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Creating 'No Es Facil': A Visual Historiography

Creating 'No Es Facil': A Visual Historiography

I had won the honor of doing a presentation for the Chicana Plenary of the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Scholars or NACCS last March. As I have been the Technical Director of the Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Humanities project for the last three years, the nominating committee suggested in their congratulatory letter that a ‘multi media’ piece would certainly be appreciated. Oh, and by the way the conference room doesn’t have internet access!

A few days later I was working with Quinn Dombrowski on the initial setup of our CPMR site and I mentioned the challenge of creating something without having access to the internet. I didn’t want to do a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation because I wanted to have something linear, dimensional and layered. I also wanted the piece to be interactive. Quinn in her brilliance said, ‘film it’.

I called it: ‘No Es Facil (It’s not easy): Navigating the Split Seams, Cracks and Crevasses of a Chicana Feminist Narrative’

I set out to make a short film that would complement the prose piece I was writing about my life. I chose prose because I wanted it to be poetic, not so much for the romance of poetry but for the rhythmic timing and nature. As a filmmaker I had discovered that I wrote better scripts if I would write poetry first. It was as though the exercise of writing prose allowed for the distillation of ideas down to the briefest of rhythmic statements.  I liked the symbolic character words take on when used in verse. I felt that the words would then compliment the visual.

I wanted to demonstrate how, as a child of the television age, my life could be completely influenced in both obvious and subtle ways. The obvious is that I am a documentary filmmaker, focused on visually communicating the challenge that has been Latina activism in the US. The subtle is in the ways popular culture has influenced my professional and personal choices. So how was I to create an interactive piece with found media, stills sound, mapping and voice over that would tell my history? I would use layers and a timeline.

I began with the first layer, the mapping of various locations using Google maps manipulated in Photoshop to create a complimentary background. Over that I placed a timeline, divided by changing decades the upper right corner and specific dates in the left. The transitions would then be transparent and not jarring or distracting from the imagery on both sides of the screen.

Under the timeline would be statements from the prose piece as emphasis of statements either in the voice over or the live performance. Some phrases were translations from English to Spanish so that the cultural nuances could be appreciated.

On the left side of the display, an edited montage of found footage, all from you tube moving through the decades up to the point that I become a filmmaker, then all the footage becomes a montage of my own work.

On the right side of the screen, a series of still photographs of my life with some found stills of events and people from my life. Included are professional stills requested from feminist photographer Diana Mara Henry, professional photographers Kathryn Haviland and Genie Lemieux Jordan and Ernesto Chavez.

The transitions occur as specific dates are mentioned, the day of my birth, the day of the Chicago Riots (April 5, 1968) when Doctor King was assassinated and we were living in Ground Zero on the West Side of Chicago, college graduation, entering graduate school and the final date, attending last years HASTAC conference.

The last set of images is a time lapse in my living room moving from reading on a couch, to standing in front of the TV, back to the couch or chair reading a series of influential books.

The last image stays on the screen during the last two minutes of the piece that are live performance. It simply says ‘What does it all mean?’ The final segment refers to why the first thirteen minutes matters as it relates to the oral history work we are doing. I’ve included a few lines from this section.

What it means
For the young Chicana scholar
Newly minted in
Racine, Wisconsin
Dunwoody, Georgia
Or Yakima, Washington

Googleyendo
Wiki-pediendo
‘Chicana’ ‘71’ ‘ Houston’

Finding Anna, Elma, Keta, Martha, Evy, Rosie, and Virginia
Sharing their stories
About driving
About the walkout
About the big ‘O’
About becoming a lawyer
Cause otra Chicana did it
So I can do it too

What does it mean for her
now curious about the history
That makes her
want to love her Chicana-ism
want to know more

What does it mean
to the women we don’t know
That find our ‘cyber-place’
To tell us
That they were a part of
Los movimientos
In Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, Pittsburgh, Toledo, Mexico City or Quito Ecuador
to let us know
that they were there

The point of the piece is to demonstrate what is possible to create without access to the internet during a presentation, but more importantly what is possible in the way of creating visual historiography with the use of resources presently available. For example, I needed a clip of two lane highway in East Texas and I found a number of versions always accompanied by really bad country western songs! I used Adobe Creative Suites; Premier to create the film, Photoshop to edit the stills and create camera safe maps, graphics and transitions, Soundbooth, to create the sound modulations and Encore to author the DVD.

The response from younger scholars was positive. Everyone understood that I was relating my own history and formation to the events happening around me. I heard ‘intermodality’ quite often and how it was a great example of taking a personal history and demonstrating how actual history does shape a life.

One of the goals of our Chicana Por Mi Raza site and project is to present visualizations of cultural historical fact as those facts relate to the younger scholar. When I did this presentation at Wellesley College, I was a bit nervous about the Q&A. My concern was that the students, two generations removed from this time period might not get the cultural references. Television networks that exclusively air reruns, and You Tube have made all popular culture references a permanent brand within the culture of mainstream America. The students knew Bewitched and Soul Train, what they didn’t know was that April 5, 1968 is the day after Dr. King is killed and the riots begin. I found that particular omission from their understanding of American history quite interesting.

I’ve posted the first segment of the piece with voice over on our Vimeo channel for those interested in seeing the finished work. (Link: http://vimeo.com/53175870) The silence during the 1968 Riot segment is because that is a part during the live performance where I present what is happening at the moment. Here is that segment in text.

April 5, 1968

The first announcement from the loudspeaker was that we were going to have a mass to honor Dr. King. A few minutes later the next announcement was to go down to the basement quickly and quietly. Mrs. Perez ushered our third grade class into the hallway towards the stairs. Mr. Perez and his eighth grade class met us at the top of the stairs to the basement. I can still see the terrified look on the faces of those newlyweds as they met at the top of that staircase. Mother Superior stopped them both before going into the basement and sent them back to their class rooms.  In that short space of time, three Molotov cocktails had been thrown into the basement. The fire was out, but there was smoke. Police were now surrounding the school.

Our parents were called to come and get us. Mrs. Perez took us back to our classroom to finish reading Charlotte’s Web.  We sat frozen, listening to sounds of broken glass, muffled shouts, shots and sirens we could hear a half a block away on Madison Street.

That night, we watched from our front porch as tanks rumbled west towards Pulaski Street. Grandpa sat up all night with his 38 in his lap.

As I mentioned before, my videographer and I are mapping out how to present this work online. I have been asked by a number of educators to do this because it does a nice job of presenting the timeline of my life as it follows points in history.

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7 comments

Linda,

Thank you for sharing your experiences of creating a multi-media piece without access to the internet, and the ways that you were able use technology to do so.  I'm intrigued by the end result--the fact that they now want you to put your work online. In your discussions with the videographer, what are the problems/promises of opening access to the work?

Also, I tried to look at the Vimeo post, but the site requires a password.

Last thing, you might find my friend Raul in Romance Language Studies at Duke to be a useful resource as you continue to work in this area. He does a lot with art, multi-media, and identity.

 
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Sorry about the password issue, as Ben mentioned, it has been removed.

Yes, I will be in touch with Raul as we are planning a fundraiser for the Wisconsin Activist project that is going to feature filmed performances of poetry that will be integrated into a live interview of one of our activist women in front of an audience.

The subject is an activist that wrote award winning poetry during the 60s and 70s, a fact that has been lost to history. The challenge is that because the cultural arts always preceed social justice movement, how do we make the case for presenting the art and tying it to the interview in a way that relates the history and work of the activist to the art?

I believe that in presenting both the art, the artists reaction, description, interpretation of the art and the interviewers accompanying questions  and dialogue we will get the complete experience of how cultural art does indeed motivate social justice movement.

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Thank you so much for sharing this project with us Linda! 

Tina: the Vimeo link worked for me just now so maybe Linda fixed it since your reply or maybe try again?

The video combines so many powerful aspects of multimedia history with such clear implications for teaching of all kinds, inside and outside of schools. That example of your grandmother teaching in parables and your comment that "stories are easy to remember" made me think of the way images and videos also create lasting memories. Made me think of the Edgar Dale quote that we remember something like:

10% of what we read

20% of what we hear

30% of what we see

50% of what we see and hear

70% of what we discuss with others

80% of what we personally experience

95% or what we teach others

Makes me think we must remember 110% of what we teach to others by creating a short film! I also remember the effect that just a simple slideshow of historic images, for example of East LA – had on my former high school students, and when I talk to them years later about what they remember best from class it is almost always the things that they connected to issues in their own lives and things they taught to others. 

I am fascinated by your writing on the Chicago Riot and by these events as particularly contested sites of public memory. I had one group of high school students three or four years ago teach a lesson on the primary source "Riot: A Negro Resident's Story" and they had such an insightful discussion about differences between eye witeness accounts and how certain newspapers and mainstream media portrayed "chaotic violence" in overtly racialized terms and dug deeply into the real human costs of racist representations of riots. (Here is their presentation if people are interested to take a look, though sadly it does not at all do justice to the conversation they were able to facilitate). 

Thanks again, Linda, for sharing this and looking forward to continued conversations!
 

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The fascinating progression of our project along with this performance piece has been the Wisconsin Activist Project. This oral history project is entirely student led, and produced. The professor and I are merely along for the ride as consultants for content and production. These students are researching, collecting and interviewing Latina Activists from Wisconsin with the goal of recreating the network of activism that existed and continues in Wisconsin. Because they have complete agency in the process they are motivated and focused, making smart decisions on questions, and acquisition of original materials. Then there is the beauty of the multigenerational experience through the interaction with the students. Many of the interviewees have never felt the validation they are now experiencing for their life's work. They are humble, gracious and quite accomodating to the students interactions. One of the most pleasant results of this is that the interviews demonstrate a candor I don't believe would happen were it not for that multigenerational experience the women are sharing with the students.

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That is super exciting to hear. It is inspiring to see real examples of combining academia and activism and also the model of student-led research projects is so awesome to hear about.

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Thanks for sharing your experience Linda. For me it was very interesting to see the Vimeo link, once I was not fully able to picture what exactly have you presented. Maybe because it is late and I am tired after working the whole day, my cognition is not total operational.. ahahah

I had a friend in Brazil who faced a similar issue in terms of limited internet access. She had to present a multi-media intervention related with Korean culture, but the museum had no internet access on it. They used to have a wi-fi, but due to problems with the provider, the access was limited during the exhibition. 

She found as a solution to use a projector showing short video clips that were projected against a white semi-transparent fabric. I am not quite sure what type of light she used to create an effect that we could see the projection, but it was very interesting.

For the sound effect she use speakers around the room to give a spatial sound, hiding behind other pieces of the exhibition. Each video clip had small interviews with Korean-Brazilians. 

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I did have a glitch during the performance. When I went earlier for tech to setup the presentation, the AV guy wanted to run it from PowerPoint and I said I didn't think that would work and that the codec would throw the sound out of synch with the images. So he set it up both ways, running it from the DVD and from PowerPoint. So I start the performance and 15 seconds in you can clearly hear  that the sound is out of synch! So I apologized to the audience while he switched back to the DVD, which ran fine. I came prepared with three different formatted versions. One as DVD, one as an .avi file and one as an .mpeg4 file. You are always at the mercy of the venue with presentations like this and some of the planning has to include planning for the installation.

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