Anna May Strong was born in 1928 to Lewis Rufus Rhoades and Anna L. Clark. She had one brother, Carleton. She was raised in Bay Center, Washington, where she attended school through eighth grade, before attending high school in South Bend. Anna May graduated in 1946 and moved to Seattle in 1952 to attend nursing school. For all but ten years of her life, Anna May lived on the Washington Coast. During the ten years outside of Bay Center, she travelled with her first husband, who was in the Navy. She lived in Guam, Corpus Christi, Texas, Coronado, California, and in Tacoma, Washington. She retired from working in hospitals as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) in 1984. She was married twice and had two sons, Vernon and Eddie.
In her oral history interviews, Anna May never offers a single, comprehensive, and chronological account of her life. Rather, she weaves her life history in and out of the history of her family. Anna May emphasizes her family roots in the Bay Center area, both through the Chinook indigenous to the area and through the earliest white settlers in the region. Both in her family history and her personal life history, Anna May returns repeatedly to themes of intercultural communication and conflict.
Anna May says that she comes from “a two-culture family, an Indian mother and a white father,” and that “I came from pioneer white people and original Chinook.” Her great-great grandfather was Thomas Huxwelt, or Thomas Hawks, a signatory to the 1951 treaty. She also descends from one the first white settlers in Bay Center, Lewis Henry Rhoades, who homesteaded and “was at Bay Center to be into the oyster business.” Her mother, the daughter of Victoria Annie Hawks, was also raised in a two-culture family, as her father Loyal Lincoln Clark, was one of the first white people to be born in Bay Center.
These family relationships were often contentious. Anna May notes that her great grandfather, Lewis Henry Rhoades, “wanted all the Indians to be removed. He didn’t care where as long as it was out of Bay Center.” As Chinook and white people intermarried, dismissive and even hostile, attitudes towards Chinook culture sometimes persisted within the family itself. Anna May says that “L.L. Clark, Mom’s father, he wouldn’t allow them to speak their language at home and he said, ‘you aren’t you kids aren’t going to talk like them – nasty word – Siwashes in town.’” However, they would find ways to speak their language anyways, and when “their dad was gone out oystering and gone on business, they all talked in Indian at home.”
Anna May comments that her mother and father also faced discrimination for being a two-culture family, “Dad was picked on because he married an Indian woman, Mom was picked on because just merely because she was an Indian. And I grew up in that atmosphere and it does affect your life and how you see people and how you react.”
Anna May’s interviews show that her two-culture background has certainly informed her reflections on her life. Anna May rarely speaks at length about her own life, with the exception of the ten-year period she was away from Bay Center. She comments on the various peoples she had encounters with in her work in hospitals, from Native Islanders and Filipinos in Guam, to Hispanic women in Southern California. Through her son, Vernon, Anna May’s family has made new connections across cultures, and she is conscious of her family’s history in her thoughts about these relationships. She worries about her relationship to her daughter-in-law, Marcella, commenting, “I’m just as prejudiced as some of my dad’s sister and other white people were to my mom. I’m reversing and doing the same thing to Marcella when it’s her particular personality. All Mexicans aren’t Marcella. All Indians, one Indian doesn’t epitomize all other Indians as being identical in behavior and all that.”
However, she also tells a story of recommending to Hispanic children that they preserve their language, “I told them the story of how the Chinook language was lost locally. I said, ‘if the teachers aren’t around, you speak Spanish, if you’re used to doing that.’” The experience of Anna May’s family negotiating two cultures has shaped how she understands her life. She says, if she were to write her obituary she would say, “I descend from Huckswelt, and on the other, I’m a descendant of one of the first three white settlers in the village of Bay Center. That’s who I am.”