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New College collaboration leads to documentary premier

March 22, 2010

A collaboration featuring ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, the Litchfield Historical Society and Agua Fria High School is working to cast a brighter light on the West Valley town’s storied past.

The culmination of the yearlong project will be a multimedia presentation of “Historic Sites and Sacred Places,” during the historical society’s ninth annual Founders’ Day celebration, March 27, at Souers Hall at the Church at Litchfield Park.

The collaboration was funded by a Project Grant and an Opportunity Grant from the Arizona Humanities Council.

“This year we decided to do a project that would encourage an interest in history by high school students,” said Rosemary Lang-Fiebig, outgoing historical society president. “The students participating in the oral history and video documentary project have expressed real enthusiasm for learning about the past from the people who actually experienced it.

“One of the major features of our Founders’ Day event will be the presentation of the historical society’s latest video documentary production, which is the result of this collaboration with faculty and students from Agua Fria High School and faculty from ASU’s West campus.”

Gloria Cuadraz, associate professor in the New College Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, is no stranger to Litchfield Park and the historical society’s Founders’ Day event. In 2006 she won a WESTMARC “Best of the West” award for her “Mexican Americans of Litchfield Park Oral History Project,” that included a video documentary premiered at Founders’ Day that year, titled “Reunion de los Campos Litchfield.” 

Since that time, she has published papers about the oral history project and its participants, and has presented her work at conferences across the country.

“This is a wonderful collaboration that gives the students at Agua Fria a chance to experience the history of their community through the eyes and voices of those who lived that history and helped build Litchfield Park,” said Cuadraz, who received her doctorate in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley and is one of several New College faculty behind the recent creation of the Oral History and Ethnography Collaborative at the West campus. 

“This effort brought together generations of West Valley residents together with the next generation of community leaders in a meaningful, significant and productive way," Cuadraz said.

“It is important we collect and share these histories and accounts to understand the perspectives of the people who lived through extraordinary times and contributed to the economy and culture of the Southwest," Cuadraz said. "Like the original oral history project in 2006, this collaboration will provide future generations, including the wonderful students who produced this video documentary, with a rich history that will not let them forget the importance of the economic development of the area and the culture and lifestyles of those who lived and worked here.”

For the students and Agua Fria teacher Lisa Brainard, the project brought history to life and created a connection between young and old. Brainard, who graduated from Agua Fria before embarking on a 15-year teaching career that has come full circle, worked with Cuadraz and as many as 30 students on the project from its inception.

“Working together with Gloria, I hope my students will gain a new outlook on history,” said Brainard, who, like Cuadraz, is on the historical society's board of directors. “I hope that they will see it as something living and real that they can touch and someday impact themselves.

“I also love that they have the opportunity to work with an educated, intelligent and articulate Hispanic woman who has achieved a level of success in her field.”

Brainard, a tireless activist for youth, notes the student involvement in the project was important on several levels. She points to the value of the interaction between students and members of community, as well as the sense of empathy developed by students as they spent time with the Litchfield Park’s senior citizens.

“It is through our interactions with adults and seniors that we learn how to grow to those stages of our lives, and the positive interactions experienced by these students and seniors have had a positive and significant impact,” Brainard said.

Working with members of the Litchfield Historical Society, professional videographers and ASU West campus graduates Elizabeth Martinez and Tino Martinez, Brainard and Cuadraz, Agua Fria students compiled and created an oral history  of the historic sacred sites and places in the Litchfield Park area.  The students interviewed members of the community with ties to The Church at Litchfield Park, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and the historic Goodyear Farms Cemetery, as well as other local area congregations, to investigate the history of each.

The video documentary that will premier March 27 is a permanent record of their work in the form of a DVD that features videotaped oral history interview segments and still photography that illustrates the vital roles the entities have played in the lives of the people of the community throughout the years.

“Empowerment is incredibly important to students, primarily in the high school years,” said Agua Fria senior-year student Melissa Meza, who participated in the project from start to finish. “When a student feels involved – in club, sport or any extracurricular activity – they want to do more.  Sitting at home and watching TV doesn’t cut it anymore.

“Students today love to feel wanted," Meza said. "Empowering them with projects such as this one shows these students they do make a difference and can contribute greatly to their community. Continuing to give students empowerment not only benefits them, but everyone around them.”

Cuadraz is fully on board with Meza’s position.

“My philosophy is that being ‘socially embedded’ in the community should ultimately be about working with and ‘empowering’ the community to learn the skills, obtain the resources, and proceed in a manner that advances the mission of their organizationm," she said.

“As a scholar exploring issues of belonging and community, I also end up empowered with the intellectual vibrancy and the rich relationships formed out of the partnership.”

The Founders' Day event is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The video documentary “Historic Sites and Sacred Places of Litchfield Park” will be shown at 10:30 a.m. and again at 12:30 p.m.  For information, contact the Litchfield Park Historical Society at 623-694-0022.