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
Or Yakima, Washington
‘Chicana’ ‘71’ ‘ Houston’
Finding Anna, Elma, Keta, Martha, Evy, Rosie, and Virginia
Sharing their stories
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
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.