Proud of What You Fight For

      The room was filled with people of all colors, religions, and any other distinction you could think of to separate a person into a group or stereotype of some sort.  Michelle Garcia stood up from the table at the front of the room and made her way to the podium to give her speech.  This assembly was to promote voting.  The 1996 election was coming up and the organization VIG (Voting Is Good) has put together a program that day to get people to become "responsible citizens" and vote.  Michelle is the keynote speaker.

     As she reaches the microphone, she clears her throat, and the room falls silent.  She begins:

     "We know that the election day grows near, and I wonder how many of you in the audience are actually registered to vote.  We have gathered here for a similar cause that is we understand the need to vote.  The vote is what gives people their control of what goes on in this country.  The journey of suffrage for many people has been a hard and rocky path.  The journey for equality and power among citizens has been just as rocky.  One journey in particular is dear to my heart. 

     My grandmother told me a story once of my great great grandmother, Alejandra Stratford, who led an unusually difficult life but seemed to come out on top.  This is the story I would like to tell you today.

     I travelled to San Francisco recently and visited a family historical site.  It was an old hotel in a part of San Francisco where all the buildings are old and abandoned, and my family informed me that the city was going to tear it down.  I went to the hotel that my great great grandmother ran in the late eighteen hundreds, and that trip is what made me want to depict the story for you today.  As I walked through the tattered hallways of this old building, the story my grandmother told me came flooding back.

     When the Gold Rush started, there was a man, Lucas Stratford, who travelled from his native Philadelphia alone[1].  While there, he began his search for gold and found some.  He did not strike it rich by all means, but he found enough to where he slowly built up a small hotel business which started out as a tent like place for the mining men to sleep[2] and he charged a dollar for the night[3].  Soon he began to add on to the hotel by building an actual building of wood and offering luxury for $1.50.  Once it got going and was large enough, he needed some help keeping it clean and nice, and he needed someone to cook, but since is was hard to find washermen in San Francisco[4], so he hired a Mexican woman, Michelle Gonzalez, who was looking for work.

     Eventually, after working together, Lucas and Michelle fell in love and decided to get married.  They were very happy.  He taught her to read and write better English because of the tenants they would have[5].  She soon became pregnant and had a baby girl, Alejandra Stratford, my great great grandmother.

     The hotel got larger and more popular due to its luxuries that the others could not offer[6], they named it Stratford Place.  Once Lucas got a decent staff and an assistant he could trust in there, he decided to take the family back to Philadelphia to meet his family who he has been writing home about.  He even told them that they were not Anglo, but the family did not care[7] and were dying to meet his wife and his little girl.

     They took the train[8] to Philadelphia and met with the family.  They enjoyed the visit, but after a few short days, they needed to return to the business.  On the way back to the train station, they stopped when a man was thrown into the streets by a group of other men while a woman screamed at him.  As Alejandra grabbed onto her mother and watched with wide eyes, the man stood up and fought back.  He obviously was something that others did not approve of, but he could and did fight back, and after a few minutes, the man got up and led another man back into the tenements, leaving the woman to stand alone on the streets of Philadelphia until she turned and followed him inside as well.  When the crowd began to break up, Alejandra looked up at her mother and told her that she wanted to be strong like that man was. For some reason, she knew he was being wronged and saw a strength in him that she wanted.  Her mother just smiled at her, and they continued on to the train station where they started their journey back.

     But the journey back was not comfortable.  The cars were packed with people, and after a few days, Alejandra's mother grew ill.[9]  Although she tried to keep her head up and smile for her daughter, Michelle also tried to stay away.  She knew she was deathly ill and did not want her daughter catching it.

     When they returned back to San Francisco, Lucas tried to get the best doctors to care for his wife, but she died days after their return from what the doctors diagnosed as cholera.  She was buried in the town cemetery.

     A few years later, a letter arrived for her.  Lucas has not known that she kept in touch with her family.  As he read the letter (difficult as it was to read the handwriting and bad grammar), he realized that she had not told her family of the marriage or of their child, and as he read on he realized it was due to their prejudice of marriage outside of their race.  But they were asking to see her, and wanted to meet her outside of San Francisco where they would be coming for a while.  He thought it only fitting that he go and take Alejandra to meet them and tell them what has occurred since they met and married.  He again puts his assistant in charge and heads for a town a days journey away by stagecoach with his daughter to meet her mother's family.

     When they arrive in the town, Lucas goes to the saloon where they wanted to meet her and finds her family.  When he tells her father the news, he grows enraged.  In the midst of the fight, Lucas tells Alejandra to go wait outside.  While outside, she hears a clamor inside consisting of things breaking and shouts from her father and the other man he was talking to.  After a little bit, she pokes her head back in to see what is happening just as the other man grabs a broken beer bottle and stabs her father with it.  She watches as the action stops as her father slumps to the ground as the drunken spectators silently watch.  The man who just did this horrible act turns to look at her, smirks, and then leads the three boys with him out the doors and past her, never giving her a second look.[10]  Suddenly action resumed in the saloon as her fathers body was carried out the back.  No one seemed to remember that she was there.

     Her body numb from what she had just witnessed, Alejandra began crying desperately.  She had no idea what to do, so she began to walk.  As she walked down the street, a woman approached her twelve year old shivering body and invited her in to the house where many other women and a few hurried men were roaming about.  The woman got Alejandra to tell her the story.  The woman consoled her and asked her if she had any money or anything.  Alejandra said no.  The woman told her that she could work for her and she would make enough money in a few years with her where it would take at least twice as long elsewhere to get back to San Francisco.  The woman explained that there was not much work offered for young women[11], and because of her special kind of person, she would bring in more money than most of her other "ladies", as she called them.[12]

     So Alejandra became a prostitute to try and earn her way back to San Francisco.  In this small town, she worked for a few years.  She did not really have any friends[13] except for Madame Ruth as she liked to call the woman who took her in off the streets. Madame Ruth took good care of her and kept her away from drugs[14] and kept her clean and healthy as she did all her girls.

     After the few years, Alejandra made enough to return to San Francisco, and maybe pay rent for a few weeks until she could get a steady job. She up and left one night without telling anyone knowing that Madame Ruth would not let her go so easily. She caught a stagecoach ride back to San Francisco.  Returning to her home town after everything that had happened made her sad, but she strived onward.

     She went by the hotel to find it in shambles and asked around until she discovered that the creditors came after the assistant who could not pay them off, and they took the hotel.  It now stood empty on the street.  Many other changes had taken place the three years she was gone. The city had grown.  There were a few factories.  She made her way to some friends of her fathers and spilled out a story of how he got sick in another town, and she stayed with her mother's family until she could return.[15]  Her father's friends let her stay with them, and she paid them rent and got work as a laundress to keep pay in.

     One day, she met a man who came in from no where.  She had never seen him before.  He was handsome in a rugged sort of way, and he asked to court her.  She agreed.  They soon got very close, and began speaking of marriage.  They talked about combining their money and buying back her father's hotel to live in.[16]  She knew it would be easier for a man to get back her father's hotel than if she tried alone.  He also had an unusual amount of money that would help pay the creditors.  So finally, Alejandra married Ricardo Vasquez, and they bought and reopened Stratford Place.

     Ricardo, not knowing much about the business tried to stay anonymous and went down to the mines to try and mine gold.  She ran the hotel from her knowledge of watching her father, and people started coming back. 

     Soon after, she has a daughter whom she names Rosilinda. Alejandra brought back up the hotel her father made so famous and brought herself to respectability with her new life.  Ricardo was not doing so well.  He was not finding gold and that brought him home in a bad mood and usually drunk.  He would begin to push Alejandra around at the smallest thing.  When she threatened to tell someone[17], he backhanded her to the ground and called her a dirty whore.  He then told her that one of her former customers had stayed in the hotel and told him of her past.  He told her that if she said anything, then he would tell them everything.[18]  She finally accepts the ultimatum and lives a life of work and abuse at his whim. 

     There was also the degrading racism from the customers. They looked down on her because she was not fully Mexican or Anglo, and her demeanor did not help that due to her submissiveness from the abuse.

     One day, a man claiming to be a recorder[19] from a gold mine around in southern California that was looking for a man.  He said he has been looking for a man who conned the good hard working people of the mines out of their money with card games and such.[20]  He said that he had tracked him for a few years to one town, the trail seemed to end until someone said they had stayed in San Francisco and led him here.  He had a picture of the man.  A family affair on the street caught him in the back ground in the middle of one of his cons.  Alejandra looked at the photo, and her eyes grew wide.  It was Ricardo.  She turned back to the man and told him she had seen that man, but he left to go north to the mining camps there.  He thanked her and quickly left to try and question the stagecoach drivers.

     That night, she waited for him to come home.  She had decided not to tell him of the man because it might make him mad and abusive.  When he got home, he was not drunk but angry that his day had not produced a single ounce of gold dust.  He ranted and raved about how the others were keeping him from the good mining spots and hogging it for themselves.  She asked him to help her take some old food and pot water out to the back and pour them out.  He grabbed up the light plate of food, and she lugged up the heavy pot with all the old water in it.

     They trudged in silence to the back field behind the hotel.  There she dumped the water out and some splashed onto Ricardo.  He threw down the plate of food a slapped so hard, she stumbled back and fell into the puddle she had just created.  Sitting in the puddle while he ranted and raved, the memory of that man in Philadelphia sitting there came flooding back. She stood up and yelled at him to be silent.  She then proceeded to tell him of the man who had come by, how she protected him, but how she would sooner tell someone than have him ever hit her or treat her with disrespect ever again.  He fumed but did not move.  She continued by pointing out that if he told her past, she might lose respectability.  If she told, he would most definitely lose his life.  She then set up how things were going to be.  He would do as she says, go to the mining camps, and be the nice little husband.  She told him things were going to be different.

     After a few months, Alejandra gained her self confidence. Ricardo lived in fear of his secret being told and treated her with utmost respect.  Then one day, a man showed up.  She led him to his room where he made a sexual advance towards her.  He had been a customer of hers from her years as a prostitute.  She turned and slapped him.  He began to retaliate, but she stopped him quick.  She told him that all she had to do was yell, and the lynch mobs would come.  He stood dumb founded as she sauntered out of the room and slammed the door behind her.  Her new found pride was astonishing.

     She then got involved with the women's movement.  Her father's family from Philadelphia wrote and spoke of the petitions to get the right to vote.[21]  She decided to start one in San Francisco.[22]  While trying to get women to sign the petition, she ran across another form of racism when Anglo women refused to sign it because they did not want to give minorities the right to vote.[23]  She did get a strong response from most of the women in town.  And even though many of the men disapproved of what she was doing, they respected her standing in the community and left it alone.  Word got out that she was not taking anything from anyone, and people let her be.[24]

     Now, Alejandra came from a decent family, then prostitution, through racism and abuse, and finally established herself.  She fought for the right to vote but never got the chance to do so.  She died before the year 1920 when women finally got the right to vote.[25]

     She did not get to vote but knew it was something worth fighting for.  I was not up here to say how badly women were treated, or to say how evil men are, or to go on and on about how hard it was for minorities to get equal rights to vote. Everyone in here from every background has had ancestors who fought for freedom and the right to vote from the American Revolution to the Nineteenth Amendment.  We are all in this together.  Because of the strides our people have made in the past century, I can proudly stand up here and wish all my love to my significant other over there who just happens to be a female.[26]  Because of the strides that we made when we set up this country, we have the power to change what we do not like about the country.  And because of the strides our ancestors made to make sure we could do the things we need to do to keep tyranny from taking over our lives, I say it is your duty-to your country, to your ancestors, to yourself- to not let what they fought so hard for be wasted in vein because people do not think their one vote counts.  It does.  It is your voice, and if you do not give it the power it deserves, that is when it becomes useless.  That is when it does not make a difference.  Thank you."

     With that, Michelle stepped back from the podium.  The room was silent.  She caught her wife's eye as she winked at her.  Then there was a single hand clap.  It came from a man in the back in his early twenties.  He had long dark brown hair.  If she had been close enough she could have read the tag that read, "My name is William."

     Soon, people all over began clapping.  Slowly the thunderous applause rose as the people stood from their seats in appreciation.  Michelle looked at the one man in the back, gave a look that interpreted, it is not the end, but it is a start.

 

The End[27]

Bibliography

Barnhart, Jacqueline Baker.  (1986).  The Fair but the Frail:  Prostitution in San Francisco                                                                                                                   

     1849-1900.  Reno:  U. of Nevada P.

Fischer, Christiane, ed.  (1977).  Let Them Speak For Themselves:  Women in the

     American West 1849-1900.  Hamden, Connecticut:  Archon Books.

Goldman, Marion S.  (1981).  Gold Diggers and Silver Miners:  Prostitution and Social

     Life on the Comstock Lode.  Ann Arbor:  The U. of Michigan P.

Haverkamp, Beth and Wynell Schamel, "1869 Petition:  The Appeal for Woman

     Suffrage," Social Education v59n5 (Sep 1995): 299.

Hudson, Lynn M, "I'm not Mammy to Everybody in California," Journal of the West

     v32n3 (July 1993):  35-6.

Hulbert, Archer Butler.  (1949).  Forty-Niners:  The Chronicle of the California Trial. 

     Boston:  Little, Brown and Co.

Lavender, David.  (1976).  California:  A Bicentennial History.  New York:  W. W.

     Norton and Co., Inc.

Marks, Paula Mitchell.  (1994).  Precious Dust:  The American Gold Rush Era:  1848-

     1900.  New York:  William Morrow and Co., Inc.

McGoldrick, Neale, "Women's Suffrage and the Question of Color," Social Education

     v59n5 (Sep 1995):  270.

Schlissel, Lillian.  (1982).  Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey.  New York:

     Schocken Books.



[1]Goldman, Marion S. (1981). Gold Diggers and Silver Miners:  Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode.  Ann Arbor:  The U. of Michigan P., 16.  Men usually travelled alone when going West for gold due to the high costs of taking more people.

 

[2]Marks, Paula Mitchell. (1994).  Precious Dust:  The American Gold Rush Era:  1848-1900.  New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 192.

 

[3]Barnhart, Jacqueline Baker.  (1986).  The Fair but Frail: Prostitution in San Francisco 1849-1900.  Reno:  U. of Nevada P., 128.

 

[4]Hulbert, Archer Butler.  (1949). Forty-Niners:  The Chronicle of the California Trail. Boston:  Little, Brown, and Co., 130.

 

[5] Lavender, David.  (1976). California:  A Bicentennial History.  New York:  W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., 31.  Many of the settlers in San Francisco in that time were illiterate.

 

[6]Marks, Paula Mitchell., 193.  Hotel owners soon began to offer luxuries to get more customers over the hotels that could not offer them.

 

[7]Very uncommon among people of this time, but there were some and this family is one.

 

[8]Lavender, David. 94. Trains were established in San Francisco in the 1850's.

 

[9]Ibid., 94. Crowded train cars spread an epidemic of cholera in that time period.

 

[10]Ibid., 31. Mexicans looked down on mestizos and thought them less.  These men would not take care of this little girl who was of mixed blood.

 

[11]Barnhart, Jacqueline., 58.  Women in the West did not have the luxury of working in the factories because they grew much slower in the West and were not even established in San Francisco until 1869,and there still were not many.

 

[12]Ibid., 40. Latin American Prostitutes brought in more money from the customers than white women.  French prostitutes brought in the most.

 

[13]Goldman, Marion S., 117.  Prostitutes usually had cut throat fights over competition for customers and if Alejandra was bringing in more because she was part Mexican, then the other "Ladies" would be savagely jealous.

 

[14]Marks, Paula Mitchell, 362.  Prostitutes generally got involved with the use of opium.

 

[15]Barnhart, Jacqueline., 57.  Women who were prostitutes could become respectable as long as they kept their past a secret.

 

[16]Schlissel, Lillian.  (1982).  Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey. New York:  Schocken Books.  13.  Marriage, although it was more companionable now, was still a business wager to some extent.

 

[17]Goldman, Marion S., 45.  There were laws that punished men for wife beating and lynch mobs that would hang them for it.

 

[18]Ibid., 140. Women who lost respectability or were independent were less likely to be protected by those laws.

 

[19]Lavvender, David., 67.  A recorder was a man voted in to make decisions in the mining camps on laws for the camps.

 

[20]Marks, Paula Mitchell., 264. Con men did frequent the mining camps with card games such as French Monte and pick-i-the-loop and extorted money from the people there.

 

[21]Haverkamp, Beth and Wynell Schamel, "1869 Petition:  The Appeal for Woman Suffrage," Social Education v59n5 (Sep 1995):  299.

 

[22]Hudson, Lynn M., "I'm not Mammy to everybody in California," Journal of the West v32n3 (July 1993):  35-6., spoke of a black woman who overcame the racial prejudices and became a famous resturaunteur.

Fischer, Christiane, ed.  (1977).  Let Them Speak For Themselves:  Women in the American West 1849-1900.  Hamden, Connecticut:  Archon Books., 166., depicted a woman who fought for women's rights and told of her developing many newspapers that she distributed.  So with both of these accounts, liberal ideas from women were not uncommon in this time.

 

[23]McGoldrick, Neale, "Women's Suffrage and the Question of Color,"  Social Education v59n5 (Sep 1995):  270.

 

[24]be prepared for the jump back into the future

 

[25]Haverkamp, Beth and Wynell Schamel., 299.

 

[26]That was for you Kathy.  Hehehehe.  I have been up too long.

 

[27]I did not really know where to put the comments about how my studies fit in with the text books.  My comment is that the text books focused mainly on the East Coast and how they developed.  In Chudacoff and Smith, they speak of factories and all of this engine run transportation which was not as common in the West, and Barth discusses a growth in department stores and such which also were not in the West at this time. I found that the West at this time resembled the East of the early 1800's and found it on the fact that since it was settled later, it will develop later.

My stuff, my copyright (well, the writing and pics of me anyways).  Respect.  Comments and Questions?  proudjedi@jedi-council.com