One day in 1950, nine- year- old Janie White’s mother appeared before
an employee of the Chicago Commons Association and inquired about
opportunities for her daughter. A social worker at the settlement house
noted her visit and described the mother as “anxious to have Janie well
cared for and to have experiences.” After working on this book for several
years, and poring through the life stories and testimonies of dozens of girl
migrants to Chicago, this passage has remained with me. Mrs. White’s
anxiety about her daughter’s access to meaningful experiences, in this
instance the Chicago Commons camping program, and clear intention
to have her daughter “well cared for,” reminds me so much of my own
mother, Mecthilde Boyer. An immigrant from Haiti, my mother shared
Mrs. White’s tenacity.
Throughout various moments in writing and revising this book, I imag-
ined my mother when I was nine years old, heading off to a second, maybe
a third, job before dropping me off at a racially and ethnically integrated
day camp or dozing off in the parking lot of my Catholic school as she
waited for me at the end of my school day and prepared to return to her
work day. The archive does not indicate how Janie felt about her mother’s
persistence and insistence that she have access to the type of opportunities
readily available to many classes of white girls, nor do we know if Janie’s
mother believed she was ever truly successful at securing all of her hopes
for her daughter. Yet if I use my own experiences to propose an ending
to the story, I imagine Janie enrolling in college, perhaps joining the civil
rights movement in the 1960s, and one day sharing with her own daughter
recollections of how much her mother’s furious advocacy meant to her.
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