Photo contributed – The team performs their short history day play.
By Valerie Shelton, Editor
Immigration to the United States—whether it be our neighbors to the south crossing the border or refugees overseas seeking security here—is currently a hot topic up for political debate, but the issue of immigration is far from new. As a group of five Buchanan sophomores has learned, history repeats itself.
Students Austin Cozzi, Sydney Fox, Matthew Clark, Kelsey Ewing and Alison Hodge are history buffs and this year they will be sharing their regionals-winning history day project on the immigration of the Okies to Central California during the Dust Bowl at the national history day competition in College Park, Maryland.
The project, they say, is a performance centered on a family of three making the long and expensive journey from Texas to California during the Great Depression.
“We focus on this little family that moved from Texas to the Central Valley and we show the hardships and the bigotry toward them that occurred and everything they had to go through when they came here,” Cozzi said.
Clark and Ewing portray a married couple making the trek with their young daughter, played by Hodge. The family endures tough criticism from the native Californians and struggles to survive financially, taking refuge in each other, the other Okies in their camp and in music.
“As a mother, my child would come home to me and cry that people are making fun of her and all I can do is tell her it is going to get better and we show that and we show how they really took comfort in the camps that they would live in,” Ewing said. “The best part about the camp is music, a lot of people took comfort in music and the family aspect and that was all they could take comfort in because everyone was looking at them like they are dirt.”
Cozzi plays two characters in opposition to the Okie immigration, a police officer at the border crossing and the leader of the California Citizens Association—an organization trying to convince the government to stop the migration and shut down labor camps where Okies were staying.
Fox also plays a member of the CCA at one point, as well as an Okie at the camp, but her main role is narrator.
Fox said the team came up with the topic because it fits with this year’s history day theme, “Exploration, Encounter and Exchange.” They also wanted to bring light to a topic that not many know much about.
“We wanted to do a project that was not only unheard of but also teaches the audience something when they come to watch us,” Fox said. “We had no idea that this project actually impacts the San Joaquin Valley much more than we could ever of imagined.”
Examining history also sheds light on the great issue at hand—immigration.
“The special thing about our project this year was we were thinking about how we are going to get this from a state project, because this does impact California, to a national project,” Fox said. “It is harder to show how this influences on a national scale but one of the things we realized is that this is very similar to the experience of what is going on now with migrates. We did want to show a family too because it is a little easier to relate to a family than just a statistic.”
“History repeats itself,” Clark added. “That is what I think is extremely important about this topic. We’ve seen it before. First, we had the Europeans coming in the late 1800s and then we had the Okies and now we have new minority groups coming so this topic not only shows our little Okie family, but just the huge impact a small group of people has on the larger society and how this is again happening today.”
This isn’t the first time the team has made it to the national level. Last year, four of them—Hodge, Ewing, Clark and Fox—went to nationals and placed eighth out of over 80 groups. Last year’s project, Clark said, was even less known, examining the life of labor activist and early feminist Florence Elliot.
Fox said the goal this year was just to make it back to nationals.
“Our main goal since we were state champions last year was a repeat,” Fox said. “That was our main goal from the beginning to make it back to nationals and we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to make it back.”
There is a cost to winning consecutive years, however. There isn’t much funding left in what is set aside for history day students. This means the team has been raising funds to go. On June 4, the 500 Club hosted a poker tournament to raise funds for the team and while the money raised made a good dent in the expenses for the trip to Maryland, the students will still need more to put into the history day fund, especially if they are successful and make it to nationals again in future years.
Although the team is already competing in Maryland, people can still make donations to their Go Fund Me at https://www.gofundme.com/nhdteam2016
The team’s history day coach, Debbie Hodge, an English Language Arts and History teacher at Alta Sierra, said the team is excellent.
“They are an amazing group of kids,” Hodge said. “I cannot say enough about what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished and what they are going to accomplish. I think this year’s project as a whole is the best one they’ve ever created and I think it has more potential then any project they’ve done in the past so I’m anticipating good things.”