By Katie Rispoli Keaotamai
Preservation is, by its nature, a diverse field—some preservationists document, while others conserve, restore, educate, advocate, and more. And the next generation of preservation professionals learns by doing, which makes it important to provide hands-on opportunities that will allow youth to discover how historic places fit into their lives. The challenge, then, is to raise awareness of preservation while attracting individuals interested in digital technologies, marketing, and business, so the field can become stronger as the 21st century progresses.
At We Are the Next, we believe that we can accomplish this by sharing stories that our students relate to and by offering those stories through captivating mediums that already interest them. We Are the Next is a social justice and youth development organization providing programs centered around the people and places that have shaped our communities. In 2016 we piloted a new program that helped us understand how today’s students prefer to build relationships with historic sites—Youth Heritage Summit California (YHSCA).
YHSCA brought 20 high school students from across Southern California to Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in the state’s Central Valley. The program was supported by the Cesar Chavez Foundation, the National Park Service, the California Office of Historic Preservation, and the a grant through the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, among others. Participating students had the privilege of staying at the monument for four days. Throughout that time, each student worked to craft a project based around the Farmworker Movement using the medium of their choice—geo-mapping, social media platforms, or graphic design. All YHSCA students visited a total of six sites affiliated with Chavez and the Farmworker Movement, including the Forty Acres, the Filipino Community Hall in Delano, and Radio Campesina’s headquarters in Bakersfield. At each site, students learned about the history of the movement and participated in activities unique to their chosen projects.
Students working on the social media project used the information they learned at each site to create posts for Cesar E. Chavez National Monument on Facebook. They also participated in a takeover of the @nationalhistoriclandmarknps Instagram account and the Department of the Interior’s Snapchat account. Their Instagram posts are designated with the hashtag #YHSCA.
Students who focused on mapping historic sites researched each of the six locations and used the information they gathered, the photos they took, and their personal experiences to map the sites, allowing anyone around the world to “visit” these places digitally.
Students in the graphic design and printmaking group paid careful attention to imagery found at each site and designed representations of what the Farmworker Movement meant to them. They learned the art of screenprinting and used it to transfer their designs onto bandanas.
The students at YHSCA—some of whom were first-generation Americans and most of whom were non-white—came away proud of those who had come before them and with a stronger relationship to historic places. One student’s mother sent a kind letter to us following the summit: “My daughter … talks about the event and what she learned with such energy and passion. Thank you for providing her with this life-changing opportunity. We will never forget it and are forever grateful.” Another student, who is in her third year at a high school in Long Beach, used her newfound knowledge to found a “La Raza” club on her campus celebrating the Latino community and its historical contributions and raising pride in Latino heritage among her fellow students.
The up-and-coming generation is curious, passionate, and has an unprecedented ability to engage with its cities. Tomorrow’s leaders are interested in our historic places—but for them, the medium can be the way to the message. Through projects like YHSCA, We Are the Next aims to captivate their attention and achieve our mission “to empower the next generation to engage with their city so their neighborhoods can thrive.”
Katie Rispoli Keaotamai is the executive director and founder of We Are the Next. Under her leadership, the organization has worked with local, national, and global agencies to activate historic spaces.