A Collection of His and Her Stories “Illuminate” a Shared History

Capturing a collective history passed on orally is a time honored tradition among humans. Our species has been telling and retelling history for millennia. Then, technological advancements, made in the 1920s, created new ways to capture oral histories and store them for longer periods of time.

Archives and museums are treasure troves that house these collective histories. But who’s story is told within that collection and does it truly reflect history, an accurate history? More often than not, history has been told through a western masculine lens. 

These questions were on the minds of  CALC’s SAfER community organizer, Johanis Tadeo, and Kris McAlister, the co-director of Carry it Forward.

Between the two, an idea was formed and they set out to document the diversity within Springfield while linking it to the past. Doing so, they decided to approach the Springfield History Museum to see if they, too, would be interested in the project. 

The museum actually got its start as a small effort by citizens who began collecting items in the 1950s.

In 1981, the Springfield Museum Committee officially opened the doors to the museum that is housed in a renovated building on Main Street. The building, originally built as a transformer station in 1911, is a part of the city’s history having served as the main source of power until the 1970s. 

The mission of the museum is to preserve the history of Springfield and provide cultural exhibits for residents and tourists alike — thus the project was a perfect match. 

The museum commissioned photographer Ofelia Guzman to work collaboratively with Tadeo to collect contemporary narratives and photographs to be showcased alongside those already contained in the museum’s collection.

Springfield History Museum on the Corner of 6th and Main Streets in downtown Springfield. [Mary Bell // Double Sided Media]

The collection, titled “Illumination,” illustrates a shared experience among the past and present residents of Springfield while also inviting residents to get to know more about fellow community members.

The exhibit opened on Friday, Dec. 10 as part of Springfield’s Second Friday Art Walk. Despite the cold weather, Tadeo and Guzman were present during the festivities to answer questions about the installation. 

Just after 7 p.m., the parking lot outside of the museum was abuzz with activity. A crowd of more than twenty was gathered near Tadeo and Guzman as well as two representatives from the museum. They were all busy fielding questions about the exhibit from a community member.

Behind the crowd, Guzman’s photographs were projected onto the museum’s brick wall, beckoning viewers towards “Illumination.” 

A crowd gathers in the museum’s parking lot and listens to representatives from the museum explain the “Illumination” exhibit with collaborators Ofelia Guzman and Johanis Tadeo. [Mary Bell // Double Sided Media]

After the crowd broke, Double Sided Media took a few moments to catch up with Tadeo about the project. 

Even on a cold December night, Tadeo’s—bright—warm soul was welcoming and his infectious smile couldn’t be hidden under his mask. 

He said that the crowd had been consistent throughout the night and was pleased with the turnout but hoped that many more would come down to see the exhibit over the next few months. 

In all, six stories were added to the museum’s collection as part of the project. Tadeo said that they experienced some difficulty getting community members to agree to participate. He attributed this to a general feeling of “unwelcome” felt by many Latino residents of Springfield.

Tadeo said that events like this will help to bridge that gap and create a more welcoming and inclusive community.  

“I was even told by a few of my Latino friends that ‘the project was cool, but I won’t be there,’” said Tadeo. He understands the feeling of discomfort they experience living in Springfield. 

Tadeo has felt similarly especially after receiving messages of hate during his run for city council.

Tadeo, who has lived in Springfield since he was three years old, said that he has experienced many instances of racism and hate while growing up here. As an adult, Tadeo has turned his pain into action and works to provide younger generations with a different experience — one with less racism and hate.

Though the election process left him disappointed, he felt a sense of joy and that his sense of community was renewed through “Illumination” and said he hopes there will be many more like it.

“It’s important to tell the stories of Latinos in our community. Many of them are small business owners who suffered greatly when the COVID pandemic hit,” said Tadeo. However, that didn’t stop them from providing outreach to the community, offering assistance to others in need.

According to Tadeo, the project took about two months to complete. Guzman took photographs of the individuals and Tadeo conducted film interviews. Their stories are hung together with their photos on the museum’s east-facing windows and can be viewed any time.

A closer view of the east facing windows showcasing Illumination. [Mary Bell // Double Sided Media]

As a professional photographer, Guzman is always busy especially during the holidays. She’s been a photographer for about five or six years but began photographing full-time about four years ago — a journey, she said, has been “surreal.” 

Guzman said it was challenging to work out her schedule to capture the pictures for “Illumination,” but she enjoyed the process as she set up time to visit with participants in their homes to document unique parts of their lives. 

“At first I didn’t see the whole picture of the project,” said Guzman, “but as I went to people’s homes and learned about their stories, it became clear how important and special it was.”

As she does with clients in her studio, Guzman aimed to make the individuals feel comfortable in front of the camera. “People can be shy, or nervous about what they look like,” she said, “so I try to make them feel relaxed, calm, and confident.”

Photo of Rosalba Rodriguez, a voice of the “Illumination.” [Photo by Ofelia Guzman Photography]

Part of that process involves asking people questions about their lives — which, for Guzman, was the best part of the project. It was truly “special to learn about their history, struggles, and joy, and really get to know them more,” she said. She didn’t know all of the participants to begin with and met them as a result of the project. 

Guzman, an immigrant to the United States, can relate well to their stories. She has a similar experience to many immigrants who move to this country and would then spend a good amount of time getting arrested.

According to her, the important part of the project is community. 

“We are trying to bring people together because there does feel like there is some separation here. Not because people mean to be that way, but there is a lack of knowledge about people who have been here for many years,” said Guzman.

Guzman believes that this lack of education results in white people viewing people from different countries as the “other, seeing only color, they don’t see a complete person, or depth, or their struggles.”

She hopes that this project will help people welcome each other, even Latinos. Both Tadeo and Guzman feel that more public events are part of the answer, and that these events should be open to everyone.

Public events serve as ways for the community “to come together and be beautiful,” said Guzman. But she also said that “Latinos are not going (currently), because Latinos don’t feel welcome, especially at events run by white people and are not translated.”

Guzman believes that public events should break language barriers but often are one instead. “Illumination” aims to help break that cycle. 

Each filmed interview is or will be available on the history museums website as part of the exhibit. Currently three videos are available to watch, the stories of Mark Anthony Molina, Rosalba Rodriguez, and Javier León. The museum plans to have all six videos along with transcripts in both Spanish and English available soon.

“Illumination” was made possible with support of the Springfield Utility Board (SUB), the City of Springfield City Manager’s Office, the City of Springfield Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, and the Springfield Arts Commission. 

The exhibit is on display through Feb 12, 2022 and will again be a focal point of the 2nd Friday Art Walks in January and February.  

Mary Bell
Robert Scherle

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