Silence One, Silence All
by Natalie Saldarriaga
In her TED Talk, Dominique Luster examines the “impact” and “power” that “bias and privilege” have in the ability to create “silenced landscapes” within the archives. We often think of the archives as a place we can find first-person experiences, but Luster reminds us these spaces have been “strategically curated”. We can’t escape the reality that some voices are purposely silenced while others are uplifted.
This reminded me of a research paper I wrote in college. I wrote about the Torres-Ortiz family and their immigration to the US from Puerto Rico. The family consisted of a mother, father, three sons, and a daughter. Since the men of the family were in the military it was much easier to find information about them. Their information was easily available online thanks to veterans’ records. It was much more difficult and in some instances impossible to find information about the women of the family.
It was personally more disappointing not to find information about the daughter of the family, Mary Louise A.K.A. Cookie. She was the only family member that was born and grew up in the US. Her story is similar to mine in some ways as the daughter of immigrants in the US. I expected to be able to find more information on her, but that was not the case. Within the collection, there are many pictures of Cookie. I watched her grow up through photographs, but I wasn’t able to find out more about her life.
This made me reflect on the fact that women are often silenced in the retelling of history. She wasn’t in the military so records of her were not kept. The only real record I have of her is of her marriage in 1962, but that still ties her to a man. It isn’t her record it is a shared one with her husband. I wondered if she was still alive and had kept her records or if the roles that women were expected to fill in the mid-20th century did not allow her to have any.
Cookie must have played so many roles during her lifetime: mother, daughter, and wife. You may think why does it matter if her records weren’t kept? She meant a lot to the people in her life and that’s enough. But the thing is that it isn’t. Had more records been kept of Cookie I may have been given a glimpse of what it was like for a Puerto Rican- American woman to live during her time. What issues she faced and in which ways was she able to succeed in a racist and sexist society. This not only lets me into the life of Cookie but the millions of women just like her. This creates a gap in history where certain stories are not told and all stories should be told.