HerStory 2021: Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor, or Sonia from the Block, as our colorway that honors her is called, is the third woman, the first (and currently only) woman of color, and the first Latina to serve on the United States Supreme Court, having been nominated by Barack Obama in 2009. She grew up in the Bronx, in Puerto Rican neighborhoods, and self-identifies as Nuyorican (a portmanteau of New York and Puerto Rican, referring to members of the Puerto Rican diaspora in New York City). After initially dreaming of becoming a detective like her hero Nancy Drew, at 10 years old, Sotomayor changed gears and zeroed in on a future in law, inspired by Perry Mason.

Sotomayor received a full scholarship to Princeton, and her acceptance into the Ivy League school was assisted by affirmative action, in which she believes deeply. She has spoken up about the inherent biases in many standardized tests that make it harder for people from disadvantaged communities to thrive; affirmative action levels the playing field and gives opportunities to those with fewer advantages. During her time at Princeton, she advocated for the University to engage in more fair and inclusive hiring practices, and her work resulted in the first Latinx faculty members being hired, and more voice given to organizations centered around people of color, in particular Latinx folks. She became interested and invested in Critical Race Theory, which, unlike the culture war now raging would have you believe, is a body of legal scholarship that examines social, cultural, and legal issues primarily as they relate to race and racism in the United States. She closed out her college career by winning a top prize for undergraduates that honored both her work at school and her advocacy and volunteerism.

After law school, Sotomayor worked for a spell in the prosecutor’s office in NYC, and vigorously prosecuted violent crime. She deepened her commitment to community involvement as well, fighting for the rights of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised in her post-prosecutorial career first as a lawyer and then as a judge. As she rose through the judicial ranks, she became known as a strict but fair jurist. She’s also the judge who saved baseball in the mid-1990s (her injunction against the MLB effectively restarted the stalled season). Her first case as a Supreme Court justice was Citizen’s United, and she argued against the rights of corporations in matters of campaign finance.

Time and again, Sonia from the Block has argued in favor of equity and fairness, handing down rulings with a strong but balanced hand, and advancing the causes of justice and equity. She’s a role model for all young women, in particular young women of color, as they navigate a world in which they might just need to advocate for the changes that will allow them to thrive. As we all navigate this very difficult world, may we all remember that fighting for what is right is never wrong, and may we all look to Justice Sotomayor for inspiration and guidance. Our Sonia from the Block colorway was inspired by the Puerto Rican street art in Sotomayor’s beloved Bronx, the colors and visual textures that reflect and inform the culture of the Nuyoricans that live there.

HerStory 2021: Mumilaaq Qaqqaq

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq (she shares how to pronounce her name here) rose to prominence in Canada when she made an impassioned speech in the House of Commons on International Women’s Day in 2017. She was a part of a group called Daughters of the Vote, which empowers young women to speak up about what they want their votes to accomplish, and what their visions are for the future of their communities, both small (town) and large (country). Qaqqaq, an Inuit, spoke about suicide rates in Indigenous people, and her vision for a Canada in which Indigenous issues are front and center. She was approached by the New Democratic Party to run in her home territory of Nunavut (a largely Indigenous territory, and the newest, largest, and northernmost territory in Canada). She won her seat in Canadian’s Parliament by running on a platform that centered the basic human rights of Inuit people, including suicide prevention measures, securing more food security, insuring access to safe water, and increased access to safe housing. 

Throughout her tenure in Parliament, Quaqqaq worked hard on Indigenous issues and rights, but felt her momentum stymied at every turn. Earlier this year, she announced that she isn’t going to seek reelection. The racism she endured, both on a personal scale (she admitted to never feeling completely safe at work in a stirring speech on the floor, discussing how Parliamentary security would often question her rights to be there), and on a systemic scale (the futility she felt at trying to make change in the face of a bureaucracy that is steeped in historical white supremacy and systemic racism) was inescapable, and she came to the realization that she could do more good outside of the political structure. With the time she has left in her term, she has been advocating for stronger climate change policies, and, most recently, a reckoning for the harm perpetrated by the residential schools throughout Canada, pushing the Canadian government to formally investigate the crimes against humanity that we are learning more and more about. 

Our Aurora Borealis colorway in an homage to the otherworldly-seeming light displays that can be enjoyed in Mumilaaq Qaqqaq’s beloved Nunavut, and to the light that Quaqqaq is in Canadian activism. We hope you enjoy learning more about her, and keeping an eye on her as we are sure she will continue to advocate for the Indigenous peoples of Canada. She’s only 27, after all.

HerStory 2021: Geraldine Roman

Geraldine Roman is a role model for girls and women (heck, for people interested in being good human beings) everywhere. She is a force to be reckoned with in the political landscape of the Philippines, where she was the first trans person elected to Congress in 2016. Plus, she wore the most amazing princess dress of our childhood dreams in her official portrait!

Roman’s life and political philosophy embody the term “intersectional.” She fights for Indigenous rights, she fights for LGBTQIA+ rights, she fights for health rights and veteran’s rights and environmental stewardship and sustainability. She truly believes that in order for anyone to succeed, everyone has to have the chance to succeed. She’s the kind of person you want at the table with you, gently and lovingly steering conversations to difficult places, and leaning in to the humanity in everyone.

She has done much for the LGBTQIA+ community in the Philippines, but her work goes far beyond that. Her political platform, EQUALITY, is an acronym for her many intersectional advocacies: Education, Environmental Quality, Universal Healthcare, Agriculture, Livelihood, Infrastructure, Transparency, and the Youth. “Equality means giving all Filipinos equal rights, equitable opportunities and chances to improve their lives, to become happier citizens of this country regardless of their personal circumstances,” she declares.

We wanted to celebrate the beauty inherent in this wonderful woman, and the beauty that is the Philippines themselves, in our HerStory colorway. We created Waling-Waling, inspired by the Waling-Waling orchid, which is considered to be the Queen of Philippine flowers and is worshiped as a diwata, or natural spirit by the indigenous Bagobo people. We hope that, as you admire your skein of Waling-Waling, you do a little something for a community that is less privileged than yourself. It’s what Geraldine would do. 

HerStory 2021: Georgina Beyer

“I stand on the shoulders of people who went before me and now people stand on the shoulders of people like me.” -Georgina Beyer

Throughout this year of HerStory, we have been showcasing people who have, through their work, advocacy, and courage, provided a way forward for others, for the next generation. June’s HerStory recipient is one of those people, first as the first openly Trans person to run a municipality, and next as the first openly Trans person in national office. She is very careful to include the descriptor “openly,” because, as she states, surely there have been others, who have been forced, through society’s pressures, to hide their true selves. 

Georgina Beyer was born in a small town in New Zealand, and is of both European and Maori descent. As a young adult, she began working as an actor and performer, becoming active in the nightclub scene and as a drag performer and sex worker. She is one of very few former sex workers to hold political office.

On paper, it didn’t look as though Georgina Beyer was someone who would win or hold political office, particularly in a largely conservative electorate. She was openly Transgender, and unapologetically in support of Indigenous issues. A true intersection of many identities, that resulted in her supporting legislation to uplift the most marginalized. She was inspired to live her life as an example to others, and to run for public office, after being brutalized by a group of men when she was a sex worker. The marginalization she experienced as a Trans woman, and as a sex worker, cemented her resolve to fight for those who could not fight for themselves. In her time in office, she advocated for Civil Unions and the Prostitution Reform Act (during the debate about which she came out as a former sex worker, changing the minds of at least 3 of her colleagues to secure passage of the bill). She recognized that her place, her job, was to be herself, as loudly and unapologetically as possible, to ensure smoother sailing for those who came after her. We think she’s done just that. 

Our Red Umbrella colorway is an homage to Georgina Beyer’s tireless work for LGBTQIA+ and sex worker rights. We’ve combined the colorways of the inclusive pride flag with a red umbrella, which represents sex work. The liberation of all marginalized folk is tied up with each other; as Lilla Watson, noted Australian Aboriginal Elder and Activist said, “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

HerStory 2021: Aloha Oe

Liliʻuokalani (1838-1917), was the first (and only) Hawaiian Queen, and the last sovereign of Hawaii. She was a complicated figure, made even moreso by what was going on in her world and on her islands. She came to power upon the death of her brother the King, and inherited a Hawaii that was moving toward annexation into the United States of America. There wasn’t much she could do about it; colonizers/businessmen were already part of the ruling class of Hawaii, and though she fought bitterly for Hawaii’s independence, she eventually lost and Hawaii was annexed to the US in the late 1800s. 

She ruled for a mere 2 years, and was stymied at almost every turn by a legislature hell-bent on limiting her powers and giving more powers to the businessmen that were at their core. Her driving goal was to write a new constitution that would allow her to push for more autonomy and give more power to native Hawaiians, but that was not to be. In fact, it was her dedication to these causes that inspired a stronger push on the part of her detractors for annexation into the USA. After being deposed, Liliʻuokalani continued to fight for the rights of Hawaiians, by traveling to the US mainland and petitioning congress for more representation as well as compensation for land seized during the annexation.

Our Aloha Oe colorway is named after the song Liliʻuokalani composed the year annexation occurred. The English translation is “Farewell to Thee,” and although some stories have the origins of the song being about a farewell embrace between lovers, it’s difficult to imagine that it wasn’t, in some part, written as a farewell to the Hawaii Liliʻuokalani knew. She had to know that with annexation would come a change to traditional ways of life and knowing, and penning a bittersweet farewell to that life seems just right. 

A little note about HerStory: We recognize that some of our HerStory stories represent difficult and sometimes divisive-seeming topics, and want you all to know that our goal is to expand all of our knowledge bases. Our goal is to open minds to the experiences of others, to gain a more expanded view of history/HerStory and the women who contribute to our collective world, and to shine the light on voices that aren’t always heard/acknowledged/listened to.

We also want to always remember the “many baskets of truth” philosophy: that pretty much every issue/person/situation contains many different and oftentimes warring truths, and that it is our job to explore and recognize all of those truth baskets, while trying not to obscure the less-than-ideal (or even outright awful) parts of that issue. That’s what we try to do with our HerStory Love Letters, and we hope you all take what we share and delve deeper into the issues that speak the most to you.

HerStory 2021: Sea of Change

2021 has been a year already, y’all! So much change and upset and strife and progress. Ups and downs and all arounds have abounded this year so far. Our heads have been spinning, sometimes happily, and sometimes in horror. As we were developing our April colorway for HerStory, the truly historic appointment and confirmation of Deb Haaland as the first Native American US Secretary of the Interior happened, accompanied by happy head spinning. According to her website, Haaland is a 35th-generation New Mexican. Can we just take a minute to read that again, and appreciate the fact that her people have lived on and been stewards of this land for THIRTY-FIVE GENERATIONS, long before there was a “United States of America;” long before white colonizers crossed the ocean and “discovered” the land that was to become the USA?!? It’s mind-boggling that she is the first person of Native American descent to be in charge of the actual land that the USA occupies, but we are hopeful that this is a mark of big progress and better representation in our government. 

In Indigenous cultures, here in the USA and beyond, a connection with the land on which one resides is a deep and spiritual one. Being good stewards of the land, giving thanks to the land, and honoring the relationship of all living things to the land on which they exist is integral to Indigenous beliefs and cultures. Appointing a member of a Native American tribe (Haaland is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, and also has Jemez Pueblo heritage) to oversee the care of the land in this country that has a history of oppression and of stealing land from Indigenous peoples is a huge mark of progress.

Our April colorway, Sea of Change, is an homage to Deb Haaland and to that ceiling her appointment has finally shattered. If you look closely at your skein, you’ll see that all of the colors of the sea are represented: the deep blue of a calm sea and the stark whitecaps of a turbulent sea. Making big change never comes without big waves, and we don’t anticipate that the appointment of a Native American to this position of high power and influence will be smooth sailing, particularly since this will be a huge change from the corporate-centric focus of the Interior Department in recent memory, but we are beyond excited to see how Deb Haaland honors her roots and paves the way for more Indigenous representation in the US government.

HerStory 2021: Brave Enough

Like many of you, we watched the US Presidential Inauguration with knitting in hand and tears in our eyes. We knew it would be a historical day, but what we didn’t expect was to be absolutely blown away by the aesthetics of it all, particularly by the mostly monochromatic masterpieces worn by some notable women, and by the powerful and hopeful poem Amanda Gorman shared with us, The Hill We Climb.

Much about the past four years, (and this past year in pandemic in particular), has felt heavy and hard and sad and just plain grey. But on January 20th, we were treated to a visual symphony of strong, powerful, intelligent, amazing women who brought the light and gave us something that we sorely needed: hope. Did they all discuss wearing monochrome? Do they have a text string, where each put dibs on the color they most wanted to wear (and, can we get a peek at this text string, PLEASE?!? We promise to behave!)? Did they know that we would be gasping and texting our friends each time one of them walked down those stairs? Did they realize just how much light they were letting into the world, with their bold embrace of color and of themselves? Did they think about that fact that to wear something bold, as a woman, you are saying: look at me! I am worthy of being looked at, I am worthy of being a topic of conversation, of being an inspiration, and mostly, of just being.?

As we created our Brave Enough colorway, we poured through images of that day, with tears in our eyes. We listened to Amanda Gorman’s poem again and again. 

“We will rise… 
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover. 
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

We drank in all of that beauty, and all of those words, adding each color until a rainbow was created. Because what better way to celebrate hope than through a rainbow?

HerStory 2021: Stacey Abrams

Persistence is our February colorway. Picture the most exquisite Hydrangea you have ever seen, the way the colors fade one into another, the pinks and blues and purples into the green of the leaves and stem. Now picture the most talented and tenacious organizer you have ever seen, a person who can turn a political disappointment (albeit a disappointment fueled by historical gerrymandering and voter suppression) into what has arguably proven to be the most consequential and important voting outcome in modern history. 

We are talking about, of course, the incomparable Stacey Abrams (1973-present). We don’t often honor the women you might expect us to in our HerStory; one of our goals is to find those women who have been lost to traditional history, whose stories have not been told, no matter how large the influence of their work/lives have been. But after the turmoil of the 2020 election, particularly what happened in Georgia, we just could not not talk about Stacey Abrams. She is such a force. Such an inspiration. Such an admirable leader. Plus, she writes romance! As romance junkies, we literally cannot even express how much that means to us.

One of the meanings of the Hydrangea is perseverance and gratitude. Unity and togetherness. Stacey Abrams and her team are full to the brim of all of those things. In the 2 short years since she lost the governorship of Georgia, she dug her heels in, gathered a diverse team, and DID THE THING. That thing may well prove to be what literally saves Democracy. Our February colorway, Persistence, is an homage to the Hydrangeas that are starting to bloom in the Spring. To the hope that Stacey Abrams and her hard-working team have caused to bloom in our hearts. To the work that is left to do, and the voices we need to lift up in order to get that work done. As we move forward in the US and work at a more positive and just society, our hope is that you look at and work with this yarn and feel that hope and joy and gratitude that Stacey Abrams embodies. That we all do what we can to uplift each other, and allow those voices that are so necessary to be heard. And to a future in which all of the votes by all of the people count in the same way.

HerStory 2021: Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (1930-), our first HerStory recipient of 2021, was a born leader. She was the first democratically-elected female head of state in the world, and remains, to this day, the longest-serving female head of state (she was President of Iceland for 19 years). 

Finnbogadóttir was born into wealth and privilege, and thus had a young life full of education and opportunity. She was a public figure before going into politics, teaching French and Icelandic culture on the state television station in the late 1970s. When she decided to run for president in 1980, her status as both a woman AND a divorced single mother weren’t enough to detract from her charisma, personality, and talent, and she was elected over 3 men.  

In no small part because of Finnbogadóttir’s work and standing in the world, Iceland is now considered by most to be the world leader in gender equality. In recent years, Iceland has passed laws to ensure gender balance on boards and to secure paid paternity leave. Almost half of all political candidates in any given election are women, and universal early childhood education is a nationwide priority. In 2013, a law was passed that required companies to ensure that a minimum of 40% of their boards are women. All of these laws and policies are created to make the world more equitable, and offer more women, from all backgrounds, the opportunities to achieve success. 

In Iceland, there is a concept called “fyrirmynd“. It’s kind of like a role model, but more: the term encapsulates the concept of being an example to others to live one’s life with authenticity and strive to do what’s right and good, not only for one’s own self, but for one’s community as well. Our Lava colorway is inspired by the beautiful lava fields one can explore in Iceland, and by our first HerStory recipient Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the Mother of Iceland. Her cool head and fire within as she broke through that glass ceiling and paved the way for so much goodness, all while typifying that fyrirmynd.