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Local Narratives at Center of Conversation for National StoryCorps Project

Santa Barbara Museum of Art hosts mobile recording studio for two weeks of tale time

"¿Que ves?" or "What do you see?" is one of Jazmín Gómez's favorite questions to ask Spanish-speaking visitors to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

The 27-year-old bilingual outreach volunteer welcomes people into the museum who may not think of it as a place for them.

But Gómez, along with the museum's staff, say the museum's works and space are for everyone in the community to enjoy, regardless of income or what language they speak.

Art and its value in the Latino community was part of a fascinating conversation between Gómez and her mentor that unfolded on Friday afternoon within the confines of an Airstream trailer parked behind the museum.

The two women sat in an intimate sound booth inside the trailer, speaking into the microphones that captured their conversation.

That trailer is operated by StoryCorps, a nationally broadcast radio program that captures the stories of everyday people, and, in addition to broadcasting them, places them in an archive in the Library of Congress.

As a result, many of the more than 50,000 StoryCorps recordings have become a tapestry of oral history that has an emotional and cultural value.

Santa Barbarans now have a chance to tell their stories in the trailer, which will be sitting behind the museum, 1130 State St., for the next two weeks.

An Airstream trailer is the traveling recording studio where Melinda Gandara, left, and Jazmin Gomez had a wide-ranging conversation about their shared experience as first-generation college students. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
An Airstream trailer is the traveling recording studio where Melinda Gándara, left, and Jazmín Gómez had a wide-ranging conversation about their shared experience as first-generation college students. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The art museum, the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission and the Santa Barbara Public Library, in collaboration with KCLU, sponsored the StoryCorps visit to the area.

Staff in the Airstream trailer will be recording stories from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Dec. 20.

StoryCorps currently has four major initiatives under way, including StoryCorps Historias, which collects the stories of Latinos; StoryCorps Griot, which preserves the voices and experiences of African Americans; the Memory Loss Initiative, reaching out to people affected by memory loss disorders and their families; and the September 11th Initiative, honoring and remembering the stories of survivors, rescue workers and others most personally affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Before StoryCorps' arrival, several dozen regional nonprofit organizations were contacted and asked to encourage their clients to participate in the storytelling sessions. 

Although every slot of recording is currently booked, people interested in sharing their stories are welcome to sign the waiting list on the StoryCorps website.

KCLU general manager Mary Olsen said StoryCorps had been recording in Ventura County before coming to Santa Barbara, and she felt it was important to have the organization capture Santa Barbara County's stories, as well.

Everyone has a story, she said, from a farmworker in the field to someone struggling with brain injury.

"These are the stories that are important," she said.

Inside the trailer, Gómez and her mentor, Melinda Gándara, spoke about growing up as Mexican Americans in California and their experience at UC Santa Barbara.

The women met when Gándara, who formerly taught in the Chicano Studies and History of Art and Architecture departments, spoke to Gómez's class, specifically addressing those who were the first in their families to attend college.

"I wanted to welcome you," Gándara said. "Nobody was there to welcome me when I went to university in 1978."

During the next hour, the women interviewed each other in a conversational style, discussing everything from poverty in California, to museum access for the community to favorite artists.

Other than a bit of prompting by StoryCorps facilitator Eliza Bettinger, the discussion was guided by the women.

Afterward, they hugged outside and were given a recording of their interview to take with them.

Click here for more information about StoryCorps and the organization's time in Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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