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Art Works: With a Little Help from my (New) Friends – Sasha Petrenko

Posted by on August 10, 2016

Sasha Petrenko is a San Francisco-based interdisciplinary artist, and one of 11 Art Works residents in the MAH’s Solari Gallery during Summer 2016. Sasha’s Art Works residency came to an end August 8. Follow her continued work through her website.

About half way through my Art Works residency at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History I was asked  to write a blog post about my experiences there. Of course I said “of course!” and now it’s the night before I move out of the MAH and I’m yet to blog a post. It’s time.

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Week one

For a few years now I’ve been playing with the idea of building a human size nest and now I had the space, time and facilities to do it. But it’s always hard to start. Sometimes you just have to start moving through the motions. Performing the process until your gestures feel form. I had donated some of my own clothes to the project to get things going ahead of time, old shirts, a scarf, some skirts to fabricate the ribs (warp) of the nest basket. The weavers (weft) would be supplied by the generous citizen of Santa Cruz. Little did I know that my plan to make the nest functional was problematic from the start. The pieces I’d sewn back home were too thin and the material too stretchy. But I didn’t know this. I didn’t know a lot! That’s what residencies are for, time to explore and exchange ideas. It was all part of the plan… right!

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Week two

During my residency I was also scheduled to perform with my collective The New Urban Naturalists at the Montalvo Art Center. This entailed my producing 6 cardboard animal heads for my collaborators to wear during a 4 hour dance performance about diversity. I felt a little overwhelmed. I’d managed to put myself into a fairly stressful state. In the month of July I moved, I gave notice at a job I’d held for the last six years, bought a new car, sold my old car and moved to Corralitos. Did I mention I had a birthday too, yeah. Not getting any younger either.

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Bear head in process at the Montalvo Art Center, July 2016

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Elizabeth Costello as Crow and myself as Puma at Montalvo, July 22, 2016

We did it! The Montalvo performance was a great success. Fun was had by all. Time to head back to Santa Cruz and get back into my test-nest! But I was beat. After a series of semi-all-nighters my energy was fading. How would I get enough fabric to make a human size nest

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Sorting fabric at the MAH, Summer 2016

When I returned from Saratoga I discovered that the MAH staff had added to my gradually growing pile of soft goods and made a social media shout out for more.  I got bags and boxes of donations of fabric! No time to waste, I began working with new found energy. Yes thank you Santa Cruz! And I led a drop in workshop covering coiling and twining that was well attended. What talented students!

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A sweet gourd shaped creation by a local artist. She said she’d never coiled a basket before! Hard to believe.

The next day I began to realize my time was growing short and my nest was not right. It needed to be much bigger. Earlier in the week my sewing machine decided to call it quits. But I devised a simpler more efficient means for processing the fabric thanks to some insight from my workshop students. The nest began to grow. Things were starting to happen… until I caught the dreaded summer cold! You too? Can’t stop now. Hopped up on ibuprofen, pseudoephedrine (the kind you need to show your ID for) and mega doses of C and Zinc I pressed on…

As I was working one day, wiping at my running nose, bemoaning my sudden sickness, a young woman came again to the gallery. I’d seen her here before. I greeted her with a sincere smile, though I was feeling pretty low energy due to the allergy medication. She smiled and said nothing. She spent a good part of an hour in the room where I toiled, feeling increasingly achey, and stiff as I worked to suspend my nest, then released it from the rafters to let it rest over night. At one point I noticed she was standing close by then she walked out. Feeling druggy and introspective from the allergy meds, I continued to work.

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My test-nest, on the ground of my studio, July 2016, Santa Cruz MAH

It wasn’t until later that I found the note, a poem on a post it. It really hits me as I read it again. Did she write it? I don’t know. It’s pretty fine if you ask me. And it encapsulates so much about how I was feeling. I didn’t share any words with her but this… if my work and process has anything to do with this kind of contemplation, I guess the day was well spent despite all the snot, nasal spray and nose blowing. It was a good day.

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Did you write this? Please contact me. I’d like to give you credit! And thank you.

My cold turned out to be pretty stubborn, it’s with me still, but thanks to this wonderful poem, and my chemical friends I set my sights on completing my nest for the First Friday / Screaming Hand festivities scheduled for Friday August 5th. I had honed my technique and began building the nest up as well as raising it higher into the “roof” of my studio. It was Friday and it was almost finished.

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Actually, the day after First Friday. Final strip of fabric in place before I take it apart and pack it up Monday. Thanks Everyone!

All day long people streamed in and looked, asked questions, shared stories. I had a number of my workshop attendees return to behold the completed nest. One of my youngest student weavers and her mother proudly showed me their most recent creation thanks to or despite my ad hoc instruction. It’s like we all have it in us, this weaving streak. Just a little nudge and it comes out.

Close up of my Test-Nest #1. Even though it failed as a functional nest, and it's sort of a hairy mess, it seems to be the kind of hairy mess that makes people happy.

Close up of my Test-Nest #1. Even though it failed as a functional nest, and it’s sort of a hairy mess, it seems to be the kind of hairy mess that makes people happy.

The night brought a mass of people, especially to see the Screaming Hand exhibit, but our galleries and studios were packed as well. Some friends arrived and with my new found confidence I invited the smallest of the crew, couldn’t have been more than 50 pounds ( 7 years of age), to climb into the nest. Oh my, it instantly sank about 6″ and I could hear threads popping and fabric straining. I smiled for some photos and tried to play it off as best I could. So relieved when Z climbed out and the whole thing didn’t completely collapse.

I was sad suddenly. My mission had been to build a human nest. Hmmm. But maybe there’s a reason we humans don’t build nests. They are awfully awkward to climb into. So much easier if we could fly! And bowl shaped nests typically rest on a branch or some other support. Ha! Well I guess I have some more chin rubbing and brow knitting to do to get this one figured out but for now, I’m satisfied. Test-Nest #1 introduced me to so many new people, ideas and none of it could have happened without the generosity of essentially strangers, willing to share a little, let go of things, dream about what it might be like if humans made nests, if we foraged for our building materials, and could rely on our community for resources to help us find shelter when we are new in town or just passing through. And that’s what happened. It’s still happening. Right here.

That’s really what the project is about. It’s an opportunity to discover other options, make new connections. A manifestation of a community working together. The nest, whether it worked or not was/is a by-product. The process of the work, more specifically the social aspect of it is really interesting to me and what I’m interested in retesting again and again. I’d like to expand on that aspect as much as engineer the nest so it could hold more than a 3 year old. Though that’s far less important to me personally than building something beautiful. If it doesn’t bring people together but can house a human, I wouldn’t say it worked at all.

There it is! My blog post done. Don’t miss me too much Santa Cruz. I’ll be back. Check my website for upcoming Basketry Workshops in Watsonville this Fall. XOX! Sasha

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Visit Sasha in the gallery from July 12th- August 8th, 2016

Sasha is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary artist, educator and Artistic Director of The New Urban Naturalists. Her work utilizes sculpture, performance, prose and visual media to draw parallels between earth science and human relationships. Petrenko’s projects have been featured widely at national and international venues including the Headlands Center for the Arts, Southern Exposure, the Lab, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the de Young Museum of San Francisco, the University of California, Berkeley, the Los Angeles County Arboretum*, Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center for Performance in New York, Oberpflalzer-Kunstlerhaus in Schwandorf, Germany and at Kulturfolger in Zurich* Switzerland.

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Poetry, Empowerment and Play: Q&A With Art Works Artist Kevin Devaney

Posted by on July 29, 2016

Photo by Farouk Algosaibi

Photo by Farouk Algosaibi

This summer, eleven artists are transforming the MAH’s Solari Gallery into a series of open, functioning artist’s studios as part of the Art Works Exhibition. This week, the MAH welcomed poet Kevin Devaney, who can be visited in the gallery until August 22. Find out more about Art Works and follow the artists’ weekly schedules.

 

Hi Kevin, first off—welcome to the MAH! What can MAH visitors expect to create when they drop by your studio?

I think the most appealing thing I’m bringing here is that people can come and play with a typewriter. I have five working typewriters that people can come and put their hands on — you don’t have to be an artist, you don’t have to care about poetry at all, you can just come write your name. They’re beautiful machines and really tactically pleasing to get your hands on.

For the folks who are a little bit more interested in poetry as an art form but maybe haven’t really tried it out, we’re going to have a lot of interactive writing prompts based on other exhibits within the museum. You can take your experience here and translate that through text in a guided way.

For folks who are a little bit deeper into poetry, I have every single piece of paper I’ve been given throughout my entire poetic education from middle school to grad school. I’m also going to have bookshelves lined with every book that I found helpful in the teaching of poetry that they can flip through at their leisure. If there’s a particular topic or a particular literary device they’d like to talk about—line break, repetition, stanza—I’ll sit down and give everything in my brain happily.

Also, if anyone wants to come in and put down a packet of work to send out for publication, let’s do that together. Let’s look at different literary magazines. Let’s talk about how to format a cover letter. Let’s look at what order you want to put these poems in. If you have ten poems and only want to send in five of them, let’s sit down and I’ll give you my opinion on which five to send in. I hope people take me up on this, because there are some really awesome poets in this community and we are underrepresented in publications.

You have extensive experience sharing your love of poetry with your work on Pacific Avenue. Can you share what you do and how that experience relates to being an Art Works artist?

I sit on Pacific Avenue behind a 1938 Royal Typewriter and I write people poems on the spot by request–any poem they ask me for–and I ask people to pay whatever they think the poem is worth after they’ve read it. Now, that’s a fun way to write poems and play capitalism. I’m not going to be playing capitalism here; I’m hoping to have all the conversations I can’t have out there because I’m “working” my “job”–heavy air-quotes on both of those. So this isn’t going to be something where someone comes in and says “Hey, write me a poem about popsicle sticks.”

What I really want to do here is make a place for the creation of poetry and, in a larger sense, the written word. If you’ve got a novel and want to come in and work on your novel–please. Even just using one of these machines changes the way you write.

You’ll be hosting a marathon reading of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” on Aug. 5 What is this reading all about—and why Whitman?

I was assigned in a poetry class to read all of “Leaves of Grass.” [The understanding was] you can’t study poetry if you haven’t done this. So me and bunch of friends decided to have a potluck, open a few bottles of wine, and have a good time and read it all the way through. We thought it would take a couple of hours, but it’s four hours of poetry all the way through. To do it in a way that you’re using one text by one author, and hearing it, and getting all of the sonic textures of the word, I found I was able to connect with it in entirely a different way. So we decided, hey, let’s do this again next year. And we did. And the year after that.

It’s always been a really great experience, and you end up finding things in the text every time. The reason I was assigned “Leaves of Grass” is because it has been cited as the first distinctly American work of poetry, branching off from the British tradition. And there is something fun and distinctly American about Whitman’s work, so I’m really excited to hop into that. One of the other things I find most fascinating about doing this type of reading is finding out who the heck else in this world thinks that’s a perfectly legitimate way to spend their free time. It always introduces me to interesting people.

You’re also hosting the Chapbook Completion Group on August 19th. Who is this event for, and what can people expect?

The idea is that if somebody has come in a couple times, maybe even sent in some stuff to a number of publications and has a body of work they feel they want to get out, to find a group of people that are ready to put the finishing polish on a book and get it out into the world. They come with a draft that’s as close to finished as they can get it, and work with a community of writers to take it to the next level.

It’s really a gift to the community as much as it is an empowerment to the poet. It can be a force for financial empowerment if you’re able to sell it, or it can also just be a business card as a poet to be able to give somebody a book that you’ve made. It can be as little as four poems–or one really long one–or as many as a hundred if you’ve got the prolific nature to do that.

When you’re time with Art Works comes to an end on August 22, what do you hope to have accomplished?

I would like to know that more members of this community are empowered to empower others with poetic knowledge. Whether that’s a new book binding technique, a new poetic device, or just a self-knowledge of how to jumpstart themselves into the creative process. That’s goal number one.

Beyond that, I’m hoping to spend some of my time here during off hours to plan my next steps as a poet. My next successes that I’m seeking as an individual poet are to book live shows throughout the fall and winter and to broaden my publication base. Those two things are what I’m looking for.

Visit Kevin in the gallery from July 26th – August 22nd, 2016. Find Kevin’s weekly schedule and follow his Art Works experience at @santacruzmah and @kevindevaneypoet.

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From ‘science agnostic’ to extracting DNA from a strawberry

Posted by on April 13, 2016

By Teresa Ruiz Decker, Communications Manager at Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)
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As a kid, I never really liked science.
So it’s more than a little ironic that today I work for a STEM organization. If you don’t know, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. My job here at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) is one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s turned me from science agnostic to full on believer in the power (and awesome-ness) of science. We hope to do the same for you as a collaborator this Friday at 3rd Friday: Beyond Borders. As a MAH member, you get in for free.

It’s hard to say exactly why I didn’t like science. I suspect it has something to do with lacking a real connection to the field. By that, I mean I was never exposed to science or any of the STEM fields in meaningful ways growing up. I didn’t know any scientists or engineers. Back then, my family didn’t think much of it, but today we know that exposure to STEM (or lack thereof) has powerful implications. Studies show when children are exposed to STEM early and often, it helps develop early critical thinking and reasoning skills and enhances later interest in STEM study and careers. Yet for female students of color like me, that exposure and access to STEM is extremely limited. A recent study shows Caucasian girls (61%) are more likely to know someone in a STEM career, compared to African American (48%) and Hispanic (52%) girls.

The UCSC chapter recruiting for SACNAS.

The UCSC chapter recruiting for SACNAS.

The truth is, I probably needed an influence like SACNAS to show me the power of science to change the world and that Latinas are making stellar careers in STEM every day. SACNAS has been helping Chicano and Native American college students and professionals advance their careers in science for the last 43 years. You might be surprised to learn the national headquarters of our small but mighty STEM diversity organization is right here in Santa Cruz — but that is part of the reason we’re so excited about the MAH’s Beyond Borders festival.

At SACNAS, we consider the MAH to be a local nexus of community, art, and activism. Our two non-profits have a lot in common, since SACNAS serves as the intersection of community, science, and culture.

This Friday’s Beyond Borders theme is a perfect match for what we do because our SACNAS members (SACNISTAs as we like to call them) are pushing the perception of what it means to be a scientist every day.

This Friday, I’ll be at the SACNAS table where local SACNISTAs will be leading us in an experiment to extract the DNA from a strawberry.  I’m even bringing my two-year-old daughter Selena. I can’t wait to show off our scientists to the Santa Cruz community. And more than anything, I’m SO excited for the moment when I can point to a SACNISTA and tell my daughter “See that young lady? She’s a scientist!”

Click here to learn more about 3rd Friday: Beyond Borders this Friday, April 15th from 6-9pm.

Teresa Ruiz Decker is the communications and marketing manager for SACNAS. Teresa holds a master’s degree in Communication Management from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California. She received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. For more than 12 years, Teresa has used her love of storytelling and people in communications roles at universities, media companies and non-profit organizations. A true believer in the power of education to open doors and change lives, Teresa is deeply moved by the mission of SACNAS. Teresa is a third generation Chicana with roots in the Yaqui tribe, who is proud to be part of a team giving back to Chicano/Hispanic and Native American communities.

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The Aesthetics of Art Works, Our Summer Exhibition

Posted by on March 31, 2016

By Wes Modes, Exhibitions Catalyst

This is the third post in a series about MAH’s upcoming exhibition Art WorksTo read the previous post, click here.

In 2014, Ian Everard built a full-scale recreation of his art studio in the MAH’s Solari Gallery for the Rydell Fellowship Award show. He was content to let the installation speak for itself and showcase his work. With Ian’s jacket hanging on his chair in his faux studio, I always expected him to breeze in and start making art during the exhibition.

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Ian Everard’s exhibit at the Rydell Fellowship Award show

I continued to be struck by this installation. I loved how transporting his studio to the gallery immediately suggested work-in-progress. I loved how it spoke of the artist’s process– symbolically– but also literally. Ian later told me that he successfully used this installation for exactly that, as an artist’s studio in the de Young Museum’s Kimball Gallery for their Artists Studio Program.

This design was our thematic inspiration for the Art Works exhibition this summer. We wanted to create a sense of transparency about the museum process. We are literally and metaphorically removing the walls from artists’ studios in order to give people a twofold view of their resulting work as well as their lives and processes.

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Justin and Wes play with space design in the MAH’s Solari Gallery

This summer, the Solari Gallery will be transformed into a series of artists studios for our Art Works exhibition.  Up to four full-sized studios will be built within the gallery — open-walled and away from gallery walls so visitors can view working artists from any angle. Each studio will be inhabited by the person, art work, and personality of the artist-in-residence.

The MAH is always interested in forming connections between people, and a big goal of the exhibition is to connect our artists-in-residence with visitors, local community groups, and with each other. After some discussion, we decided to dedicate one of the four studio spaces within the gallery as a social space to be used by collaborators to lead one-day workshops, as a kind of neutral space outside of their studios for artists-in-residence to hangout with visitors and each other, and even as a place for Museum staff to have meetings. That appealed to us because it offered visitors even more opportunity to see behind the curtain.

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Justin Collin’s preliminary SketchUp of the Art Works exhibition

Justin Collins from the Exhibitions Team and I have been working on designing this space. I’m crazy about space design and a huge fan of Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. Justin is a genius with the nitty-gritty of space planning and at SketchUp. To start, we locked ourselves in a conference room with colored paper and scissors. We started with a brainstorm of what we’d like to see, and then went from there. In the end, we jammed the open social space in a corner with the skylight above, and placed the other three studios in the middle of the room at various intriguing angles.

We made lists of basic furniture we imagined would be useful for artists-in-residence: comfy chairs, desks, work tables, shelves, cabinets, drawers, lighting — all of which we will have to start gathering in May.

Photo by Penumbra

Living room photo by Penumbra

Since we wanted the social space to encourage conversation and collaboration, we wanted it to feel like a cozy living room. Comfy couches, end tables and table lamps, a low coffee table with collage supplies, a bulletin board with gallery events and other ephemera, books on shelves, the works.

Next time I’ll talk about concerns and how we addressed them.

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The Pure Brightness of Ancestry

Posted by on March 18, 2016

By Sangye Hawke

To learn more about Qing Ming Work Party and Celebration at Evergreen Cemetery, click here.

The Qing Ming Festival (Literal translation: Pure Brightness)  became an ‘official’ festival at the peak of China’s Tang Dynasty.  It’s believed to be much older. This festival, also known as “The Sweeping of the Graves.” or “Cold Foods Day.”  engages modern visitors as they take a moment to reflect upon the impact many diverse cultures, in particular the Chinese, have had in our local community. So, where is the ‘festival’ in all this?
The first historical recognition of the Chinese Burial Ground

The first historical recognition of the Chinese Burial Ground

The most poignant idea behind Qing Ming resonates with all of us: the remembrance of those we lost, and those that came before us.  Sweeping your ancestor’s plot, having a lively meal at their grave are things that many cultures honor. Dia de Los Muertos of Mexico, for example is held in November, or OBon of Japan is held in August. Pitru Paksha in Hindu India is two weeks long! These are times for families to honor and gather around the graves of their ancestors. They clean and repair the family plot, decorate it, tell stories, and visit with other families nearby also engaged in the “sweeping of the grave.” This activity acknowledges the ancestors’ hard work and sacrifice to make a better life for themselves and for us, their children. Depending on the size of your cemetery, it can get quite festive!

unnamed (1)America makes a business of death. Memorial services are private events. Our Day of Memorial festivities take us away from cemeteries and more towards an individual celebration. Rarely do we focus on grave site clean up or sharing a meal at the place itself. We pay someone else at the cemetery to take care of our family plot. The clinical geometry and institutional design in today’s modern cemeteries are for efficient management on a mass care scale.

When the Chinese Monument at Evergreen Cemetery was erected, it was done so with funds donated by George Ow, Jr., himself a resident of one of the last of the four chinatowns that once existed in Santa Cruz.

Yep, FOUR Chinatowns,  existing between 1860 and 1955 within a city then of barely seventeen thousand people. The Chinese did the work no one wanted to do, digging out and draining swampland for our burgeoning agri-business to moving, at the risk of explosion, volatile compounds like gunpowder. Laundry, cooking, basic household service, were all done by the Chinese and other folk of color in Santa Cruz. These  workers gave their lives to create  the city we know today. When they died, they were buried at  Evergreen Cemetery.

unnamed (3)As far back as 1861, there have been these ethnic funereal processions to Evergreen. The Chinese would drive an ox cart laden with musicians, mourners, food, and incense through the main street in town, up the hill and over it, into  Evergreen Cemetery’s   “Chinese Section.”  Here, the deceased would be carried to a chosen space while his (most of the deceased were male) clothing, some food, joss(luck) paper (or “hell money” in today’s lingo), was burned inside what we often refer to as an oven, but is actually called a ‘burner’, provided nearby just for this purpose.

EVR_ChineseMonument_ChingMingWhen the Chinese Cemetery section of Evergreen was in full use, the ex-carnation style burial practice of Bone Picking, removed many of those interred after 4-7 years, sometimes after 10 years. The pickers shipped their bones back to China to be reburied in their family’s or villages’ original cemetery. As Historian Sandy Lydon states: “The brick in the grave — wasn’t just left behind — and there was no religious or spiritual purpose for it — it was used as identification because they only used wooden grave markers due to the unnecessary expense of stone since the body was going to be exhumed — the brick was to identify the deceased’s remains.  They were tossed aside once the body was exhumed and his (mostly “his”) identity was corroborated against the company’s records and the village was identified so that the bones could be returned to the family. We are fortunate enough to have a very few of those bricks that were found when we began cleaning up Evergreen in the mid 1970s.”

Found in October 2012 by Sibley Simon

Found in October 2012 by Sibley Simon

If you didn’t do this, it was believed, you were condemned to become a hungry ghost, wandering your city and place of work, causing illness and bad luck to all you encounter.

Bone Picking and these elaborate funeral processions were as described here by Historian Sandy Lydon:   “The restrictions on exhumations — was part of a public-health initiative to go after Chinese practices — it wasn’t prohibited, but it was licensed and they had to get a permit for removal for a fee.  The unintended consequences of the permit process was that we historians were able to reconstruct the frequency and in some instances the identity of those being removed because some of the permits survived in various county repositories.   But, it was never outlawed.  And, it had nothing to do with Chinese Exclusion, but was simply one of many anti-Chinese impulses carried forth in California against the Chinese. (Santa Cruz was the epicenter of the anti-Chinese movement in California.)…   In fact there were full-blown Chinese funerals being carried out in Santa Cruz up into the 1930s — with drums and firecrackers, and roast pigs, etc.  

You can find extensive information about the burial practices in Santa Cruz, with contemporary descriptions,  and legal stuff surrounding them in Chinese Gold, on pps. 131 ff.”  

Despite all this, eight people were “stranded” at Evergreen, their bones unable to make their journey home to China.

Thanks to our friends at  Canine Forensic Investigators the Restoration Team know the location of these last remaining eighteen people. What we may never know are their names, their professions, or where in China they may have originated.

The red tassel honors the blank head marker

The red tassel honors the blank head marker

In fact, one of the last Chinese Grave markers was found in a tree house, as a floorboard!

Both the burner and replicas of original grave markers once seen in Evergreen remain there today as memorials to this practice. One is left blank, to honor all the unknown left behind here in Santa Cruz.

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As our population pressures increase, many of us no longer use cemeteries. Oceanic scattering of ashes is more popular than ever. Today, many families have photographs and other media to remember their loved ones, keeping memorials within the privacy of the immediate family.

This is why making our historic cemeteries more accessible is so important.  Places like Evergreen engage us in  telling stories of times past,  about heroic, tragic, and sometimes humorous ancestors. Taking time to sit alongside the grave of a stranger reconnects us to the wonder of discovery.  The past comes alive. We wonder, did we shared the same fate. Would we have been friends then? These experiences create a sensation of historical continuity. We become part of our community’s history, inspiring us to collaborate in the creation of a future we all want. Someday, our future will be another’s past. Maybe they will be inspired by our history and eat lunch at the place of our memorial.

Is there a favorite historical cemetery near you that needs your care and honoring? How do you honor those that came before?

To learn more about this wonderful Spring based festival and to participate in the traditional task of sweeping the ancestors’ graves at Evergreen Cemetery, click here.

Interested in Chinese History of the Monterey Bay? Check out Chinese Gold by Sandy Lydon. A must read!

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