The City of Evanston and Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre hosted a luncheon and panel discussion on womanhood at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Sunday afternoon, March 26. The two-part event kicked off with a champagne luncheon in the Noyes second floor art gallery, where attendees were surrounded by art in the “Black History/My History” exhibit, curated by artist and activist Fran Joy.
Joy was among those who attended the luncheon.
“Some of the paintings are about Black history in general. Other artists chose ‘My History’ – their personal history as a Black or biracial person,” Joy told the RoundTable. She said the exhibit features emerging artists as well as longtime professional artists.
“There are two artists who are college students, showing for the first time, and those are some of the star pieces,” Joy said. “There are so many stories in this exhibit … I’m glad so many people have access to it.”
Following the luncheon, a conversation moderated by Denise Barreto, inaugural director of equity and inclusion for Cook County, was held in the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre on the first floor of the historic Noyes building, which is home to many arts organizations and artists. The panelists were:
· Lisa Degliantoni, community arts advocate, founder and executive director of Evanston Made.
· Cheryl Judice, adjunct faculty member in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, wife of the late Hecky Powell, owner of Hecky’s Barbecue.
· Rebeca Mendoza, international grants officer for Rotary International, founder and president of Evanston Latinos.
· Claire McFarland, attorney, founder and executive director of the Elder Law and Wellness Initiative, member of City of Evanston’s Reparations Committee.
In many ways, the event combined two celebrations into one. Attendees celebrated Women’s History Month while paying tribute to the arts.
Moderator Barreto began by posing the question, “Why Evanston?” The conversation flowed from one panelist to another as they shared their insights and personal experiences.
In her response, Judice was passionate about her roles as a wife, mother and grandmother who is deeply involved in the community.
“I’ve lived here now 50 years. I came here to go to graduate school, and then worked here, met Hecky, got married, and stayed here,” she said. “I can’t really imagine living anywhere else. This community – I’m in all aspects of it – the academic community, the business community, the social community. I love Evanston.”
Degliantoni described herself as a “tumbleweed,” saying she had lived in nine states before settling in Evanston in 2011.
“What gets me out of bed in the morning is community-building through the arts … I like to meet my neighbors. I like to find out if they make something. And then I like to either buy it or find other people to buy it,” Degliantoni said. “I’m interested in visual arts and functional items. I’m married to an artist. I understand what a lot of the needs are for people who make things. To go from concept to creation, to then taking something to market is very difficult.”
She said she decided to move to Evanston after a friend told her the city was a good town for raising children, and she has made it her home.
Mendoza said she was brought to Evanston from Mexico City at the age of 5, “so I am not an Evanstonian, but I do love Evanston very much … I’ve been a helper in many different organizations and activities that uplift children, families, and art.”
As a manager of humanitarian projects at Rotary International, Mendoza said she is “very much aware of water around the world and the scarcity of it … Evanston is going to be important in the future, and it’s important now. It is home to one of the largest bodies of fresh water. The lake is something I think we can work on conserving.”
Mendoza candidly described her “love-hate relationship” with Evanston, saying it can at times be “an unwelcoming place for people who weren’t born here … This is my daughter’s home – where she was born, where her roots are. And to preserve that is why I’m still here. But I think we could be a little nicer to people who come here. People are going to come to our city for fresh water in the future. I think in 10 or 15 years, we’re going to start seeing larger migrations of people from all over the world for our water.”
McFarland said she has been in Evanston for 11 years.
“I have often been told, as well, that I am not an Evanstonian,” said McFarland, who has focused on estate planning and environmental law in her professional life. As a member of the Reparations Committee, she also works on restorative justice and the income gap. Originally from Chicago’s South Side, McFarland said she lived in London for 17 years before returning to the Chicago area with her husband and five children, to help care for her mother.
“Evanston ticked all those boxes for a place that my kids could continue some of those things that were important to them and to our family,” said McFarland.
Baretto shared that she had not heard of Women’s History Month or International Women’s Day until she married her former husband, who was from Mexico.
“In Mexico, International Women’s Day was a very big deal,” she said, adding that her own feelings about activities surrounding women’s history celebrations are mixed.
“In my work, it’s always been like, ‘Hey what are we doing for Women’s History Month?’ And I’m like … paying us,” said Baretto, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
“Part of my angst about this is – what are we celebrating? I think it’s that we’re celebrating each other – because the world doesn’t always celebrate us – specifically, the different hues of us. And I feel like Women’s History Month is finally starting to have a flavor that is multicultural, multigenerational. So that’s why I brought us together,” said Baretto.
The five women, who are all Evanston residents and mothers, shared moving stories about how their experiences as girls and women have shaped their lives.
Baretto encouraged panelists to think deeply and share their thoughts about some complex issues.
“Motherhood and women are often conflated. How connected is your womanhood to your motherhood?” Baretto asked.
A few highlights from their responses:
Mendoza: “We do a lot of mothering in our everyday lives, whether we have a child or not. For me, becoming a mother completely transformed me … Now that I have an 18-year-old daughter, I’ve been apologizing to my mom for some of my behavior at that age … I have to remind myself that it is a process. Mothering never ends. …
“Our ability to, biologically, do something magnificent is pretty extraordinary. Sometimes we take it for granted. So, thank your moms for the goodness of putting up with you.”
Degliantoni: “I was afraid to have children, afraid of the social responsibility … One of the things about Evanston that’s been really wonderful is that I am constantly backed up by mothers and fathers and neighbors who help me raise ‘not bad’ children … Because it’s hard to raise good kids without 700 people helping you. I don’t live near family, so I’ve been very grateful that this is a community that cares.”
McFarland: “My definition of womanhood is very, very broad. I think women can be anything, can do anything. This is what our past generations have worked for, and I know we are continuing to struggle for that, because it’s not fully recognized. Similarly, in parenting, some of the roles that we assign to women can be done by men or should be done by men … For me, becoming a parent changed my life. It deepened my faith. It made me consider in a different way some of the tenets that I live by.”
Judice: “When I started having children, I recognized that my children come through me, not from me. My husband and I were cognizant of making sure our children knew that we were not looking for carbon copies.”
Baretto: “I grew up never wanting to be a mom. I grew up not feeling like I was cherished or loved. … Before becoming a mother, I thought, ‘If I do this, I’ve got to really be in it … I was very fortunate to marry someone who came from a wonderful family. And he was the nurturer in our family. So, I love what [McFarland] said about parenting because I have been a non-traditional mom … And I often say that my motherhood is separate from my womanhood. I love to hear all the various stories, because what I heard is how serious everyone took it.”
The importance of building and nurturing friendships, especially with other women, was a common thread in the hour-long conversation led by Barreto, who is widely known for her deep commitment to community service.
“Us women, we need to make spaces where we can talk,” Baretto said in her closing comments.