HISTORY MUSEUM BLOG: Museum needs your help to diversify exhibits

Yesterday afternoon I finally had a few moments to sit at my desk and plan out the cast for the 2013 Cemetery Tales performance. I am almost a month behind schedule on this annual program, but we will hopefully be ready to announce the date and the full cast by next week and then we’ll begin research and costume design.

After spending several months working and refining the potential list, what strikes me as I review the names, is that we are doing a great job of preserving and presenting the story of the Euro-Caucasian settlers and early 20th century families, including our Japanese American neighbors — but we are missing entire chapters of Hood River County stories as they relate to the families of Native American, Latino or Mexican-American background.

Carly (our AmeriCorps member) and I sat for over an hour and talked about how museums (and other cultural institutions) need to be more diverse and inclusive in our exhibits, displays and events. Events such as Cemetery Tales serve as great tools to tell family stories IF the story is available to be told.

Unfortunately, when I look through the historical biographical records in the museum archives, there are no surnames related to these essential ethnic families. We actually know more about some early Native American families than we do the more current (and I mean in the past 50-60 years) stories of our Mexican-American neighbors.

So now we’ve identified a problem: How do we work to overcome this? How do we tell the story of our county and our community when such a huge cultural component is missing? How would knowing these stories change how we present and share our heritage within our exhibits and displays?

The last real gathering of community family biographical histories was done in the 1980s by the Historical Society and resulted in the publishing of the “big green history books.” Again, however, they are also missing stories that need and deserve to be told and preserved. How to we remedy this?

We need your help! We need families of all ethnic backgrounds in Hood River County to take time to write us a brief family history. Our history isn’t only about people who came on the Oregon Trail as settlers; it’s also about families that came in the 1950s — or 1990s.

Your family story should include:

  1. When did your family first come to Hood River County? What brought them here?

  2. The names, birth and death dates of family members.

  3. What your family did/does to earn wages: What jobs did/do they hold?

  4. Where did/do they live?

  5. What did/does your family enjoy doing in their free time?

  6. What is your most significant memory in your life related to your family?

  7. What strong personal “statement” did your family live by? Faith? Service to community? Etc.

Make sure whoever writes out the narrative includes their story as well, and dates the document. Then, if there are any photographs you are willing to share (copies or originals — or we can scan and return the originals to you) be sure and include those as well.

If you need help in designing an outline for documenting your family story, give us a call and we can provide you with assistance or suggestions. The finished product can then be copied and gifted to The History Museum to be kept in our biographical archives for future generations.

For more ideas, check out the guidelines produced by museum friend and local writer Julie Jindal for one of our recent programs. She is allowing us to share it with you and it can be found on our website under “Research and Photo Services.”

I know we don’t like to recognize that those we love in our family will someday be gone — but it is a reality. Make time today to sit down with your parents or grandparents and ask them about their life and what they want to be remembered for after they are gone. It will be a true labor of love that will preserve their story and yours for the future.

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In other museum news, we just finished a hugely successful spring break. Our museum was filled with great crafts and activities designed by Carly just for spring break families and kids to enjoy. Our attendance so far this spring is up by 44 percent from previous numbers. Now we’re gearing up for April and Blossom Fest.

Here’s what’s happening for the weekend of April 19, 20 and 21:

n Fruit Industry-related crafts and activities for kids (and adults who like to be kids) for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission $5 for adults; free for children 10 and under and free for museum members.

n Fruit Label Swap Meet, Saturday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Collectors Sue Naumes and Kelsey Doncaster will be on hand again to chat, swap, sell and buy fruit labels. Come learn and acquire a piece of the Hood River Valley’s label history.

Fruit labels will be available for sale and trade all day. Free Hood River labels will be given to anyone who attends. Admission is $5; free for museum members.

n Book signing on Saturday, April 20, at 2 p.m. I will be on hand to share the story behind the publishing of the new “Arcadia Images of America: Hood River” book authored by myself and a great team of community volunteers.

Books are now available for sale in the museum store. Admission $5; free for museum members. Books are also available at several other in-town retailers — so shop local?

And speaking of the Museum Store History Shoppe, I want to remind everyone that this little gem has a great selection and variety of interesting gifts, books and local crafts. Everything from jewelry to toys to T-shirts — and all the profit from museum store sales go to support education programs and archive collection needs at The History Museum.

You don’t have to pay admission to the museum just to stop by and shop — and remember that museum members get a 10 percent discount in the store.

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That’s all from my desk for now. I hope if you haven’t stopped by to see our new building or taken part in one of our special programs or events, you’ll do that soon. We are very proud of what we’ve accomplished — thanks to donations from local community members and all our great volunteers.

In closing I want to share a quote by Heidi Swapp that I saw recently. The thought touched me and made me think of what museums are all about:

“Generations pass like leaves that fall from our family tree. Each season new life blossoms and grows, benefitting from the strength and experience of those who went before.”

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