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Confronting Class: Comment on Honig Irene Ledesma When I was in high school in Texas 25 years ago, I remember my friends and I used to talk about how the stuff we read in history never included ordinary people tike us. Of course, it is only now that I realize that we were raising questions of class, ethnicity, and gender. What we were seeing then has become the concern of oral historians today. "Ordinary" people and their opinions are at the center of the efforts of labor historians, psychological historians, women's historians, community historians, folk-culture historians, and others. Thus, when I decided to go for a Ph.D., I knew I wanted to write about the women I knew, the ones I saw around me everyday. These women worked in packing sheds, school cafeterias, tortiUa "factories," canneries, and the fields. Those who did not regularly work outside the home sometimes sewed for others, cleaned a home for a couple of hours, kept someone's chüdren in return for the same favor another time. Then in 1984, an essay by one of my students on the women pecan sheUers of San Antonio served to cement my decision to do a dissertation on women "factory" workers. Because I wanted to capture the working lives of "ordinary" women, I automaticaUy understood that oral interviews would be a large part of my research. And I naively believed that doing them would be the easiest part of the whole dissertation process. I reaUy thought that I shared so much with these women that there could be no barriers between us— that they would tell me everything. Here we were, women, Mexican American, from working-class backgrounds, and over thirty: what could be easier? Some historians believe that belonging to at least one of such "folk groups" is a must in conducting oral history. Combined with an interviewer's academic training, the result should be a most illuminating interpretation.1 I was sharing at least three and possibly four "folk group" connections with my interviewees. In addition, I had a B.A., M.A., and was ABD in history. Clearly, mine should have been the ideal interviews. Clues to the contrary appeared in my very first interview. This was with a female regional representative of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) in San Antonio whom I had located through a very cooperative female public relations official at the ACWAs head office in New York. The regional representative suggested I attend a labor convention where I could meet the El Paso representative and possibly get names of women unionists, but she added, "He probably wUl refuse to © 1997 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 9 No. ι (Spring) 1997 Getting to the Source: Irene Ledesma 159 help, but there's no harm in trying," or words to that effect.2 I cannot remember why but I was unable to attend the conference. I think in any case that I would have at that time faced the stone wall from the male hierarchy that soon confronted me. Once I actuaUy began contacting subjects, the women immediately showed their reluctance to be interviewed. Some said they had to ask the regional union representative first. Others told me of previous bad experiences with interviewers: a doctor who turned out to be a radical; the communist group that refused to give them copies of a film they had made; one woman told me that one interviewer agreed to pay for the interview but never did. Some said they feared losing their jobs if they spoke to me. One woman told me that she wasn't smart about those things and might say something that would bring repercussions. And some came right out and told me that the union frequently advised them not to speak to "strangers" about their experiences. The female ACWA New York official had been totally cooperative, and the female representative in San Antonio had told me the word had been passed down to her to cooperate. That meant union opposition was coming from the local, usuaUy male, hierarchy. Not only was the process of locating the women interviewees permeated with questions of gender, class, and...


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