The Archive in Storytelling

The sun consumed by the moon, still not a single star in sight, city lights. Abuelito and I sit outside on a step enjoying the cool breeze of the night. Elbow to knee, hand directly under my chin, I lean in as he begins his story. Tonight he talks about his first of two entries to the U.S. as a Bracero. I watch as he no longer looks at me when he talks. Instead, he stares ahead, not quite lost in the memory, as he is there. He recalls every detail: contempt at the El Paso and Juarez border, the vehicle they were transported in, and the laborious hours in the cotton fields. Slowly, he turns to look at me. He smiles and says, “[The other Braceros] me decían Mi Reyna”, “They referred to me as My Reyna”. Just as abuelito transcends to that moment, I do to ours. This is the power of storytelling and of the many ways of knowing.

In the article, The making of memory: the politics of archives, libraries and museums in the construction of national consciousness, Brown and Davis-Brown (1998) remind us that “the storing of collective memory must be as old as human communities, although the earliest archives existed mainly in ceremonies, rites and the saying of elders” (p. 18). Indigenous knowledge has for so long recognized the significance of storytelling and the many other ways of knowing. These narratives are not only found in the oral histories of elders, but are alive in song, dance, art, clothing, food, and other traditions. In Portillos’ (2017) book, Sovereign stories and blood memories: Native American women’s autobiography, she identifies these narratives as “multilayered histories and identities” that “assert the ongoing presence and challenges” of indigenous communities (p. 24). As I browsed through the stacks at Special Collections, I took note of the many indigenous stories and how some authors identify their expression as a retelling of a story. When I came across the collection, A Pima Remembers, I knew George Webb’s remembering, like other indigenous authors, is more than memory. These multilayered histories uniquely intertwine our past and present to inform our future.


Webb, G. (n.d.). A Pima Remembers, Ca. 1958-1959. AZ 154

Portillo, A. (2017). Sovereign stories and blood memories : Native American women’s autobiography.

Brown, R., & Davis-Brown, B. (1998). The making of memory: The politics of archives, libraries and museums in the construction of national consciousness. History of the Human Sciences, 11(4), 17-32.

Lacapa, M. (1990). The flute player : An Apache folktale (1st ed.). Flagstaff, Ariz.: Northland Pub.


Souls with Wings

This morning is different. The beautiful monarch butterflies that accompany me on my drive in are few. Though the fear of hitting these alluring creatures has faded, I can’t help but miss the rising sun radiating from their fluttering wings. I am aware that a migration for survival is necessary. I smile at the thought of a border-less journey and know Mexico welcomes their triumphant return. In our culture, they are the souls of loved ones passed, and they arrive just in time for their lives to be honored with Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.   

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Photograph by Xochitl Santillan Reyna

I continue to process the papers of Curtis G. Benjamin. I take note of how the little organization that existed has faded. The folders within the boxes are no more, and I encounter different business documents across multiple subjects combined with personal papers. I am further taken by surprise when I locate a blank insurance form folded in half, receipts and a pencil within. I can’t help but think, “This is out of character for you, C.G.B.”  Clearly, this is unfinished business. Throughout the collection I have encountered photographs and letters from family and loved ones and find myself thinking of them as I attempt to piece together his dispersed narrative. I am nearing an end, and I anticipate C.G.B. nears a new beginning. My thoughts appeared to be confirmed when I stumbled across an invocation titled, A prayer for the aging. I’m not certain if C.G.B. authored this piece, but I sense he too anticipated a new beginning. Perhaps one as a monarch butterfly.                                                         

    Monarch Butterfly Clipart #1                                                                                               Monarch Butterfly Clipart #1

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Accession No. 87-129; Papers of Curtis G. Benjamin


Butterfly clipart:


Southwest Enchantments

A month ago my partner, our three chihuahuas, and I made the trek from Oregon to The Old Pueblo. Having lived in other Arizona cities for most of our lives we were excited for our Southwest return. Though only away for a short time, I realized I longed for the Southwest-scape when somewhere in California the luscious green hills evolved into a beautiful mountainous desertscape. When we arrived in Tucson we were greeted by a monsoon storm and unimaginable colors depicted only by a desert bloom. At a short distance away picturesque mountains touched the sky and a javelina pack enjoyed the vegetation. It was a sight dearly missed and it became evident more beauty and adventure lay ahead. Cactus Bloom

My first month with Special Collections has been equally as welcoming as the greeting received by nature on our first day. I am processing the papers of Curtis G. Benjamin, a University of Arizona graduate, author, and publisher who held multiple positions with McGraw Hill Inc., including that of President. I am weeks in and enjoying identifying the concepts discussed in my courses and analyzing how they come to life in the documents. At the same time, I am witnessing the book publishing industry make history in the U.S. through the historical mergers and acquisitions documented by Curtis G. Benjamin. Through the documents, I am witnessing the expansion of McGraw Hill’s international relations, and I sense the publishing industry’s concern for conglomerates taking root. Through the perspective of C.G.B., as I have come to refer to him, I am able to view some of the thought processes behind partnerships and published works that exist today. The work taking place within Special Collections leaves me feeling inspired daily. How could I not be inspired? It is truly a place of enchantments!