Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Feast Day

Today is Katharine Drexel's saint day -- her birthday and the celebration of her feast day. 

I have had too much time contemplating the lives of children who have lost their mothers of late.

My mind always turns to Katharine (Katie - I can't imagine her that way, but that is who she was as an orphan)... and my grandmother. 

I have to write an eulogy for another woman who started out in life in that same way... my heart is heavy, so today I have been asking St. Katharine Drexel for her guidance. 

I remember sitting in the shrine, tears streaming down my face, as I tried to share with Saint Katharine all the petitions from my friends and family.  I am guessing all she can really do is hold our wants and wishes, hopes and desires, sorrows and joys.  But sometimes that is all we need, someone to hold it for us for a while.

Hold my heart, Katie, and lead me to the *right* words.


The shrine has a new (to me) interactive timeline if you want to know more about Katharine's life.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Katharine Drexel

Today is Saint Katharine Drexel's birthday.  I was reminded of it by the shrine's email this morning.

I was just talking about her on Saturday.  Someone asked me what I thought Katharine's inspiration was for helping others --particularly in the 1880s focusing on the Indian and Black populations.  It is important to note that Katharine was born just before the outbreak of the Civil War -- though she was surely sheltered from much of its impact, the pervasiveness of the racism and discrimination meant that she was more than aware of the situation and the inequalities it bred even after the 13th amendment passed and was ratified. [If you haven't checked out Lincoln yet, you can get some of the contextual background from that movie.]
My response was that she had a great role model in her step-mother, Emma Bouvier Drexel.  Of course, the Vatican also argues that it was her love of God, in particular the Holy Sacrament (hence the name of the congregation).  I do not discount her religious devotion, but I think Emma Drexel's example helped Katharine to her way of helping others.  In another social context, Katharine very well may have devoted herself to silent contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament in a monastery. 
Emma Bouvier Drexel

So, I guess the answer to the question is three-fold, at least:  the social context in which she was raised, her [step]mother's example of religious charity, and Katharine's faith and the way it impelled her to act.

I have lots of updates... hope to get to them soon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


After I published the last piece, I realized that I had not mentioned here that I also submitted a poster presentation abstract for the American Anthropological Association's meetings in San Francisco this fall.

I heard this summer that I had been accepted... another small victory on my way to this PhD thing.

However, since I have not really amassed much in the way of research on my actual dissertation project, I submitted the abstract on my St. Catherine work.

Specifically, I will be using the archival data I found in Santa Fe to explore the different ways that Catholic was performed at the school in the 1980s.  I am interested specifically in the way different ways of understanding religion and culture are portrayed in the school newsletters I read.

I have not started transforming the paper I wrote into the poster content ... and I have to go back to the archives to see if I can get better renditions of the pictures... but I will try to remember to share the poster here when it is done.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Digital Cuentos...

I just found out that my digital cuento about my grandma and St. Catherine's Indian School will be featured along with some of those of my classmates and a documentary about the Librotraficantes at a fundraiser this Thursday ...  I am honored to be in such company. 

There were times over the summer when I worried that I had spent an inordinate amount of time on the work for this class.  The paper and the video were both intensely personal pieces -- I cried a fair amount in the writing and the making of both the paper and the video.  I tried, when possible, to link this work to my dissertation, but all of my St. Catherine work is really personal.  It is about the resilience that my grandmother passed to us without ever saying a word about her experiences there (and a million other personal things).  But it is also about the power of educational experiences -- and in that sense, it connects to my motivation for my dissertation work.

I don't know how my video came to be chosen - or how many of my classmates' work will also be presented.  You can see all of my classmates videos here!  

No time to really unpack this ... but I can say it was a lovely little boost in the midst of all the work piling around me.  Sometimes hard work pays off (wink)!

I will take every little victory available to me right now.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Grandma and the Lost Boys

Here is the video that goes with the narrative I posted the other day...
I made this video for my final for a class, but today I am dedicating it to my grandmother for mother's day... to the nuns, too, for taking care of her all those years!

Monday, May 7, 2012

family stories...

Here is a piece from the Albuquerque Journal on keeping track of family stories... I think they were reading our class' minds...

Making History

Rick Nathanson / Journal Staff Writer/Published 5/6/2012 


An old baseball card, a yellowing photograph, a birth certificate, an old 45 rpm record or the recollection of a favorite story by a favorite uncle.
These are more than the bric a brac of everyday living; rather, they are pieces of a person's life that can be preserved and shared as part of a personal history or "life story" to pass on to future generations.
Now, thanks to digital technology, people can archive that history and present it in many formats interviews on CDs or DVDs, movie and slide shows, or scrapbooks with text, photos, memorabilia and documents. And they can be posted and shared online at personal or business websites and social networking pages.
Creating a life story is important, personal historians say. "It connects us to each other and to the past, it gives people a sense of place and it records our stories and contributions," says personal historian Genevieve Russell, who operates StoryPortrait Media in Santa Fe. "We know who we are, in part, because we know where we came from, but creating a life story is also a good way to reflect on everything you've done in your life."
And it's not necessary to have lived a long life to create a personal life story. This semester Tom Gilbert, a social studies teacher at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Albuquerque, has introduced seventh graders to the idea that life stories are histories in the making.
The project is intended to give kids "a sense of story as history," he says, because historical events typically get passed along first as oral stories "before someone writes it down to preserve it."
How to get started
It can take time to compile a personal history, and if there are many archival documents, it can be an exercise in organization. That's why people often seek out profesional services of personal historians, says Beth Morgan of Full Circle Heritage Service in Vado, N.M.
Software can help, such as "Personal Historian 2," "Family Atlas" and "Personal Ancestral File."
Websites provide instructions and templates. Users can pour in text and photos, then share their compilations online through social media or print on demand in a book or photo album.
Increasingly popular, says Russell, are personal or family websites where people can share family stories, post photos, letters, a family tree, genealogical data. Stories can be as text, video clips, sound or images.
Finding stories
Paul Ingles, an Albuquerque radio producer and documentarian, has created oral CD histories of his parents and an aunt for members of his own family an exercise, he says, that "is not that much different than some of my work as a radio documentarian."
Recording your own life stories is one thing, but getting others, especially older people, to talk about themselves may not be so easy, Ingles says. Often times, "they do not think that their lives have been all that extraordinary and they don't understand why anybody wants to sit them down and ask them about their life and times."
When they do start talking, they can ramble if not kept on point, he says. "The trick is to get them to talk about feelings and what they did and motivations about why they did it, and to offer descriptions," he suggests. "A common mistake is to go in with a list of questions and then when the subject answers a question you go on to the next one; then, when you listen to the interview later you realize they didn't say enough."
Forms of histories
In addition to audio CDs, personal histories can involve digital or book form memoirs written by family members; DVDs of interviews with the subject and people close to the subject; a video history that uses old photos, home movies, slides and related material set against a background of music; and ethical wills or legacy letters in which the subject relates personal values, beliefs, life lessons, hopes and wishes for family, friends and community.
One of the oldest and still popular forms of chronicling personal and family history is with a scrapbook, and one of the oldest reasons to create one is still relevant. "It helps preserve memories in something other than a shoebox," says Elizabeth Reil, owner of Scraps Galore in Albuquerque.
"The nice thing about a scrapbook as opposed to a digital format, is people can touch it and hold it, which I think provides a greater appreciation for the person and the process."
Scrapbooks commonly contain personal photos and images from magazines or printed off the Internet, personal writings, drawings, newspaper articles, an envelope of hair from a child's first visit to the barbershop, embellishments such as stickers or colored paper, concert or theater programs and ticket stubs from sports events.
Special scissors can be used to cut different shaped edgings into paper or photos, and scrapbooks often contain pockets to hold audio or music CDs, DVDs or plastic page protectors for special citations or documents. "You're pretty much limited only by your imagination," Reil says.
© 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Grandma and the Lost Boys

For a class -- I had to make a movie -- I chose to use my grandmother's story -- some of my story in search of her history -- and the pictures I got to take when I peeked inside the main building.
If I figure out how to link the video, I will post it...
Here is the text:

Grandma and the Lost Boys
New Mexico Villages and Cultural Landscape
Digital Story Narrative
May 1, 2012
       My father decided I should be the family historian when I was ten.  He told me to talk to his mother, Enriqueta (Varela) Cabrera, to find out about her time at an Indian School in Santa Fe, NM.  We called her Grandma Camarillo, but everyone else called her Katie.  At 10, Grandma Camarillo seemed a formidable woman: stoic, strict, serious.  My mother said about her, "She holds things in."  When I asked my grandma about the Indian school, she said, “I can’t remember.”  Thwarted, I didn't pursue it, and before I knew it, she was gone.

       I took up the search for her history again four years ago.  My parents and I embarked on the needle in a haystack tour.  First we spent a frustrating week digging through death certificates and walking cemeteries in El Paso, trying to piece together how my grandma, and her siblings, went from their family home in Juarez to an Indian school in Santa Fe.  Her father and mother died within a year of each other, leaving five orphans with an “aunt” with five of her own.  My father always said, "Tía Juanita went to the church and told the priest she needed help."  And the orphans ended up in Santa Fe.
      Next, we pulled into the Santa Fe Indian School - months after the original buildings were demolished: their remains in piles around the grounds. It felt like a bad omen – my grandma's story buried under rubble.  The people said it was unlikely she had ever been there.  Just as I began to feel discouraged, a woman suggested my grandma might have been at St. Kate’s – another Indian boarding school up the road. 
St. Kate’s turned out to be St. Catherine Indian School, perched behind two cemeteries, up a curvy street that turns into a dirt road before you reach the front gate.  The next morning, we drove up to that gate.  The sign said no parking, but as my father observed, “It doesn’t say no trespassing” – the unlatched lock seemed to beckon us in. We walked tentatively up the main road.  My mom and I were drawn to the pictures on the walls, and the sandia plant snaking along the building.  Tangles of bushes obscured the landscape as we wandered aimlessly; then my father exclaimed, “This is it! This is my mom’s school.”  I was skeptical.  I saw a bell tower perched atop a three-story adobe building.  “There’s no way that's original,” I thought. 
Some googling revealed St. Kate's was built in 1887 with money from Katharine Drexel, an heiress.  Who built three story adobes back then? Or ever?  My father insisted, "This is my mom's school; I saw a picture of her in front of that building.”  My parents went sight seeing, and I went to the archive.  Sifting through the “vertical file” I read St. Kate's history:  the closing in 1998, Drexel's canonization in 2000, and there it was, that building … the largest adobe structure in North America, built to Drexel’s exacting standards. 

In 1885, Miss Drexel became an orphan, again, when her father died.  Her mother died soon after she was born. Like my grandma, she and her sister were sent to their tíos.   But, she was not your typical orphan: returned to her father and his new bride, she was raised a socialite. At 27, she was unmarried and wealthy, and in that sense unprotected; she understood what it was to be alone in the world.  Miss Drexel became Mother Katharine, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People in 1892, dedicating her fortune to helping those she considered the most needy: Indian and Black children.  St. Catherine, her first school, came to be called St. Kate’s, after her.  I believe they renamed my grandma Katie because they couldn't pronounce Enriqueta. But, I bet she was one of many orphans also baptized Katie: in the naming, symbolically claiming these orphans.
 One cold February morning last year, I was allowed into the main building.  Shut up since the closing, it was said to be inhabited only by “vandals” and pigeons over those ten years.  The workman with the key watched me take pictures of the mural room.  Unwilling to go past the hallway, he looked frightened; so I asked him if he thought the building was haunted.  He shrugged, but his eyes told me that he did.  Undeterred, I plunged into the building.  I had two hours and just my camera’s flash to light my way.  I deliberately walked every hall and room, down the corridors and up the stairs.  The thick adobe walls held ten years of cold.   But I was moving too fast to let it catch me.  I tried to feel its past inhabitants.  Were there restos of my grandma here?  Where had she slept?  I climbed all the way to the bell tower and found cots long forgotten in the eaves. 

       The newspapers told of vandals breaking in and trashing the building.  But it wasn't vandalism I found, instead I discovered people had lovingly lived here, as lovingly as possible in a building with no heat, electricity or running water.  They had left the classroom paintings intact.  No, they hadn't been vandals… I imagine them as young boys… the lost boys… boys without a place to go.  “You can rest here,” I imagine this building beckoned.  “Take what you need, what you can.”  They accepted the refuge of this place created for children in need.  On their bedroom walls, there were messages others might call tagging. These boys had claimed this space, used it as a place to have their say, made it their home.  The building had come full circle a sanctuary built by an orphan for children in need, claimed by boys with no place to go. 
       It is still heartbreaking to not know my grandma's story, but I have learned something about this place that took her in.  St. Kate's has a magic about it and I can imagine her protected there.