Interview with Caroline Canafax, Pacific Vision Founding Editor
Interviewed by Mariza Cabral
for Pacific Vision
I met Caroline in the 1990s when I was a graduate student of engineering at the University of Washington. A video of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor had just become public which put East Timor in the international spotlight for the first time since the 1975 Indonesian military invasion and occupation. I felt compelled to use the momentum to inform the university community of the many other attrocities that were taking place there, so I got busy organizing informational events at the university. Caroline, too, was interested in informing the American people about East Timor’s suffering, and printed several articles in Pacific Vision. She was among the handful of people I met in Seattle who was even aware of what was going on there. In contrast to myself, in my late 20s and with no prior experience with activism, Caroline was a veteran and in her 70s. She was also an immensely warm woman who spoke to me as a friend – becoming an important presence in my life, as a foreign student with no family support in the U.S. Our friendship has survived the years that I went to live in Europe, and my less than stellar record at keeping in touch during those years. Thank you, Caroline, for remaining my friend!
I wanted to include an interview with Caroline and get her to talk about her goals for Pacific Vision. I asked her to pick someone to conduct her interview, and she picked me!
It was an honor and a pleasure for me to sit with her in her kitchen on Sunday, April 22, and have this conversation.
|Caroline on her eighty-fifth birthday, 2005.
Photo by Lynn Moen.
Mariza: I am so honored to be sitting here with you at your kitchen table! Caroline, you were the founding editor of Pacific Vision in 1987, and personally edited most issues printed since then. It’s been twenty years. What goal did you have, then, and now, for Pacific Vision?
Caroline: With Pacific Vision I wanted to bring the reality of the peoples of the Pacific Region, who are for the most part people of color, to the mostly white women of the U.S. Pacific Region who are members of WILPF. I also wanted to promote disarmament and peace in this region which has suffered so many wars in the past century.
Mariza: You were born and raised in Seattle. How did you become interested in the lives of the many peoples of the Pacific Region?
Caroline: A friend of mine, Edith Patten, and I did a lot of traveling and were interested in aboriginal peoples. She is author of the book “Skimming the Top of the World – Traveling Among Peoples of the Far North”. At the University of Washington, I took courses at the Anthropology Department, with Viola Garfield, Phillips, and other excellent professors. Melvin Jacobs was a radical teacher who talked about all kinds of issues. I graduated in General Studies in 1943.
Mariza: How unusual was it at the time for a student in General Studies to take Anthropology courses?
Caroline: Not at all unusual. In fact, taking Anthropology courses was a common choice in the Jewish sorority that I joined, Alpha Epsilon Phi.
Mariza: So several factors came together to feed your interest in native peoples of the Pacific Region. How did your interest convert into something more personal and compelling for you?
Caroline: When I became a school teacher, teaching Headstart through third or fourth grade at Stephen’s School on Capitol Hill (the school that I attended myself as a child!), I had in my class many students native to Alaska – Haida and Thlingit. Eliza Neligan, a Haida native lady who was retired, volunteered in my classroom. She liked the way I led the class, and we became friends. I also taught at Adam’s Elementary School in Ballard. Many Haida lived in Ballard and were my students, and I became acquainted with some of their families. Joey Alexander was a student who was Haida, and who told me he was interested in Haida traditional dances. I arranged for him to perform a traditional Haida dance in class, in full dress. A friend of his, a boy of Greek heritage, dressed in Greek traditional fashion, and they both performed Haida dances and Greek dances as well, in my class.
Mariza: Ha! I wish I had been there!
Caroline: This episode, which became of great positive psychological importance to Joey and resulted in his liking school much better from then on, made me very close with his mother. Through Joey’s mother as well as Eliza Neligan, I was invited to become a Haida tribal member, an incredible honor! Unfortunately, I had become an international officer of WILPF, and I just couldn’t fulfill both obligations. So I had to refuse the honor I was offered. Joey’s mother did not take my decision easily. But even today Eliza’s daughter, Eileen Neligan, sends me a card every month to greet me in memory of her mother. [Caroline gets up to reach for the latest card from Eileen, carefully placed in a cabinet.]
Mariza: So your personal connection to the Haida tribe went quite deep. Did you become a school teacher right after college?
Caroline: Oh, no! When I graduated in 1943 I went to work in the war industry, which was literally an important thing to do! I worked as a boilermaker helper.
Mariza: Your husband, Leo, is a welder. Is that how you met him?
Caroline: Actually no. I bought an old car from his brother and he helped me fix it. He had just come home from fighting in the war and had no money. I invited him out to the movies and paid for it. He thought that was cute!... [laughter] We got married in 1947. I continued working until we had our first child, Dan, born 1950. Susan Jane was born 1952. I became a full-time Mom until we got broke in 1955.
Mariza: What did you do then?
Caroline: I went and got a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, and then I started teaching school in Maple Valley, for about 3 ½ years.
Mariza: What made you leave?
Caroline: Well, there were a couple of members of the school board who were in the John Birch Society. And I was accused of being a communist. I was kicked out of the school.
Mariza: I can see this is still emotional to you today, from the way you say it, Caroline. What else happened to you as a result of that accusation at that time in US History?
Caroline: Fortunately, both sides of my family were able to protect me from further attack, and my parents stood by me, as did my sister. Both my mother and father’s families had co-founded and sponsored the major Synagogue in Seattle, Temple De’Hirch and my parents were prominent in Seattle’s Jewish community, which at the time had some 10,000 people.
Mariza: But you were not allowed to teach! What then did you do?
Caroline: I got into Headstart, where I was accepted very gladly. I worked there for several years. The then head of Headstart, Dorothy Hollingsworth, an African-American woman, realized that a lot of the Seattle Schools’ teachers didn’t have sufficient credentials to be teaching, while I did have them but wasn’t teaching! So Dorothy helped me, and others, into the Seattle School system. I taught there for fifteen years, until I retired in 1981.
Mariza: And how, why and when did you join WILPF?
Caroline: I joined WILPF in 1975. There was a WILPF Congress in Minnesotta and I just decided to go there.
Mariza: You eventually became Vice-President of WILPF.
Caroline: Yes. And for 12 years I was in different Boards of Directors of WILPF.
Mariza: What is something you do now that gives you great pleasure, Caroline?
Mariza:Oh, I know that, Caroline! Thank you for the pleasure of this conversation.