Santa Maria la Ribera is a neighborhood both old and new.
On the one hand, it retains its reputation as a historic colonia. It was the first suburb when the city expanded in the 19th century. Its streets are dotted with French neoclassical facades and the wrought iron kiosk at its center recalls memories of the neighborhoods so-called golden age.On the other hand, the neighborhood is very much alive today. And it continues to change and be changed by present history like earthquakes, new transit hubs, or increased demand for housing. Neighbors new and old live side-by-side, writing new history every day.
But while the institutional history of the neighborhood focuses mainly on its affluent 19th century roots, much about both the past and the present of the place is allowed to fall through the cracks. The archivo vecinal is a place to catch those memories. It is a place for a different kind of history, more akin to memory keeping than to historical archiving. Here, people’s personal anecdotes, family histories and neighborhood keepsakes can be enjoyed and shared in by neighbors. It’s a place to document the community’s past while allowing for a future that is sure to change.
The archive sits at the center of the four blocks, at the center of the neighborhood. The site was damaged in the 2017 earthquake, which meant that the building there had to be demolished, but the disaster also left the opportunity for this space in the neighborhood to be opened up to the community. A few beams and walls remain, leaving a trace of what was there before, and providing the foundation the archive. The concrete structure which once held an auditorium is repurposed in to an outdoor amphitheater, drawing people in to sit in the park.
Underneath the stairs, and scattered throughout the park are niches, big enough for one or two or three people to sit, each with a little speaker and an object on display. These objects come from all over the neighborhood: mementos, keepsakes, things passed down from family, things that spark a fond memory, or a challenging one. But to leave behind an object in the archive, you must tell a story. This can be done privately, with the help of a community archivist, or publicly, at one of the archive’s storytelling events. The object then gets added to the archive, each one linked to a story that can be heard by those who come to visit or sit in the park. People maintain ownership over their things, but agree to share them with the community. And so neighbors sit in the niches and listen to stories about how those objects arrived in the neighborhood, what they mean to their owners and the memories that they hold.
At the back of the site, tucked behind all the many objects of the archive, is a small building. In the building there are recording studios and editing bays for neighbors to conduct interviews and record their stories, or even to create their own films and documentaries. These records of daily life are exchanged out in the open air of the park, where they might spread back in to the neighborhood. They host storytelling events and teach school children about the history of their homes and screen movies made by neighbors about neighbors.
The park becomes a place of contact with newcomers, a way for them to understand the place they’ve come to. But mostly, it serves its neighbors, a place to remember family, for young people to learn about their home, for older people to learn about the young people, and so on and so forth. But it’s far from complete; the archive is just beginning. It projects out in the park, in to the neighborhood, and in to the future.