Edited, edited again, and still can’t find the right words

When you think about public history, you may not immediately think about sexual harassment being of significance in a profession seen by some as filled with the nerds of high schools past. In reality, though, I guess it’s ignorant to assume it doesn’t exist to some degree. In probably what was somewhat of a reality check, this became very apparent to me in coming across a blog by Professor Mary Rizzo. In it, Professor Rizzo speaks mostly of personal experiences regarding sexual discrimination aimed toward her as a public historian, but also dives deeper in defining not just harassment of a sexual nature but also brings to light classifications of harassment becoming more commonplace for men, women, LGBQ, as well as gender non-binary.

In her blog, Professor Rizzo pinpoints five areas of public history where bias is most prevalent and describes how each of these areas is basically a window of opportunity for sexual harassment and discrimination. As I read through these, I began placing myself in each of these situations and trying to rationalize a way that it wouldn’t be possible. As a man, I guess I felt a need not to believe that such discrimination was possible. In reality, though, every single example Mary Rizzo gave was a perfect segue for opportunity of such behavior. In reading this blog, it gave me a sense of embarrassment, both because of my feeling that I had to defend such actions but also due to the thought that I’d be so delusional. For the majority of this blog, I honestly found myself weaving in and out of emotion. To her credit, almost immediately after opening her blog in describing the discrimination she personally has felt, Professor Rizzo gave credit to the National Council of Public History (NCPH) and the work that is being done through their diversity and inclusion task force (DITF) in combating these behaviors.

Following this short acknowledgment in favor of the actions taken by the NCPH, professor Rizzo does return in giving statistical information regarding women who have experienced discrimination in the workplace via a Marist poll. For most, this may not be of any particular significance, though in my case It was. As an undergrad, I worked from time to time with Marist polls. It is for this reason; it seemed a bit off-putting that Professor Rizzo would reference this poll, because statistically Marist polls lean more right than left, but were being used in an argument which seems to lean more left than right. In addition to this, notice was taken to the fact that in using this poll professor Rizzo gave a little more attention to the statistics concerning women rather than applying this same attention to other genders with the same emotion. To a certain degree, in not giving statistical data for different sexes who may have experienced similar issues, it felt as if her first acknowledgment toward other genders was merely a reassurance that she remain fair in an article concerning inequality. Now, allow me to say here that in devoting time to this blog, I have spent time following the work of Professor Rizzo and feel confident in saying this wasn’t the case.

It was important to me in reading a blog of this nature that I get a clear understanding of how it came across to me, for the simple fact that I myself am a father. As the father of two little girls, one nine and the other four, it’s of top priority that I try and protect best I can for my children. In general, I think this is the same for all parents, but for a father, I believe there is more of a primitive, instinctive emotion to want to protect for those within one’s command. I desire that the world be available to my girls in every way possible so that as they grow their dreams are never out of reach, although in speaking from experience I have seen levels of favoritism even among other men. Now, undoubtedly, a woman should never feel as if her job is dependent on a level of sexual favor. Though in a world where we don’t have a major problem with a man taking advantage of another man, or Woman stepping over another, why should we expect there not to be discrimination across the sexes? It is my opinion for there to be a unified change across the board; we need to begin by respecting our own. I find myself conflicted in this thought though.

On the one hand, it brings me comfort to know that steps are being taken so that when the day comes that my girl’s transition into the workforce, such issues will long have been addressed and assumably corrected. Though on the other hand, it’s extremely concerning to think that while we live in a world where so much attention has been allowed to be given to equality and individuality that we are still struggling over the fundamental separation of man and woman. When drilled down to its core, this whole topic is very messy and has the ease to flex in favor of any given person. That in its self may be the problem. As I begin my studies in the field of public history, I look forward to witnessing the evolving changes made in this area. I commend Professor Rizzo for seizing the opportunity in tackling such a topic, though it seems unquestionable that this blog must be followed with more like it before real change will come.

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination in public history

Emma Tenayuca-“La Pasionaria”

In lieu of our normal Intro to Public History class, we visited the Rinconcito de Esperanza, which translates to Little Corner of Hope. The Rinconsito de Esperanza is a cultural hub dedicated to documenting the history of Westside San Antonio.

On this trip I learned about a prominent Mexican American historical figure, Emma  Tenayuca. Emma was born on December 21, 1916, in the Westside of San Antonio, Texas. Emma had ten siblings and lived with her grandparents. Throughout her life, Emma witnessed the poverty and misery that plagued the Mexican American people in her community. This empathy for others and drive for equality strengthened Emma into a courageous and passionate young woman, later earning her the nickname “La Pasionaria”. At a very early age, Tenayuca joined in the Labor Movement to combat social injustices. At the age of 16, Emma joined a picket line against the Finck Cigar Company, where she was arrested for her involvement.  

Emma Tenayuca, American Labor Leader | Photo Courtesy of The San Antonio Light Collection, The Institute of Texan Cultures at UTSA
Pecan-Shellers’ Strike 

In 1938 at only 21 years old, a courageous Emma lead the historic Pecan Shellers’ Strike.  The wages for pecan shellers had dropped to a measly three cents an hour. Owners were getting richer and richer, while only working one or two hours a day. Meanwhile, the pecan shellers, mostly made up of Mexican American women, worked from dawn until dusk and still did not earn enough to feed their families. Workers faced deplorable wages and unsafe working conditions. The inadequate ventilation and fine dust from the pecans contributed to a higher tuberculosis rate in San Antonio. Emblazoned by the sheer injustice, Emma mobilized 10,000 pecan shellers to go on a strike of 400 factories for nearly two months. With nearly empty factories, the owners lost a lot of money for the duration of the strike. Throughout this time, Emma was threatened and thrown in jail repeatedly but persevered. Ultimately, the owners were forced to raise the worker’s pay. Unfortunately, the factories mechanized their operations, which led to thousands of layoffs. 

Emma Tenayuca, leader of the Pecan-Shellers’ Strike of 1938 | Photo Courtesy of The Institute of Texan Cultures

The strike was documented in newspapers nationwide. It was a small victory but it gave the community hope and was a step forward in the struggle for equality. It showed that one person, no matter how small, can make a difference. Being a Mexican American resident of San Antonio, I gravitated to Emma’s story. Emma Tenayuca led a spirited movement utilizing her tenacity and dedication to justice. Following the Pecan-Shellers’ strike, many San Antonio residents ostracized Emma because of her controversial political ties to communism. Angry protesters sent numerous death threats and eventually forced Emma to flee San Antonio in fear for her safety.

Over 20 years after the Pecan Shellers’ Strike, Emma returned to San Antonio to get her Masters Degree in Education from Our Lady of the Lake University. Emma then taught bilingual education, and devoted herself to teaching children of migrant workers how to read. She continued to empower others until her death in 1999. This last part of her story is especially compelling for me because Emma dedicated the latter half of her life to education. It feels me with hope to think that I too can make a lasting difference.

How Emma’s Story Lives On

Although Tenayuca’s life was fraught with controversy, she has come to be known as a pioneering Hispanic heroine in San Antonio. Beginning in the 1970s during the Chicano Movement, scholarly organizations such as the National Association for Chicano and Chicana Studies recognized Emma for her civil rights activism. In 1991 Emma was inducted into the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2008, Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca, Emma’s niece, wrote a children’s book illustrating the life and trailblazing spirit of this San Antonio heroine. The book, titled That’s Not Fair! / ¡No Es Justo! is a wonderful legacy for a powerful Mexican American figure.

Most recently, Emma Tenayuca was remembered with an ofrenda dedicated to her memory displayed at the 2018 Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Pearl Market in San Antonio.

Emma Tenayuca ofrenda at the Pearl Market Dia de los Muertos celebration

Emma Tenayuca left a legacy of social change and an inspiring commitment to justice. Let’s honor her memory by continuing her fight for social equity.

The Danger of Reductive Historical Narratives

When I was a kid, I would often ask myself why, when I took courses on world history, the first half of the course was oriented around Greece and Rome, with brief forays into Chinese and African civilizations, and the second half of this history of the world focused on the industrialization of the west and the disastrous series of wars brought to the world stage in the 20th century by again, western civilization. Finally, these courses wrapped world history in a neat little box by showcasing the liberty and peerless strength of the United States.

The End.

Sure, for a kid this is far easier to follow than the complex series of social developments, inter-cultural exchange and the complex dynastic, religious, and political interests that created the world as we know it. It’s a narrative with an almost storybook feel to it. It’s comfortable and familiar.

To some of us.

Once upon a time, the Greeks and the Romans, (and by the way, the Chinese, Indian, and a bunch of other civilizations that we don’t really need to know about), decided to start thinking about stuff, making war upon their neighbors, and just be, in general, imperialist and xenophobic. Those habits are okay though, right? They did invent civilization after all. Well, western civilization at least. The fact that Chinese civilization had been flourishing for thousands of years before the rise of the Rome is reduced to a mere footnote. The contributions of the Yoruba, the Han, the Quechua, the Iroquois and the Tamil are the equivalent of a brief pause or an improvised joke or anecdote in a long speech. These cultures being overlooked in the classroom is simply unforgivable.

That story, though… it seems ridiculous, right? Nobody in their right mind could possibly believe history is a straight line that looks something like this:

Greece => Rome => Great Britain => United States of America

But many do. I’ve spoken about my love of history and tried to share it with many, but for a great deal of people, if the information shared doesn’t fit into this framework, it’s simply in one ear and out the other. It’s a terrible loss for all to reduce the blossoming of diversity on the world stage to a clumsily constructed narrative that only speaks to the experiences of one particular ethnic and religious group. While there are many exceptional teachers out there that really want to expose their students to histories that aren’t their own, (and by that I mean, not those of their own heritage), I personally never experienced that until I started college. My teachers before that had encyclopedic knowledge of the west, but were functionally illiterate to the histories outside of the European sphere.

Personally, I love learning the histories and mythologies of all four of the aforementioned civilizations. If you want more, however, you have to seek it out. These are the prescribed civilizations that western societies have chosen to define our culture, and in some cases, even reduce the complexity of other civilizations by viewing it through the lens of the American and European experience.

To me this is the greatest challenge we face as historians, and more specifically, as public historians. Not only must we observe and understand other individuals experiences on a cultural level, we must also attempt to overcome the inherent biases we all naturally have in order to understand and record their histories in their own words, and not simply transcribe it into language we find comfortable and familiar. All of us, even the most accomplished historians have so much to learn from others’ experiences, and it would be a great shame if we didn’t at least try to observe and learn from them from on at least somewhat impartial platform. Our collection of historical experiences isn’t a vacuum, nor should it be viewed that way. We simply need to make sure we’re all aware that our own identity and our own heritage isn’t the center of the universe and the only lens through which others’ histories can be seen. I believe every single one of us here knows this, and I suppose I wrote this simply to put these thoughts into words as a reminder to myself. I want to be capable of doing this, and I think it’s easier to say you are capable of understanding others’ experiences and histories without comparing them to your own than actually do it.

Forgive me for the all the sarcasm in this post, please. I believed it was the best way to express how ridiculous the topic at hand can be. For this blog, each week I plan to discuss a separate culture that has long been overlooked, and discuss the ways in which their histories have been generalized and portrayed in a reductive or romanticized manner, and hopefully contribute something to the discussion of who they really were and what really happened.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly — Past, Present, and Future

Finding your love for your hometown is something that you gently fall into. When you’re there, its easy to hate it — you can see up close the flaws and shortcomings that you learn to live with. It seems often that things will not change. That every weekend, there will be nothing to do, that the construction will never end yet the roads will never be fixed. My hometown, Corpus Christi, is precisely like this. And yet, after taking a walk in San Antonio’s historic West Side, I began to reflect on the historical architecture present in Corpus, and it is in this reflection that I realized how little I knew. Thus, I began to dig a bit deeper into the architectural monuments I so easily took for granted.

Heritage Park

Just as the name would suggest, Heritage Park showcases twelve Corpus Christi homes of historical significance, dating all the way back to 1851 (The Merriman‐Bobys House). Between them, one can see architecture ranging from Victorian to Colonial, speaking to the diversity not only of the structures themselves, but the long-gone inhabitants that are a testament to the diversity of the Bay Area. Members of the NAACP, co-founders of LULAC, Mexican-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans… the whole array can be seen represented in Heritage Park, not for the superficial reason of ‘inclusion’, but because the original owners of these homes made their mark in the coastal bend community.

What pains me about Heritage Park is that very little work has been done in terms of bringing this fascinating history to the public. A quick search for ‘Heritage Park’ reveals that the historic site has no website, no social media — hardly a trace! It is only within the last few days that I learned the park itself was used for anything other than special events. Sure, most Corpus Christians know of the historical site, but of its history? What a tragedy! Most of the online reviews are about the types of pokemon you can find there on Pokemon Go! All this to say, taking this Public History course has allowed me to appreciate Heritage Park much more, and additionally it has allowed me to realize how desperately it is in need of a good public historian.

The Art Museum of South Texas

Any art museum houses hundreds of individual pieces of breathtaking art. But can the building itself be called art? Only naturally. At the Art Museum of South Texas much care has been put into the architecture of the two buildings — one from 1972, one from 2006. The original building, crafted by Philip Johnson is a love letter to the region, constructed of shells, sand, and concrete (a.k.a. shellcrete) and fashioned into a castle reminiscent of adobe style homes, perfect for keeping the sticky heat and humidity away from the precious pieces within. Much of this I knew, as my mother was once obsessed with the structure of the museum, pulling out her little architecture book and flipping to the page that featured our hometown museum any time it would come up in conversation with our guests.

South texas Museum of Art
The two buildings of the South Texas Art Museum coexisting!
In 2006, Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta was brought in to design a new addition to the museum, and that, he certainly did. Where the original building was old school adobe, the new building was the definition of modern, complete with black pyramids on the roof and a hot pink accent at the entrance. My mother was livid, but I personally think the two styles compliment one another, the old and the new, the rounded and the decidedly sharp. If you pay the museum a visit now, you’ll be able to see the two together, and appreciate each artist’s input. Don’t worry, student entry is a measly $4!

The Harbor Bridge

Of all the interesting and historic architecture in Corpus, however, there is one thing that stands apart — the iconic Harbor Bridge, and its skeleton-like silhouette. Finished in 1959, it stands at 243 ft. tall. (You can see more specs here. ) But despite its iconic status and sixty years of service, the end is nigh for this beloved Corpus Christi monument. My grandmother would describe how she used to take a ferry boat across the channel that the Harbor Bridge connects, and that the bridge brought that era to an end. Nowadays it seems as though the bridge will now be left in the dust, a plan for a new bridge already being put into action, its completion expected in 2021.

Corpus Christi Harbor bridge, lit up in rainbow LEDs
The CC Harbor Bridge, lit up for pride month. Captured by my awful camera
Ordinarily, I am very much “out with the old and in with the new”, but there is something uniquely nostalgic about crossing the bridge to go to the beach or the Texas State Aquarium. Ask any resident, and they’ll express their sorrow about the loss of the bridge, although it may be for the best. The new bridge will be significantly higher, allowing cruise ships and larger shipping vessels to enter the Port of Corpus Christi. I do hope I’ll be in town when its time to say our final goodbyes, but if not, I’ll know its in a better place — bridge heaven.

In conclusion, I prompt my readers to think about the architecture of their hometown, wherever that may be. There’s no town too small or city too big not to have key buildings that made an impression on you, whether you hung around them very much or not. Leave a comment telling me where you’re from and which buildings remind you most of your life growing up, or which you consider ‘classic hometown’.

Pushing Back at Gentrification: A Tale of Two Cities

Change, it is the one constant in the story of human history.  Nothing stays the same, attempting to fight change is an exercise in futility.  To survive the change of time all things must adapt and adjust to a new paradigm.  Failure to change means death, whether we are discussing dinosaurs or giant corporations.  Sometimes change can be beneficial, things shift in a positive direction and people’s lives improve.  Other times changes are not so good, life becomes more difficult or important knowledge is lost.  One of the byproducts of change is gentrification.  Some argue that gentrification is good because it revitalizes blighted neighborhoods; contrarily it’s a force of destruction of personal history and economically disadvantaged people.  How can a historic neighborhood hold on to its history and benefit the people who currently live there?

San Antonio:  The Historic West Side

Walking along the streets of the historic west side of San Antonio the surrounding history is palatable, however so is the destruction of that history.  Land speculators are leaving lots empty in hopes of a big payday sometime in the future while razing older properties and replacing them with buildings that are more modern.  This leads to the destruction of the community’s history and forces the people who live there to move due to rising rents and other economic hardships.  The Esperanza Center has been pushing back against these speculators in an attempt to hold on to the history and culture of the neighborhood for the people that live there.  Their approach is to acquire properties and restore them for new tenants or re-purpose them so that they will avoid being torn down.  This is a good approach but the speculators impede the process by leaving lots empty lots or even worse, hampering the attempts to improve the neighborhood by placing fences on their properties in inconvenient places.  Their approach is direct but requires large financial backing and cooperation from local politicians.  This brings up another roadblock for the Center’s mission; the politicians are not invested in saving old buildings.  The people in charge are going to take their directions from their political donors, and those donors want to make money developing the neighborhood.  Current political climates favors the people who drive gentrification.  There are opportunities to make money that do not include saving the history of old neighborhoods; revitalization in the name of progress is the fuel of gentrification.  It is a tough uphill battle; however, the people of the Roxbury section of Boston tried a more radical approach.

“Faces of Dudley” mural in Boston. (Greg Cook)

Boston:  Roxbury

Gentrification happens when the local people do not have direct control over their neighborhood.  The blog Black Perspectives talks about the events in the Roxbury district of Boston, MA.  During the 1980’s in Boston, a couple of men tried to stand up and improve their neighborhood by taking the neighborhood away from the city.  Curtis Davis and Andrew Jones formed a group called The Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project (GRIP) with the goal being leaving Boston proper and forming a new incorporated city that the local people would control.  Even though Boston was the idealistic center of the American Revolution, its city planners were not so forward thinking over the years.  Boston became the most segregated city in the Northern US, making it very susceptible to the forces of gentrification.  In forming a new city out of the old neighborhoods, the people could stop this process and revitalize the area for its residents.  By spending resources on attracting economic opportunities that would not drive out the economically disadvantaged residents, the city would stop the process of gentrification.  Ultimately, GRIP did not achieve its master goal of independence, however it did succeed it getting reforms into government that would eventually aid the area and make improvements to benefit the people there.

Two Paths, One Goal

The Esperanza Center and GRIP are just two examples of people trying to control the destinies of their local neighborhoods and deter the process of gentrification.  I hope that they will succeed in protecting the history that the people in city hall easily neglect.  It is easy to order a building toppled when it is just numbers on a budget sheet, but to the people who live there those building mean so much more.  They are touchstones to loved ones who are no longer with them.  Preserving the buildings is to preserve the memories of those who came before us and made us into what we are today.

So, why do you study history again?

Important moments

I get this question all the time. There are actually many good answers but today’s answer is simple. It’s all about important moments. You have them often. Think of birthdays, baptisms, graduations, funerals. Your hope is to share these moments and keep them alive. What happens when these moments pass? Do you save photos? Do you write down your stories for the future? Where is your family history safeguarded?

House of Stories

Recently, my class visited the Casa de Cuentos that is a part of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. As part of this class we began to learn the lost history of the west side of San Antonio. Much of this history is told in oral histories and photos. While some of this history is on display in a recent exhibit at the Casa de Cuentos, much of this history is lost in photos that have yet to be cataloged and shared with the greater community. As part of our class, we walked the Guadalupe area and saw large photo banners that are proudly displayed throughout the neighborhood.

Conversations about history

As people ask questions about my class, I have found myself having some thought provoking conversations. Within my own family, I was able to find out that some of my family’s genealogical history had already been dug up online at www.familysearch.org I’ll share more on this later! As I came home and shared my story about class I learned that my wife’s family grew up right around the corner from the Casa de Cuentos in the Guadalupe area and may even be in some of the photos proudly displayed throughout this historic west side neighborhood. Today, those conversations resulted in digging though photos in the garage where we found some hidden treasures. Here is a photo from the Guadalupe neighborhood of my wife’s grandmother who grew up in the Alazan Apache Courts.

As we looked over the photos today, we started the conversation over what life was like for my wife’s grandmother and great grandmother in the neighborhood and what stories have been lost and what can still be recovered. Here in this photo, she is most likely a student at Lanier High School just around the corner in the 1950’s. The place where this picture is taken remains remarkably similar to this day. This neighborhood also raises a difficult conversation between maintaining a neighborhood and gentrification.  Last year the San Antonio Housing Authority proposed mixed-income housing development to replace the original housing development.   

As we looked through these photos, many questions came up about my wife’s history and I shared the history I found out about my family.  As I talked to my Mom about my family history, she told me about the initial research she did about my maternal grandfather’s side of the family. We signed in to www.familysearch.org and found out that a distant cousin of mine in the Rio Grande Valley had continued the research back ten generations all the way back to the early 1600’s!

Random book buying

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I often pick up random books on history and decide which one to buy. This last weekend was no different. I went to the Twig Book Shop at the Pearl and while I already had multiple history books in hand, I kept walking past the front of the store where they were having a book signing. I was curious and I felt it was one of those moments that I couldn’t let pass by. I stopped and asked about the book they were signing, called the Canary Islanders of San Antonio.  As I asked questions about their book, I let them know that I had some questions about my own family history who founded current day Mission, Texas.  I decided to buy their book and add it my list of books to read during this 300th year of San Antonio history.  I’ll let you know as I read it what I think.

Three opportunities

As I started this post, I talked about important moments. You have one or rather three right now. Are you going to let this opportunity pass you by like a Delorean on the highway or are you going to chase it? Do you have photos gathering dust in a garage or storage unit right now? When was the last time you talked to your parents or grandparents and asked them ‘why’ questions about your family’s history? You can also go to an independent bookstore and pick up three local Texas history books that strike your interest and then buy just one.

If you take a few minutes out of your day, you might just find out something about your own history that you didn’t know. This was my first attempt at asking questions and I already have three great leads! I already know why I study history. What are your important moments that you hope to share or uncover?

 

Culture, History, Passion…The West Side

During our time in class this week, our professor took us on a detour from our regular class discussions. Meeting in a place 15 minutes from the University and yet the feeling of the neighborhood completely changed. From the colorful buildings and beautifully painted murals, you could tell this place was special to someone. We began this journey in a small home in the middle of the west side. It was not big but not as tiny as the others I had seen on the way over. It did not look like your usual organization building and at one point I almost drove right past it. The building was small and was flanked by other homes, but it definitely felt like your family home. Walking in I had a very moving and surprising feeling, it felt as if I was walking into my great grandmothers home. The home exactly resembled her home, from the way the bedrooms are placed to the railings on the porch.  A woman who made her life in San Antonio on the west side and created memories with my grandmother and great-aunt by her side. It had been over 8 years since I set foot in her house and yet it felt as if it was yesterday that I saw her waving goodbye on the front porch.

I had learned a great deal that night in this ghost of a house. It reminded me of San Antonio’s rich history and in turn mine as well. We walked the streets of the west side listening to its rich history and remembering part of my own history intertwined with these streets. Walking towards the Virgin Mary candle that is raised off the wall and remember taking my graduation pictures in the same building.  Feeling such a strong draw towards this area and the projects that The Esperanza organization has, I would like to dig deeper into this history and create a project of my own.

My Great Grandfather was a full-time Mariachi and my great-grandmother a stay at home mom. My Grandmother and her sister were moved from city to city for years until finally settling down in San Antonio. They were poor and so settled in the San Antonio West side where they have lived for over the past 50 years. My grandmother and grandfather have told me stories of their lives before marriage and after. these are stories and a legacy that I think is worth saving personally and generally to give to the San Antonio Westside.

After my Great-grandmother’s passing her home on the west side has stayed in the family. If I was able to reach my true goal I would like to create an exhibit of a family legacy and I would like to incorporate other families that are not only my own. Creating this interlocking relationship of the community on the west side. To show the importance of the San Antonio west side not only to the north, south, and east side but to the west siders themselves. A community full of loving grandmothers, independent aunts, strong mothers, and inspired children.

Westside Stories

Historia de un hombre 

A young vaquero from Mexico wanted a better life for himself and his brother and youngest sister.  With the recent passing of their father, the family was left with next to nothing. The two brothers began their voyage to Texas to start their American Dream. The brothers took a cart, a boat and eventually a long train ride to the city of San Antonio, where they were dropped off and, walked with all their possessions for a few blocks to a boarding house on the Westside.  They found jobs to help bring their sister over from Mexico. One enlisted to fight in World War I.  As the story goes, he came back from the war, he met a woman and the rest is, well, history, my history.

These are the facts but the real stories are the stories that are not passed down on paper but the stories remembered and told over time.  Facts are easy to translate throughout time, but the emotions and the struggles shape the people, which then shape the families that make our communities.

Courtesy of Denise Trabucco
My great grandfather
Historia local: The importance of storytelling

The Rinconcito de Esperanza portrays the importance of storytelling of local family histories.  The Rinconcito de Esperanza tells the local stories because these are in fact tied to the local history of San Antonio.  From the old houses, which if only the walls could speak to stories of local elders. From the photos of nos abuelitos to the art para MujerArtes.  These are ways of Public History being put into action of the local histories of the Westside.

Walking through the main house and important figures and buildings from the Westside and never hearing of these left a strong impression on me personally and as a public historian.  Seeing all of the pictures on the fences and the timeline really stroke a chord in my heart porque people are able to remember family members and friends; it is esque to El Día de Los Muertos.  The physical people may no longer be present however they get a second life through the retelling of local histories.  I did not know such stories existed, just the stories of “Oh mija, make sure you lock your doors and use your Spanish when you go to that area.” and the other profiling images told over time about the West side.

Courtesy of Gateway photography
Graciela Sanchez explaining the murals behind her
…y la dieta?

Graciela Sanchez showed us the adobe house in back, which is the MujerArtes Studio.  MujerArtes Studio is a place that is led by women and helps women who are workers, the head of households and marginalized. Sanchez said that these women come in and say they do not know what to do or make and she tells them, “Tell your story, tell a story through the art.”  Looking at all the different work, I could tell that this is exactly what they were doing. From pottery with scenes for La Curandera to sculptures their family tree and traditional dishes.  What stuck out to me the most was the sculptures of traditional foods like empanadas and pan muertos.  Food and storytelling go hand in hand in traditional Latinx homes. When holidays are around the corner from Día de Los Muertos to Three Kings Day, food is HIGHLY important (ask about me dieta lol). Generations of families gather around the kitchen escuchar a chisme, to tell family stories (embellished or not who knows or cares) and to be taught the recipes that have been passed down for generations but never written. I remember when being told about my great grandfather and his wife, an indigenous woman born on land that was before colonization. This woman, Grandma Bella, is who taught my mom the tamale recipe that has been in our family for centuries.  When food is being cooked in abuelita’s kitchen, histories of many generations are being told by word-of-mouth and it is always important to listen.  I have never realized that food and storytelling were so interlinked especially in my own personal experiences.  The stories that are told during tamaladas have much more meaning because they are stories of family and local histories that teach the younger generations how to better the future.

Courtesy of Antonio n Bella Facebook
My relatives and their tamalada

Classroom Teacher and Their Place in Public History

In the ongoing discussion of what public history is and what defines the scope of the field, the focus seems to be on distinguishing the field from academic history.  One thing that I feel is overlooked in the discussion is the role that teachers in grades K-12 play.   This group of people falls perfectly in the transition from academic history to public history.

The Importance of Teachers

Grade school teachers are in a unique position in the field of history.  They can be a literal bridge between the academic field and the realm of public history.  Although our first expose to history usually comes from our parents and family, teachers can make a lasting impact on ones attitude toward history for the rest of their life.  Teachers keep track of new academic developments  in history, but they present the information on a very personal level that would definitely fit under the umbrella of public history.  Teachers answer to a local authority and will respond accordingly.  It is very easy for teachers to customize their lessons for their audience.  They are able to adjust the depth, scope, and point of view to fit whatever community they are working in.  This ability allows them to target the needs of the community they serve.   This is the very essence of what public history is.

The Shortcomings of Teachers

I would even suggest that classroom education  should be considered a 5th part of the public history domain.  Museums already offer programs to help teachers improve and engage their students, but there is still much work to be done especially at the lower grade levels.  The main problem at the lower levels is that those teachers are not exposed to academic courses in history specific topics.  This often leads to a more mythological history being taught at those levels.  The result is students who often need to be retaught basic history later in their academic careers.  Programs designed to work with and increase the ability of lower grade teachers would be an immense benefit to the education system.  This would improve the education at the higher grade level as the need for reteaching would be diminished; leaving more time to focus on the important topics and concepts that need to be covered during class.

Conclusion

There is a battle going on that most people are not aware of, a battle for control of history.  In this digital age conspiracy theorists and intentional fake news is displacing legitimate information and facts.  Classroom teachers are on the front line of this battle.  They are in a position to educate students on how to tell the facts from the fakes.  They can also inspire their students to continue to educate themselves and to continue their learning beyond the classroom.  Teachers would handover the students to the public historians to accomplish this continued learning.  By utilizing public history resources museums would not seem so foreign and these young learners would get more out of the experience.  I strongly feel that public history programs need to keep classroom teachers in mind for the benefit of society.