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Young historians, living histories of Sonoma county

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 | Posted by

The Cambodian body mapping project involves tracing the woman’s outline on a canvas, allowing them to fill the insides with whatever they want to express the feelings they withhold from the public eye. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Conway/Sonoma County Museum)

Continuing the Sonoma county museum’s “Sonoma storyteller’s initiative,”  a new project is underway for the county’s Asian and Pacific Islander population. Smithsonian Affiliations awarded the museum a $2,500 grant to fund the project, and the museum will match the funds with member donations. The initiative wants teenage members of Asian or Pacific Island descent to create 3-5 minute videos of their family and history in Sonoma county, to be displayed in a series of YouTube videos and archived in the museum.

Curator Cynthia Conway and historian Susan Milstein want to spend the next two months selecting teenagers for training. The pair want 12 people, and after selection,will collaborate with Santa Rosa High School’s ArtQuest program to teach everyone how to film their own videos. “We’re joining with video instructor Jim Helmer, who will choose about 10 students to act as mentors. During the school year, it’s going to be twice a week, after school edit sections,” Conway said. “This is living history, and we want to make story arcs show the impact of the art of storytelling.”

The Asian and Pacific Islander exhibit isn’t the first Sonoma storyteller’s initiative. Exhibits aren’t limited to a single art form. Teaching artist Mario Uribe curated an initiative focused on the Cambodian population in Sonoma county through a unique art form called body mapping. “It started in South Africa inside the Doctors Without Borders organization. South African women suffering post-traumatic stress couldn’t express their grief. Instead, the doctors had them draw an outline of their bodies, and fill in the empty space with drawings, clippings, paintings and words showing their innermost self. The results were startling: by body mapping, these women were able to express what they couldn’t say,” Uribe said.

Uribe used this method to help several Cambodian women in the county victimized of sexual and physical assault in the past. “They were very introverted. It was hard to get them to open up,” he said. After finally agreeing to try the body map idea, the women made their body maps, expressing years of guilt, grief and shame into a single, beautiful art piece. “Several of these women had granddaughters, and they told me they had no idea their grandmas were hurt like this. They learned more about their grandmothers here then any other time,” he said.  “This is history written by the participants.”

Sonoma state university professor Dr. Francisco Marquez co-curated a past initiative exhibit with museum curator Eric Stanley focused on the Mexican and Latino populations in Sonoma county titled  “La Frontera del Norte: Sonoma Stories Latino Heritage.” Similar to the Asian and Pacific Islander initiative, La Frontera was a series of videos with interviews from some of the historical Mexican and Latino families in the county. They interviewed the Carrillo family about their role in the growth of Sonoma county, and the Morales family’s impact on the area since coming in from the braceros program.

“We wanted to look at the role Sonoma county played from being Indian to being Mexican to being a part of the United States,” Vasquez said. “In other states, there’s a big denial to the presence of Latinos, but the demographics are quite striking. Right now, Latinos are pretty invisible.”

Conway wants to finish the Asian and Pacific Islander initiative before the new year. “The Smithsonian affiliate site wants its online banners finished by January 2014, so I guess that’s a rough estimate on the due date,” she said. Boys and girls 12-15 are invited to contact Conway at 579-1500 x 17 or cconway@sonomacountymuseum.org.

More people who identify as Asian live in Santa Rosa than in the rest of county combined. Here’s the breakdown by city:

Santa Rosa: 8,440

Petaluma: 2,938

Rohnert Park: 2,677

Windsor: 784

Cloverdale: 384

Cotati: 318

Sonoma: 221

Sebastapol: 88

Healdsburg: 31

Fewer than 1,500 Pacific Islanders live in Sonoma County:

Santa Rosa: 771

Windsor: 217

Rohnert Park: 125

Petaluma: 97

Sebastapol: 38

Cloverdale: 0

Cotati: 0

Sonoma: 0

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Ann Hutchinson is our Santa Rosa correspondent.
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