As author John W. Gardner put it, “History never looks like history when you are living through it.” But the stories of ordinary people and how they lived their lives is vital to understanding our collective past. That’s one reason the oral history movement has taken off in such a huge way during the past few decades: It’s a way of capturing community members’ memories for posterity. For full story click here.
At the Biennial National OHAA Conference this week, we were treated to a keynote address about re-imagining a space that is no longer there but for oral histories of memory.
Re-imagining Salinas Chinatown is an augmented reality walking tour, both on-site and web based that is currently in the design phase. The only extant Chinatown between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the space has given way to a memory of what has been as there is no more Chinatown, but lots of memories.
The project began with requests for oral histories from Chinese, Philipinos and others who had lived in the community for generations in order to engage in historical and cultural preservation and to create collective identity.
According to Rina Benmayor, the oral histories construct important memory in the thirdspace, transformation of community. She uses multi-vocals, many stories all about the same location, with visual renderings to bring what used to be, back to life. She also ensures that current residents are given the opportunity to tell their stories as well. With a large population of homeless people in the community going on 30 years, Rina has found ways to incorporate everyone’s story through oral histories.
The walking tour will enable the voices from the oral histories to be heard. See the website http://walkingtour.puntoalea.com/ On the website people are invited to tell their stories to create the lived experience. This is all a work in progress. The purpose is to have people meander through the site, get a feel of what the life of the community was like. The project team is working with people born from 1920s to 1960s. They want a mini-documentary, which will be aired on Radiolab on NPR in a collage effect, bringing different voices together by which they can try to increase the listener’s attention span. Historical photographs and soundscapes will be put on the site. Most people have memories of the Republic Café which would be an ideal location for the exhibition space. The website audience could be people from Salina or anywhere and would be a useful on-line resource.
Rina is Professor of Oral History, Literature and Latina/o Studies at California State University Monterey Bay, where she also directs the CSUMB Oral History and Community Memory Archive.