So many little pockets of history exist here in the central San Joaquin Valley. The longer I live here, the more I realize that our collective social history lives and breathes all around us if we tune into it.
This past summer, I helped work on a story about Hanford’s historic China Alley with KQED Public Radio’s Central Valley bureau chief Sasha Khokha, who was given one day to report and produce the feature for The California Report. The trip marked the second time that I went into the field with Sasha during my summer internship. It was still early in the internship — only the third week — so I was still a newbie when it came to sound gathering. Sasha took the lead on the main interviewing and sound work, but she asked me to make photographs throughout the trip and to conduct one interview while she was on a tour. The gallery here features my outtakes.
I interviewed Elaine Stiles of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which designated China Alley as one of the 11 most endangered historical sites in the country. I only had about five minutes with Ms. Stiles at the end of the dedication ceremony, so I had to make my time with her count. I basically asked her two questions: What was China Alley’s greater importance to the people of California? And: What was her own experience like touring the alley’s deteriorating treasures?
Her answer to the first question made it into Sasha’s story. Her answer to the second question didn’t make it past the cutting room floor, but it stuck in my memory. Stiles, who also is a Ph.D. candidate in history education at UC Berkeley, talked about how fortunate she felt to see for herself such an important part of California history, a now-abandoned ethnic neighborhood where Chinese immigrants once found refuge from inequality by making their own small cultural space. She reminded me that when people’s stories are involved, a building is much more than just a building. And once those physical spaces become endangered, so do the stories.
Here’s the link to the final radio story, written and voiced by Sasha Khokha. Here’s another link to a similar story and photo gallery about Hanford’s China Alley from our colleague Joe Moore at Valley Public Radio.