Land-Based Participatory Storytelling & Place Making

Tierra y Alma uses land-based, eco-centric, participatory design principles to facilitate place making and story-telling projects that focus on the unique bio-cultural relationships of diverse borderland communities and their connection to place and the land that holds us. Below are past projects that have been conducted using the aforementioned framework.

Decolonizing Borderland Histories & Participatory Storytelling with the Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind

Since 2017 a group of nonprofits, government agencies and local educators have been working to open a cultural heritage park designed by local youth using universal design principles. The Santa Cruz river and the land that surrounds it has been a diverse canvas for cultural exchange for time and memorial.  This history long predates the colonial legacy of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. The Anza Trail was the setter colonial route that Anza and 240 diverse men, women and children took through the Pimeria Alta towards so-called California to establish the city of San Francisco on stolen Ohlone ancestral land. The trail followed the waterways that indigenous lifeways have followed for millenia. Unlike many of the euro-centric colonial stories celebrated by the federal government, the Anza trail stands out as unique due to the diverse cultural makeup of the expedition as many of the settlers were mestizo families, comprised of individuals with indigenous american, european and african bloodlines. 

Over the month of May 2021 the Arizona School for Deaf and Blind, the Anza Society, the National Parks Service, and Tierra y Alma collaborated on a 3 week long participatory storytelling workshop series that amplified the voices of seven ASDB students while connecting them to the history of movement and migration along the Santa Cruz River and connecting them to the Accessible Cultural History Park in their own backyard. These stories were integrated into the interactive audio boxes found throughout the park, as a means of enhancing the park experience in relevant means that pertain to the experiences of the ASDB student community.

Educators, interpreters and ASDB students, went out to the site, learned about the Anza Expedition, the intention for the park, and began exploring the animals and plants at the site.  Students broke up into two groups on the semi circular seating to listen or look at sights or sounds of the Santa Cruz River 100 years ago.  The future classroom area was definitely the most comfortable area of all in the park with its ample shade and quiet surroundings. The American Sign Language and audio stories that are created during this workshop are available to be observed by LEA visitors via the solar posts that have been installed at the site. 

The inherent Whiteness and Anglo-centric nature of federal history has long perpetuated tropes of the exotic other. Us and them, with anglo and eventually all white bodied men, as the us. The Anza Trail is a story that challenges this historic misinterpretation of settler-colonialism by centering the stories and diverse histories of the Santa Cruz River valley. A counter narrative to U.S. Manifest Destiny, the Anza Tail is a story of brown women, men and children who are often erased from the complex history of our borderland home. 

To honestly begin to decolonize a story, we first must provide a complete context to what settler-colonialism is – why does it happen? How does it relate to the history of ecological and cultural migration that has been taking place across the Santa Cruz River Valley for time and memorial? Understanding our personal relationships to the land and how we arrived here is the first step in unpacking and understanding the truths of settler colonialism as it exists in the Southern Arizona borderlands and beyond.  

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