Community-based history project expands to include stories of East Valley veterans

Project to produce traveling exhibit exploring oral histories of local vets


Man standing in a hallway smiling for the camera with his hands in his pockets.

Rafael Martinez, an assistant professor of American studies in the School of Applied Sciences and Arts at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, is pictured at ASU's Chandler Innovation Center at the "Querencia: Place and Belonging in Chandler" exhibit. Photo by Sona Srinarayana/ASU

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Thanks to Arizona State University Assistant Professor Rafael Martinez’s community-based history project, the full picture of the East Valley’s rich history is becoming clearer.

After “Querencia: Place and Belonging in Chandler,” a traveling exhibit featuring the oral histories of Latinos in the city, debuted at ASU’s Chandler Innovation Center late last year, Martinez is working to expand the overall project to include the stories of East Valley veterans with funding from ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts’ (CISA) Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement.

This new venture will produce another traveling exhibit at the end of the spring 2024 semester.

Martinez translates the word “querencia” to mean “a place that feels like home; from which one’s strength is drawn; and the place where one is their most authentic self.” The community-based project aims to recover and preserve the historical contributions of the Latino community in the East Valley and the city of Chandler.

“In Arizona, BIPOC and LGBTQ communities are only represented in 0–2% of the archival records in the state,” Martinez said. “This limits how we tell the stories of underrepresented minorities across the state and why initiating methods of oral histories and storytelling becomes necessary.”

In fall 2023, Martinez introduced the “Querencia” project to students in his American Southwest history course. Each student selected one of the oral histories to amplify, sharing a piece of East Valley history in a multimedia storytelling format of their choosing — music, slideshow, mini-documentary, animation or other medium — at a presentation open to the public.

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Students bridge past, present in Chandler history exhibit

“Historical contributions made by Latinx community members have not been written or prioritized in the public sphere,” Martinez said. “Along with exposing historical context, students are able to open a living textbook, so to speak, and connect to the local history of the East Valley — where they live, work and go to school — in a meaningful and connected way.”

ASU students interested in training in qualitative and quantitative interview methodologies and developing their applied skills in producing public history and museum exhibits are invited to contact Martinez to work on “Querencia” through CISA’s new Latinx Oral History Lab at ASU's Polytechnic campus.

“Professor Martinez’s Latinx community-based oral history projects are an outstanding example of how powerful and compelling learning opportunities can be when scholarship is deeply rooted in the ASU charter’s focus on serving the needs of our local communities,” said Elizabeth J. Donaldson, director of CISA’s School of Applied Sciences and Arts.

On National TRIO Day on Saturday, Feb. 24, Martinez and Kristine Clark, a community engagement specialist at the Chandler Museum who worked with Martinez to develop the Chandler exhibit, will present a keynote and workshop for first-generation and low-income students and students with disabilities for ASU TRIO Student Support Services — a resource that provides academic support, mentoring, financial guidance, and career and personal development to help students succeed inside and outside of the classroom.

Martinez says that he hopes that the "living textbooks" they have developed and the purpose behind "Querencia" can serve as a model for other projects and inspire new ideas among TRIO students. He also hopes to expand the project even further, geographically.

“The Querencia project started in the city of Chandler, but the hopes are that we can take the model and partner with other cities and their institutions across the East Valley to make it Valleywide,” Martinez said.

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