Hello from the East Bay!
by: Marjorie Anne Portillo
Hello all! First, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Marjorie Anne Portillo and I am the Museum Technician Intern for the National Park Service in Contra Costa County, CA. I graduated from California State University, Chico with a degree in Social Science and am now continuing my studies in Library and Information Technology. I have a great interest in working with archives and preserving cultural resources so I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn from the Cultural Resources team here!
What I really like about my internship here is the fact that I get to serve not one, but FOUR different National Park Sites!
These sites are:
- Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site in Danville, CA
- Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, CA
- John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, CA
- Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in Concord, CA
I mainly work out of the Rosie the Riveter Headquarters office in Richmond, CA but there are times where I will be visiting the other three parks as well. It’s kind of funny… because I was born and raised in the Bay Area and was never aware that these awesome National Park sites were out here – it’s such a shame, really! But thankfully from this position, I now know – and for the next few weeks, I will get to learn more and more about each site as each day goes by!
Of Lost Conversations
During my first week, I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with two sites: Rosie the Riveter/WWII NHP and John Muir NHS. I was able to walk around a bit and check out a few of the exhibits at each site. I even learned how to complete a few housekeeping and environmental duties in John Muir’s house! But more on that later – because there is one experience in particular that I would really like to share with you all.
While at Rosie the Riveter, I attended one of the very popular programs held there: ”Of Lost Conversations” led by Ranger Betty Soskin. Betty Soskin, at 96–almost 97, is the oldest Ranger in the National Park Service. She spoke to us about her life during World War II in the East Bay. She explained that she was not a Rosie and made it very clear that not every woman’s experience in WWII was similar to the “Rosie Story”. As an African American woman, she had quite a different perspective and shared her personal experience as a file clerk in an all-black union hall during WWII.
Contrary to popular belief, there actually were women that had already entered the workforce way before WWII. Some African American women (like Soskin’s great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother) have been working ever since slavery. According to Soskin, it was pretty much impossible for a black family to support themselves with just one income. The Rosie Story was, in her words, “a white woman’s story.” However, she did not want to discredit the Rosie Story because that was their truth. And there were in fact some African American Rosies. But she wanted to emphasize how important it was that she shared her story because “what gets remembered is a function of who’s in the room doing the remembering.”
This statement really made an impact on me because this reminded me exactly why I wanted to enter the field of archiving and preserving cultural resources.
When it comes to history, we tend to learn about important (and more popular) events and movements that have been told and retold for years. But when it comes to people in the minority, who gets to speak for them–especially if some are no longer around to tell their story? This is where artifacts and manuscripts come into play. We can look into these cultural resources and interpret them to tell us the story of what occured during their time. And by creating exhibits in museums and displaying them to the public, we are able to enable society to do the remembering for them.
Attending Betty Soskin’s program was a very eye-opening experience for me. It honestly was the perfect way to start my internship. And I totally suggest you attend one of them if you are ever in the area!
Introduction to the EUON Manuscript Project
Now, let’s talk about my internship project! My main project for this internship is the digitization and transcription of manuscripts from the Eugene O’Neill NHS Museum collection. For those that are not aware of who exactly Eugene O’Neill is, here is a brief introduction — Eugene O’Neill is a famed playwright that is considered the “father of modern American Drama”. He was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes and is the only American playwright to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. He and his wife, Carlotta, lived in Danville, CA from 1937 to 1944. The house they lived in, called Tao House, is now the focal point of the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site. More information can be found here.
Many of these manuscripts consist of letters that have been written or sent to either Eugene O’Neill himself or the people that surrounded him like his wife Carlotta or his driver/friend Herbert Freeman. Through these letters, we are be able to get more insight on the life Eugene O’Neill lived. I have started digitizing and transcribing a few of these letters and I must say that these letters have been quite interesting to read! It does require a bit of detective work since I’m an outsider look into their private lives. There are names and nicknames I am unfamiliar with and I often find myself trying to conduct some research to piece together who and what each letter is about. Each letter, to me, is a small piece to the bigger puzzle of Eugene O’Neill’s life and I am really looking forward to reading the rest of these letters! I will definitely keep you all posted as I go. To be given the opportunity to handle these letters and play a role in the preservation of Eugene O’Neill’s life is truly a dream come true.
Museum Technician Duties
In addition to working on the EUON manuscripts, I have also been assisting the Cultural Resources staff with various tasks. During my first two weeks I have assisted Virginia, the Museum Technician for the four parks, with tasks such as IPMs (Integrated Pest Management), inventory, various housekeeping duties, and environmental readings. I will talk more about this in my next blog post!
Two weeks have definitely flown by and I am enjoying every single minute of it. I am learning something new each day I come in. The Cultural Resources staff here–Isabel, Ann, Virginia, and Paul–have all been very helpful and I definitely don’t see myself wanting to spend my summer with anybody else!