Seeing the Whole Picture
by Yvonne Palmer
Get a History, Maybe You'll Appreciate it
by Jane Flores
We don’t really have an opportunity to understand other's interior and even what they experience in life. We make our judgements just based on the box that somebody else created - that we didn’t even sort of create.
Chapter 5: My Mother and my Daughter Made me a Woman
I had a very interesting relationship with my mother, and she probably was the most influential person in my political, social and personal development. I didn’t live with her until I was 15 years old, and for a long time, I hated her viciously. I always imagined somebody else, other people being my mother. My parents were divorced when I was little. The lingering memory I have of that is very vivid, the night that she left. She left several times, but I have this very vivid memory of her leaving and taking my oldest brother and my youngest sister with her and feeling like she didn’t want me and my brother. So, I held a lot of anger about her as a child and didn’t want to be with her.
Later I realized that my dad wouldn’t let her take me and my brother. He thought the oldest wasn’t his and the youngest wasn’t his, but we didn’t know that. She left my father, and he had a lot of things to say about that. He was angry, he was hurt, and he mourned her. She never really told us much about their break up. So I had all these feelings about her but she was – I hate to say it like this – my dad was the Negro. I mean he was the proper sort of Negro and my mother was radical. She was even radical as a young woman, and I think that had a lot to do with why they didn’t stay together. I think she was more of her own independent woman and he couldn’t handle that. But I didn’t know that until much later.
At the end of his life - he died a few years before she did, they had been divorced for years and they had both been remarried. At the end of his life, she said, "Do you think we ought to invite him to come here and live with us?" And I thought, “Oh my God, you’re such a saint!” Because he was abusive to her. I didn’t know any of that until I got to be sort of an adult.
My parents did this thing where they kidnapped us back and forth. There’d be times when a couple of us would be living with him and then all of us would be living with him and then a different combination would be living with him, so we were back and forth a lot. Then my sister and I came to Chicago when I was 15. We packed up and ran away. We left my dad a note and said we’re going to Chicago and not coming back. This was it, this was the last time. He was already dating somebody, so he was happy that he didn’t have to be bothered with these two girls.
We had actually come to Chicago the summer before, and our mom took us to the big protests downtown where King was protesting the Willis Wagons. We just were mesmerized by that experience, and it was like nothing we could ever have imagined. When we went back home, our little town was just too little for us. It was just too small. There was nothing going on there.
So we just waited until my birthday because I was going to get money for my birthday, and bought us a Greyhound bus ticket and packed up what we could in boxes or garbage bags or whatever we could find, and came to Chicago. We had told my mother we were coming, so she knew we were coming, but she lived in a little hotel room on the west side of Chicago. At that time all four of us were here, so my brothers were here already. It was ’65, so it was right smack dab in sort of the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago and the Black Power movement in Chicago, and my mother was there. She was present.
Professionally she was a medical transcriber. she worked at all the hospitals in Chicago and so she actually had a reputation of being one of the best medical transcribers. When they started computerizing all of that work they wanted her to be a supervisor-trainer and she said, “No, I just like to type. I don’t want to supervise anybody. I don’t want that responsibility.” She was very humble. She was never the person who expected lime light, fame – none of that. She was just very humble. She worked until she was 80.
My mom died at 82. I just feel like she taught us about social justice and she was humble. I didn’t like Chicago after I got here. I didn’t like the school system. I was a student at a High School on the west side. It was an all-girls schoo,l and I hated it. It was just the most demoralizing experience as a teenager. I’d come from a school system that was pretty integrated and here I was at a school that seemed integrated because it was one of two all-girls schools in the city, so girls from all over the city came, but it was very segregated. The girls were very segregated, and I just hadn’t had that experience. Even though we lived in our own little community with my father, we still had less of that stark separation. Because I was mixed race I always was challenged by the black girls especially. The white girls ignored me. They probably would have challenged me if they didn’t ignore me.
The black girls always challenged me. “Who are you? What are you? What’s your racial background?” So I always felt I had to prove to them… I actually even would do things like find other people’s mothers and say “This was my mother.” I never introduced them to my mother. I could never do that because I was just so petrified about what that would do. So I just did not have a good high school experience.
So when I was 17, I got pregnant. I was always sort of the good student in my family. My other brothers and sisters were always kind of rag tag kids and I was always the studious one. Then when I got pregnant, my mother was beautiful to me. She was like… it was so funny, she had a friend of hers come over one day and the friend said, “so, I have a baby crib at home. Do you know anybody that might need a baby crib?” And I was like, “No, I don’t.” But that was my mother’s way of trying to get me to admit that I was pregnant.
I didn’t fall for it because I knew what the trick was but I remember, again, very vividly, her walking me down the street one day, and we were going to the store and she said, “Do you have something to tell me?”
And I said, “Hmmmm…. No, why do you ask?”
And she said, “Are you sure you don’t have anything to tell me?”
And I said to her, “Well, you already know so why do I need to tell you?” I didn’t need to admit it.
The first thing she said – she worked at that time at Franklin Boulevard Hospital, which is now closed, but she was the secretary to the administrator of the hospital – and the first thing she said to me is, “We gotta get you a doctor and we’ll get you a good doctor at the hospital.” And she said – this was May of the year – and she said, “Under no circumstances are you going to drop out of school."
At that time in Chicago Public Schools you didn’t have a choice if you got pregnant. You had to drop out of school or you had to go away, and I wasn’t going away because we couldn’t afford to go away. I don’t know what she did, but she searched and searched and searched. She contacted like Pennsylvania and school districts all over, and she found this school in Chicago that had just opened that year for pregnant girls. It is still open, and I was in the first graduating class. It was a great experience. It was opened by some former nuns and they were never – it was never the experience… well… It was just a great education.
My mother always supported me totally. That is why I say she made me a woman, because I just felt like she showed me how much she loved me. She never – she said to me, “I’m not going to be the babysitter. Don’t expect me to babysit. You’re going to take care of this child, and you’re going to do what you need to do. If you need to get a job, you’re going to get a job, but you’re going to take care of this kid.” She was very insistent on me stepping up to the plate for my little daughter. I remember, I used to – we didn’t always wear backpacks. I think backpacks might’ve just been invented or something, and I used to have my daughter on my back in her little thing – carrier – and my backpack in the front as I went on the Kedzie bus to school every day.
I had her right before Roe v Wade so I didn’t get a chance to get into Roe v Wade. I remember when I got pregnant someone said to me, “You ever thought about birth control?”
“What is that?” I’d never heard about it.
I think her timing was at a time when I was becoming more aware of myself as a woman and identifying myself as a feminist. Me being involved in women’s issues had me always sort of wanting that reality to be a part of her life, for her to be able to understand what it meant to be a girl and what it meant to be a woman. So now she’s really tough
I think being a mother is one thing, but being a teenage mother is a whole different thing. I hid it for a long time. I couldn’t come to terms with it. But I think my oldest daughter – she’s a lot like me. It made me realize that I had to step up to the plate and take care of her. I wanted the best for her, and I never wanted my circumstance to be a hindrance on her life chances. So, we always looked for opportunities for her.
We lived right across the street from an experimental community. It was a community of people who came from around the world to live together and create this utopia community and they lived right across the street. They had one of the first experimental day care centers in the city so my daughter was able to start day care. She must’ve been 9 months when she stated day care and at that time you did not go to day care that early. Now you can go at six weeks.
At that time, right after I graduated from high school, I got very much involved in the Black Panthers and other sort of political movements and she was right there. I just feel as if that experience shaped my world view and my parenting values and experiences and I would say that that was probably the most important phase of my life. She was also very much involved in everything I did politically. I remember, I had one experience where after I was involved politically in the Black Power stuff, I got involved in feminist politics. I remember going to a conference in Yellow Springs, Ohio – a socialist feminist conference – and met some women there. My daughter was probably about 3 or 4, and I took her everywhere with me, mostly because I didn’t have child care.
But everywhere I went, people were very open to that. They were always kind of amazed that this young woman would show up with a kid, so I always had good affirmation from everybody.
I remember going to this conference and someone saying to me, “Oh, you want to go to Puerto Rico?” And I was like, “Puerto Rico? Yeah! Where do I sign up at?” It was a conference in Puerto Rico, paid for. The trip was paid for and my daughter’s trip – at that time they didn’t charge kids even 3-4 year olds for airplane tickets – and so, she got to grow up with me.
She challenged me. I remember her at 9 years old, and she and her little friend were on the back porch and somebody told me they were smoking cigarettes. So I said, “Oh, you were smoking cigarettes?” I said, “Here, smoke a couple more.” I made her smoke like two cigarettes in front of me. She never smoked another cigarette after that, never.
I always said I did not want to raise my daughter the way I was raised. My father was very strict. At least I thought he was very strict. He might not have been as strict as I thought he was, but he was very strict. He was a single father, he had four kids, and he was very busy working. He had three jobs, and so I think he sort of had to have a strict hand over us. I think back to all the little shenanigans we got into. But I wanted my daughter to be able to have a voice, because we were always told “You never say… You don’t speak.” If your dad called you, you never said, “Huh?” You always had to say, “Yes, Daddy.”
I said I wasn’t going to do that with my kid. When she became a teenager, she made me change my attitude about parenting. Then there was more, “Oh no, you will not talk to me like that.” Obviously as a parent you’re constantly rethinking how you parent. I think this was a period of my life that saved my life. It was a hard time for having a baby out of wedlock, but that was the best part. I think had I not had her, who knows where I would be?
I was destined to go to college, because my mom was like “You’re going to go to college.” But I – I don’t know, my self-esteem was really low. What I thought of myself wasn’t really high. So the fact that I was in this place, in this city, at this time made all the difference in the world to my life, I guess, and to how I saw myself.
The older I get the more I feel like life is too complicated and that our society makes life so complicated. I remember once saying to a young woman - let’s see if I can remember this - something about being self-sustaining. She was like, “Well, if we were self-sustaining, we would lose the purpose of people having lots of different roles in society. Obviously with different roles we can produce more, we can create more, we can make more things happen.” And I say, “Yeah, I get that, I get that,” but I also feel as if we’ve sort of removed ourselves from the intimacy with those things and so I would want us to have a much more intimate relationship with the things that we produce and make and create and have a greater appreciation for it all.
Get a History, Maybe You'll Appreciate it: Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Crippled Little Girl
In which Jane recounts recovering from spinal meningitis as a child.
Chapter 2: I Hate my White Mother
In which Jane struggles with being biracial and feels abandoned when her mother decides to leave Jane's father.
Chapter 3: Living Through the 60's Politicized Me
In which Jane moves to Chicago at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power movements in Chicago.
Chapter 4: I Became a Revolutionary and it Changed my Life
In which Jane talks about her political awakening and how she became involved with the Black Panthers.
Chapter 5: My Mother and my Daughter Made Me a Woman
In which Jane reflects getting pregnant at 17, and how her mother and her daughter helped her understand her roles in life.
Chapter 6: Feminist Politics Matured Me
In which Jane recognizes the shared struggles of women and finds purpose in that recognition.
Chapter 7: The Continuation of these Beliefs
In which Jane shares about how she came to the realization that once can learn anything and do almost anything, if only she will willing to take the time to learn.
About Jane Flores:
Jane Flores describes herself as a woman who started out as a scared little girl who always found herself in scary situations, but who managed to live through and live out of them. Her life stories are a reminder that in the moment of living something, it is hard to see how everything connects. She often found herself places she hadn't planned on being, and would ask herself “How did I end up here?” Those experiences have taught her to take advantage of the life she was given and to figure out how to make it meaningful.