Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why Do I Study His/Herstory

Today in an interview with Powerful Latinas, I was asked the question, why do I study history and use so much of it in my books. Interesting. I hadn't been asked that before. I said something along the lines of "knowing the history of my family tree helps me understand the branch I am a little better. Of course this doesn't mean I'm stuck repeating family patterns, but it helps me recognize them. This is particularly important to me because I live on the land that my family once owned in 1806. A large land grant, 72,000 acres that makes up about 7 cities. Sometimes I feel my ancestors. Deepak Chopra once said if we can pass eye color, preference for peanut butter sandwiches, and curly hair through our DNA, why can't we pass on memory through our gene pool. (I'm paraphrasing; I don't remember which examples he gave). Sometimes if I'm out in nature and meditating a bit I can remember what Orange County looked like 200 years ago. And sometimes I seem to have memories of great, great grandmothers. How amazing would it be, if I could heal unresolved issues just by the power of noticing."

I said this while staring out at an Australian bottle brush tree with hummingbirds zipping in and out of it. It's not a native tree, but it’s been in Orange County for awhile. Of course, before this tree were the citrus trees: orange and lemon trees. Last week I visited the Villa Park/Sunkist Packing House, built in 1918, where my grandparents met sometime after WWII but before 1948 when my mother was born. My grandmother died before I was born and my grandfather died last year, right before Christmas. But here, at the last Packing House in Orange County, they were young and fell in love. There used to be over a hundred of these houses all throughout Orange County. Now they pack mainly avocados. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, it was lemons, oranges and almonds.

I walked around, marveling at the long, wide, conveyor belts, the original hardwood floors (which I was told were polished once a year and celebrated with a huge company picnics), the north facing windows cut high into the ceiling to let in light, but not heat. No longer did they have the traditional wooden crates with packing labels, promising to bring California Sunshine to the world. They had biodegradable crates that are of course great for Mama Earth, but not as cool-looking as those crates. The doors to the coolers were tiny, maybe six feet, with steel hinges and locks two feet long and painted green. After the war, they stopped using so much steel for hinges. Makes sense, but let me tell you those were some tough looking hinges. The coolers were insulated with black cork that was peeling away in places, revealing the red brick of the building. The long hallways led to double wide doors that opened to railroad tracks, where the packed fruit could be loaded onto the train and hauled off to their final destination. Now they are delivered in semi trucks. It was all so nostalgic.

As I looked around, I wondered where or if my grandparents might have scuttled off to for secret kisses. I asked the owner if the Packing House was haunted. He said there were some rumors of a couple people who had died a long time ago and that he didn't want to find out if it was haunted so when he worked late at night, he blasted his music. I liked the idea of the Packing House being haunted. I liked the idea of their spirit, their laughter, maybe even the sounds of their sweet whispers echoing through the vast building.

My guide pointed out where the school was built for the workers' children - long time ago the Mexican children had to go to segregated schools. The groundskeeper lived across the street. Everyone lived nearby. The local people had built the Packing House he said. It was one tight-knit community.

My history, my herstory tells me where I've come from. It gives me a foundation to come home to after I've wandered around, tried some new things, maybe gotten hurt, maybe gotten scared. A place to come home to share my successes and joys. It's my rock, my security. No matter where I go, no matter how far I've traveled, my his/herstory will always be there. And the really cool thing is that each time I come back, my perspective changes it just a bit and that history or herstory opens up to tell another story.
For more on the Packing House, check out

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