Maiden Name Project: Gillian Skye Curtis
What exactly is a maiden name? Yes, it’s the security question your bank asks you when you keep forgetting your password. And yes, more factually, it is what females in various cultures call their birthname before they marry and take their husbands’ surnames.
But this is 2017. I mean, come the fuck on. Why should women give up such a large chunk of their identity for the sake of their husbands? What about the gays and lesbians and everything in between? What about Feminism? More importantly, how much history have we erased by stripping women of their last names for centuries upon centuries?
Fact: In the United States, only eight states have regulated an official process for a man to change his name during the whole marriage thing. To us, that says it all.
So Milk.xyz sat down with three of our favorite creatives to talk about their mothers and their mothers’ lineage, celebrating that half of their heritage just in time for Mother’s Day, which, as we all come to realize with age, should be every day. We also reimagined their identity as if they’d taken their mothers’ maiden names as their own last names. Finally, we had Historian Michael Rayhill give us a little background on each person’s mother. First off, we have Gillian Skye Curtis, whose mother is Dolores Santiago, born in Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan in August of 1974.
So your grandmother was born August 11, 1954 in New York, and your grandfather on your mom’s side was born on September 29th in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It look like your grandmother passed away in 2001, and there’s something called a “passenger list” of your grandfather on his way to New York from Puerto Rico. So most of what he was able to find was your family coming to the States. But on your mother’s side, what’s the story that gets passed down about their trip from Puerto Rico?
I know from my dad’s side, but on my mom’s side, they don’t really talk about it.
Do you think it’s out of sensitivity?
No, it’s not sensitive at all; my grandparents died a little while ago, so I don’t think my mom really talks about it.
Right, well I guess then just in general, I’d love to hear about your relationship with your mother.
My mom and I are fairly close. She’s always been there for me through everything. I think that she’s been an amazing role model for me because she really shows me how strong a woman should be, and how you should have a ‘take no shit’ sort of attitude. She’s a great person to look up to, and I don’t think I could have had a better mom. She’s definitely my role model.
Who do you think for her was a role model growing up? Did she have a similar relationship with her mother?
Hmm. I think so, yeah, I’m pretty sure that she did.
In terms of careers, what does it look like from your grandmother’s generation down to you?
I’m not sure what my grandmother did, but I know that she always pushed my mom to go to school and get the best grades, so that was their relationship, and they got closer when my mom got older. Their relationship was a progressive one.
Do you have siblings?
I have a half sister.
So, the idea behind this whole project, is that so many women lose their birth name when they get married and they take their husband’s surname. What are your thoughts on that in general, about women’s place in history and how a lot of that history has sort of been erased or overlooked?
Yeah, I think that’s definitely for a reason that undermines women’s place in history. Because our last names are extremely important, especially from our mothers’ sides. If I ever do decide to get married, I plan on keeping my name, because it’s so important to my identity, and I just feel that more women should do the same. But in the end it’s their choice.
There are a lot of people who say that Feminism includes being able to choose to fit the social construct that’s been designed for women; to follow tradition. You’re saying you want to keep your last name?
Oh yeah, 100 percent, it’s crucial to my identity. I love my name, personally, I think it’s great. I wouldn’t want to change it for anybody or anything.
[My name] is crucial to my identity. I wouldn’t want to change it for anybody or anything.
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day?
So I think that Mother’s Day is extremely important to make your mother feel that she’s valued, but you should always be doing that. For my mom, my father and I usually take her out and get her some gifts, just make her feel very nice on that day. I feel like being a mom is something very extra and special, and as a mother, you shouldn’t get a prize or anything, but honor. It’s important to honor her.
Definitely. They deserve a lot more than they get, I think.
Yeah, I think they need more than one day.
I think that women are sort of under attack in our current political landscape. Do you feel that at all?
I feel more concurrent for women and our place in society than I’ve ever felt in my twenty years of living. I feel that our rights are under attack. They very well could be taken away.
Yeah, I guess it’s not even a question. They literally are under attack. There is a large group of people trying to take your rights away.
Definitely, and I feel like people who support those ideas of women not having a choice have become more brazen and outwards in their thinking and actions. It’s very disappointing to see that there are people that even think that way, that women don’t deserve a choice, and that bothers me. I’m personally going into politics, later. Not later like tomorrow, but in a couple of years. This definitely has spurred my decision, though I’ve known I wanted to do this for a while now.
What do you see yourself doing?
Oh, first I’m going to be a Senator, and then I’m going to be a Congresswoman.
Do you have any other strong females in your family that are very political and that you talk to about these things?
I definitely talk to my mom about politics, and she pushes me to pursue my degree and what I want to do. My aunts are also very receptive, and my mother’s friends are like a clan, they’re so close; they talk about all of the craziness that’s going on, and their experiences with the new political climate that we’re enduring right now. All of the women in my life are very receptive.
That’s great, and not even just with the women, but in your family in general. There are a lot of people who disagree with their own families about politics right now and can’t even talk to them about it.
For sure, and I feel like it’s a blessing that I’m able to be so open with my family and that we’re all pretty much liberals, although, sometimes as older people they have some conservative tendencies and traits, but [the overarching thing] thing is they are very liberal-minded, and I’m just so grateful for that. One of my friends—some of his family voted for Trump, so it’s kind of scary that people I associate with know others that agree with that mindset. But in the end, I know that the people I choose to surround myself with have values and would never even think about supporting him in his nonsense.
I would like to thank her for teaching me, not only to be a woman, but how to be a willful woman.
The crazy thing is that our parents have already lived through some shit in terms of nasty political climates. Does your mother ever say anything along the lines of: “Oh, we’ve been through this before.”
So, when she was growing up, there was a movement in the city for Puerto Ricans to be treated better and fairly, because Puerto Ricans were treated as Mexicans are now treated. We were basically the first hispanics to be in this country, and so we created the Independence Movement of Puerto Rico, and even though it didn’t come to fruition because it’s still a commonwealth, growing up she saw a lot of inequality that the police had dealt out for her family, herself personally, her father who was a member of that movement, etc. So, the political conflict has always been there. It’s not an environment, that if I do ever have children, want them to go through, so that’s what I want to do when I get in Congress—make the most beneficial changes to my community.
If you have a daughter later in life, what would you want the world to look like for her?
I would not want my daughter, no matter her skin tone—whether she’s white as a lily, or black as the night—I want her to be treated not as a second class citizen. I want people not to look at her and to be suspicious of her, as it is in our current society. I think that the whole white-black thing is really prevalent right now. I wouldn’t want her to deal with any prejudice. I would want her to grow up without having to worry about being mistreated by the police, because my own mother has had talks with me about being very compliant with police and that I’m her only child, and that she just wants me to make it alive in any police altercations. I don’t want my daughter to ever have to deal with that.
I think you’re right that we’re reaching a boiling point, and I just hope that it implodes and then we can start moving forward again like I would like to think that we once were.
Right, I’d just like to be unified as a nation as much as we can. Of course there’s going to be narrow-minded people, racist people. I just want them to be the minority.
One last question: what would you like to thank your mother for?
I would like to thank her for teaching me, not only to be a woman, but how to be a willful woman. Yes.