I was born in New York City in 1936 to Elinor Davidson and John Randall. My mother always said I was doubly wanted because they had lost their first child at birth. My family surname was Reinthal then, but my parents would change it to Randall when I was about a year old. Over the next few years our family would grow to include my sister Ann and brother John.
My parents never felt comfortable in the social contexts inhabited by their parents: wealthy Park Avenue reform Jews on my father's side and highly assimilated Jews turned Christian Scientists on my mother's. My father had wanted to be a musician but had been pushed into business by his father: never a good fit. Mother, especially, longed for a different life. In her mid-teens she had quit school and entered the Art Students League, was creative and adventurous. In 1947, when I was ten, my sister seven, and brother two, our parents loaded us into an old Studebaker and we crossed the country looking for a new place to live. They chose Albuquerque, New Mexico, and never looked back. There my father went back to college for a certificate that would allow him to teach. He was happy and fulfilled as a public school music teacher until he retired. Mother continued to make sculpture, learned the art of crafting silver, and eventually became a Spanish/English translator, devoting her long life to rendering the work of Cuban JosÌö Mart' into English.
I grew up in Albuquerque, against the 1940s, ÌÇ50s and ÌÇ60s backdrop of Indian and Hispanic oppression and the painful race relations it produced, McCarthy-era politics, the Bomb (which was fabricated just to the north and first tested to the south of our city), the beauty and mystery of the desert, and the restrictive social mores suffered by all young girls and women at the time. When I was eighteen, I ran for my life, using a first bad marriage as an excuse to get away. College, as it existed in the 1950s, confused and bored me; and before long I was off. My husband and I took a Lambretta motor scooter to Spain, where we lived two years. After divorcing I went to New York City where I began to learn about the world, hone my early writing skills, and as a single mother had my first child, Gregory.
In 1961 my ten-month old son and I boarded a Greyhound bus for Mexico City. There I met and married Mexican poet Sergio MondragÌÝn, and together we founded and for eight years co-edited the bilingual literary journal EL CORNO EM-PLUMADO / THE PLUMED HORN. El Corno was at the forefront of an independent renaissance of creative energy sweeping several continents. The 1960s were important times, not only artistically. The U.S. American war in Vietnam taught us more than we ever wanted to know about misplaced power, and the role my country of origin played on the global stage. Living in Mexico provided a more intimate lesson about the politics of domination.
In 1968 I, along with tens of thousands of others, became involved in a movement begun by students but quickly spreading to include workers and people from the countryside. On October 2, 1968, just ten days before Mexico would host the Olympics, government forces attacked a peaceful demonstration. When the five-hour assault was over, more than a thousand were dead. That day I learned the terrible lengths to which a government is willing to go to protect its power.
Following the Student Movement, I suffered a repression and was forced underground for a number of months. Cuba took our family in. By this time Sergio and I had separated, the journal was unable to continue, and I was living with U.S. American poet Robert Cohen. I had four children: Gregory, Sarah, Ximena and Ana. We lived in Cuba for eleven years, during which time we were privileged to experience and participate in the second decade of that country's revolution. In 1980 I would go on to Nicaragua, where I experienced the first four years of the Sandinista experiment.
If socialist politics came to me gradually, feminism was more sudden. In1969, in Mexico, I began reading the first articles and documents to emerge from Second Wave feminists in the United States and Western Europe. They completely gripped my mind and heart. I began wanting to know how the women around me felt about their lives. In Cuba I started asking, and this led to my interest in oral history. Over the next decades I would produce many books about womenÌ_in Cuba, Nicaragua, North Vietnam, Peru, and elsewhere.
In Cuba I also started taking pictures. I apprenticed myself to Grandal, a fine Cuban photographer, and learned the elemental aspects of the art. Later I would continue to improve my photographic skills, and working with images became almost as important to me as working with words.
In 1984 I felt the need to come home: to the vast light-filled New Mexican landscape. Soon after, I realized my own lesbian identity. My partnerÌ_artist and teacher Barbara ByersÌ_and I have made a life together for almost a quarter century now. One of the great gifts we give one another is encouragement and respect for each other's creative work.
The U.S. government wasn't so pleased to welcome me, though. Shortly after my return, I was charged under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationalization Act, and ordered deported because of the content of a number of my books. Expressing opinions contrary to U.S. government policy, in its eyes, positioned me 'against the good order and happiness of the United States' (exact wording of the statute). With the support of The Center for Constitutional Rights and hundreds of other groups and individuals, I won my case in 1989.
There followed a decade of teaching, most prominently at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. I retired in 1994, but continue to travel widely to read and lecture. My four children have become adults, each with his or her own rich life; they have given me ten grandchildren. I have preferred to say something about my origins, influences and motivations, rather than list book titles, work history, curriculum vitae or honors received. For those I invite you to visit my web page: www.margaretrandall.org. There you can find a history of El Corno Emplumado, a list of my own books and publications, and several portfolios of photographic work, as well as an up to date calendar of reading and speaking events.
For me it is an extraordinary honor to be included in this Women's Plaza of Honor. I never come to Tucson without spending some time in its peaceful yet exciting ambiance, where so many wonderful women are honored in such a beautiful way.