The Way Home
Big Read culminates in maps show at Steinbeck.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
A few years ago, Mihir Patel, an Indian student living in Kenya, made a bet with his father—if he scored 85 percent or higher on a big upcoming test, he could choose anywhere in the world for further study. Patel won the bet. And that’s how he got to California.
Patel now attends Hartnell College in Salinas, a long way—geographically and culturally—from his homeland of the Nile River, the Kiswahili language, Massai peoples and the Indian Ocean. With newly-arrived eyes, he notes similarities between California and Kenya: both build economies around tourism and agriculture; both are on an ocean. For now, Patel sees his time in California as “a gateway of a better future.”
Patel submitted this tale to the National Steinbeck Center as part of its “Stories of the California Journey” project, part of the month-long Big Read event. Inspired by Steinbeck’s chronicle of the Joad family in >>The Grapes of Wrath, the Steinbeck Center solicited submissions from residents of Monterey County to tell the story of how and why they came to live here.
Adding a unique twist, the Center invited participants to tell their stories with a map. Printable world maps were posted at steinbeck.org so that residents could draw the trajectory, as well as the stops along the way, of their arrival. Under the heading “My California Journey,” each map devotes its top half to a sketch of a world map, while the bottom half is reserved for the written words that accompany the drawing.
The Big Read culminates with an open microphone session this Saturday at which all such stories and related maps will be on display. Music from local troubadour Larry Hosford will accompany, while a free wine-tasting from J. Lohr, Blackstone, Sheid, and Paraiso will follow.
“What we want from this,” says Lori Wood, curator of Education and Public Programs at the Steinbeck Center, “is to bring people together in a community setting so people can make deep, meaningful connections.”
As a case in point, Wood finds two “My California Journey” stories from two different people—one a child, the other an elder. The hand-drawn lines on both maps trace a route that ends in Salinas, and begins in the same remote Mexican village. These two people may not know each other in real life, but through their “My California Journey” maps, their stories converge. At the Closing Day open mic session, these two may find each other.
Submissions have swelled as several organizations have taken up the project. Hartnell College students—like Patel—have responded with their stories as part of a Service Learning Project. YMCAs, children’s organizations and CHISPA (Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association) have also participated in the project as a way to build community relations.
Woods marvels at the diversity of stories contained within Monterey County. “Think about what it means,” she says, “to pack everything up, leave your home, and go somewhere else.”
The maps are still coming in. The strands of these stories of travel, work, study and jeopardy are sometimes disparate and sometimes remarkably similar. Together they form a tapestry, which will be on display—in drawings, in writing, in spoken word—this Saturday in an event that celebrates community members’ relationship to Steinbeck, as well as each other.
THE BIG READ CLOSING CELEBRATION happens Saturday, March 31, at the Steinbeck Center, 1 Main St., Salinas, starting at 10am with free admission. The open mic runs noon-2pm; the free wine tasting, 2pm-5pm. 775-4721 or steinbeckstore.org.