Initially, I visualized this series as a weekly installment through the month of September (Revival’s true “birthday”), but the more interviews I’ve done for this series, the harder it’s become to quickly edit and turn over these articles. These women are indescribably powerful. They are deeply inspiring and force me to reflect on just how lucky Revival and Iowa City is to call these women friends and patrons. They make me want to be a bolder woman – a woman who refuses to shrink to expectations but a woman who is also not afraid to rest. We still have 4 more interviews that will roll out over the next few weeks as I have time to sit with the wisdom these women have so generously bestowed upon us. I hope you also take some time to sit with these words and allow yourself to be inspired.
With that, please enjoy the beautiful and inspiring words of Lina Maria Murillo.
In Community: Lina-Maria Murillo, Assistant Professor
As cheesy as it may seem, Lina Maria Murillo is a woman who needs no introduction. In fact, any introduction I could write fails to encapsulate the absolute powerhouse of this woman’s breadth of work and energy. At any given time, you can find her writing her upcoming book, inspiring students at the U, leading a protest for whatever right has been recently stripped from us, or taking some personal time to shop at Revival. She is everywhere and anywhere, all at once. I’ve known Lina for as long as I’ve worked at Revival. She walks into a space radiating joy and inspiration. Her personality is BIG in the way you want to raise your energy to match hers. She’s a joy and a light to speak with and we are so lucky to see her so often.
I sat down to chat with Lina in between her book writing sessions.
How did you get to Iowa?
I got a job here and I had to find it on a map and then we came a year later because I had to do some convincing of my family from California and from Texas that this would be a good place for us to live.
What do you find so special about Iowa City and what’s made you stay?
Honestly, the human beings here are really amazing. I don’t know that I anticipated finding such a luscious community of folks - colleagues, community, organizers, activists - who are just really thoughtful and caring and have created… this will sound cheesy but… for me, at this stage of my life, it feels very calm, and it feels like a good place to put my roots down.
How do you come into your field and why did you go into the field you currently work in?
It just happened. I manifested it, I guess. I write about women’s reproductive health, and I focus specifically on women in the US/Mexico Borderlands in the 20th century. But over time and actually being here in this place, my interest has grown to think about region and how people in certain regions adapt to reproductive control - how they enact reproductive liberation. I’ve come to it in some ways, kind of organically. I happened to be interested in looking at the history of women when I was getting my PhD at the University of Texas El Paso and Planned Parenthood had, sadly, just closed there so they donated all their achieves to the University library and I just happened to be pestering the archivist… so I got lucky.
Then in Iowa, it’s also kind of been pestering the archivist at the University to think about access to abortion and the change of abortion laws in Iowa. But also, I’m highly informed by the political contemporary moment. I’ve come to my work from a feminist praxis, and I believe that we should have autonomy over our bodies. So that, in some ways, put me into this track of being in gender studies even though I’m a historian. In this space we do lots of interdisciplinary work and it’s been lovely to work with colleagues in other places like anthropology, sociology, history, communication studies, and then obviously other historians who were all, kind of, thinking about the work that we do as very much connected to this contemporary moment. So how do we – with the work we are doing – how do we gear it towards teaching our students about social justice and change?
Where did you do your undergrad education?
I did my undergrad in San Francisco – all of these [moves] have been very abrupt. I was in San Francisco doing my BA and I was like, “Should I go to graduate school? I don’t know what that means.” One of my professors was like, “Don’t go to Texas.” He just, knowing my kind of interests, he was like I don’t know if being in Texas is like … [where you belong]. But in many ways, it actually helped my interests flourish to be in a place like Texas. Then I went back to California, worked there for a little while, and then I got the opportunity to come to Iowa and nobody does winter like Iowa – Iowa wins all of that.
What do you find you’re most passionate about in the work that you’re doing at the University all other interests you’re pursuing?
I am very interested and excited in my ability to collaborate with other people. I think that that’s something I have been, not only encouraged to do, but there’s been the support by my colleagues in gender studies here at the University to do that. So, there’s something about having that footing that provides this sort of freedom where you’re like, “Yeah I’m going to reach out to these people that are not in my direct network.” It’s just been really beautiful. I thrive on that - I thrive on making connections with people around the state, outside of the state, nationally, internationally. So that’s where my focus is going slowly, but surely. Historians are notorious for working slowly on things – we need to let our sources and our material kind of speak to us and it takes a while. I have my foot in two different worlds that feels very true to who I am as a person. One is that I love to think slowly and immerse myself in the past and think about how people responded to oppression in the past. But I also want to be involved in how people are responding to oppression and violence and marginalization in the present. So, thinking, especially globally at this moment, thinking about social movements globally, has really informed the kind of networking that I want to do. I love being able to go between those two spaces as an academic and as a human being – it is very fulfilling.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
All the bureaucracy! The bureaucracy – I think some of us come to academia for the love of learning because we are lifelong learners. I am a teacher and even though I am instructing students, part of it is that I don’t want to stop learning and I don’t want to stop learning from them. I learn so many things on a daily basis from my students. It’s really reciprocal – I try to make it as much reciprocal relationship [as I can]- from the undergrads, from the graduate students. But yeah, bureaucracy is a thing, and it really does hamper how we’re able to engage in what we love to do.
Also, it’s the politics. I teach differently now than I did when I first came to the University of Iowa, and it’s only been five years but in five years so much has changed. The pandemic really shaped – further if anything – the polarities in our politics in the US. I’ll mention the recent shootings at UNC Chapel Hill and during the summer there was a stabbing of a gender studies professor in Canada. So, I know, I speak for myself and I think for many of my colleagues, it does feel frightening especially when you teach “controversial topics” but the person at UNC was just working in a lab… But the idea that somehow this space, the teaching spaces, is not safe and the wild thing and the sad thing is that, especially the undergrads I’m teaching, they’ve been living with this for their entire lives; their entire K-12 experience has been mired by violence and the specter of violence – horrific violence. So, it has inflected in ways that often take my breath of away - how I propose ideas, how I engage students, how I engage my colleagues about what we’re doing. I wonder what the world would be like, what my thinking would be like, what my capacity to think new things with my students would be like if [violence] were not constantly hovering over me.
Even with as hard and difficult teaching is, what do you find the most rewarding part of your job to be?
I find that every time I step into a classroom it is new. I always remind my students that even though we could be reading something that was written – like we just did this past week - things that were written decades before they were born… that they are thinking new thoughts because they are thinking them in a collective space with other human beings they’ve never sat with. So therefore, this is new, and we should think about this like a moment that is ready for explosive new thinking. I constantly remind them of that. Each new year of teaching – that’s what I mediate on, “This is going to be new every time.” People twist and turn some of these ideas in ways that maybe we had thought about them at some point, and they were just left there and now they’re being brought back and why?
What do you wish people knew about your fields?
Given that women, gender and sexuality studies is sort of on the chopping block – that especially in places like Florida & Iowa, places where they would do away with it if they could - what I hear back from other students and other faculty… I have a feeling that students would be really angry if some of these programs were lost. There will be a backlash to the backlash.
It was weird, I had this like onslaught of students who I had taught in previous years in the last two weeks all want to talk to me and call me and come to my office hours because they’re back at the University of Iowa doing graduate work, they’re doing all these things. They just want to check in with me which is beautiful and lovely and sweet and amazing that they want to check in with their gender studies professor that they had five years ago. They’re all doing amazing things – I have students who are working at the White House, students working in DC for different congress people, a student who’s working on her MFA, students who have gone on to do master’s in public health, social work, who are just doing incredible things – lots of community organizing and they all say that they had some of the most earth shattering conversations in these classes because they were able to thread the needle between some of the other classes that they were taking and that this is a space for critical thought and analysis.
That they were given that space in these classes – that, to me, is like, “My work is Done.” That they often, in their meetings or whatever they are doing, they will cite things that we read in class, or they were cite conversations that were had among themselves and other classmates in my class. They say, “I still reference that reading that we did on this, and I always talk about it because it’s so important to XYZ hat I’m doing now.” So, I think that often, gender studies, is seen as not rigorous, is seen as a discipline/field that has no application in our everyday lived experiences when that is exactly what we’re doing. Hearing from my students and a lot of them want to go to graduate school which warms my heart and makes me so excited for this journey that they are going to undertake in the years to come. It’s like okay, we’re doing good things. This is great and the media folks outside these spaces who never ever considered taking a gender studies class – it’s their loss.
How do you try to balance your work and your life and having a family? How do you value yourself outside of work?
I would say that if you asked this of my children, they would say, “She doesn’t she’s always working. She’s never just here.” [Lina laughs as this is an affectionate joke in her family]. I am fortunate, I think, that… I don’t know. Maybe, I don’t subscribe to the idea that we compartmentalize things and so when I first came to the University my children were very little and so often things happened where they had to come with me to work and they went and sat in my classes. It was fun and it was amazing, and they asked lots of questions – I would have to say, “I know you seem to be very enthusiastic but let the people who are paying tuition ask a couple of questions.” Then my students would be like, “No actually, that’s a very thoughtful question, I do want to know the answer to that.” So, they’ve seen what I’ve done and I do try, as much as I can, to bring them into what I do because they are so much – I mean my children have been with me from the moment I started my dissertation – they came from me when I first started this journey. They are greatest thing I’ve created, and I can’t wait to see what they continue to do – they’re super radical and thoughtful in their own right and so conscientious. They blow my mind every time I think of some of the conversations I have with them, I’m like, “How did you even formulate this in your mind.” But it’s obvious they’re reading their own things, they’re coming to their own understanding of certain things on their own terms, they don’t always agree with me – like let’s go, let’s have a conversation, let’s do this.
Then, I have a great, wonderful partner who’s always been very supportive –who loves that that’s our house and maybe it would be nice to have less seepage of work into stuff but I also feel like that’s our life. It goes back and forth, and I try not to create too many boundaries in between things – but I think one of the things that really keeps me grounded as much as I can is that I look to my children to tell me what I need to do to help prepare the generations that are coming just ahead of you. That’s what keeps me grounded – fundamentally, I’m doing this for my children and their children – how am I supporting that – so that they can have all the thoughts, and write all the things, and paint and draw and live and exist in a space that I got to exist in so that I can do what I’m doing now.
Where do you draw your inspiration from both in your work and in your fashion inspiration?
I was just talking to a friend of mine about this. I grew up in the 90s where we sort of smashed a lot of fashion together then. I grew up in an area in California where you could be, “both and.” You could be really grungy one day and then the next day just be really mod and the next day you could do a riff on prairie chic or whatever. It was just a constant revolving door. I was thinking about this the other day because I have people ask me how, “do I do resale.” There is a method to all this chaos.
I’ve been thoughtfully thrifting from my sophomore year of high school. There is a place in San Jose called Crossroads and there are Crossroads all over the country but there was a really great one in San Jose and there were a couple [people] that worked there – when I was in high school who then spun off and opened up other places similar to Revival. Everybody knew each other and I’ve worked with some of them in retail and other places and I always wanted to work at Crossroads, and they NEVER hired me – that’s for another day. But it drew so much inspiration from like the raver scene – I was a raver – then I was super into “alternative rock,” so I did that.
I just mashed all those things together and there are pieces that I have that are still from high school. They are not a lot and I treat those with lots of care. But one of the things for me is that clothes are a momentary gift – you hold onto them, you wear them, you take care of them, and then you let them go to be a gift for someone else. I love that – I love, it might seem silly to say, but I love going to Revival and being like, “Which of my colleagues sold this here?” Then people, will be like, “Look at this beautiful sweater I got,” and I have to tell them it was mine.
[I have to not here – Lina so consistently sells us exquisite pieces I can almost promise you that, if you are reading this, you have a piece of Lina’s clothing in your closet.]
The fact that we throw so much stuff away… I had a sweet although, angsty conversation with my child who misunderstood, “Babe that’s trash.” They thought I meant the outfit was trash – no, it’s fast fashion. There are certain pieces of clothing that are meant to be worn once or twice and then people are going to throw them away. So, what you want to do is invest in things sometimes that are more expensive but that will last longer and then have a life for something else. It may not become a staple in your closet, but it’s something you wear several times and then it moves on to become someone else’s. That, for me, has always been a source of creativity and, am I in my feels because the 90s are back? Absolutely 100%.
When I go out of state to a conference of something else, I love me some thrifts. I wonder, once I’ve done my thing with this, I wonder where it will go when I sell it at Revival – how it will join the ecosystem of shared community clothes in Iowa City – this thing that I got in New York or Austin. It is so funny to me because for me this is a sacred thing – I love to sift – I go by myself. I have mapped out good resale places, I look them up and that they’re well known for something. I put on my music and I’m like just – let me feel the fabrics, let me look at these colors, let me just enjoy this for a minute and I’ve been doing it for at least over 25 years. It’s my thing and I love it.
Do you remember when you first started shopping at Revival?
I do remember. It was hilarious. I want to say it was maybe in January when you guys do the half off sale. I had gone in other times, but it was more like me trying to figure things out. It was bananas – you guys had set up - this was before the remodel – you had set up little tents in the back storage area. We were like, “What?” and then Sheila came out of some space and was just like, “Go! It’s fine! Just go in there!” There were a bunch of us holding on to stuff looking at each other like. “Are we gonna?” We were also so sweaty because we were in our winter coats and all our stuff. So, I’m in one of the little pod things trying things on and there was a person next to me and she and I are cracking up because we are [insert image of making yourself into a pretzel to fit in the small tent]. It was so hot and we’re trying to get into these clothes and you kind of pop out at the same time and look at this little mirror and looking at each other like, “That looks really good on you and that looks really good on you!”
To affirm the comments from others – it was such a community, communal experience and we were all just talking to each other and sweating together en masse panic buying everything because it was 50% off. I was like this is going to be a good place – this is going to be great and everybody that was working – all the folks – was just like a madhouse and the buzz was so good. I realized this was my place.
Why do you shop at Revival / what is something unique about revival and the secondhand scene?
I have to say, of the places I’ve gone to – like I said I’ve gone to quite a bit- you all have some of the most beautifully curated racks. I love your racks. It’s just lovely – it’s clear that you take good, thoughtful care of what you bring in, your keen eye for what is on the cutting edge, what is hot, what is special. I’ll add, I love seeing people of all ages go there – that was the critique of some of the resale stores in the Bay Area was that some of the people that worked there were very catty and were very much like you are not of our people and like, “What are you doing here?” I remember friends of mine that were just not into resale, and they were like, “Why is this person being so rude to me right now.” It’s a whole thing – it’s a scene.
I just feel like that atmosphere, that environment that you all have created at Revival where literally everyone is welcome, people of all ages, all genders, just come up in here and look. You might find something – it is so beautiful and so lovely, and I love just popping in and random events are happening and I’m like, “Oh okay. A little champagne! Yes! I will do some shopping now, this is perfect.” That – it feels like a destination place – at least it is for me and after a long day of writing and working I’m always like okay I’m going to afford myself 30 minutes – a little me time and you have curated that, and you have done that, and you should all be very proud.
We hope to still be here in 20 years but where do you hope to see yourself in 20 years?
Can I do winter in Iowa as an elder? I don’t know, I feel like it is a hot spot for elders. I was just talking to my mother about this so I’m putting it out there – on the socials – I see myself in 20 years away from academia, away from this place. I will be in my 60s and my dream is to open a nursery for children, for like little babies for academics who are coming to the University with tiny babies who need somebody to provide care because we have such, and I mean hopefully in 20 years things might change a little but – but like I want to provide maternity care and childcare for tiny babies. I love babies – once they turn two, “I’m like, you can have your baby back.”
I imagine myself building a little nursery in my house and from 60 to 70 helping rear little, tiny babies so that my future sisters/siblings in the struggle of gender studies and other disciplines can feel calm that their children are being cared for and loved and they can do the things they need to do to carry on what they’re doing. That’s THE dream and then obviously taking glorious vacations places. I just feel like we don’t think about childcare and it’s so fundamental and so critical and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the love and care of amazing women who cared for my babies when I had to work.
If you would like to hear more about the incredible work Lina is doing within the Iowa City area and beyond, tune into her zoom lecture, “Human Rights & Reproductive Justice: Accessing Care.” This webinar examines the status of reproductive care in local, national, and international contexts. It will consider the challenges and opportunities that the promotion and protection of human rights brings to accessing reproductive care and features guest lecturers from the Emma Goldman Clinic and other national experts.