Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Voices present and past

Who lives in your neighborhood? There are signposts in at least two languages in California. And you can find many more.
I remember being fascinated when I learned that Mexico had communities founded by German immigrants in the 1800s, and that San Francisco has a Russian cemetery dating from the same period. People have been leaving bits and pieces of themselves and their cultures all over the world for a very long time.

Every once in awhile a nudge like this sign will remind me that as a writer I need to remember the richness of culture that surrounds us. Sometimes you have to dig a little for it as in the article I linked below. It's so good.

*

Author Susan Straight and photographer/author Doug McCulloh (Disclaimer: They are friends of mine) are doing a series of essays with images on KCET's SoCalFocus blog. This one about a cemetery, dusty and half-forgotten in the midst of industrial buildings, is a keeper. While Susan digs into the Native American and European roots of this place known as Agua Mansa, Doug captures just the right light to portray the fading, bittersweet past.


Thanks to them, I want to reach out and place a hand on the headstones and say, "You're not forgotten. We'll remember the roots, the bones, that are all our ancestors."

Check it out:

21 comments:

Tere Kirkland said...

Love this post! NOLA was founded by the French, bought by the Spanish, bought back by the French, sold to the US, all while the French, Spanish, Afro-Caribbean, "Americans", Irish, German, Italian, Greek, and the Vietnamese settled in. Since Katrina, our Hispanic population has boomed.

The best result of so many cultural mash-up?

The FOOD! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Tere: Ha! Yes, the food is the greatest part of the melting pot. ;)
I adore New Orleans for its patchwork quilt of culture. You can feel so many influences in the air.
By the way, Susan Straight's novel, A Million Nightingales is about a mixed-race slave girl in Louisiana. It's a deeply layered, beautifully written story.

Robyn Campbell said...

Oh Pat, what an interesting post. I agree that we need to experience different cultures.

And in Tennessee there is a most interesting graveyard. All the people were buried at the turn of the century. It too is forgotten. But I love to visit and dream about the people that are resting there.

Heading over now. (((hugs)))

Robyn Campbell said...

I came back to tell you how much I enjoyed the article. Agua Mansa Industrial Corridor will never leave my memory and Ivy will learn about this in homeschool. :-)

Jo Schaffer said...

Great reminder. I love following the history of cultures and how they blend and affect one another. My latest short story is about a hispanic girl in Oakland, CA. It was fun to write it-- and draw on my experiences with my Latin friends growing up in the Bay Area.
And weirdly-- I love cemeteries. (=

Wen Baragrey said...

I love this post :) One of the things I love about NZ is its multiculturalism and how awesome it is to have street names in Maori and English and often Pacific Island languages as well, not to mention Dutch and goodness knows what else.

Australia has even more cultures all mixed in. I am loving living in the middle of an area with heaps of Greek families and Muslim families (there's a huge, gorgeous mosque in our block). Our area's main street has the greatest collection of ethnic eateries and stores in Melbourne and I love exploring it.

Our lives are so much richer if we embrace all the different cultures around us instead of fearing them.

When I visited California, I loved reading all the Spanish place names and sign posts, and seeing the influence on architecture, etc. It's a wonderful thing, I think :)

Hannah Kincade said...

It is hard to remember the culture surrounding us. We get so blind and used to things we do and see everyday. I'm always amazed when I come across something here. Great post!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Robyn: Hi, friend! I'm thrilled that you're going to use this essay in homeschool. Susan writes some of the most moving essays, which have run in LA Times, NY Times, etc.

Jo: I can hardly resist an old cemetery. When I was a news reporter, I did an entire feature on some of the most forgotten ones I could find.
I'd love to read your short story!

Wen: You're right, our lives are so much richer for having so many cultures living side-by-side. California is completely steeped in its Spanish roots, as it should be. I'm glad you loved it.
I hope someday to get to Australia and NZ. I know I'll have a great time exploring all the culture.

Hannah: Hi! Yes, isn't it true, how we don't really see after awhile? Sometimes, I find taking my camera or sketchpad helps me see again.

Wen Baragrey said...

You would enjoy it, for sure :D Also, you'd have a free tour guide :D

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wen: :D:D:D

Jemi Fraser said...

Love it! I live in a richly cultured community - it's so much fun to hear all the languages when I'm walking around. Total awesomeness :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

What lovely imagery! Having grown up in SoCal, I can picture it exactly! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jemi: How cool! I remember being in Prague after it was first really open to the world again and hearing dozens of languages as people poured into the city from everywhere. It was an exciting time.

Susan: Yay! *smiling*

Lydia Kang said...

One of the things I loved about moving to the midwest was learning about different immigrant communities here. :)

MG Higgins said...

Growing up in So Cal, a Mexican family lived on one side of us, an Italian couple on the other. A Japanese family lived up the street and a family from Holland lived a few doors down. The smells--of homemade wine and tamales and fresh bread--and different languages made from some wonderful walks. I grew up thinking every neighborhood in the U.S. was that ethnically rich.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Lydia: You're so right. In pioneer days, many of them went in search of somewhere to prosper and became early settlers, leaving their cultural mark. Now,many new immigrants are searching and settling, too. It's remarkable when you think about it, really.

Melissa: What a great street you lived on! I like what you said about the aromas--that would be a good touch for a novel.

Donna said...

So glad you let us all know about Susan's KCET piece. Love it.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

My pleasure, Donna.

Paul Greci said...

Cool post, Tricia!! This year in my classroom I have students from Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, China...new roots in the making...

Suzanne Casamento said...

Ooo! Sounds great! I'm clickin'. ;)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Paul: What a fantastic bunch of students. It amazes me, too, that your classroom is in Alaska. There is such cultural diversity in our world/worlds and new roots, as you say.

Susanne: Hope you enjoyed it!