Rita Rodriguez (52 years old) felt her heart sink as she heard the TV explain that a young soldier from Smithville, Texas had been killed in action in Afghanistan. In June 2010, Rita was working as a caregiver in Austin, TX; all three of her sons were active duty Army National Guardsmen. Rita told StoryCorps that she felt she had lost a piece of herself after watching the news that day; her worst fears were then realized when a phone call confirmed that her son, Mario Rodriguez Jr. had died in Afghanistan. (more…)
The 2011 Summer National Senior Games came to Houston, TX, last month, and thanks to Humana, StoryCorps Door-to-Door recorded the stories of athletes, caregivers, and the Houston community for ten days. In a MobileBooth parked at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the term senior was redefined. We met 93-year-old triathletes and 70-year-old competitors who began their sports at age 60. The Summer National Senior Games are open to adults, age 50 and up, who qualify for their sports in the States and Canada. Several athletes stopped by to share their stories after seeing the Booth parked near the Athlete Village, and we were excited when Patsy Lillehei was one of them (pictured in the first slide below).
This past week StoryCorps headed south to Austin, TX, for the 2011 South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Summit and Film Festival. Interactive indeed! The Austin Convention Center was buzzing – or dare I say a-twitter – with activity. Thanks to our friends at P.O.V. and PBS who sponsored a series of interviews, we recorded interviews with bloggers and web developers and documentary filmmakers. In homage to the interactive nature of the conference, here’s a recap of the conference in the form of a twitter feed:
Along with a great month of recording at the MobileBooth in Waco, TX, Team Mobile West also worked with local leaders to organize a field recording with McLennan Community College, a cornerstone of the local community that has been serving the Waco area for more than 40 years.
We were joined by Santos Martinez, Vice President of Student Services at the College. He interviewed Irma Lopez, a friend and student at McLennan. (more…)
Excited participants frequently ask us what kind of stories people tell in the StoryCorps MobileBooth. As Facilitators, it’s difficult to identify specific themes because we hear all kinds of stories on a wide variety of topics. In Waco, TX, however, I heard quite a few stories about love and first meetings.
Ruben Paul Salazar, 39, met Rachel P. Salazar, 43, online, but in a very unusual way. On January 10, 2007, Ruben was at work checking his email. He noticed a message from someone he did not recognize and realized that he had been included in a chain of emails that were meant for someone else. Looking closely, noticed that the intended recipient, Rachel P. Salazar in Thailand, had an email address that, except for two digits, was almost identical to his. He forwarded this email it to its appropriate recipient and added a cheerful message:
“Hi Rachel. Hola prima, hello cousin! It seems as if this message came to me instead of you. I’m in Waco, TX, USA. It’s good to hear biodiversity is such an important topic around the world. Have a great day! -Ruben P. Salazar, Chicano, cyclist commuter, community artist. P.S. How’s the weather in Bangkok.?”
The Las Palmas Library in San Antonio, TX, hosted StoryCorps for three recording days from August 15-17, 2010. My co-Facilitator Yazmín Peña and I facilitated several San Antonians’ interviews, including one between Jesse Treviño (L), nationally renowned local artist, and his friend, Gabriel Velasquez (R).
Jesse remembered car clubs from his childhood in the Westside. Their hand-painted posters and colorful jackets inspired him to pin stripe his friends’ cars. He was a serious young artist, and with his diploma, he moved to New York City in 1965. He painted portraits of Greenwich Village roamers and tourists, chasing his dream to succeed as a painter.
A Vietnam War draft notice came in 1966-his dream had to wait. He thought about art throughout his training and service, and took moments for himself to sketch his fellow soldiers on scraps of paper. In Vietnam, he got a care package from his mother and made a painting with its brown paper, brushing bits of color of a woman holding a baby. He avoids remembering the horrors of the war.
A mine destroyed Jesse’s strong hand and hospitalized him for weeks. I asked him how the war changed his art. “It made me more passionate,” he said. “It shook me and I started to look at things the way they really were.” Losing his hand did not stop him. “I’ve created more art this way, after losing my hand,” Jesse continued. Be it his foot, mouth, or prosthetic, he would paint with anything if he had to.
Ignacio Pulido, Jr. came to tell his story in Austin, TX, with his daughter, Adrienne, as part of StoryCorps Historias. We worked with Las Comadres para las Americas and the Austin History Center to record 12 conversations in Austin. Ignacio grew up in Laredo, TX. In his early 20s, he realized that there were no mental health services for Latinos in South Texas. He saw many children with emotional problems ending up in jail or foster care, and he wanted to help. But Ignacio didn’t have any mental health training.
We didn’t know what bi-polar was, we didn’t know what autistic was. We just knew there was something wrong with their behavior. We said, “Okay, we can observe behaviors.” That was our method. When we started watching the behaviors of people, we understood what was happening and their behavior told us what to do.
Another problem was that all of the materials available from the state were in English and were designed for middle class people. Ignacio translated the materials into Spanish, but it wasn’t just a language issue. Ignacio also had to culturally translate the materials for the Mexican-American population he was working with. One strategy was to get the fathers involved: “If I got the father involved in the program, the mother and children would follow. That’s what the culture indicated.”
Oscar Alvarez has always been interested in death. He was five or six years old when his neighbor was shot. When the police left, Oscar peeked into the room and saw the remains of the body. After that, he remembers asking his mom about death:
“What happens after this?”
She said, “Well, you have a soul. It’s like a little butterfly in your stomach and once you die, it’s gonna go.”
I said, “Where’s it gonna go?”
And she said, “It will go up in the air into the sky to heaven, and we’ll be happy for ever.”
“So that was the end of that. But it was always a question in my mind ever since I could remember, and is even now. I thought it would get easier, but it hasn’t really. We just don’t know until we hit that part of life. But we will find out. Eventually.”
After a long, long, long drive through the peaceful prairie of the Midwest, Mobile West headed south to the great state of Texas. Finally, we pulled into downtown Houston to begin our first Historias stop of the Mobile Tour! We will be parked at Discovery Green Park until December 19th recording the stories of Houston’s Latino/a community. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, some of our first storytellers came to share their favorite holiday foods:
Lizbeth Colocho, 9 (left), and Kierra Palmer, 9 (right), both love helping their mothers cook for the holidays. Lizbeth’s family tradition is making tamales for la Navidad. They remind her of her grandmother who lives in El Salvador. Kierra helps her mother make crawfish dressing every Thanksgiving. Kierra has helped her mother make crawfish dressing forever — that is, since she was seven years old. It takes a really, really, really long time to make–Kierra was emphatic. More than a hour!
Last week, StoryCorps visited Austin, TX, not for SXSW, but as part of our Memory Loss Initiative. Family ElderCare welcomed Door-to-Door to Lyons Garden, a low-income senior housing community, in East Austin and we recorded six interviews with some great Austinites.
Charlotte Flynn, who celebrated her 90th birthday on March 28, came in with her son Greg and talked about growing up in St. Louis and meeting her husband, Bill. After graduating from Washington University in 1941, Bill got a job working as an engineer on the Panama Canal. Three months later, Charlotte joined him in Panama. She told her son Greg about a night in Panama she will never forget :
On December 7, 1941, it was the first day that Dad had a chance to take me sightseeing in Panama. And it was about five o’clock. All the transportation were Army buses….and they all congregated at the train station. And were getting ready to go home and all the service men were just streaming out. And we said, “What’s going on?” They responded, “We don’t know. Get back to your base as soon as possible!”
So then we got back to our apartment and we didn’t know what was going on. We were just married, and we couldn’t afford a radio….Then when our neighbors came home, we found out about what happened. I was starting to fix supper, and then all the lights went out. And after a little while, they went on, stayed on for half an hour, and from then on we lived in blackout.
Every plane in the Panama Canal was up in the air. And you just heard that noise all night long, just zooming around. So it’s a night that’s well etched in my memory.
Soon after, construction on the canal stopped and Bill began working for the Army Corps on Engineers.
While we were recording at Family ElderCare, Julie Moody, a reporter from KUT, Austin’s public radio station, came to check it out. She spoke with Charlotte and Greg, as well as with Emma Long, who recorded an interview later that day. Visit the KUT website to hear more from Charlotte and Emma.
Abilene, Texas is “the big city” in this region of West Texas and StoryCorps Mobilebooth West was told by many that we hadn’t really come to Texas till we came to Abilene. After spending more than a month in San Antonio, StoryCorps came to park outside the First Financial Bank on Pine Street in Abilene, a community whose economy flourished in the latter half of the twentieth century on oil, agriculture and the military. In recent years Abilene’s population has grown to more than 100,000 people. No longer merely a “cattle-shipping prairie town” Abilene can be characterized as a “metropolis on the plains.” Nevertheless, Abilene still maintains a deep sense of quiet and history in its wide-avenue streets and industrial-style buildings.
Here are some photos of this West Central Texas community.
93-year-old Lucy Hofmann and her sister 91-year-old Alice Lowry came to share their stories when StoryCorps visited The Haven Assisted Living Residence in San Antonio, TX. Lucy and Alice shared about their family and a unique slice of American history.
Lucy talked about how Emperor Dom Pedro Segundo of Brazil encouraged southerners following the Civil War to come to Brazil and become Brazilian citizens. He wanted agriculture and cotton to be developed in Brazil. William Hutchinson Norris, one of the first original Confederados known to arrive in Brazil was Alice and Lucy’s great grandfather. Many of William’s sons had fought in the Civil War for the South, and one of these sons, who joined William in Brazil, was Robert Norris, their grandfather.
Lucy said that their grandparents picked their land by choosing a spot that reminded them of the fertile land they left behind in Alabama. The town that formed around this land where Alice was born, Villa Americana, is now the city Americana in Brazil.
Lucy and Alice attended a Methodist boarding school called Colegio Peracicabano that they remembered fondly as well as the picnics held every four months by the descendants of the southerners who came to Brazil. These gatherings always had two things: southern dancing and good southern food. Alice remembered the tables piled high with fried chicken, stewed corn, lemon pies, and of course, biscuits and cornbread.
After traveling much of the world throughout their lives with their husbands, Lucy and Alice are settled back in Texas. Lucy is pictured here listening closely to her interview on the laptop in The Haven Parlor.
MobileBooth West was privileged to be in San Antonio during the city’s first annual Arts Night Event, Luminaria. Video art and colored light projections, singers, street performers, dancers, glass blowers, muralists and other visual and craft artists, in addition to thousands of spectators, filled the streets, galleries and theatres of downtown San Antonio. People came to see the city aglow and celebrate its artistic heritage.
There was a time when Ginger Purdy (left), one of the most powerful advocates for women in San Antonio today, wasn’t even involved in the women’s movement. She was too busy raising her daughters on her own and working as a freelance fashion artist. She told her daughter Melissa Stoeltje (right) in their visit to MobileBooth West: “Back when the women’s movement started in the 70s, I knew it was going on, but you know I was so busy working all day and then I would come home and draw shoes at night just to make sure you kids got orthodonture, swimming lessons, writing lessons and all that. I knew that the women’s movement was going on, but it was not at the forefront of my mind. My three kids, you know, being the single mother, that was the thing”
Ginger’s story is of a woman who grew into the political force that she is today after being what she called a “traditional woman.” Though she had been involved in women’s groups before, the women’s movement hadn’t, as she put it, “come into her t.v. screen yet.” After attending the National Women’s Political Caucus at the St. Anthony Hotel–where she saw Sonia Johnson speak about how she had been excommunicated from her Mormon Church for supporting the Equal Rights Amendment–Ginger was a changed woman. She described that day:
“As I walked in the San Anthony Hotel, there was a big banner across the stage and it showed two little women; you could tell they were down in a hole but they were on a pedestal, and they had their arms around each other. And they were looking up, and at the edge of the top of that hole, you could see what looked to be the pointed tips of two boots. And the words said, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about all this pedestal stuff I can take.’” (more…)
On Sunday, Rose and Yuki recorded at the Casa de Cuentes, a small shotgun house owned by the Esperanza Center for Peace and Justice in San Antonio’s historically Hispanic and Latino Westside neighborhood. The house is also called Casa de la Misericordia because the woman who lived there during the Depression gave food to impoverished people who passed by. Back then, people in the neighborhood ran businesses from their front porches. “The neighborhood was self-sufficient,” explained Amanda, our contact from Esperanza, and it’s this kind of community spirit that Esperanza is reviving in the Westside.
The Casa had a warm, comforting feeling, and participants often stayed late after their interviews or came early to sit and talk in the kitchen. Old black and white blow-ups of beloved places and people from the community hung in each room of the house.
Esperanza is piecing together the history of the Westside by speaking with elders and recording their experiences. Through word of mouth, they found that Ruben’s Ice House next door to the Casa (pictured in the last two slides) was once a popular gathering ground. Esperanza plans to use the now abandoned building to house the oral histories it has collected, including those recorded by StoryCorps. One of the organization’s missions is to preserve historical landmarks, like Ruben’s, from demolition by the city. “Just because they are poor people’s monuments or they’re not big monuments doesn’t mean they’re not important,” said Amanda.
Harry J. Perez and his daughter Dana visited MobileBooth West to share their family’s history in the field of aviation. It all began with Harry’s father, Joe Perez, a former pilot in World War II. Today Harry, Dana, and one of Dana’s brothers are all pilots. (The other brother is a skydiver!)
During their stay in San Antonio, Texas, facilitators Yuki Aizawa and Rose Gorman were treated to a walk in the clouds by Dana at Stinson Municipal Airport.
Last weekend Yuki Aizawa and Rose Gorman drove 1,400 miles on Interstate 10 from Los Angeles to San Antonio, Texas. Our Silverado transported us through breathtaking Joshua Tree National Park – whose strange landscape brought to mind Dr. Seuss and The Flintstones – dust storms in New Mexico, and along the border past sprawling Texas cattle farms. On day three, we met up with our Mobile Coordinator, Terry Scott, and our pro driver, Joseph Priest (pictured last two in slide show), who safely delivered the MobileBooth to its new location, steps away from The Alamo in downtown San Antonio.
Austin lies about three hours south of Fort Worth, smack in the center of the state of Texas. The city is known for it’s booming music scene and off-beat shops and restaurants. It’s also the Texas State Capitol, despite it’s oddly un-Texas feel. We took a little road trip to Austin to do some exploring.
One of the city’s natural gemsÃ³Barton Springs Pool in Zilker ParkÃ³gave us a chance to cool off after a long drive before checking out Austin’s urban offerings.
At the heart of the city’s downtown, Facilitator Hilary Marshall took in some decidedly UN-natural sights at "The Museum of the Weird" on 6th Street (too creepy for co-facilitator Rachel Falcone). One of the last remaining Dime/Sideshow Museums, it’s home to many unexplained (aka. fake) phenomena and curiosities, of which this two headed chicken (below) is a classic example.
We also made our monetary contributions to the Austin economy. Unique vintage and antique shops abound in Austin, making it feel more like home for us (Chicago/Brooklyn) than anywhere we’d been in a long while. But Texas staples are never far–Austinites can still saddle you up with a good pair of cowboy boots.
As the self-proclaimed Live Music Capitol of the World, Austin’s many venues offer live music every night of the week. We ended our day at the top-floor Gallery of the Continental Club in Austin’s SoCo neighborhood, where we caught the sweet sound of Ephraim Owens blowing his horn.
We couldn’t have imagined the large role that livestock would play in our daily lives during our time in Ft. Worth, TX. We can’t step outside without running into some sort of creature!
This is one of the few urban places where folks can still ride a horse through the streets, so in addition to the cowboys in period costumes employed by the Stockyards (pictured above), there are ordinary citizens who bring their horses to the neighborhood for a stroll. There’s even a man who’ll let you sit on his longhorn steer and snap a photo (for a few bucks…).
Black and white Guinea Hens peck the grass near the Stockyards Livery, where the rooster hides in the shade. The Livery is just steps away from the MobileBooth and is home to many of the horses and steer that perform each day during the cattle drive.
The twice-a-day cattle drive is the Ft. Worth Stockyards’ main attraction. Longhorn cattle live up to their name, with expansive horns measuring up to 120 inches from tip to tip.
They sometimes pass within inches of the booth, but they’re very polite and never interrupt the recording process. When we’re looking for something a little rowdier, we visit the rodeo across the street at the Cowtown Coliseum, which celebrated it’s 100th year this month. Weekend events include bull and bronco ridin’, calf ropin’, and barrel racin’, none of which are for the faint of heart.
The Dickie’s Giant welcomes visitors to the Texas State Fair, the largest in the country! Everything at the fair is done up big, especially the two most important: food and rides.
Almost any food is better fried (by Texas standards), and we saw signs for everything from fried mac and cheese to deep-fried Oreos. This year’s top contenders included fried cookie dough, zesty fried guacamole bites, deep fried latte, country fried peach cobbler on a stick, fried banana pudding, and fried frito chili burrito.
Facilitator Hilary Marshall threw dietary caution to the wind and tried this years hands-down favorite: Mama’s Fried Sweet Potato Pie.
After eating our way through the fair, we hopped on North America’s largest ferris wheel to get a better view of the fairgrounds. We were reminded, once again, that everything’s bigger in Texas. Yee-haw!