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Speaking History: StoryCorps Visits Seattle

August 20, 2015

Editor's Note: We received the sobering news that Bob Santos passed away on Saturday Aug. 27, 2016 at the age of 82. See this story from the Seattle Times about the powerful ripple his life made through the many communities that he touched.

Continuing their 10-year journey that has amassed a collection of over 60,000 recordings, the StoryCorps mobile booth arrived in Seattle.

StoryCorps is in town! And they’re here for your stories.

StoryCorps’ mission is to allow people of all backgrounds and beliefs to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives. Their MobileBooth, an airstream trailer that has been converted into a travelling recording studio, stops in select locations across the nation to collect stories.

The recorded stories are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Over the years, more than 60,000 stories have been added to the collection.

The StoryCorps MobileBooth tour visited Seattle from August 6 to September 4, 2015, and parked in the New Holly neighborhood.

“When we're in a city, we're really looking for a space that’s accessible to the community, that’s vibrant, and visible,” says Emily Janssen, site manager for the mobile tour. “We're getting to really know Seattle in this tiny pocket right here, just by meeting the community and our neighbors.” In New Holly, community members are intrigued and many have stopped by to inquire about the big, shiny trailer that has suddenly appeared. StoryCorps staff members are more than eager to interact with the community. 

StoryCorps' shiny airstream trailer on the New Holly campus

StoryCorps interviews generally follow a two-person model. Each participant brings along a friend, relative, or someone to whom they feel close, and the two just have a conversation for forty minutes. The catch, however, is that the conversation is recorded- preserved for digital-eternity.

Knowing that everything said is recorded can be daunting, but the folks at StoryCorps make it much less so. “They put you in a comfort level like you could tell these stories forever,” said Bob Santos, who shared his story on StoryCorps’ opening day. The room in which the interviews are recorded is a cozy, intimate space with warm lighting. A facilitator sits in on every interview. Their job is to be there and guide participants through the whole process.

Bob Santos, fondly and widely called Uncle Bob, is a prominent civil rights activist in Seattle, and a member of the legendary "Gang of Four". Much of his activism sought to improve living conditions for members of the International District community. For his StoryCorps interview, Uncle Bob talked about his experiences living and working in the International District.

Uncle Bob is accompanied by Luzviminda "Lulu" Carpenter, a close friend and fellow activist. “His story and legacy in the International District, as well as in the City of Seattle, is really important,” says Carpenter. And now, Uncle Bob’s story has been immortalized.

"Uncle Bob" Santos and Luzviminda Carpenter

“Hearing people talk about their lives, especially with somebody they know and care about, there's just such magic that can happen within that,” says Danielle Andersen, a StoryCorps facilitator. 

StoryCorps’ rich archive of personal stories is a valuable resource for all of humanity. Stories that may otherwise have been forgotten, or lost to obscurity by the relentless passing of time, can be cherished and learned from by future generations.               

“We look at history and we study history about these famous people, and these big events. But people and their lives are creating history every day,” says Andersen. No story should go untold. By listening to individuals speaking about their experiences, our understanding of humanity can blossom. Through StoryCorps,  two humble garbage truck drivers in New York can dispense valuable life lessons or a recovered alcoholic’s touching story of redemption can provide hope to many.

StoryCorps provides people the platform to tell their own stories how they want to. “People tell you history, but not with as much character and oomph as Uncle Bob does,” says Carpenter. It’s like hearing the history of your family or of a period in time from your grandmother. Tears, laughter, nostalgia, and many other emotions are abundant in a StoryCorps interview.

Hear and watch stories over at StoryCorps and KCTS 9.

Hear More About Bob Santos and His Legacy: 

Conversations With Enrique Cerna: Bob Santos

In an insightful and humorous conversation with KCTS 9’s Enrique Cerna, Santos talks about growing up in Seattle’s Asian community and his journey into community and political activism.


Aileen Imperial

Aileen Imperial is a multimedia and documentary producer with a commitment to thoughtful observation and engagement. Her work has aired nationally on the PBS American Masters series, PBS NewsHour, and she is a 4-time Emmy winner for feature videos in the Arts, Culture, and Human Interest. Find her on Twitter: @imperealize

More stories by Aileen Imperial