worked for me was not ever losing hope, and being open-minded about other things I could do while looking for a job. There are plenty of good opportunities out there! It is not only about finding a position, but enjoying the learning process!

 

Coming to California: An Essay in Seven Parts on the History of this Land: Part 7

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on September 11, 2013 10:07 am

Tags: California, Immigration, International Spouses, Oakland Museum, postdoc, UC Berkeley, Visiting Scholar, Yvonne Lefort

Based on an interview with Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History at the Oakland Museum of California, this column narrates the history of California through the personal story of someone who once moved to this area seeking new opportunities, just like we did. — Diana Gadaldi, international spouse of a postdoc at UC Berkeley

Episode 7: A glimpse into post-1965 immigration data: Who’s coming to California today? (sequel of episode 6: Diary of a drag queen: the history of José Sarria and the rise of the LGBT political activism in the Bay Area).

The last section of OMCA’s Gallery of California History, entitled “California: To Be Continued…”, deals with California’s most recent history, presenting an overview of the events that have marked California’s history over the last thirty-five years, from the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border to the technology boom that accompanied the rise of Silicon Valley. In particular, the interactive installation entitled “Immigration after 1975”, featuring the cabin of a vintage airplane and the environment of an airport’s international arrivals terminal, offers museum visitors a fresh look at the history of immigration to the ‘Golden State’ after 1975.

In the decades from 1921 to 1965, immigration to the United States was drastically restricted by the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and subsequently by the additional measures introduced by the Immigration Act of 1924. These laws limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country of the world to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States. Moreover, they prohibited the entry of specific categories of people such as “sexual deviants”—including homosexuals—, Southern and Eastern Europeans—most of whom were Jews in flight from the Nazi persecution in Poland and Russia—, as well as anyone born in the so called “Asiatic Barred Zone”, which included large parts of the Middle East, East Asia, and India. Chinese immigrants were already banned by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. According to the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian, the purpose of the 1924 Immigration Act was “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity”.

About forty years later, at the height of the 1960s Civil Right Movement, President John F. Kennedy called the then still-in-effect quota-system “nearly intolerable”. In 1965, two years after Kennedy’s assassination, his successor President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which marked a radical break from the immigration policies of the past. Numerical restrictions on visas were set at 170,000 per years for the Eastern Hemisphere and 120,000 per year for the Western Hemisphere, not including the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and “special immigrants” such as former citizens, ministers, and employees of the U.S. government abroad. To emphasize the symbolic importance of this historic moment, President Johnson chose the site of the Statue of Liberty as the location for the signing ceremony.

The new immigration law changed America’s demography and makeup for good. According to the statistics published on census.org, by 1990, the foreign-born population on U.S. territory was more than doubled compared to pre-1965 quotas, from 9.7 to 19.8 million. By 2010, that amount had quadrupled, reaching 40 million or 12.9% of the entire U.S. population. Another remarkable shift involved the immigrants’ place of origin: prior to immigration reform, the great majority of them were born in Europe (75%) while only a small number came from Latin America (9%) and Asia (5%). Through the 50 years that followed, the situation reversed: while only 12% of the immigrants recorded in 2010 were born in Europe, 53% came from Latin America and 28% from Asia.

Can you guess where as much as 25% of all foreign-born residents of the U.S. live today? In California, of course! As a recent research conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California shows, 27% of the state’s population in 2011 was foreign-born, about twice as much as in the rest of the U.S. In the city of San Francisco, this percentage even ran up to 30%.

The environment of an airports international arrivals terminal featured in the interactive installation  “Immigration after 1975” in OMCA Gallery of California History. Photo: Diana Gadaldi.

The environment of an airports international arrivals terminal featured in the interactive installation
“Immigration after 1975” in OMCA Gallery of California History. Photo: Diana Gadaldi.

The installation mentioned earlier, in the last section of OMCA’s Gallery of California History, features a LED screen displaying the most frequent international arrivals at California airports between 1975 and 2010, corresponding to the ranking of the geographical places that provided the highest number of immigrants during the same time period. Confirming the statistics published on census.org, we see Mexico City comes in first, with ca. 1,673,000 arrivals per year, followed by Manila with ca. 742,000, and Beijing with ca. 435,000. The only three European cities in this ranking are London (nr. 10) with less than 100,000 arrivals, Yerevan (nr. 16) with ca. 27,000 arrivals, and Berlin (nr. 24) with ca. 3,000 arrivals.

The three remaining displays featured in the same environment show the “x-ray scan” of pieces of luggage carried by immigrants. The different kinds of food, clothes, devotional images, and musical instruments contained in the suitcases are a metaphorical reference to the cultural practices immigrants bring to California, such as their eating traditions, religion, and music. This part of the installation gives museum visitors a better understanding of how multifaceted California’s society actually is, and how quickly it evolves.

The cabin of a vintage airplane featured in the interactive installation “Immigration after 1975” in OMCA Gallery of California History. Photo: Diana Gadaldi.

The cabin of a vintage airplane featured in the interactive installation “Immigration after 1975” in OMCA Gallery of California History. Photo: Diana Gadaldi.

The vintage airplane cabin rebuilt in the same gallery space and refurbished to resemble a World Airways aircraft from ca. 1973, is equipped with headphones and invites museum visitors to take a sit and listen to the story of people who have come to California in the last 35 years. Even though every story is unique, they all share similar feelings, such as excitement, curiosity, hope in the future but also discomfort, homesickness, and fear of the unknown.

Undoubtedly, this particular situation—sitting on a plane while preparing to start a new life far from home—will sound familiar to most UC Berkeley visiting students, postdocs, scholars, and their spouses. Although temporary residents such as the international community at Cal are not likely to be included in these immigration statistics, their influence on Bay Area’s demographic evolution is definitely worth further discussion.

According to Berkeley International Office’s data, UC Berkeley currently hosts 4,926 international students from 114 different nations (not including students at Summer Session or UC Extension), twice as much as in 2003 and almost 14% of all enrolled students. The number of international postdocs and scholars visiting UC Berkeley over the last 10 years has increased too: 3,058 as of fall 2012, 56% more than in 2003. In 2011 (data from 2012 are not available yet), the top three countries of origin in the international students’ ranking were China with 22%, South Korea with 18%, and India with 8.7%. Among the international postdocs and scholars, 18% came from China, 11% from Germany and 8.6% from South Korea. While the percentage of internationals from East Asia—especially from China, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—was very high in both groups (50% of the students and 38% of the postdocs and visiting scholars), the statistical presence of Europeans—with Germany, France, Italy, and Spain on top—was extremely unbalanced: 47% among international postdocs and visiting scholars and only 8.5% among international students.

Besides international Cal students, postdocs, and visiting scholars, the Bay Area hosts many of their spouses and children. Just like their partners, UC Berkeley spouses are active members of the local community. According to Berkeley International Office’s data, they are most typically women between 25 and 35 years old, plan to stay in California for 2 to 5 years, have one young child, and are looking for a job. Even those who plan to stay at home or are not eligible to work, contribute to fostering cultural growth, social cohesion, and even economic development as they often form cultural groups, engage in volunteer work, give classes, or start cooperatives.

Apart from figures, California’s international community in its entirety has added, over many centuries, an incalculable value to the cultural, social, political, and economic well-being of this land. From the Ohlone people—who lived in California before all the other people came—to the Spanish, the gold-seekers, the artists, the political activists, the members of the international Cal community, and the countless immigrants from all over the world, newcomers stimulated social and cultural integration and contributed, each on his own way, to create the open, vital and prosperous state that is today California.

To conclude this journey through California’s history—or more correctly—through the personal history of some of its leading characters, I would like to thank Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), for the precious time she invested in our interview. In addition, a very special thanks goes to Claudia Leung, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at OMCA, who assisted me throughout the writing process, Yvonne Lefort, Intercultural Trainer and Career Consultant at UC Berkeley, who allowed me to launch this essay on her International Spouses and Partners Blog, and last but not least all the international spouses at UC Berkeley who inspired and motivated me to complete this project. Thank you!

Other sources for this article were:  

The Immigration Act of 1924, History.state.gov
The Immigration Act of 1965, America.gov
The Size, Place of Birth, and Geographic Distribution of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 1960 to 2010, Census.gov
Immigrants in California, Ppic.org
International students enrolment data, Internationaloffice.berkeley.edu
Annual Report of International Visiting Scholars, Internationaloffice.berkeley.edu

© Diana Gadaldi

Coming to California: An Essay in Seven Parts on the History of this Land, Part 6

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on August 27, 2013 9:18 pm

Tags: California, LGBT, Oakland Museum

Based on an interview with Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History at the Oakland Museum of California, this column narrates the history of California through the personal story of someone who once moved to this area seeking new opportunities, just like we did. — Diana Gadaldi, international spouse of a postdoc at UC Berkeley

Episode 6: Diary of a drag queen: the history of José Sarria and the rise of LGBT political activism in the Bay Area (sequel of episode 5: The myth of ‘La Estrellita’ and the extraordinary story of a woman who moved to California and reinvented herself)

Even though the ban on same-sex marriage in California was lifted only last June—long after several other States legalized it (the first being Massachusetts in 2004, then Iowa in 2009, New York in 2011, and Washington in 2012)—the ‘Golden State’ is today home to the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in the United States, with more than 1,500,000 individuals (about 4% of the entire state population). According to recent statistics (city-data.com), around half live in the city of San Francisco and more specifically in the Castro, a former working-class neighborhood which developed into a vitally important ‘hotbed’ for LGBT activism through the 1960s and 1970s.

The explanation of how San Francisco became such an attractive destination for the gay community worldwide is, once again, to be found in its history. Ever since California became part of the United States, San Francisco has enjoyed the reputation of a liberal and tolerant city. During the Gold Rush, when tens of thousands of gold-seekers migrated to California, 90% of the city’s residents were men. In order to host and entertain them, many dozens of boardinghouses, saloons, gambling clubs, and brothels were established along the Waterfront through Columbus Avenue, Lower Broadway, and Montgomery Street—a neighborhood still called North Beach—contributing to generate a climate of sexual openness. From the early 1850s onwards, the city experienced a continuous influx of ‘bohemian’ artists, intellectuals, poets, and wanderers who rejected mainstream values and embraced unorthodox ideologies such as anarchism and, later, ‘free love’. During the Second World War, hordes of men flocked to San Francisco to serve the army or work in the war industry. After 1945, many of the soldiers who were discharged because of their homosexual orientation settled down in the area around the Presidio and established bars, restaurants, and public baths, thus creating a gay-friendly neighborhood. Some of them even started to gather in early gay rights organizations and to take concrete action against discrimination and oppression. One of these ‘pioneers’ was called José Sarria.

Portrait of José Sarria

Portrait of José Sarria

José Julio Sarria was born in 1922 in San Francisco to a Colombian mother and a Spanish father. After his father abandoned them, his mother had no other choice than to leave him in the care of a foster family in order to work. Thanks to her efforts, José not only went to school and learned English, French, and German, he also studied ballet, tap dancing, and singing. After graduating from high school, José enrolled in college to study home economics, planning to become a teacher. At that time, he also started wooing a young man called Jimmy Moore who worked as a waiter in the Black Cat Café, a popular hangout for gays and lesbians, Beats and bohemians, at 710 Montgomery Street. Now and then, José replaced Jimmy when he couldn’t work and picked up small jobs as a drag performer to earn some extra money. While his first appearances consisted of parodies of popular love songs, as time went by he engaged in more complex revisions of operas such as Bizet’s Carmen and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

Multicolor theatrical costume made into felt, worn by José Sarria during his performance of Verdi’s Aida at the Black Cat Café in 1955. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of José Sarria.

Multicolor theatrical costume made into felt, worn by José Sarria during his performance of Verdi’s Aida at the Black Cat Café in 1955. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of José Sarria.

Every play was characterized by a colorful theatrical costume like the cloak featured at OMCA, a unique and precious remnant from his performance of Verdi’s Aida in 1955. Despite the great visual impact of his choreographies, however, content was always the most important part of his shows, during which he encouraged his audience to cope with prejudice and to experience their sexual identity in the most open way possible. He was so successful that the Black Cat started to put him on stage up to four times a night. What began as an occasional gig soon developed into a personal mission, as well as a profitable occupation. 

During the 1950’s, even in a liberal city such as San Francisco, a post-war ‘macho culture’ often escalated into pure and simple homophobia. Gay bars were sites of continuous raids, with their customers taken into custody and charged with heavy fines. Moreover, the names, addresses, and workplaces of the arrested were printed in the newspapers. Intimidated by this terrible treatment, most of the convicted pleaded guilty. As a result of this injustice—which he himself had recently experienced—José Sarria decided to use his notoriety as a drag performer to combat the increasing anti-gay sentiment. He encouraged those who were caught by the police to demand a trial and supported them through the process of proving their innocence. But it didn’t stop there: in the years that followed, he founded a number of pro-LGBT rights organizations, such as the League of Civil Education (1960), which provided legal support to the victims of anti-gay discrimination, the Tavern Guild (1962), the country’s first gay business association, the Society for Individual Rights (1963), which sponsored both social and political functions, and the Imperial Court System (1965), a network of nonprofit charitable organizations throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Last but not least, in 1961, 16 years before the better-known Harvey Milk—who after years of fervent political campaigning won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors—José Sarria became the first openly gay candidate to run for public office in the history of the United States. He didn’t succeed, but he got enough votes (more than 5,000) to prove the existence and the political importance of the LGBT movement in San Francisco. Thanks to him and to several other LGBT activists of that time, a large but until then mostly invisible community finally got its own voice and identity. On August 19, 2013, at the age of 90, José Sarria died from the effects of adrenal cancer after devoting his entire life to the protection of gay rights.

 Other sources for this article were:  

Top 101 cities with the largest percentage of likely homosexual households, City-data.com

Gay History of San Francisco, Suite101.com

The Black Cat Cafe, Foundsf.org

José Sarria, Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia

José Sarria, Gay Advocate and Performer, Dies at 90, Nytimes.com

 

In the next episode: A glimpse into post-1965 immigration data: Who’s coming to California today?

© Diana Gadaldi

Coming to California: An Essay in Seven Parts on the History of this Land, Part 5

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on July 23, 2013 9:37 pm

Tags: California, Oakland Museum

Based on an interview with Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History at the Oakland Museum of California, this column narrates the history of California through the personal story of someone who once moved to this area seeking new opportunities, just like we did. — Diana Gadaldi, international spouse of a postdoc at UC Berkeley

Episode 5: The myth of ‘La Estrellita’ and the extraordinary story of a woman who moved to California and reinvented herself
(sequel of episode 4: New neighbors from the East: economic shifts and the rise of the largest Chinatown in the United States)

During the last decades of the 19th century, San Francisco grew to become the most important commercial base of the West Coast as well as a prominent cultural destination for artists and writers from all over the world. By 1900, the city was experiencing an historical moment comparable to the European Belle Époque and was often described as the “Paris of the West.”

One of La Estrellita’s theatrical costumes, featured in OMCA’s Gallery of California History.  Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of Estrellita Jones. Photo by Diana Gadaldi.

One of La Estrellita’s theatrical costumes, featured in OMCA’s Gallery of California History.
Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of Estrellita Jones. Photo by Diana Gadaldi.

In this same time period, a young dancer who would become known as ‘La Estrellita’—Spanish for ‘little star’—gained the reputation of a living legend due to her spectacular flamenco performances. In 1900, at the age of twenty-one, she performed for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. In 1910 she was pictured on the cover of the weekly entertainment magazine Variety. One year later she was mentioned in one of Jack London’s South Sea Tales. In 1912, she celebrated her birthday on the top of the Pyramid of Cheops, with Lord Kitchener—the British governor of Egypt—as her guest. At the height of her career she made up to $50,000 a year—more than $1,000,000 today! She was an art expert, designed her own theatrical costumes, and carried a wardrobe valued at least at $25,000. After having traveled through Europe, Africa, and the United States, she retired at the age of forty-two, married the entomologist Paul Jones, settled in a 23-room house in Piedmont, near Oakland, and started a new activity: preparing exotic perfumes. Finally, she died in 1973 at the age of ninety-four.

But who was ‘La Estrellita’ really? And how did she manage to create such a myth around herself?

Postcard of La Estrellita, announcing her upcoming show at the Portola-Louvre Restaurant in downtown  San Francisco,1915. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of Estrellita Jones.

Postcard of La Estrellita, announcing her upcoming show at the Portola-Louvre Restaurant in downtown
San Francisco,1915. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of Estrellita Jones.

Born Stella Hurting in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a Jewish theater family, La Estrellita started to dance at the young age of four. After touring the country in a duo with her sister Edna, she started a career on her own and became a headliner of both the Keith and the Orpheum vaudeville circuits. As she became more and more famous, she moved on to more sophisticated theater stages all over the world, ending up, after years of travel, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Right here, in 1915, La Estrellita performed her impressive flamenco show at the Portola-Louvre Restaurant, one of the most expensive and fashionable establishments in downtown San Francisco, on the corner of Powell and Market Street. The postcard designed to announce this event, featured in OMCA’s Gallery of California History, promotes her as “the greatest of all Spanish dancers.” And there it is, the key to La Estrellita’s success! In the first half of the twentieth century, California experienced a craze for what is today known as the “Spanish Fantasy Past.” This cultural phenomenon can be described as a romanticized revival of the Spanish colonial period. Especially in Southern California, the “Spanish Fantasy Past” gave rise to highly profitable activities such as the staging of “Spanish fiestas,” and contributed to the popularization of Spanish colonial architecture and “Mission-style” furniture.

Creative and enterprising as she was, La Estrellita turned this historical trend into a marketing tool. She didn’t hesitate to reinvent herself completely in order to build a dignified and fulfilling life in California and the rest of the world. Whether she was a “real” Spanish dancer or not didn’t matter at all: she was exactly what she wanted to be.

Other sources for this article were:  

SMALL K. E., SMITH J. L., History of Tulare County and Kings County, California, Vol. II, Chicago, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1926, p. 402

Daytona Beach Morning Journal, Aug 13, 1973

BARRACLOUGH L. R., Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development, and White Privilege. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2011, p.14

In the next episode: Diary of a drag queen: the history of José Sarria and the rise of the LGBT political activism in the Bay Area.

© Diana Gadaldi

Coming to California: An Essay in Seven Parts on the History of this Land, Part 4

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on July 11, 2013 3:39 pm

Tags: Chinese immigrants, Oakland Museum, San Francisco Chinatown

Based on an interview with Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History at the Oakland Museum of California, this column narrates the history of California through the personal story of someone who once moved to this area seeking new opportunities, just like we did. — Diana Gadaldi, international spouse of a postdoc at UC Berkeley

Episode 4: New neighbors from the East: economic shifts and the rise of the largest Chinatown in the United States (sequel of episode 3: Being a miner’s wife in the time of the Gold Rush)

In 1848, when gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada foothills, California was hit by a large immigration wave. In as little as one year, San Francisco’s population boomed from 1,000 to 25,000 inhabitants. Many of these newcomers were Chinese workers who found employment in the gold fields and—throughout the 1860s—in the expanding industrial sector, especially in the Central Pacific Railroad Company. While a few of them eventually returned back to China, most of the young men settled in the United States, formed the first Chinese-American associations, and became an important segment of the local business class. In the two decades that followed, San Francisco’s Chinatown grew to become the largest Asian community in the United States, with as many as 138,000 residents.

In 1862, anti-Chinese sentiments among the white working class culminated in the approval of the Anti-Coolie Act. The act was based on the charge that Chinese immigrants took jobs away from white Americans by offering labor at exceptionally low wages. The act also sought to protect white laborers by imposing a monthly tax on Chinese immigrants seeking to do business in California. A few years later, due to the increasing unemployment rates and the economic recession that hit North America between 1873 and 1879, racial discrimination against Chinese people intensified, resulting in the Page Act of 1875. This new immigration measure prohibited the entry of Asian laborers—as it was assumed, whether it was true or not, that they would have performed “forced labor,” which was abolished in 1865—and to Asian women who were suspected of entering the country to engage in prostitution. Although prostitution and the consequential spread of diseases became serious issues at the end of the 19th century, the main purpose of keeping Asian women out of the U.S. was to prevent Asian couples from having children who, according to the Fourteenth Amendment enacted in 1868, would have become U.S. citizens. Later on, with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the restrictions of the Page Act were extended to all kinds of laborers—“forced” or not—thus making it nearly impossible for Chinese people to immigrate to the United States.  

Tinted lithograph titled “What shall we do with our boys?” by George Frederick Keller,  published in The Wasp on March 3, 1882. Photo by Diana Gadaldi.

Tinted lithograph titled “What shall we do with our boys?” by George Frederick Keller,
published in The Wasp on March 3, 1882. Photo by Diana Gadaldi.

OMCA preserves evidence of the climate of racial prejudice that led to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act: a tinted lithograph from the San Francisco-based magazine The Wasp. The political cartoon, titled “What shall we do with our boys?” is an early example of propaganda using anti-Chinese stereotypes. It was published on March 3, 1882; the Chinese Exclusion Act passed two months later, on May 6.

On April 18, 1906, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake shook San Francisco. Shortly after, the city began to burn. Over thirty fires, which lasted for three days, leveled 55 city blocks, leaving more than half of the city’s residents homeless. For Chinese immigrants, however, this disastrous event provided an unexpected opportunity. As City Hall was reduced to ruins, all official birth records were destroyed. As a result, Chinese immigrants had the chance to claim their citizenship by stating that they were born in the United States, as there was no evidence to contradict them anymore. Being “native born” not only allowed Chinese immigrants to travel back to Asia, but also to claim U.S. citizenship for their offspring born in China. This legal loophole thus created a backdoor to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Dating from the fire, many Chinese men who had traveled back to Asia started reporting the birth of a child, usually a boy, who would then appear at U.S. customs a few years later identifying himself as the legitimate son of a “native born” immigrant. While some of these boys were “real sons,” many of them were sons “on paper only,” meaning that they were Chinese-born with no family in the U.S. who had purchased false birth records to get round the restrictions of the immigration policy.

Collection of photos and notations in Chinese from ca. 1918 found in Sacramento, CA by a donor.  OMCA Gallery of California History. Photo by Diana Gadaldi.

Collection of photos and notations in Chinese from ca. 1918 found in Sacramento, CA by a donor.
OMCA Gallery of California History. Photo by Diana Gadaldi.

Along with the arrival of more and more “paper sons,” customs controls became more and more rigorous for Chinese immigrants who tried to enter the country on the basis of their presumed U.S. citizenship. Visa applicants were required to provide written documentation supporting their familial ties with their parents in the U.S., and this is probably how the little booklet featured in OMCA’s Gallery of California History—just next to the lithograph discussed above—came into being. Found by a couple of donors in a second-hand baby carriage that they purchased in Sacramento, the booklet appears to be documentation that was prepared for a visa case in 1918. There are photos of several young Asian men in it whose identity has not yet been established. Notations in Chinese refer to a steamship called Ruth Alexander, which, between 1913 and 1942, was used both as a cargo and as a passenger ship, and sailed between different locations in Europe, South America, and North America. Who are the young men in the pictures, and under what circumstances did they arrive in California? These are just some of the many questions in Chinese American history that are yet to be resolved.

Other sources for this article were:  

www.paperson.com
www.sfmuseum.org
A. J. DICKIE, F. A. STANLEY, The National Magazine of Shipping, Volume 19, 1922 (Google eBoek)

In the next episode: The myth of “La Estrellita” and the extraordinary story of a woman who moved to California to reinvent herself.

 

© Diana Gadaldi

Coming to California: An Essay in Seven Parts on the History of this Land, Part 3

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on June 11, 2013 9:02 pm

Tags: California, Gold Rush, Oakland Museum

Based on an interview with Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History at the Oakland Museum of California, this column narrates the history of California through the personal story of someone who once moved to this area seeking new opportunities, just like we did. — Diana Gadaldi, international spouse of a postdoc at UC Berkeley

Episode 3: Being a miner’s wife in the time of the Gold Rush
(sequel of episode 2: The Arrival of the Spanish)

The third episode of Coming to California illustrates the challenging life of women in the early years of the Gold Rush, when over 90% of the population in California’s Gold Country was male.

By 1847, after the decline of the Spanish missions and the Mexican national period between 1821 and 1847, California’s population was characterized by a rather “local” mixture of Native Americans and an increasing number of California-born people, the so-called Californios, who had both Spanish and Latin American origins. This balanced demographic scenario radically changed as of 1848 when, almost simultaneously with the annexation of California to the United States, gold was discovered in the area between the site of the modern city of Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, near the confluence of the American and the Sacramento rivers. Through the years that followed, tens of thousands of gold-seekers, also known as Argonauts, migrated to California from virtually everywhere in the world. They reached the gold fields by land as well as by sea, facing a strenuous trip, hunger, and risk of death from diseases. Once at their destination, they joined small mining camps and took up residence in ephemeral huts that—at least in the early years of the Gold Rush—hardly deserved to be called homes.

The so-called “Dikeman Kitchen” from the early mining town Rough and Ready displayed in  OMCA’s Gallery of California History. Photo by Rue Flaherty.

The so-called “Dikeman Kitchen” from the early mining town Rough and Ready displayed in
OMCA’s Gallery of California History.
Photo by Rue Flaherty.

As it turns out from the first of the video segments, Mary Hallock and her husband reached the Sacramento Valley after a five-day-long ride by train. The journey was not exactly first class: “In the one passenger car it was stuffy and filled with that underground smell which men who have worked in the mines for years cannot wash out of the pores of their skin,” says the woman in the video. When they arrived at the mining camp, Mary Hallock was shocked about how rudimentary home life was: “All pioneer women started housekeeping in rude shelters with no floors and cooked at the fireplace. The first stove in the neighborhood was an event, and looked at with awe. There was no fire-prepared food as now, all baking was done at home. Butchering done, lard rendered, soap made, water heated for bathing and washing clothes, irons heated for ironing, all on the stove,” explains the woman in another video segment. 

The seven different video segments on women’s life in California’s mining camps during the Gold Rush were added to the original “Dikeman Kitchen” after its
re-installation in 2010.
Photo by Diana Gadaldi.

Thanks to courageous women like Mary Hallock Foote who, especially during the early years of the Gold Rush, followed their men to California’s Gold Country and worked at their side without giving in to the many difficulties of a rootless life, mining shelters slowly turned into homes and mining camps into communities. The descendents of this generation of pioneers and entrepreneurs who left their native land in search of fortune were destined to play a decisive role in the future social and economic development of California.

 

In the next episode: New neighbors from the East: economic shifts and the rise of the largest Chinatown in the United States.

© Diana Gadaldi

Coming to California: An Essay in Seven Parts on the History of this Land, Part 2

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on May 23, 2013 4:14 pm

Tags: California, Native Americans, Oakland Museum

Based on an interview with Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History at the Oakland Museum of California, this column narrates the history of California through the personal story of someone who once moved to this area seeking new opportunities, just like we did. — Diana Gadaldi, international spouse of a postdoc at UC Berkeley

 2. The arrival of the Spanish (sequel of episode 1. The Ohlone People)

The second episode of Coming to California tells about how the Spaniards arrived in this area and, in particular, how they established what is today the city of Monterey.

The Spaniards ventured as far as present-day California driven by the belief that the west coast of the new-found continent was the home of an advanced and wealthy civilization. Moreover, they hoped to find access to the famous Northwest Passage, a sea route through the Arctic Ocean that would provide a much shorter way to the Indies. When in 1542 the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first sailed from what is today San Diego to Point Reyes and found nothing of what he had expected, he sailed back and abandoned his enterprise.

Sixty years later, the Spanish conquistador Sebastián Vizcaíno explored the coastline north of San Diego until he found a bay that in his opinion lent itself to agriculture. He named the place after the viceroy who approved his expedition, the Count of Monte Rey. Nevertheless, this area was too far from the first established Spanish missions in Baja (“lower”) California to enable a permanent settlement. For this reason, Monterey and its surroundings remained mainly unexplored for almost another two hundred years.

As soon as the Mission San Diego de Alcala was established in 1769, the Spaniards could start settling the territory of Alta (“upper”) California. On the 14th of July, with Sebastián Vizcaíno’s travel record as their only reference, a land expedition led by Don Gaspar de Portolà and Father Juan Crespi set off northwards in search of Monterey. Not recognizing the bay from Vizcaíno’s description, they traveled in a circle for several months ending up near the Carmel River, just south of the actual Monterey Peninsula. Completely unaware that they had reached their destination, the expedition finally decided to return to San Diego. Before departing, they erected a large wooden cross on the shore near the southeast side of Monterey Bay, as evidence of their passage.

In the spring of 1770, once aware of their earlier navigational errors, Portolà and Crespi decided to  try again. After just one month of travel, they located Monterey Bay and the cross they had erected six months earlier. But something unexpected had happened: the cross was surrounded by arrows stuck in the ground and covered by strings of dry fish. At its base, someone had placed a pile of mussels. The Spaniards soon realized that the local people had found the cross and—without having ever seen one before—identified it as a spiritual object and brought offerings just like they did with their own religious symbols.

The “Portolà Cross” installation in the OMCA’s Gallery of California History. Photo by Terry Lorant.

The “Portolà Cross” installation in the OMCA’s Gallery of California History. Photo by Terry Lorant.

According to Louise Pubols, OMCA’s Senior Curator of History, what’s most interesting about the first contact between the Spanish explorers and the Native people of Monterey is that there was no spoken language involved; just a symbol, namely a cross. In the gallery section entitled “Spaniards Claim This Land,” OMCA features an installation representing this particular historical event consisting of a prop of the so-called “Portolà Cross” and some relics from the time of the missions.

The history behind the establishment of the Presidio and Mission of San Carlos de Borromeo de Monterey, which took place on the 3rd of June, 1770—just a few days after the Spaniards found the cross—is so fascinating to me because it exemplifies the age-old and inexorable process of hybridization that occurs each time people from different cultures cross each other’s path.

 

Other sources for this article were:

The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box

City-Data.com

In the next episode: Being a miner’s wife in the time of the Gold Rush.

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