15 Dec Interview with Shannon Toribio on Working with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation
December 15, 2022
Shannon Toribio is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religious Studies, where his work focuses on Asian and Asian American religion, specifically Filipino New Religious Movements, and indigeneity, diaspora, identity, race/ethnicity, and postcolonial critique. As an IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellow, Toribio worked with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.
What projects and activities did you work on during your internship with the Trust?
I was mostly involved with the Trust’s Oral History Project at the Presidio Research Center, working closely with the archivist. The Trust has long been collecting oral histories but certain circumstances, including COVID, have hindered it from continuing such tasks. The Oral History Project has, therefore, renewed the Trust’s commitment in collecting and interpreting oral histories from Santa Barbara’s underdocumented communities. The project started as a smaller task, which was to interview a Filipina woman who donated materials to the Trust back in 2014. The materials were mostly documents, correspondence, and photographs involving the Filipino Community Association (FCA) of Santa Barbara.
I knew about the FCA before starting my internship, but I also knew that there is very little information that can be found about it, even though it has been around since the 1940s. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to gather historical data about the FCA and contribute to the Presidio Research Center’s collections. When we met with our first interviewee, we asked her about her family’s migration history, her personal history, how the FCA was formed, and the role of the FCA in her family’s life. These recorded conversations were to become part of the Trust’s oral history collection, which will be made accessible to the public. We met with the interviewee in person three times, each session lasting for about two hours. I also asked her to share contact information of families and individuals who were involved with the FCA. In the following weeks, our contact list expanded, and we scheduled and conducted more oral history interviews. This contact list is now a living document that houses a growing number of potential participants for the project.
We only started working on this project in June, and we have already accomplished a lot. I was able to establish a continuing relationship between the Trust and Santa Barbara’s Filipino American community. I also helped create a system for collecting oral histories, which includes templates for reaching out to potential collaborators, strategies for scheduling interviewees, structures for the interview process, and resources for preparing documents, what language to use, and transcription, among other things. The project is expanding and presently collects oral histories from other non-Filipino communities as well.
Having done these things, I am confident that this project will continue for years, and the archive of oral histories and community records will continue to expand. The Trust even offered me an opportunity to continue to work on this project, which I gratefully accepted. I still currently work with the Trust in collecting and interpreting oral histories so that we may better understand Santa Barbara’s underdocumented communities.
What were some of the things you enjoyed most about the work?
It feels very rewarding to serve my own Filipino American community and contribute to Santa Barbara’s local history. I have already read much about Filipino American history, but I realized that there is always more to learn, especially when you listen to people’s stories. I also enjoy working with the staff at the Trust. I have become good friends with them. They were truly supportive, helpful, accommodating, and patient with me. I always looked forward to going to work.
How did your graduate training prepare you for your internship?
The IHC’s Public Humanities courses helped me understand the importance of Public Humanities for local communities in terms of building community partnerships and engaging the public. I also learned about the importance of communication in reaching out to a particular audience. My training in anthropological methods prepared me in structuring interviews, gathering participants, and building rapport with a specific community. Having this knowledge has allowed me to be successful in establishing an enduring relationship between Santa Barbara’s Filipino community and the Trust.
What are your new skills?
Communication is a basic skill that I find difficult to be good at, but the internship has really improved my communication skills in many ways. My internship experience with the Trust has provided me the opportunity to develop this skill by constantly being immersed in different modes of interaction, such as reaching out to people I have never met before and inviting them to collaborate with us in this project. A misstep in communication could mean missing out on an opportunity to connect with the public and build a relationship with them.
I have also been involved in the Trust’s community events, where I present materials from the archives’ collection and talk about these items and our work with the public. In these events, I served as an ambassador, promoting the Oral History Project and talking to visitors about how they can be involved in it.
How has this experience influenced your understanding of and interest in publicly engaged work?
In many cases, I learn things by doing instead of just theorizing, and I think that is the case with Public Humanities. Consequently, I think this is one of the many things that this practicum has provided for me.
I understand that Public Humanities involves engaging the public, but this should not only pertain to accessibility. It should involve direct participation and involvement of members of the public. Working on oral history has helped me understand this by driving me to actively seek out, reach out to, and connect with community members. I have to build a relationship with them and develop trust so that they would be willing to share their family history with me. My intention was not to write their history for them, but instead allow each of them to be authors of their own histories. I like the idea of a shared historical authority among community members. I see how Public Humanities provides an opportunity to bring people together to share perspectives and insights on certain issues or challenges. Public Humanities programs endeavor to build civic and intellectual community by generating public conversations that help individuals build a better understanding of themselves, others, and the world through the exploration of these matters. It could also be a way to challenge each other’s assumptions and ideas, and empower our communities.
Click here to learn more about the IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Program.
Images from the Oral History Project (click to enlarge)