Mapping the Culture of World Heritage

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Throughout history, people have created and used maps to find places, to keep us from getting lost and to shape the boundaries of geographic space. Maps, however, are more than pieces of paper with geographic points. Maps say “We are Here” but they also say “Who we are.” Maps talk to us, they tell us how countries were formed, how history shaped territories and who shaped history. Essentially, maps are stories about the lives of people in places.

For the last month, as part of our cultural initiatives, we have been working with San Antonio residents to create a cultural map. The work is intended to tell our cultural story, in particular the intangible heritage that has led to our World Heritage Designation.

Cultural mapping may be done in different ways. Our approach is to listen to stories and memories given by anyone with a connection to the San Antonio Missions. While most of the people interviewed so far are residents of the Mission neighborhoods, we welcome everyone who wants to share their story.

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The conversations, recorded on video, are guided by the question “which memories and traditions would you like to hand down to future generations?” After conversations that range from a few minutes to two hours, story tellers are asked to draw a map that reflects their story. Since the maps are drawn by and since each tells a unique story, we take the collected maps, listen to the videotaped story, and create one unified map. Eventually we plan on creating a map that uses GIS technology as well as an art exhibit that captures spirit of place and people, but for now look to this blog for oral histories and maps.

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It’s important to note that we could populate these maps with information found in history books, but the point is to gain the knowledge of the people who have visited the Missions and who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. The making of this map is only beginning but so far we have discovered, or more appropriately, re-discovered the many people, both great and everyday, who created this vibrant city.

Childhood games such as pajaritos (little birds) and cebollas (onions) are two games which we rarely see children play anymore, at least in this part of the world. Place names which are documented in English on maps, are locally known by Spanish names. Culinary traditions such as tamales are well-known, but equally important is the discovery that fideo (a noodle dish) was an everyday staple for most families and it continues to be a favorite.

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Why is this important? San Antonio is charged with protecting the intangible heritage of its World Heritage culture. The first step, defining and documenting it is occurring through this map-making. The next step is to figure out how to protect it. Making sure future generations continue to play traditional games, cook traditional foods, know the names of their ancestors and know the place they call home is the best way to protect intangible heritage. Mapping it will make sure we all understand what creates a unique sense of place here. All good maps take you on a journey and make note of things discovered along the way. If you’d like to join us on this journey, please contact Claudia Guerra at 210.207-0241 or claudia@sapreservation.com to set up a time for sharing your story.

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