Pomona College and High School Students Collaborate on Oral History Project

Last fall, Pomona Sociology Professor Gilda Ochoa, Draper Center Program Manager Sergio Marin, and Pomona High School history teacher Claudia Ruelas collaborated to work on an oral history project about 'El Barrio,’ or Arbol Verde, the historical Mexican-American community in Claremont and the neighboring cities.

Professor Ochoa said she wanted to create a project that would be mutually beneficial for both Pomona College students and the community at large.

“When we’ve had our students work with the community in the past, it is usually tutoring or extracting information from local history,” Ochoa said. “With this project, we wanted to make the experience very mutual and reciprocal for both the high school and college students. After all the experience that the students shared, both classes really benefited from every step of the process,” she said.

While Ochoa was in charge of putting the program together, Marin was responsible for coordination between the classes.

“I was in charge specifically for the first couple of sessions just to help students talk to one another and get ready to jump on this project,” he said.

The project paired Ochoa’s L.A. Community Class students and students from Ruela’s history class at Pomona High School. According to Ochoa, as they collaborated to produce oral history reports, the students developed personal bonds with one another.

“What we really wanted to do with this whole process is bring together two groups of students who are typically kept apart by age, geography, class, race, and background, and learn about all of our shared history,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa and Ruelas created groups composed of a few students from their respective classes. They then asked each group to pick a specific theme to explore. Themes discussed included the general history of Pomona, the changing demographics in Pomona, the economics of Pomona, the history of education and segregation in Pomona, and the Mexican-American Arbol Verde community, Ochoa said.

Two of Ochoa’s students, Karina Corona PO ’13 and Karen Ferreira PO ’11, worked with three Pomona High School students on the oral history of the Arbol Verde Mexican-American community in Claremont. Corona and Ferreira found members of the Arbol Verde and helped the high school students conduct interviews with them. Together, the students researched the history of this tight-knit community that borders the Claremont Colleges. This community spans Claremont, Montclair, and Upland, and has existed since the citrus industry first developed here in the early 1900s.

“It was really powerful to see younger generations engaging with the elders from the community,” Ferreira said. I really enjoyed that learning process across ages and appreciated the inter-generational work that occurred with that project.”

In addition to benefiting the students involved, Corona said, the recording of the community’s history is important for the larger college community.

“Not very many people on campus are aware of the Arbol Verde community, so this oral history project gave us the opportunity to expose their historical background,” she said.

Though there were minor difficulties conducting the project, Ochoa said that overall the collaboration between both types of students and members of the L.A. community at large created lasting effects.

At the end of last semester, a celebration was held for all involved in the oral history project. After hearing about the experiences of how the high school students and others were impacted by the project at the celebration, Ochoa and Marin said that they were confident that they will continue the program next year.

“We are going to meet more this summer and work on more community building projects to feel stronger partnerships amongst the students,” Ochoa said. “We are now going to try to share more curriculums with the high school students.”

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