Last weekend ABC announced there would be a second season of Agent Carter, and Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree. Amidst the general jubilation, the devoted internet fan base reiterated what’s been its primary criticism of the show since its inception: a lack of character diversity. Author and activist Mikki Kendall got the party started:
The hashtag caught on like a house on fire, with fans offering up plenty of real-life examples whose inclusion would help make Agent Carter more historically accurate in terms of representation. Curious and inspired, I turned to the library collection for more information. Here are four more character concepts that would be historically accurate if they appeared in Agent Carter.
1. A Latinx* in uniform, civil or military.
In the companion book to his PBS miniseries, Ray Suarez tells the stories of the many men and women of Latino descent who served their country during WWII. These include Rafaela Muniz Esquivel, a second lieutenant in the Nurse Army Corps, who worked in military hospitals both stateside and overseas**; then there was Guy Gabaldon, who earned the Silver Star and Navy Cross for his actions in the Battle of Saipan; he captured over 1,000 soldiers single-handedly, and because that wasn’t remarkable enough, Hollywood made a fictional version of his exploits. Macario Garcia, the first Mexican citizen to receive the Medal of Honor, helped take Paris back from the Germans and was at Utah Beach during the invasion of Normandy; he also earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. Eugene Calderon, a company clerk with the Tuskegee Airmen, joined the NYPD after the war, and Dr. Hector Garcia, who could have opted out of military service by virtue of his professional position, chose instead to serve both in the medical corps and as an infantryman. It is not inconceivable, then, that Peggy Carter could encounter soldiers, nurses, or other civil/military folks in uniform as part of her adventures.
Rafaela Esquivel (right) with colleague Adele Bensis, 1943. Photo obtained from the University of Texas at Austin, which retains all rights. click through to visit source page.
2. An African-American co-worker at the SSR.
Black Americans in World War II, by A. Russell Buchanan, devotes an entire chapter to the roles middle-class*** African American women played in American society. Because there were so many jobs to fill during wartime, opportunities and training programs for black women were abundant; these included “training as stenographers, bookkeepers… switchboard operators, and file clerks” (106), making it perfectly plausible that Peggy could meet, and strike up a friendship, with a co-worker of color. Black women also served their country as WACs and WAVES, and were well represented in both civilian and military nursing.
In 1942, Crisis magazine published a series of photographs called “The First Ladies of Colored America,” a tribute to the important work African American women were doing. Buchanan’s description reveals just how diverse those roles and job opportunities were:
One started and directed a school for delinquent girls, and another headed a private school for Negro children. Some had successful business careers, often in partnership with their husbands.The business enterprises included a candymaking company in Alabama, an undertaking business in Louisiana, a publishing company in Pennsylvania, a fox farm in Alaska, and a chain of beauty colleges throughout the country. Some of the selectees held public office, a first for Negro women; one was a deputy collector of internal revenue in New York and another a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (105).
I don’t know about you, but I would love to see Peggy and a bookkeeper hiding from goons on a fox farm in Alaska, aided by a sympathetic entrepreneur with whom she thereafter forms a lifelong friendship.
Although Buchanan fails to cite names of specific people, a quick Google search remedies that, uncovering such fabulous women as Dorothy Height, Bernice Bowman, and Birdia Bush. You might also want to read up on the spy chops of Josephine Baker, the cryptology skills of Annie Briggs (whose story is included here), and the military service of Brenda L. Moore.
3. An Asian-American character who is not “the enemy.”
Although the Japanese-American experience during WWII should never be forgotten, it is not the only storyline available to a writer who wanted to give Peggy Carter an Asian-American friend or co-worker. Countless Chinese, Korean, Filipino/a, and Asian Indian-Americans played key roles during wartime. Shelley Sang-Hee Lee documents some of these in her book, A New History of Asian America:
Between 1942 and 1943, Koreans in Hawaii purchased more than $239,000 worth of bonds, an enormous sum for such a small population, and Filipino Americans oversubscribed by nearly 100 percent above their $1 million goal of war-bond purchases. Chinese Americans formed patriotic organizations, such as the Chinese Young Women’s Society in Oakland in 1944, which provided a welcoming space for Chinese American servicemen passing through the area. Others put their unique skills and knowledge to use against the enemy. Korean Americans who knew Japanese worked as propaganda broadcasters in the Pacific front, agents for underground activities in Japanese-occupied parts of Asia, and for the U.S. government as teachers and translators of secret documents….Older and female volunteers were channeled into civilian support roles, such as working for the Red Cross and serving as emergency fire and air-raid wardens (225-26).
And, of course, like other people of color in wartime, many Asian Americans served their country in a military capacity.
Portrait of Anacieto Soriano, Sr. (at right) and unidentified friend wearing their 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment uniforms from World War II. Copyright © 2011 The Regents of The University of California. Click through for source page.
With so many roles to choose from, the possibilities are endless. Who knows? Marvel could even give us someone from Agent May’s family tree. But whether they’d opt for a civilian, like actress Anna May Wong, or a military figure like those of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team , they would be historically correct in presenting an Asian-American patriot.
4. A plucky newspaper guy…or gal.
You pretty much can’t have a comics-based story without an intrepid reporter in it somewhere. Sure, Peggy’s job is a secret, but being friends with a newsie could make for all kinds of dramatic tension, don’t you think?
There’s the businessman angle, as represented by black entrepreneur John Sengstacke, who published The Chicago Daily Defender for almost 60 years; wouldn’t you love to see him go toe-to-toe with Howard Stark? For a more boots-on-the-ground experience, there’s the examples of Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne; Dunnigan started writing for newspapers at age 13, and Payne’s career began with the publication of a journal she kept while hostessing in a military service club. See also journalist/poet Juan Antonio Corretjer, as well as the husband and wife team of Larry and Guyo Tajiri. Plenty of material there for a well-rounded character of color.
Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg, but I think you get the idea. What about your family history? Could one of your relatives inspire a historically accurate Agent Carter character? Do you know something about history that I don’t (very likely!)? Share your stories and information in the comments section.
*Not familiar with this term? Click here for a good explanation. Suarez uses the term “Latino,” so I have retained that when referring to his work. Other terminology includes Latina and Latin@. If you’re not sure what somebody would like to be called, you can always ask.
**Many other Latinas served in WWII. Suarez does not mention them.
***The role of working class women in WWII is fairly well-known. What most people don’t realize is that African Americans held white-collar positions, too.
****Always learning. Please call me out on any mistakes/mis-representations here.