Social Histories Project Notes #1

November 29, 2007

Hi All,

I struggled to decide how to present this information.  After going back and forth, I settled on this forum.  My journey over the past few weeks has been both distractions and joys.  You know I’m all about the retorical hunt.  I had a small nibble of interest for a search in the NYC area.  From some of my reading, I found that “She” had a personal relationship with Lydia Maria Child.  Both names were mentioned in connection to a very important artifact.  Since the Baca Lecture I thought it would be great if I could anchor my research around an artifact.  It would be great if that were possible, to think such an artifact could have survived for so long and needed its proper placement within Social History.  So I wanted to know more about Lydia Maria Child.  I was thinking that maybe from the Child connection, it would lead me to more evidence.

If my research of Child, I found that she had a small personal collection in NYC at Columbia University.  I was so excited.  If you will remember, I was in NYC at the time for NCTE.  So I thought, what could it hurt?  After my online search and a call to C.U., it led me to the archives at Columbia University.  In its Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, there is a small collection of papers for Lydia Maria Child.  The librarian said that it was one box.  I didn’t believe that I could get to C.U. because I had meetings, so the librarian agreed to pull the box from storage and hold it for me.  I know, I could have asked her to go through the box.  But it was clear from our call that she had very little archival research experience and would most likely be the only one available before the holiday. 

The next week, I returned to NYC on Wednesday before CU’s closing for Thankgiving Break.  I was hopeful.  Due to my train schedule and its short delay, along with trying to catch the subway to CU once I arrived in NYC, I had less than an hour to go through the box.  From my quick search, the box held no jewel for my current project.  But it did give me an idea for another project that I can do in the future.   I was able to find the Child information through another source.

Reading for my project:

I just finish reading Elaine Richardson’s chapter: “Black/Folk/Disoursez,” which gives an overview of Black and African American Vernacular Discourses, and I’m currently reading Geneva Smitherman’s _Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America_.  I can’t say enough about this book.  Smitherman not only gives the historical relevance for Black Enlish, she also gives the cultural/social and linguistically importance of the language.  It has also given me ideas for WRT 205. 

Smitherman stated, “As slaves became more American and less African, the Black English Creole also became less Africanized.  It began to be leveled out in the direction of White English and to lose its distinctive African structrual features–that is, the Black English Creole became de-creolized.  This process was undoubtedly quite intense and extensive during the Abolitionist period and certainly following Emancipation” (11).  Smitherman’s publication will directly aid my project.


Morris, Charles E. (III). Queering Public Address: The Rhetoric of Intersectionality.

November 15, 2007



Lorraine Hansberry was one the most noted African American females of her time, author of Raisin in the Sun.  Prior to her 1965 death, few would have linked the 1957 Letters to the Ladder to Hansberry.  She lived her life as a “closeted” sexual person and “passed” as a heterosexual female, married to.  On the other hand, Lisbeth Lipari evaluates the “discursive construction of Lorraine Hansberry, who, while widely regarded as a signifier for racial justice for close to fifty years, was not constructed as a queer signifier until after her death in 1965.  Around 1976, Barbar Grier, the former editor of the lesbian periodical the Ladder, “publicly identified Hansberry as the author of two public letters published in the Letters in 1957” (220).  “Three years later in a 1979 special issue of Freedomways dedicated to Hansberry, the lesbian poet and critic Adrienne Rich referred to the letters as a critical interrogation of the silences surrounding Hansberry and her work” (221).


Lipari’s essay is not a search for Lorraine Hansberry’s identity, but it is “to deepen our understanding of Hansberry’s rhetorical vision and her commitments to social and political transformation” (221).  Lipari suggests that Hansberry had not received attention related to her position “as a public rhetor.”  Hansberry has not received considers as a “public intellect” and is marginalized.  “Documenting the omission of black lesbian writers in many anthologies of black women’s criticism and literature such as those Wallace, Washington, and hooks, Cheryl Clark writes, “Black bourgeois female intellectuals practice homophobia by omission more often than rabid homophobia” (223).


“In fact, Hansberry took on an astonishing range of political issues, all inflected with an intersection perspective, including racism, colonialism, sexism, capitalism, heterosexism, and black nationalism” (224).  Lipari provides an analysis of the two letters which were published with the “initials L.H.N, Yew York, and the August letter signed simply L.N., New York” (229).  Hansberry’s public voice was constrained and did not address her true “self.”  Yet, Lipari provides a historical rhetorical assessment of the letters and their implications of the public and private individual.  “Although Hansberry does not take up the issue of lesbian assimilation elsewhere in her published writing, she does acknowledge briefly in her August letter a June Ladder essay on “Transvestism,” which deepens the political analysis Hansberry had begun” (235).


“Thus, while valuable, the contributions of critical historiography that appropriately destabilize notions of the mythic individual are misappropriated when used to further erase or silence the contributions of marginalized speakers. . . . To affirm the contingency of the term “lesbian” in this case would be to recognize the complexity of Hansberry’s historicity as both a rhetor witnessing political persecution and as a person of history experiencing it” (241-242). 

B. M. Calafell. “Pro(re-)claiming Loss: A Performance Pilgrimage in Search of Malintzin Tenepal.”

November 5, 2007


Bernadette Marie Calefell’s “performance ethnography” recounts her cultural and historical search of Malintzin Tenepal.  As outlined in “Pro (re-)claiming Loss,” Calafell soon recognized that her search for Malintzin was actually a personal journey in search of herself.  To know thyself through the embodiment of a (fore)”mother,” “sister,” and “lover,” Calefell realized that her cultural identity was not based upon the ownership of artifacts, her proximity to geographical locations, and could not be maintained through the love of another family member, but it was the embracing of all that is the Chicana membership by valuing the familial struggles and advancements and anticipating the future cultural goals of a people which shapes the individual, as seen through the representation of Malintzin Tenepal and personal growth.


What is interesting about the journey is that Calafell wanted to “pass” and “blend in” to obtain a closer identification to her culture.  It was not a rejection of who she is, but it was an increased desire to belong.  Through a lack of “proclaiming” and “reclaiming,” Calafell’s connections to her culture shifts based upon her geographical location.  She was perceived as being both “authentic” and “inauthentic” while in North Carolina, not quite “cultural” enough, from her use of the Spanish language and her skin complexion.  Yet, she felt completely at home in Arizona because she had the “luxury” of not having to question her cultural affiliation based upon the historical significance of the area and not needing to feel that she needed to measure up because she was surrounded by love of her family.  On the other hand, Calafell does admit to cultural loss and did not answer the “whisperings” of Malintzin Tenepal.  “The voices whispering all along, were they hers? Were they mine or someone else’s?  The ghost of Malintzin Tenepal has been banging on my door again” (46).


Still Calafell identifies with Tenepal.  She dreamed, “Marina, I come to you now because, honestly, I see that you and I are in the same boat.  We have both lost our voices” (47).  Calafell traveled to Mexico in search of Tenepal and her sites of memory.  She found that Marina’s sites of memory were “destroyed” and/”unidentified” and silenced.  Malintzin had no “recognized” cultural home.  “The fact that Malintzin’s house remains unmarked and unendorsed again attests to the way that Malintzin is devalued in the writing of history” (48).


Calafell’s mission becomes one of “self-knowledge” and “possibilities.”  Although Tenepal is not “memorialized” the larger community, the individual journey is a “performance ethnography” that attempts to rewrite the master narrative that has overlooked her contributions to her people.  Calafell explained,


In this space, I create my own embodied understanding of my legacy, of my culture.  All along I had been mourning the loss of my voice, culture, and story not realizing that in this process, in this space of anticipation and finally in this space of reclamation and reconciliation through the traversing of my past, present, and future I have created a space of new possibilities, what Pollock terms a possible real.  The possibility of remaking in the performance of language and in this embodiment of history can be liberatory and intoxicating as it is the ultimate seduction. (51-52)


Calafell draws similarity between the “anticipation of possibility” of Chicano/a culture and “queer temporality.”  Recognizing that the Chicano/a people are like turtles, who carry their homes on their backs, I recognize many parallels within the African American culture, which is, by in large, people who are removed from an ancestral geographical identity of Africa, and people who must derive its cultural identity through self-recognition of “archetypes” and “jeremaids” of a positive people and their common goals.  The master narrative becomes less important, resulting in a “proclaiming” and “reclaiming” of a people.  Calafell said, “My intention is not to use this framework as if to suggest that those who employ a queer temporality have no history of their own, thus they must create history; rather I argue that dominant discourses do in fact include them in narrative, but in ways that marginalize them, do not privilege their experiences, or allow them to define those experiences” (52-53).


The author suggests using personal narratives and its “disidenticatory strategies” to disrupt the master narratives.  The Calafell’s article suggests that individuals may undertake recovery strategies of Social Histories of Rhetoric.  Individuals are able to perform the “rhetoric of pilgrimage,” “re-story history,” and “rewrite space” to a give back the voices of loss memories.  Calafell takes a cue from Erik Doxtader; she said, “I identify performative process or pilgrimage as a means of honoring identities in the making and alternative forms of advocacy (“Making Rhetorical History”)” (54).  The procedure is both “action” and “object.”  It is through this discovery of Malintzin Tenepal that Calafell finds a part of herself and a greater appreciation of her cultural identity.



“Activisim is an engagement with the hauntings of history, a dialogue between the memories of the past and the imaginings of the future manifested through the acts of our own present yearnings.  It is an encounter with the ghosts that reside within and inhabit the symbolic and geographic spaces that shape our worlds” (Rodriguez 37).