A few nights ago I attended a community meeting aimed at designating my county as a National Heritage Area. Throughout the United States, from Alaska to West Virginia, there are over 60 National Heritage Areas. Not one is in California.
I live in what most of the world knows as “Silicon Valley.” It is a place thoroughly oriented toward the future, on the cutting edge of all that is new, from self-driving cars to Mars exploration. But “Silicon Valley” is a very recent moniker for an area known as the Santa Clara Valley.
Despite its techie reputation, the Santa Clara Valley has a very ancient history. It stretches back thousands of years, from the First Peoples that habited the area, to settlers who created an outpost of the Spanish Empire — at the same time that the Founding Fathers for signing the Declaration of Independence. During the first half of the 20th century, the area became a premier fruit producing region known as “The Valley of the Hearts Delight”.
There is evidence of this heritage all over the valley — if you know where to find it. Unfortunately, teachers, parents or people seeking something interesting to do on the weekend often have trouble uncovering the cultural richness of our area. There is no website, no center to coordinate the numerous museums, parks and cultural sites that dot the region.There is no coherent framework to point out the historical and cultural riches of the valley.
So the idea of a National Heritage Area aims at solving this problem. According to the National Park Service, National Heritage areas (NHAs) “are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combined to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. Through their resources, NHAs tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation’s diverse heritage.”
Those of us who know the wonders of this state also how many places there are to be found here and the stories they have to tell. In short, by becoming an NHA, an area can work together with the National Park Service to create a cohesive narrative about the historical and cultural legacy of the local area. Or as one of the speakers at the meeting said, “We can save our stories.”
A great story is a powerful thing. It can motivate a whole range of human behavior. The great religious traditions of the world are based on stories. It is no accident that Cervantes’ Don Quixote thought he was living within a story. Children want their parents to read them stories and their grandparents to tell them stories. And millions of people flock to the cinema every year to see stories unfold.
As Robert McKee says, “Story has become humanity’s prime source of inspiration.” Good teachers know that they can keep their students’ attention when they’re able to communicate a great idea through a story.
So it is definitely an idea whose time has come. Hopefully, if the project is approved — which involves an act of Congress — it would lead the way to better coordination of all of the historical and cultural sites throughout the Santa Clara Valley and therefore make them more visible and easily accessible to the thousands who visit this area every year. It would provide more resources to educators and parents who wish to enkindle in young people the fascination for their surroundings.
In Spanish, the word historia means both “story” and “history.” I recently visited the home of Greg Bernal Smestad, a descendant of the settlers who came to the San Francisco Bay Area with the Anza Expedition of 1775-1776. Greg has dedicated his life to communicating the historia of his ancestors, who traveled on foot from what is today northern Mexico. I recorded my conversation with Greg as part of a new podcast series aimed at joining the larger effort to tell such stories. Look for it early in 2017.
The reason I started this website is to help people find and tell the stories of the California frontier. So feel free to let me know how I can help you learn more or tell your story. Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the comments box below.
Links and Resources
- If you’d like to know more about this initiative you can find at sccnha.org. There you can find a really useful map of all of the cultural and historical sites currently designated in the Santa Clara Valley (among them is Ulistac natural area which I profile in this article).
- If you want to know more about National Heritage Areas, you can visit the National Heritage Areas website. It can also give you ideas for great places to visit around the country.