Sunday, October 25, 2015

Honoring a Groundbreaking Chicana: Dr. Louise Año Nuevo Kerr

Dr. Louise Año Nuevo Kerr (From the University of Illinois, Chicago
"Chicana Chicago Oral History Project--Irene Flores Collection")
Today we have Linda Garcia Merchant, as guest bloguista, honoring fellow Chicana, Dr. Louise Año Nuevo Kerr with poetry and remembrance. Linda remembers the day she found out that Dr. Año Nuevo Kerr had died.  Her recollections bring back important memories and a poem!

By Linda Garcia Merchant:

I read about the passing of Dr. Louise Año Nuevo Kerr right before I left the house to go to class and said out loud, "No!" 
My mother, Ruth"Rhea" Mojica Hammer said, "No what mija?" 
I told her the news. Ruth just said, "Aye, so young. She was from the MABPW right?" 
I said with a sigh, "Yes, she was."

In 1977, Ruth gathered a group of professional Latinas to form an organization that would encourage leadership development and mentoring--concentimiento sin la politica. The Mexican American Business and Professional Women's Club (MABPW), became the first professional Latina organization in Chicago and for twenty years recruited members from education, law, government, and finance to create a community of support and mentorship. (See video of Ruth here.)

Ruth liked Louise, “la Maestra” as she called all the younger academic members. She was so proud of this new group of Chicana and Latina PhDs.  Ruth, con las grassroots comadres of Pilsen, Little Village, South Chicago and Humboldt Park, fought hard for the successful entry of this generation into Chicago’s Latino communities, mentoring without even knowing--until much later. 

Mentoring would come to me, from Ruth and Louise, in 2015, as a first year grad student in Lincoln Nebraska. I was angry that Louise, this trail blazing pioneer would not be there to talk to this generation of Latino students about her 1970s groundbreaking, yet unpublished work documenting Latinos in the Midwest. This work included a catalog of oral history interviews with first generation Mexicanos and their migration stories, work that has been cited thousands of times by graduate students and historians.
Dr. Louise Año Nuevo Kerr
I could imagine her, telling Dr. Elena Gutierrez of the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) and the Chicana Chicago oral history students about her academic journey; bringing Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) to Chicago in the 1990s, mentoring so many students at Loyola and UIC.  Eager LALS students, questions in hand, primary and secondary research discussed and noted, ready to fill in the blanks and find out "why."  I could see her there asking them about their research, their majors, as they're helping to break down the film set, or putting photos and newspaper clippings in folders marked by year to be digitized during an “archive dive."

Only she won't be there to say to those students, "I did the oral histories because the research wasn't there. I needed to make the data happen so I made it happen. That is what you do. You see a need and you fill it." Instead, there will be a stunning silence; a chasm where a bridge should be to remind us that we can create the place, time and action that builds history.

I can only make sense of this as a history builder. We, of the Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Memory Collective, Somos Latinas and Chicana Chicago/MAPBW oral history projects work hard to save, collect, film and curate these stories when we can and if we are able. I have to believe that in loss, there is gain and when a Chicana dies, it is not without meaning because her body of work remains. Dr. Louise Año Nuevo Kerr's data is intact in a special collection at UIC and will always tell a factual story.

I will make something of this story. Find the connections in random moments, like today. Today I lost my wallet and a kind stranger, Mr. Baldwin found it. He found the number of Carl, my insurance agent in Chicago and called him. It was about ten minutes after I realized my wallet was missing that I got a call from Carl's secretary, Vickie.  She gave me Mr. Baldwin's number and informed me that he had my wallet. I called Mr. Baldwin, we met, he gave me my wallet, I hugged him, and we chatted. He too is a newly minted PhD from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL), first in his family, like me. He said he would keep in touch. I suspect we will keep in touch--Lincoln is like that.

As he walked away, I thought about Dr. Año Nuevo Kerr, in the 1970s, attempting to do something that hadn't been done before. I realized in that moment I needed to thank her for the return of my wallet. A lifesaving moment had been passed on to me, 45 years later on a new campus in a new town where I didn't know many people and I was going to do research that was very different and necessary, as a history builder.

The random connections that tether us to one another live in a space that cannot be measured until something happens to reveal all the paths and causes built into that webbed network. A revelation that happens in a flash, and as an afterthought. Maybe we're just supposed to recognize the power in those moments and live in how we trust and what we know.

Rest In Power, Dr. Louise Año Nuevo Kerr

Elegy to Dr. Louise Año Nuevo Kerr

I must live in a space 
where memories comfort me.
In the daily reminder
that I do store and collect
the memories of others.

living in this space
as butterflies in pure color.
A glance
a fleeting mention
a flicker on a page
winged, translucent.

Today I have no peace
in the news of death.
In death I lose the war
not the battle.

Your voice is lost
to the dialogue 
now in disconnect.
Your story half told
second told
almost told
in disarray.

Your answers
as an elusive
whimsical dream
I sometimes find
when I close my eyes
when I listen close
when I can do nothing.

I have lived in this 
broken record’s groove
for too long.
Death is like that
leaving only so much 
to the living
never enough
questions answered.

You will always be
a story with more questions
and few new answers

We will all have 
some small part 
of your story
bits, scraps, 
dust blown from 
the unpublished manuscript.

Time would like us to forget
your content rooted in a place
left in yesterday
at the end of a broken road
that should have had your name
as guidepost.

We won’t forget
greedily clutching
at your memory
before it slips 
through our hands
becoming the blur
as sweaty
as faded
as torn
that history requires.

Written by Linda Garcia Merchant
Teaching Assistant and Ph.D Student
Department of English and Ethnic Studies
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Linda Garcia Merchant is also the Technical Director of Chicana Por Mi Raza, Digital Memory Collective
She is a Digital Media Partner of Somos Latinas Oral History Project, University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Chicana Chicago/MAPBW Collection Project, University of Illinois Chicago
Click here for Linda Garcia Merchant's  full bio!

1 comment:

Jesus Trevino said...

I met Luisa Ano Nuevo Kerr in 1979 when I was preparing a multipart dramtized PBS series on Chicano history that eventually became the movie SEGUIN (broadcast on PBS in 1982). She agreed to be part of my advisory team but more than that, she was a personal supporter and advisor when I had my doubts about how to proceed. We became friends and in later years kept in touch. I will truly miss this pioneering leader, educator and inspiring human being. Jesus Trevino