Martina Castro Lodge (1807-1890) was a granddaughter of Isidro Castro, who came to Alta California in 1776 on a Spanish expedition. Martina, one of few women granted land under Spanish rule, held the largest Mexican land grant in Santa Cruz.
The names and faces that fill the halls of museums tend to be major historical figures who have impacted the world around us in sizable ways. That’s what makes Do You Know My Name?: Sharing The Stories of Santa Cruzans, a new exhibition on display at Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) such a refreshing change of pace.
Sponsored by University of California, Santa Cruz’s The Humanities Institute and curated by THI’s Summer Public Fellow Morgan Gates, Do You Know My Name? highlights the stories of everyday Santa Cruzans throughout the region’s history who were neither rich nor famous but whose lives are remarkable.
“The scope of the exhibit is broad, and it means to say that anyone who has lived in Santa Cruz County has an important story to tell as a part of Santa Cruz history,” said Gates. “Sharing these stories empowers folks to continue to tell their own story.”
Gates worked with MAH staff—particularly installation assistants Veriche Blackwell and Jennifer Villegas-Naranjo—to create an exhibition that was inspired by the MAH publication, Do You Know My Name? The publication, and now the exhibition, honors the work of Phil Reader, a writer and historian who dedicated himself to amplifying the stories of citizens often overlooked in historical accounts of the Santa Cruz region. Gates chose to highlight 20 people from the area. She looked as far back as 1793, the birthdate of Lino, a member of the Chaloctaca tribe indigenous to the Santa Cruz mountains, and as recently as today with the stories of Oscar Corcoles, a community organizer serving Latinx youth, and Ekua Omosupe, a writer and professor of English at Cabrillo College.
“I wanted to represent lived experiences in different time periods, different places or environments in the county, and different age groups and communities to capture the diversity of the people who lived or live in the county,” Gates said.
Creating the exhibit gave Morgan Gates, pictured, the opportunity to reach out to people working in the Santa Cruz community right now, including Ariana Jones, a native of Santa Cruz who helped found Blended Bridge, an organization that helps members of marginalized groups find community, and Rhonda Harper who created Black Girls Surf to provide training and resources to Black girls and women who surf.
The work involved in getting these stories documented was not easy. While Gates was excited to have her proposal accepted by THI, she had to grapple with COVID restrictions that kept her from physically doing research at local historical archives. Instead, Gates worked outward, starting with stories from an issue of the Santa Cruz County History Journal produced by the MAH and then contacting historians and archivists who shared their expertise and scanned documents and photos for her. “Research was a community effort,” Gates said.
The project also took her to UC Santa Cruz’s Regional History Project, a trove of oral histories of the region that has been part of the university since 1963.
Do You Know My Name? also gave Gates the opportunity to reach out to people working in the Santa Cruz community right now, including Ariana Jones, a native of Santa Cruz who helped found Blended Bridge, an organization that helps members of marginalized groups find community, and Rhonda Harper who created Black Girls Surf to provide training and resources to Black girls and women who surf.
“Reaching out to these people and asking them to tell their story was challenging for me,” said Gates. “I was nervous that I was being intrusive, and cold-calling felt really awkward. What I realized, though, was that they were excited to tell their story. All I had to do was listen!”
The on-site version of Do You Know My Name? at MAH’s Santa Cruz County History Gallery through August 21, 2022 is a slightly truncated version with only seven of Gates’ profiles of everyday Santa Cruzans, but it does come with some bonus features. For example, visitors will be able to see a piece of a shaped tree created by Axel Erlandson, an arborist who created elaborate works of natural art by, he claims, “talking” to the plants.
Gates’ work goes even deeper in the virtual exhibition, created in collaboration with MAH designer Michaela Clark-Nagaoka, and offering sound clips, photos, and a wealth of rich detail that Gates hopes will inspire future conversations among the residents of Santa Cruz County.
This approach of uplifting everyday people and their stories is the hallmark of the MAH’s History Gallery. It’s through telling these diverse stories that we all are a part of making our community stronger and more connected. “What makes any of these stories important is that these folks gave back and shaped their communities,” she said. “They took action to make people’s lives better. They educated, made art, gave shelter, jobs. They are relatable. Knowing their names and their stories is a very real act of community.”