Interviewing the Prior Generation

For this interview exercise, I interviewed my father Victor Rodriguez Sr. Regarding the process of administering the questions, the choice of interviewing my father gave the interview an informal, casual feel with a free-flowing conversation. This allowed us to discuss personal and intimate topics without having to go into prior detail. What context was needed, I provided during the interview process. Due to our good relationship, there were no personal, intellectual, or economic boundaries that needed to be overcome to obtain honest answers to the interview questions. I also chose my father because he is an educated and economically successful man with moderate opinions about history, his community, and current global events. He also had moderate emotional responses to the questions, which provided for balanced answers. His background as a handyman and as an engineer who has worked in the heart of Silicon Valley for over thirty years provided me with unique information about the tech industry, history of the tech industry, and the development of our home town San Jose, all of which was discussed during the interview. Interviewing my father allowed me to gain the perspective of a middle-class college education individual who grew up during the mid-twentieth century.

The drawbacks of this interview include a range of issues. First, my father and I have similar opinions about many of the topics covered in the interview. This could have created an inherent biased during the interview that was not challenged. There is also the possibility that because I am his son, the interviewee withheld, omitted, or altered certain responses to maintain the boundaries of our relationship. Less of a drawback and more of a facet of this particular interview: the fact that my father is from a certain background, profession, educational level, and generation influenced his answers. This makes the interview valuable to a certain type of research topic, such as the historical perspectives of baby boomer Mexican-American Californians, college-educated in the Bay Area, with backgrounds in engineering and business. If I were to conduct this interview again, I would be interested to learn about the historical perspectives of someone from my own generation. That being said, I found the interview informative about not only my father’s background, values, and historical perspectives, but also the area we call home, and how the period he grew up in influenced his perspective on the importance of history.

A Virtual Perspective of the History of Auburn University

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not yet seen the Auburn University campus. However, through my own research and my time as a student in Public History (6810) I have constructed some historical sense of the university. During the summer of 2019, I was lucky enough to have a phone conversation with Drs. Roger Launius and Monique Laney about doctoral programs in the history of science and technology. Dr. Launius recommended several including Auburn’s Ph.D. program in the History of Technology. After conducting my own research, I applied to Auburn’s Ph.D. program because of its reputation in the concentration of US space and aerospace history. History faculty members are nationally (and in some cases internationally known) for their focus on the history of technology, their association with the National Air and Space Museum, and for their books. For example, Professor Emeritus James R. Hansen’s biography on Neil Armstrong First Man was recently turned into a movie starring Ryan Gosling. In addition, the History of Science Society and the Society of the History of Technology both rank Auburn University as the ‘number 2’ university to study the history of science and(or) technology. (If this ranking holds credence with you, it helps show the historical importance of the university as a place of study for historians.)
As a student in Public History, I have also learned that Auburn University also has a reputation as a center for the preservation of white supremacy and the memory of the Civil War Lost Cause. The landscape of the campus has been utilized to memorialize white supremacists and symbolize the South’s loss of the Civil War. Broun Hall is named after William Leroy Broun a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate army, Comer Hall is named after Braxton Bragg Comer who continued the practice of slave labor after through the use of convicts, and Graves Amphitheater was governor of Alabama and “almost certainly” the “Exalted Cyclops” of the Ku Klux Klan chapter in Montgomery. I also understand that there is a canon outside a fraternity building that is pointed north at the Union. I understand that this information is neither new nor original, yet, acknowledging this history will allow students, faculty, and staff to perhaps emphasize alternate dimensions of Auburn’s community history that relates to its past in a more positive light. A public historical acknowledgment of Auburn’s influence on space history, or civil rights may be necessary to replace this darker memorialization that characterizes the campus’s landscape. As a student of color who is from out-of-state, I am personally proud to be a new member of the Auburn community that appears to be intentionally focused on diversifying its student body.

A COVID Oral History With a History Professor

I interviewed my housemate William Schultz about his experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schultz is an adjunct history instructor at Evergreen Valley College, and is a graduate of European Master of Art’s program at San Jose State University—the same history program where I received my two degrees. I consider him a friend and a colleague. Since the California lockdown began in mid-March, his daily life shifted dramatically. Originally teaching an in-person course, he had to alter his course to a completely online environment like all other college instructors for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester.

Schultz led a relatively active social life prior to the COVID pandemic, but like many other Californians, finds himself confined to his home both voluntarily and as a result of the reduction of public social activities. His social circle has retracted to his family, one or two friends, and his fellow housemates—myself and my fiancée.

The COVID pandemic has also drastically altered his travel plans. Due to the travel ban placed on the United States by Europe, Schultz has had to postpone his trip to Europe. In addition, his road trip plans with friends was also cancelled due.

Like nearly everyone else in the country, he now heavily relies on technology (especially a strong wifi single) to maintain his social life, and teach his online courses for the Fall 2020 semester. Schultz expects to continue teaching online until the Fall 2021 semester. As a historian, Schultz expects this pandemic to eventually go away as have other epidemics. However, he is also aware that it may take more time than most people are aware or comfortable with. This shift in lifestyle must be maintained if we as a country and a species wish to eradicate with illness, yet Schultz does not want people to despair. He explains, “this is going to be a long term, but temporary problem the world will eventually return to normal. [We] will find a solution. I see a lot of people on the internet that despair about COVID, and think this is their new way of life. Life will eventually go back to normal. I am a historian, not a fortune teller, but knowing history, I know this period will eventually come to an end.” So, we can all take comfort in that. Take care of yourself and the people around you. Wash your hands and practice social distancing until a vaccine is distributed.

Monuments and the Role of the Public Historian

Historical monuments are built to symbolize a single, or two-dimensional narrative of history. They are created to propagate a version of history that may be true or not. In many cases, historical statues are created to enhance a historical mythos. To paraphrase a favorite late comedian of mine, they are “symbols for the symbol minded.” That being said, how are we to address the daunting question: “What should be do with historical monuments if they’re removed?” Or more simply, “what are we to do with historical monuments?” As public historians it is our duty to contextualize all history and artifacts, providing perspective and historical complexity to those who are willing to listen. Yet, because many of these monuments were designed to commemorate a singular narrative, the role of the public historian and the purpose of the monument may clash, especially within the public sphere.

This possibility slips into the realm of probability with the more controversial ones, such as the ones in the United States commemorating Confederate military and political figures. Many of those monuments were created to memorialize men that fought for the romanticized Lost Cause, and the culture of white supremacy that characterized late 19th century America.
Historical documentation shows us in numerous pieces such as the Confederate Constitution, Jefferson Davis’ presidential address, and many other Confederate leaders’ writings that the sole purpose of the Confederacy was the preservation of slavery. Therefore, public historians and the institutions that employ them would feel compelled to not only discuss the popular memory of these monuments, but also the uncomfortable reality behind their inception and the brutal truth behind the founding of the Confederacy. The merging of popular memory with academic history could become a messy affair in the middle of a public square. To quote everyone’s favorite fictional archeologist, “It belongs in a museum.” In the controlled environment of a museum could the monuments be maintained and proper contextualization be administered. In a museum, a monuments complete history could be address and discussed to a public more willing to listen to its complicated past.

A Familial History of a Backyard and Its Landscape

The landscape evaluation I decided to ‘read’ is the backyard of a family home.  The house is nestled in the foothills of East San Jose a half-mile off the main road Alum Rock Avenue, otherwise known as California State Route 130.  The house is located in a cul-de-sac making for a quiet, tranquil neighborhood.  My mother and fathered purchased the home in 2000 as a real estate investment, and to provide housing for my maternal grandfather Guadalupe Rodriguez.  He lived in the house for the remainder of his life (nearly twenty years) significantly contributing to the landscape of the home by planting a wide variety of greenery.  Prior to my family’s ownership of the house, the Unrue family were the owners—my family and I do not recall the first names of the Unrues.  Their initial development of the landscape still predominantly characterizes the features of the back and front yards.

The backyard is a downward sloped hill and at the top of the hill where the house sits, one can experience an excellent view of downtown and south San Jose.  To enhance this view, the Unrues built a viewing deck and installed a patio space made of grey and pebbled concrete.  In the concrete, they left behind several mementos including what appears to be a railway spike, horseshoe, an adult and child handprint, and their family name etched into the cement, one dated 1975.  The Unrues built a wooden stairway that descends down the hill and tiered the hill into four levels, as well as built a fence at the top of the hill as a barrier.  They also planted several fruit trees, and numerous bushes in the backyard, especially on the tiered sections.  At the top of the hill they planted a mulberry tree that still contributes to the aesthetics of the landscape today.

When Guadalupe moved in, he contributed to the landscape of the backyard primarily by planting more greenery—a cactus and rose bushes from his hometown of Yahualica, Mexico as well as cherry, peach, and apricot trees.  He also planted two Chinese maple trees, a pine tree, a hibiscus tree, and oregano and mint plants.

During his life, the backyard was used for family social gatherings such as birthday parties.  They would be large gatherings consisting of immediate and extended family (mostly cousins).  These events were excellent environments to learn about family history or stories about the town of Yahualica where the maternal side of my family is from.

Over time, the original structures built by the Unrue’s deteriorated.  The fence that acted as a barrier between the top of the hill and the garden became overgrown with ivy and collapsed.  The wooden stairway has begun to collapse but is still usable, and the erosion of the hill has pushed the tiered sections to a slant.  Ivy has started to grow on a now ramshackle viewing deck.  In addition, several self-planted seeds have taken root growing a lemon tree and several unidentifiable deciduous trees.  Due to lack of care, time, and money most of the greenery has become overgrown.

The year after my grandfather passed away, I moved into the home with my fiancée.  As the newest residents we also contributed to the landscape of the backyard by planting more plants, caring for the plants my grandfather left us, and managing the overgrowth.  I significantly cut back tree branches and bushes, because the overgrowth obscured the view of the city.  My fiancée and I planted an herb garden, tomato plant, zucchini plant, sunflowers, and mint.  Since we moved in two months before the COVID-19 pandemic, our gatherings have been small and limited.  We hosted a Fourth of July barbeque for my immediate family and had only a small number of friends over for a visit.  However, once the pandemic passes, we intend on hosting more gatherings so other can enjoy the landscape of our living space and (hopefully) our hospitality.

The Multi-Generational Ownership of a Pocketknife

This pocketknife was initially owned by Otilio (Oscar) Rodriguez born December 13th 1926 and passed away January 20, 2012, and is know owned by his grandson Victor Raymond Rodriguez II born January 4, 1992. It is a standard pocketknife made circa 1960, with pearl handles, brass pins holding the artifact together, a single blade, and bottle opener. The object shows signs of extensive use made by the original owner: There is a worn thumb print on the pearl handle, the blade has been sharpened multiple times, the metal is slightly rusted, and the entire tool is dirty from use. As the structural integrity of the object diminished over time, Oscar began using the pocketknife as a letter opener.

After Oscar passed away, Victor claimed ownership of the pocketknife continuing its use as a letter opener. Victor claimed ownership of the pocketknife because no other family member showed interest in keeping the object. The pocketknife has sentimental and practical value to Victor, because not only does the object remind him of his grandfather Oscar, but he uses the tool to open mail on a semi-regular basis. Victor keeps the artifact in the top draw of his desk for easy access, and intends to hold onto the pocketknife for the foreseeable future. He intends on continuing to use the pocketknife as a letter opener until the structural integrity of the object diminishes to the point that it can no longer be used as a tool. Once the tool can no longer be used for practical purposes, Victor intends on placing the object in a “safe place” to protect it from further deterioration. He will perhaps place the objects with other items he has collected that possess connections to his family’s past.