CGP Community Stories

Alicia Pagano, November 12, 2017

Title

Alicia Pagano, November 12, 2017

Subject

Unadilla
World War II
Transportation during World War II
Community
New York City
Immigration
Africa
Gambia
Senegal
Sidney, New York
Travel
Kora
Train
Oneonta
School
College
Brooklyn
Germany
Martin Marietta
Music
Griot
Peddlers
Wolof
Backcountry
Birth Control
Citizen

Description

Alicia Pagano, world traveler, poet, artist, and professor, shared her experiences growing up in Sidney and Unadilla, New York and her experiences traveling abroad and her family’s life in this area. Born in Sidney in 1929, Alicia enjoyed growing up in a tightknit, safe community. During her high school years, she was active in band, cheerleading, and the senior yearbook. Alicia remembers camping, ice skating, and being free to explore her community. Alicia was a teenager during World War II; she remembers eating sherbet with hot chocolate instead of ice cream because of the rationing of eggs and cream. She remembers community events to raise money for War Bonds, and taking the bus and train due to the rationing of gasoline. She remembers when rural New York was first starting to have electricity and running water, and part of her family still used outdoor plumbing.

Alicia got her master’s degree at Rollins College in Florida, and received her Ed.D from The American University. Between 1978-1983 Alicia worked as the National Director of Programs for the Girl Scouts and developed the Daisy program. During this time she traveled throughout the country to present the Girl Scout program. In 1984 she made her first trip to Africa where she met Jali Nyama Suso, a kora player and griot, and spent time in the backcountry of Gambia. During her second trip to Africa, Alicia attended the United Nations Women’s Conference and traveled throughout Senegal, Kenya, and Gambia. In 1997 Alicia took a sabbatical to study early childhood in West Africa.

Alicia obtained a UNIFEM grant to start a school in the Gambia, but political unrest prevented the school from being built. Alicia helped numerous people become citizens and go to school in the United States, and she remains friends with them today.

Over the last 20 years, Alicia has traveled to Israel, Portugal, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Costa Rica, Thailand, and Nicaragua. Alicia has kept diaries of her travels, and is currently working on transcribing them.

I interviewed Alicia Pagano at her home in Sidney, New York. While visiting Alicia, I had the pleasure of seeing Alicia’s poetry, her mother’s crochet items made from recycled plastic bread wrappers, and her friends’ artwork. Alicia is in the process of transcribing her mother’s and grandmother’s diaries. Her grandmother’s diary, Nellie Converse Carr, can be found on the CGPcommunitystories.org website.

In the transcript I edited for grammatical purposes and inserted the names of individuals in the story to add additional context. I highly recommend researchers listen to the recording of this interview, as some of the names and places may prove challenging to pronounce. More importantly, the transcript alone lacks Alicia’s excitement, humor, and personality.

Creator

Georgia LaMair

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York- College at Oneonta

Date

2017-12-11

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
27.5mB
audio/mpeg
27.5mB
audio/mpeg
11mB
image/jpeg
72 in

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

17-013

Coverage

Upstate New York
Sidney, New York
1929-2017

Interviewer

Georgia LaMair

Interviewee

Alicia Pagano

Location

12562 County Highway 23
Unadilla, NY 13849

Transcription

AP = Alicia Pagano
GL = Georgia LaMair

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

GL:
This is November 12th, 2017 interview of Alicia Pagano by Georgia LaMair for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course recorded at Sidney, New York. Where and when were you born?

AP:
I was born on June 29th, 1929 in Sidney. They thought I was going to be twins but I wasn’t, I was fully me [laughs].

GL:
Who else was in your family?

AP:
There was my mother, Norma Alice Carr Leonard, and my father Neil Leonard, and then my sister Rita who was born two and a half years after me. That was the family I grew up with.

GL:
What was it like growing up in this area?

AP:
I feel I had the best childhood possible. I grew up in Unadilla, we moved to Unadilla when I was 4 and I lived in five places in Unadilla. One of the ones on Bridge Street was very important to me, I lived there from 2nd grade until 7th grade and from 7th grade on I lived on Main Street, five houses from the school. I would say that the town was like my living room. Children felt free in the town. Growing up at that point in time was very peaceful. It was peaceful for me to be in that town. We were well cared for. When I was living on Bridge Street we would walk up on the Ontio from time to time and have picnics there and my mother baked bread and sold it to people in the community and she dug dandelion greens each year. The first money I ever earned, I earned by digging dandelions with her when I was eight.

[TRACK 1, 2:52]

I sold them for 25 cents and then I bought pansies for my mother for Mother’s Day. That was my first money that I earned. Growing up there we lived in the community and the children played in the streets and the town and we played kick the can and hide-n-seek and other games. Several of those children went through school with me from 1st grade on through high school. We had 18 in our graduating class and we were considered one of the best classes in the school, there were 13 girls and 5 boys. We were “out there” you might say, we put on a play every year, we raised money to go on our senior trip and we were the first class to go on the senior trip after the war. I graduated in 1946 and the war was over in 1945, so we were the first class. We went to New York City and that was a big experience and now I look at my life and I’ve lived half of my 88 years in New York City, in the metropolitan New York area, not exactly in the city. Teaching at the universities in the area and working at the Girl Scouts as the National Director of Programs and so half of my life has been in New York. But the years I think of growing up in Unadilla were very exciting. During my high school years, we were engaged in the war so we had the rationing and we did things for the war effort. Among the things I did, I was reminded of again yesterday when I was at the airport in Sidney and the Civil Air Patrol was giving an honorarium to a man who had been in the Civil Air Patrol during World War II. I looked at the silhouettes of airplanes, I took a class in that. I was the only girl to take the class. I think it must have been sponsored by the Civil Air Patrol. To see the silhouettes of airplanes, in case a German or an enemy plane came over Unadilla, we were well prepared. We were a community that took care of each other and my mother had no worry about when I was a teenager. For my girlfriend and I to go over the hill toward Sidney Center, to walk over and to camp out by Carr’s creek all night.

[TRACK 1, 6:14]

She had no worry. Or we would go up to Tianaderra [house on Butternuts Road] [Creek] overlooking the town with a blanket roll wrapped in clothesline and some snacks to eat, and sleep out all night looking over the town of Unadilla. We were safe. We ice skated, and we did things in the winter, we did them in the summer, and I was in all the plays our class had. I played in the band. I played the saxophone and I played in the dance band and I played the piano and organ at church. I was a leader in all the things I was doing. When I look back, I think that life in Unadilla was a good beginning for a young person to find out their strengths and the things that they could do and move them on toward the rest of their life. I went to the alumni organization’s [annual dinner] ’s folk one time and told them I was thankful for all the town did for me as I was growing up and the things I learned that prepared me [for life]. When I read my mother’s diaries and my grandmother's diaries about Unadilla I reflect back on my childhood and I see those things, how the town was so supportive of everybody and the friendships people had and the way they helped each other. I enjoyed that time in Unadilla. During the war, of course, we didn’t drive so I didn’t get to know the area like some people might have because we couldn’t drive, gas was rationed, tires were rationed. But I went on the school bus to all of the games, I was a cheerleader, and went on the school bus to big games. We ate sherbet with hot chocolate on it instead of ice cream because ice cream was not plentiful because of eggs and cream. The town had meetings in the community house in Unadilla. It was a wonderful meeting place where women met for different activities like sewing socks and mittens and things for soldiers and where we had box dinners where we would pack up a box dinner for two. It would be auctioned off and we would eat dinner with the person who bought it and the money would go to a specific cause depending who was sponsoring it. If it was our class sponsoring it the money went to our senior trip. If it was the town sponsoring it, it probably went to something for the war effort. The war was a big thing in every aspect of our life during my high school years. But the town was a happy place. I was thinking of Halloween since we just passed Halloween. The town had a whole event on Halloween. We went to the schoolhouse and fresh apple cider and donuts were served and we paraded around in the school and they gave awards to different people with their costumes and then there was a Dime Dance. We used to call them dime dances because they used to cost a dime. And they were records but it didn’t cost anything that night, it was sponsored by the town. Those are some of the kinds of things the town did and the school was open after school so the teachers stayed after school and helped you with homework, or you played basketball or you practiced as cheerleaders. As cheerleaders, we practiced for the next game. Or we did our French or our math with the teachers after school. I was editor of our class yearbook. So, we would stay after school and work on the yearbook. The school was a place for the community and we enjoyed it, I think in the end everybody in town watched out for you. Other people could say we saw you. We had a little saying we would write in each other’s journals: “Don’t make love at the neighbor’s gate, love may be blind but the neighbors ain’t.”

[TRACK 1, 11:41]

It’s a funny thing. We could ride the Greyhound bus and the trains were very prevalent, we could go from Binghamton to Albany on the Greyhound bus. After my senior year, because I didn’t pass the math for the Regents I went to Sidney to school one more year and took chemistry and got my Regents in science. I went down on the Greyhound bus every day. We went to Sidney, Sidney had the movie theatre and they had the roller skating rink. Because it was the wartime, the cars were going down to the Scintilla on a 24-hour shift, you know, seven to three; three to eleven; eleven to seven so we could go down to roller skate and then come back with people returning for their 11 o'clock shift at the Scintilla. I remember one time I was carrying my skates over my shoulder and running to catch the 7:15 train and I was a little bit late, and the train pulled in and I was running to catch the train and then the train started up and then the train stopped and the conductor came out and greeted me and said, “I stopped the train for you this time, but don’t expect me to do it again.” I always thought, when would you ever have a train stop for you in today's world? The mail would come in on the train twice a day. We would all go to the post office and wait for the mail to be sorted. So, we could get our mail and that was a gathering point for conversation, for the gossip of the day, it was something people did. I remember when I was a teenager one of the things that we thought was that when we’d send cards the postmaster would read our mail so we would write a card to the postman, so it shocked the postmaster when he read it [laughs]. One of the things a teenager might do, along with asking them if they have Philip Morris in the can and if they did they should take him out. Those were the “terrible naughty things” that children did in those days that you would never think of for today. We were very active in our church and all the churches were part of the things people in the community did, the social things, and the spiritual things. It was a well-knit community. On Sundays, we would go over to my grandfather’s way up over towards Gilbertsville and we would go over every Sunday for chicken dinner. In that period of time of my growing up there was not electricity and running water on some of the farms. Electrification was just coming in the 40’s to some of the rural areas around here. So, my father’s parents [Adelbert & Clara Leonard] had electricity in their home and they did have one bathroom inside. They were getting phones so people did have phones, but they were the phone ringing, winding, you know [audible winding sound]. Even until recently my family would do the ring of my grandparents, two shorts, a long and a short [audible ringing sound] when we would drive away we would toot the family telephone number. My mother’s family lived in Butternuts, they both lived in that area of Gilbertsville. They didn’t have inside plumbing and they didn't have electricity but they did have a phone. And they used the spring outside for the refrigerator in the summer. I remember sitting on the wood box and playing on the wood box in the kitchen and the house being heated at my mother’s house, and the baby chickens were kept under the stove when they first hatched until they were strong enough to be out in the chicken house. The world was so different then than it is [now]. But I am so glad that I knew that world, I knew the world of the farmland when money was not that strong where you could share with and barter back and forth. When I’m reading my mother's diaries more recently and my grandmother’s. I see how people in this neighborhood, in Sidney center and the people in Unadilla they are still bartering and probably we are today, we just don’t think of it that way, you know. Or when someone is sick the neighbors came in and helped. My grandmother wrote, I walked by my friend’s house today and she didn't feel good so I ironed for her. And that was my grandmother in Unadilla saying that. People worry today about their children, but the worries were different then because we felt safe. I felt totally safe. And that safe feeling has carried me on through life so that I've been able to take, maybe you might say risks. I’ve traveled in West Africa and in Central America, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and South America in Peru. In places by myself, unafraid. Yes, maybe taking a certain risk, but feeling the goodness of people and being wisely cautious and enjoying to travel. I feel it was because I had this in my growing up and maybe I never expressed it in that way exactly until I am telling you now as we’re talking together. I’m thankful for that childhood and I'm surprised how much of it comes back to me, of course, I know that it's changed in some ways because I’m looking at it from all of my other experiences. But I think some it is not changing, they don't change when I tell them, when I think about them, I think about them the same way. Oneonta was the big city from Unadilla. We would go to Oneonta to Christmas shop. It was a big city and even Sidney from Unadilla was like going, we could go to the movies and things.

[TRACK 1, 20:14]

I roller skated through Unadilla in the summer and even in the early spring when there was still ice along the puddles, and I ice skated near the icehouse where they had a pond. I swam in Carr’s Creek and some other little creeks. We were not afraid to walk, I walked through town, I ran through town, I skipped through town. All that exercise I think has helped me to be the strong person I am at 88 today. My life was always full of movement and others in our town, our life was full of movement, in the town, in the garden, doing what we’re doing. Are there any questions that you can think of, that you would like to ask me?

GL:
What did you do after high school?

AP:
My mother worked and I always worked. I babysat for 10 cents an hour in high school, then later 25 cents an hour. And I tithed my money. If I earned 10 cents I tithed a penny of it at that time, maybe I’m not doing that now, but that was what I did as I was growing up. I helped my mother clean houses sometimes. After I graduated from high school I did work as a waitress in the Hotel Bishop one of the years between my junior and senior year, I think. I was too young to serve alcohol. I worked at the lunch time and somebody else served the alcohol, but I worked as a waitress. Then, after my senior year I went and worked at a camp for the summer, as a helper at camp. Then I came back and went to Sidney to the post high school class and then I went to Binghamton and went to Ridley Business School because my college wouldn't accept me until I was 18. They didn't want you if you were still under 18 where they might be responsible like a parent maybe. Anyway, I went to Ridley Business School and the boys were just coming home from the military and so they were going to Ridley as well and they had money to go and I was paying my own way and I wanted to finish quickly and as soon as you got your shorthand up to speed you could exit out as soon as you passed the bookkeeping or you typed so many words. So, I was always exiting out and they were always hanging in because they had enough money and they were taking it easy going through. But I worked for a family, I was a live-in helper, I got dinner at night, and I took care of their 11-year-old daughter and I could come home every other weekend. But that was my job. I remember because we didn't have bananas and things like that in my household growing up. Here I was in a household that had all of these things and it seemed so wealthy to be able to have bananas whenever. We had an orange in our stocking at Christmas but not other times. So, to have those things when I was working there seemed really like I was living in luxury. I came back at Easter time and my father got me a job at the York Modern in Unadilla. The daughter Effie had been in my class. Mr. York hired me to be one of the secretaries. So, I worked as one of the secretaries from Easter until I went to college. I lived at home and my mother had me pay rent to live at home. I was costing the family for me to be there, but unbeknownst to me my mother saved that money and the day I left for college she gave it to me for my college. I had saved money and was going off to Providence Bible Institute to study music. [In] 1948 I went to college. It was a three-year college then, so I was planning on maybe working in a church, and I took piano, organ, voice, and conducting, all of the things that related to work with music. My senior year I was the top-to-last player of the pianists and my roommate had a solo performance. Fortunately for me it’s not always you pull yourself up at your own boot straps, but sometimes life itself gives you what you need. That was a three-year program, but while I was there they were becoming more of a liberal arts college and not just a bible college. I decided to stay and take the fourth year, and by doing that I could get my bachelor’s degree. I didn’t know then, how important that would be. I stayed and took a double major of music and English so I could graduate with a bachelor's degree. After that I went to work in New Jersey as part music in a church and part a secretary. I worked there until I became engaged and went to Germany to marry my fiancé who was in the army. And was sent to Germany as part of the ending of the war and the Marshall plan. I went to Pirmasens Germany, another of my ability to take a risk to go to the unknown. I took the boat over to Germany and my fiancé met me and then we lived off the military establishment because he was just a private. We rented from a German family and I lived there for about 9 months until we came home. So, I had the experience of living in Germany and buying locally. We could buy from the PX, the military, but we also bought most of our things from the market. I learned a little German, but I was too young to realize what an advantage it would be to have learned another language. And I didn't really study German like I could have. But that was a very nice experience and then I came back and we moved to Ohio, where my husband's family lived. My husband, [Tom McNutt?], got a job at the Goodridge Tire and Rubber and I got a job there too typing numbers for the billing for airplane tires. I became very good at numbers and I was a good typist anyway and I’d taken a little typewriter to college and I took that little typewriter to Germany and I think it’s possible my son still has that little typewriter. Last I knew he still had it. Whether he’s decided to keep it or decided to give it up I don't know but that little portable typewriter carried me through my college days and my days in Europe and for some time after that before I began to use the computer. I became pregnant while I was working at the Goodridge Tire and Rubber, and Janice my first child was born

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

in 1955. We bought a house right next to the church and we didn't have to put a down payment. Then I was pregnant for my second child, Daniel, the person who got me involved in this oral history project because he is an archaeologist today. I was pregnant with him and we needed a bigger house, so we sold the house back to the church. We had bought it from the church where I was playing the piano and [directing music] in the church. We bought another house in Portage Lake and I just remembered that name because it came off the top of my tongue. I've been trying to remember for a long time, Portage Lake. A bigger house and we moved there and Daniel was born and both of them were born in Akron hospital in Akron, Ohio. At that time, the tire and rubber industry was changing and plastics were being used and the technologies were changing. My husband’s job was diminishing and he had a friend who moved to Orlando, Florida, to work at Martin Marietta. We needed a more secure job so we moved to Florida to Martin Marietta. On the last frost of the year that Daniel was 1, we moved to Florida. My husband Tom worked at Martin Marietta and we didn’t have much money in the beginning because we were just moving and we had been short of cash because work wasn’t strong and we rented the house in Portage Lake. We had just squeezed money, Dan’s first birthday present was a little plastic car on top of this birthday cake. The radio in Orlando was having these mystery things where people would go out and find a prize and they were in our neighborhood and it was a little chilly. I told my neighbor who was the wife of my husband’s friend who got him the job. We were living in a duplex right there, where we first moved there. I borrowed money from her to buy coffee and cream and sugar and then I went out and sold coffee to the people who were hunting for their treasure from the radio station and it was enough money to help buy groceries that week. But of course, very soon we were caught up on our money. It didn’t take us long to catch up. And we bought a house in a new neighborhood. At that time in that area the orange groves were being knocked down, places were building, and Disney World was beginning to come, 1955-1956, and we were able to buy a house that would be built according to the way we wanted and pay hardly anything down, but start just paying. And that was the way it was happening so we picked the house we wanted and within a few months we were living in our own three-bedroom house with our colors that I picked and the woodwork I picked and the children there. We were there for a period of time except I learned a house is not a home and our marriage was disintegrating. I went to get a job at Martin Marietta and I moved on. We both moved on. He moved on and I moved on in separate ways. I bought a house in Terracia North of Orlando.

[TRACK 2, 4:37]

For the same way that you could buy a house before just by paying the mortgage every month and I moved there with Janice and Daniel and Gretchen our dog. I worked at Martin Marietta and because I had my bachelor’s degree I was able to get a better job. It was interesting that just then a bachelor’s degree meant I got a better job. I was secretary to one of the heads of a department. I put Janice and Dan in a daycare nursery that had a class school with it. They went to school there. It was hard; they were small and it was hard but I did it. I had just enough money every day to pay the house payment and the food and the things in the nursery. The day I’d gone in to hire at Martin Marietta I met a man who was just hiring in and a few months after working there we met again and we began to date. He had two children and we married after our divorces, his divorce and my divorce, we married and we raised our four children together. At that time we lived in Orlando in a house that nobody lived in after we lived in, it was on Lake Lucerne, a big old house so each of our children had their own room. We went to Rollins College and luckily, I had my bachelors because then that very year was 10 years and it was still good, if it had been 11 years I would have had to have done my bachelors again, but 10 years my bachelors counted and I went and got a master’s in the art of teaching music. So, I got my master’s and my husband got his master’s in business administration and we graduated at the same graduation. And as we walked across the stage and we shook hands with the president of Rollins College, I said to him, my husband is getting his degree now too and our four children are up in the balcony and so he turned around and he asked them to stand up and be recognized. I was happy that I had finished the fourth year when I was in Providence. Once we both go our master’s we moved up to Washington, DC because we wanted to go on and get our doctorates. We worked there and got our doctorates and I taught school first while he was getting his and took one class and then I gradually got my degree.

[TRACK 2, 7:44]

Our children, by then, were in high school they were moving through elementary and into high school. That was a very exciting time to be able to do that and I think my children were growing too and it was probably hard for them that I was always out going to school or teaching or working. And in the community in Bethesda where we lived, nobody wanted to be responsible for neighbors. That was different from the way I had grown up, I had to go to my school before my children left for their school but no neighbor wanted to keep track of our children. They were sort of one their own. I didn't have many rules. I had one rule actually, and that rule was there will be no smoking in the house when I’m here. I didn't think it paid to have a rule that you couldn’t keep and I couldn’t keep the other one because they were growing up in the era of the day. Then when we got our degrees we moved to New Jersey to work and my husband worked at one of the colleges and I started at [William Patterson College] but they didn't accept me with my doctorate. They were only having me as a teacher not a professor, and the next year I got a job at Medgar Evers in Brooklyn where I was an assistant professor and my husband said we’ll move to New York, and we moved to Brooklyn. So, the rest of my experiences of teaching were in the metropolitan area. The girls graduated from high school in New Jersey in 1973 I believe and that was the year I graduated with my doctorate. What other kinds of things do you ask?

GL:
Tell me about traveling. [TRACK 2, 10:19]

AP:
I was a traveler since I was three. We lived on Pine Street in Oneonta probably from the time I was two to four [years old]. The years when my sister was born in Oneonta. When I was three my mother's sister came to visit and they wanted to go downtown and they didn't want me to go with them. But I wanted to go. So soon as no one was looking after they'd gone or whatever I don't know, I only know what is being told of this, I don't remember the doing of it, but I went down into [Oneonta] by myself. They couldn’t find me. They had to go looking for me and there they found me down on Main Street so I was always one that. I have to interrupt that thought with memory because memory is important and I didn’t remember that, but I do remember something earlier than that. My mother says I remember it very clearly. I must have been two years old, between two and two and a half. My mother was painting the crib for my sister as she was pregnant for my sister, so maybe I was almost two and a half, and I remembered her doing that and I remembered the room and the shape and where things were and she said I remembered them. So, when I was teaching school and teaching teachers some of the first things I asked them was tell me the first thing you remember learning and how you learned it. I wanted them to have a feeling that we don't learn everything in school with the teacher and that the role that they were going to be playing as a teacher was not a big boss but was a facilitator of their learning.

[TRACK 2, 12:20]

I wanted them to know that. So anyway. I didn’t remember going into Oneonta but I remember writing about it in my poetry. There I am, out there in the risk and going. And when I was growing up on my birthday my aunt and uncle in Oneonta would take me up for a few days to Oneonta, so that was another travel. Then when I went in college, the first year I went to work in Asbury Park in New Jersey and everybody said, “How do you dare do that?” I said, “I found a job in the New York Times.” “How are you going to get there?” “I’m going to take a bus.” “Aren’t you afraid?” “No, I’m not afraid, why should I be afraid?” “What are you going to do?” “I’m going to go stay at the YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Association] and then I’ll go get the job and then I'll find out.” And I did and so I worked that first year when everybody was shocked I went down by myself to work at Asbury Park. Then I went to Europe to get married, so I traveled to Europe. Then when I married Lee Pagano we did some traveling, we went to Mexico because his daughter had been born in Mexico, we went down to Moralia to see where she was born and we did some traveling. Then I spoke at a NASA conference in Paris and that was before the ones in Mexico. I was the only woman on the program. We had friends who were scheduling it and both my husband and I spoke at the conference and my first flight to Paris was in 1973. So that was my first flight, Mexico was after that. We lived in Florida so we had to travel down from Ohio to Florida, then traveling when we were in Washington traveling to Paris and back and traveling to Mexico and back, but it wasn't until after I was divorced that I did the bulk of my real international traveling.

[TRACK 2, 15:05]

I’m trying to think when the first traveling I did [was], probably at the time my marriage was breaking up [unclear] Lee Pagano, 1984. I had been to some places within the United States traveling at the college for sending a paper while I was at Medgar Evers. But now I’m at Girl Scouts as the National Director of Program of Girl Scouts and our program was changing 1978-83 and I traveled throughout the United States to present the new program, to talk about the Daisy program which I started. My staff wrote that program for the preschool children under the age of a Brownie.

[TRACK 2, 16:08]

So, I went to California to Texas, to Chicago, to Minneapolis, and other places with the Girl Scouts for that program. Then in 1984, I was working with the United States community for UNICEF and I traveled to California as part of the fundraiser. I was working in development for that. Then I was interested in the United Nations and the [1985]Women’s Conference. The women had a conference in Kenya, a world conference, United Nations Women’s Conference. I went there but I went the year before that to West Africa and that was my first big kind of travel by myself in the kind of way because I wanted to go. My marriage was breaking up and I was ready to explore and I’d been working at Medgar Evers and so I’d known the African American community very well and I met a guy who was wanting to go to West Africa. He was a drummer and my interest in music. He wanted to go and I wanted to go, so we went. So, [1984] was my first big adventure like that. Outside of going with the university or Girl Scouts or with my husband. And we went backcountry in the Gambia to the guys who had the drums and we would place a little candle in and the mothers and the babies on their arms and their husbands with the drums showing my friend their drum and their drumming pattern. I’m there not as a tourist but as a musician, and I meet one of the very strong people who played the kora, one of the old men who is the Griot. A Griot is a man who tells the stories of people and very spiritual, and I meet him in the market [his tent] while we’re going through the market and he says, “Would you like to play it?” And I said “Yes,” so, they bring me a kora and he shows me the first ways to hold my hands and play. He said play this note and this note and I’ll play along with you and I’ll sing. I was so enamored with that that I bought one of them and I brought it back and I have a letter from him. He said if you would come and stay here with me for six months you’ll be a good kora player. But my life was moving in other directions and I didn’t do it. But I did visit him again and during that period that I was there that first visit I met a woman, Fatou Kineh, in the marketplace whose mother was the head of the women in the fabrics. She had her own booth and I met her and she became a very positive person for the next time I came because she invited us, that time the men that I was with, the man I went with plus his friend who was there, thought that she was so beautiful, they knew she would love them but she knew who they were and she knew who she was. She smiled and invited us for dinner and I met her parents, her father and his hotel and I got integrated in. That was 1984. So, 1984 or 1985 when I went back to the Women's Conference in Kenya I went first to Senegal then to Gambia.

[TRACK 2, 20:14]

I met Fatou Kineh again and she introduced me to other people in Senegal and I went with three other women, two other women, really five women. Some of them went ahead of us, but two women went with me, and we did things in Senegal and the Gambia. Then we went on down to Kenya and Nairobi for the Women’s Conference and met the other two women and toured over to Lamu. We took the night train in Kenya and then we were going to take the airplane over to Lamu. It was so exciting, linen table clothes, one of the last things of the old trains, overnight going from Nairobi over to the coast and when we woke up we were at the coast. I was worried we wouldn’t catch our plane because we were a little bit late. No, we were the ones the plane was going for, the five of us, so we took that. We went over to Lamu, a little island that you could only reach for in an airplane and we spent time there. So here I’m having Senegal and Gambia and overnight, Ivory Coast and Kenya and Nairobi and Lamu and back and we had visited the Kikuyu up in the mountains outside of Nairobi.

[TRACK 2, 21:44]

The women were studying with the United Nations, learning to speak and learning to read and learning language, some English along with it. That time made me really want to do more. Then there was an African film festival in Brooklyn, in the museum and I went to that and I stood in line again with an African American woman, she said, “oh my boyfriend is in Senegalese. I'll introduce you,” and she introduced me to him. She wished she hadn’t. We became friends and I went with him when he was a teacher and I went with him when he began to teach the people who were the street peddlers. The young men, 18 to 23, living in a hotel and earning not much money, but living in one of those hotels and selling on the street umbrellas and sunglasses and things from Africa. He was teaching them English, because he knew English very well, and he invited me to go with him. And I began to go and I began to learn Wolof, their language. I began to go all the time and I was still living in my house in Staten Island and still married but separated legally and needing to move out. I did move out from that and moved to Brooklyn, to Park Slope, and continued my work with my friend Lamine teaching and learning, I became the young men’s banker. They had their own banking system. Every week, the men who sold on the streets would put in $20 into the bank, and I held all the $20 dollars, and then when they would meet the next week they would draw a straw and whoever got the short one or whatever it was would get that money so then they had enough money to do something with it or to send it to their family back in West Africa. So, I kept the money of their bank. I was their banker. They trusted me. So, I was having a great experience learning Wolof, learning another culture. I was shocked at the respect and the way that they treated each other and the way they treated me. I was learning so much and my friend Lamine wanted to teach me good Wolof, deep Wolof, he wanted not street talk but really teach me the language well. So, I was learning very carefully the Wolof language. I began then to meet other people. Fatou Kineh from the Gambia would come to New York to buy and stay with me and then I would meet her friends. I met Pa Jallow who was in the president’s cabinet of the Gambia. He was in the cabinet because they cross economic lines and he came with Fatou and he visited me in Brooklyn. So, I was meeting more than the street peddlers. I was meeting people at top level places in both countries, Senegal and the Gambia, and Fatou Kineh was introducing me to people in Senegal. My sister, she would say. Maybe it was a cousin, maybe it was a cousin of a cousin of a cousin. But I was learning the culture. I was going to go back to Senegal and the Gambia to get papers for Lamine because he wanted to go back to school. He had had four years, but in Senegal you needed the fifth to graduate and he’d been teaching school, which you could do with the fourth, but you had not graduated. So, he couldn’t do his masters here but he wanted to so he had to finish with his bachelor’s. So, I got paperwork. I went over and picked up paperwork to show what he was doing and what he had had. And took it to City College and because I was a professor I had a little weight and I got him in to finish his bachelor’s here. It was like he had almost finished and all he needed was to finish. So, I’m meeting more people in the Gambia and Senegal and one of the wealthy men [Gabi Sosseh] in the Gambia wanted a school for girls in backcountry named after his mother. So I went to the United Nations and the Women's UNIFEM. I wrote a proposal for a school for girls in Gambia and I went backcountry with them, and I will never forget that day because I danced with the musician, you know the Griot. And I danced with them, and they danced and we danced for the school and I got the proposal and the money for them to do the first things to start the school but Gambia was getting readying to have a coup at that time and they couldn’t finish it that year. It was too hard. So, I got the money extended a year and then all hell broke out and we couldn’t do it. But I always was a friend with [Gabi] Sosseh and I [brokered] for him to go into Bard College.

[TRACK 2, 28:18]

I spoke with for one of Gabi Sosseh’s nephews to go into Bard College at the high school level. They had a high school in Massachusetts that led into their bachelor’s program but our government in the Gambia wouldn’t let him come. I had worked it all out but we wouldn’t let him come. He would have done well, he would have succeeded. I knew that. He was from a wealthy family, although they said he just went to this little rural school and they didn’t want him to come. Anyway, I’m maintaining these relationships so I’m going again. I went for Lamine and the school and then I wrote a Fulbright. I wanted to write about the peddlers, the men and the women peddlers who went between Senegal, and the Gambia, and Mali, the intra, not the ones who came to the United States, but going back and forth there. I was interested really myself in what the women were doing and what they did with their children while they were gone. But I wrote it to be both of them. I was going back and forth, and I was meeting people and having meetings with people and business and people who were doing peddling and I was getting

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

relationships with people at the top and people at the bottom. When I went to get the paperwork for Lamine, Pa Jallow from the government loaned me his driver and car to go and do it. I was really being integrated in. I had a feeling there like I had in Unadilla. I’m not afraid; I’m well cared for; I’m doing my thing and they’re doing theirs. They were taking care of me, so I’m building more friends in the Gambia and one of the peddlers said stay at my family’s house outside of Dakar. So I’m going to go and that time I took an iron for Fatou Kineh because needed an iron. She wanted me to bring her a nice iron. And taking sneakers and other things that people asked me to bring for their families. I get to Dakar and my luggage isn’t there. And Fatou Kineh had come with me from the Gambia to Dakar to pick up her iron and so we were going to go stay with some of the peddlers’ brothers. We go there to stay and they didn’t have enough blankets. In the winter, it can get chilly in Dakar. Fatou Kineh said, you can’t stay here another night, it’s too cold. We’re going to go to my sister’s house. So, then I go N’Deye’s house and I meet her brothers who are artists and filmmakers, and N'Deye Seck who does fashions. We stayed at her house, and that becomes my center locale. I’m still good friends with N' Deye. She’s here. I've been the godmother to her daughter and we have a long relationship now. I hired her to come to the United States for a job I had. But that’s very complicated, you probably can’t keep it straight. Anyway, Fatou Kineh introduces me to another family that become my real family in Senegal and they introduced me to more people. A man who is a medical doctor and his father was a healing doctor and so I go to meet the healer and the healer invites me to do a doctoral dissertation at the university on healing plants and herbs. So, I see the culture not just from the street peddlers in New York, not just from the musician who wanted to drum, but I see it from health, early childhood, art, and sew making, and pop culture, and the United Nations. I’m seeing all of it. I go back and forth several times. Now what I’m doing is trying to look at my own diaries and document more clearly the times that I went to Senegal and to the Gambia and what I did because one time Long Island University, I taught one year at Long Island University and they had a program where a person who graduated at the top of their class could have four years of college, they don’t have it anymore, it’s phased out. One of the women [Nyaling] who’d been coming from the Gambia and staying at my house, who was a friend of Fatou Kineh wanted to go to college. And she was coming and staying at my house. She’d been the top in her class so I went back to the Gambia and got her valedictorian papers, and got her enrolled in college at LIU for four years free. Did she go? Her dad married her which was what he could do, to a young man in Paris from the Gambia and she had to go, she knew him and they had gone together some, but the father could marry them, him there and her here in the states and she had to go to Paris to consummate the marriage. So, I said please take birth control with you. But I knew her culture too and she had to be ready to have a baby, not only was she ready but she got pregnant.

*note added by Alicia Pagano
I had her scholarship extended to begin the following year. She returned to the United States and her twins were born here. I attended their traditional Gambian naming ceremony. She started school, but could not continue in the program at LIU. Over the years we kept in touch for birthdays but I didn't see her as both of our lives were busy. She was working in the area of social services in New York City and her family was fine. One day, almost twenty years after she had left the program she called me and said, "I want.you to come to my graduation." She said," I went to Hunter College and I'm graduating with my bachelor's and it's all because of you." So, I went for her graduation. Her kids became adults and they sponsored their mother to become a citizen. Today she's a citizen and has her received her master's degree as well. She continues to work in the field of Social Services. Her children have finished college and are contributing to our society as well. We still stay in touch by cell phone and meet once in a while.

Duration

30:00 Track 1
30:00 Track 2
11:58 Track 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 02:52 - Early Life
Track 2, 10:19- Traveling

Files

Citation

Georgia LaMair, “Alicia Pagano, November 12, 2017,” CGP Community Stories, accessed September 19, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/303.