Academic journal article The Historian

Interview with Asuncion Lavrin

Academic journal article The Historian

Interview with Asuncion Lavrin

Article excerpt

Born in Havana, Cuba, Asuncion Lavrin came to the United States in 1956. She received her master's degree from Radcliffe College and her doctorate from Harvard University. She has written and edited over 70 articles and books, both in English and Spanish, on the church and women in colonial Mexico and on the comparative history of women and feminism in Latin America. Since the 1970s, she has been a contributing editor to the Handbook of Latin American Studies published by the Library of Congress, given over a hundred lectures and presentations at universities and conferences throughout North, Central, and South America as well as in Europe, and served on dozens of editorial, advisory, and professional boards. Since 1995, Lavrin has been professor of history at Arizona State University. She and her husband David have a daughter and a son. This interview was conducted at Professor Lavrin's home in Mesa, Arizona, in April 1998 by Roger Adelson.

THE HISTORIAN: At the forty-ninth International Congress of Americanists held in Quito, Ecuador, in July 1997, you were the first woman to give a keynote address on the topic of gender. How were you received?

LAVRIN: I was stunned to find the huge hall completely filled when I spoke at eight o'clock in the morning. Someone told me that the auditorium had 2,000 seats and I estimate that half the audience was women. Many of them rushed up afterward to congratulate me, some introducing themselves and pressing their books upon me, while others reintroduced themselves after meeting me many years earlier at an archive or another meeting. It took me so long to get away that I almost felt as if I were a celebrity. I was honored by the invitation to give what the Spanish call a magisterial lecture to this prominent interdisciplinary organization that has for many years brought together Latin Americanists in the social sciences and humanities. I was pleased by the enthusiastic reception to what I stated about gender, yet I realize that other Latin Americanists might have received as warm a reception if they had also spoken on a topic that now stirs great interest. You might say that I was at the right place at the right time because Latin Americanists have finally recognized how relevant issues of gender are to their disciplines.

THE HISTORIAN: Before exploring your historical career and views, can we begin by asking about your childhood and youth in suburban Havana?

LAVRIN: My childhood was very restricted mainly because of my mother, who had a forceful personality and controlled most of my life until I left Cuba at the age of 20. She had studied domestic economy in school as did other girls in Cuba to prepare for lives as wives and mothers. She ran the household, chose my clothes, disciplined my younger brother and me, and made sure that I always came home on time. My grandmothers lived with us until they died, at the time I was a teenager. Both were religious women who often reminded me as a little girl that I must behave because God was always looking down on me. My mother was anti-church, but never told me why she had no time for the priests and institutions of the Roman Catholic church. My father could not have cared less about the church. I was baptized, but did not go to catechism and never attended religious schools. The private secular school my parents sent me to gave me a better education than I could have received at most public or religious schools. My mother and father both encouraged my education. As a young man my father had worked in New York City for a year and a half, but returned to Cuba because his mother could not live without him. He later married my mother, who was about ten years younger than he. My father maintained positive views of the United States, which to him was a country of technology and progress where people could succeed and become rich if they worked hard enough. He spoke some English and encouraged me to learn it when I was a girl. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.