Grant funds development of oral history walking tour

For six years, Professor Rina Benmayor’s students at CSU Monterey Bay have worked to preserve memories of the Chinatown area of Salinas.

Sign on the Republic Cafe on Soledad Street has been refurbishedIn partnership with the non-profit Asian Cultural Experience, students in her Oral History and Community Memory service learning classes have designed, conducted and archived oral histories focused on life stories and Chinatown memories of members of the Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Latino communities.

Those memories will be the basis for “Imagine Salinas Chinatown: An Oral History Walking Tour,” thanks to a $10,000 grant from Cal Humanities. The grant was awarded as part of the non-profit organization’s effort to collect, preserve, interpret and share the stories of California communities.

The grant will fund design and development of an interactive website as well as the on-site walking tour. By using the oral stories, the walking tour will convey the lived experience of the people and communities that have comprised this historic neighborhood.

Audio and video footage of the oral histories will be edited into mini-documentaries and “pinned” to particular sites on the Google map of Chinatown – existing buildings as well as empty lots that once housed families and businesses.

The website will also contain historical information, longer interviews and additional images. As people walk through the neighborhood with a mobile device, they will be able to hear the stories and “experience” the past.

Chinatown for me was a blighted down-and-out skid row. Now, it is a place with a richly layered past.
– David Lansford, former student

The walking tour will be one of the permanent public exhibitions of the future Salinas Chinatown Cultural Center and Museum, to be housed in the Republic Cafe, now a federally designated landmark.

Dr. Benmayor's students from Salinas often say they had no idea that Chinatown had such a vibrant history. Knowing this history sheds new light on other immigrant experiences, they say.

Since 2008, more than 90 students have participated in the project, generating primary historical material that is permanently archived in the CSUMB Oral History and Community Memory Archive. Eventually, the material will be archived in the Salinas Chinatown Cultural Center and Museum.

Learn about CSUMB’s Oral History and Community Memory Archive

More faculty news

Photo: Sign on the Republic Café, future home of the Salinas Chinatown Cultural Center and Museum. The museum is the cornerstone of the Chinatown Renewal Project, a cooperative effort among CSUMB, the Salinas Redevelopment Agency and the Salinas Downtown Community Board to revitalize the 12-block neighborhood.

In the video below, Dr. Benmayor talks about digital storytelling.