What is Archive408? A Q&A with the Organizers

What led you to start this project?

October Montoya: This project grew out of the Facebook group (Critical Histories of San Jose + a living archive).  The group is a place where folks share resources and writing on San Jose.  We discuss what’s going on in various SJ communities, collaboratively track gentrification, work to learn about the shadyness of the tech industry and local government, and share our own projects and ideas.  

As the space grew, Li and I talked about creating a larger project where folks could do this work on a larger, more accessible scale. We tossed ideas around about having a blog and doing different sorts of multimedia, documentary, and historical-memory projects.  We wanted to make something that future folks could use to find critical work about the past and present moment.  We also wanted to have oral histories, storytelling, submission processes, and other ways for folks to participate.  Its important that it be a collaborative space.   Eventually we settled on shoving all those elements together to make archive408, haha. 

Li Patron: I would also say that the project grew out of our bond as humans who are both invested in doing intentional, long-term research about San Jose. It’s easy to have an enlarged sense of isolation here, what with the mounting cost of living, and so many people with our politics either facing displacement or choosing to live in other parts of the Bay. With the Facebook group, we wanted to start a centralized space for folks doing important forms of historical, cultural, and political work in and around San Jose. We also wanted to make space for people to find and support one another. Archive408 is an extension of that.

I also think a lot about what’s we can save for posterity. This is our chance to document this living moment in history, and to preserve endangered stories from the past.

Why is this project important, necessary, or powerful?

O: This project is important, in part, because of how rapidly and mercilessly gentrification changes things.  It redraws skylines, displaces communities, and severs relationships (to place, to land, to each other).  This project can be one way to track these changes.  A place to talk about them, write about them, and visually show them.  It is a public, living, and collaborative project. We want folks to participate, share, and engage in the process.

L: It was also important to us that this work be autonomous. It’s not ruled by developers or funders, nor is it trapped in the walls of an institution. You don’t need credentials or access to cultural capital to engage with it. We hope to build something with few barriers to accessing or participating in it.

O: Also, Archive408 a space that allows for complicated and critical conversations. How can we talk about how gentrification affects us while also remembering that some of us are settlers? How can we talk about memories tied to place that have been developed over, while also understanding that the land is not something to be owned or claimed? How can we talk about settler colonialism, capitalism, and their relationship to the tech industry while also thinking about how were complicit in the practices those systems create? 

L: I’d add that, as users of libraries, we’ve had the chance to think about the politics of archiving. Looking through the clipping files at the California Room at the MLK Library, for example, it’s clear that humans made choices about which articles and artifacts to preserve. Every once in a while, you’ll find a gem in the files like a flyer for a rally that some archivist thought to tuck away. But mostly its newspaper clippings that spectators have penned. Don’t get me wrong, I love the clipping files and I think everyone should visit them! But I often yearn for other forms of documentation. I’m hopeful for what might emerge from a project that’s more participatory, where we make efforts to connect with histories that may never get their day in the newspaper. Some of our histories are emperiled in the midst of the trauma of gentrification, and we intend to make space for anyone who wants to document their experiences.

O: Archiving is inherently political. Documentation is inherently political. Storytelling is inherently political. I want to think about and engage with these practices critically, collaboratively, and openly. To me there seems like a lot of overlap between the politics of archiving and the politics of San Jose.  What gets saved and what gets tossed out and who gets to decide?  Where are collections moved to and why, and how does that change who gets to access them? What are the roles of institutions in documentation, preservation, and gatekeeping? Archival processes and San Jose are both products of colonialism – I want to talk about that. 

What are your hopes for the future of the project?

O: I want the space to shift and change as necessary, so it’s hard to speculate. I guess I hope that folks find it helpful or interesting, and that they feel welcome to participate in a ways that are meaningful for them.  I hope that it can serve as a catalyst to IRL organizing and a meeting place for online organizing.  I hope it encourages other folks start their own projects outside of nonprofits and institutions.   

L: I would add that I hope the site becomes a resource for folks, where participants see their artifacts and stories are handled with care. I hope participants feel empowered to get creative and consider documenting things that are far afield of what universities and museums might deem important.

O: In the future, if a high school class is assigned a local history project, I hope they find the site (in whatever form it takes) useful, challenging, and validating.  When I was younger, I didn’t learn anything about the histories of resistance in San Jose (or local history in general).  I thought everything happened in San Francisco and Oakland.  As a young queer and trans person, I felt that I needed to escape to there, because nothing ever happened here.  I hope some future young person, who is told that San Jose has only ever been a nonprofit and wealthy tech haven, and that the only way to participate in organizing is to move, stumbles upon the site and knows that we were here.  Resistance happened here too–and that means it can keep happening.  

L: I think San Jose gets miscast as a bland, ahistorical location. I grew up hearing my own family’s stories of past San Jose, and it took a shift in my thinking to imagine these tales as having heft, as being “historical,” or as ever being meaningful to others. I crave stories of San Jose from beyond my family of origin, and it is exciting to consider what’s out there. It can also be tough to see our lived experiences as future histories! But we are all on our way to becoming ancestors. I think sometimes about how much we are leaving to our ascendant’s imaginations when our stories remain untold.

Who can contribute to the archive and what is the process of doing so? What advice would you give someone in deciding what is “archive-able”?

O: So really anyone can contribute.  we’re not going to publish white supremacist work, work by abusers, work that’s pro-military, etc. but other than that anyone with ties to Santa Clara County can contribute.  If folks have any questions, they can email us: submissions@archive408.com

L: We have two main strands for submissions. (Check out the call for submissions here! https://archive408.com/submission-guidelines/) You can submit any time to the general archives, which are divided into three categories: words, images, and sounds. We also will have a running series called Living Histories.

O: In terms of what I would say to someone deciding whats archive-able: whatever you feel is important or want to archive.  I think there are can be a lot of stakes in traditional archiving.  Items have to be considered valuable (whatever that means) to the institution that houses them.  Items have to be relevant (whatever that means) to the institution, and they have to contribute to a particular, linear narrative (whatever that means).  You decide what’s important to you and what you want to want to document, save, and share. 

Your first open call for submissions invites contributions to imagine what they would include in a San Jose time capsule.  How would you respond to this prompt? 

O: This is something that isn’t possible to submit but Lake Cunningham has a particular smell in the summertime.  It’s a combo of like, whatever hot-leafy nature smells are there, bbq, that nasty lake, and pollution.  Every time I encounter that smell it immediately takes me back to being 15 hosing duck shit off the docks.  Is it cliché to say burnt almond cake? If not, burnt almond cake.  What else…maybe a recording of ambient sounds from my grandmother’s house.  The streets of the eastside can be a constant competition of exhaust sounds vs blaring oldies.  It’s a combo that sounds like home.

L: As a tween I played drums in a riot grrrl cover band called Lilyliver. My bandmates and I all went to the same catholic middle school: St. Patrick’s on 9th and Santa Clara, or as we sired it “St. Raunchie’s.” Like so many freaky adolescents before and after us, punk rock electrified our deadbeat lives. I would include in the time capsule the grainy camcorder footage of us performing at the church festival, wearing our mid-1990s early internet approximations of what bad teens would wear to a gig. I want future generations to know that, once upon a time, five disheveled children lashed out. We spent weeks perfecting our screams in my East Side San Jose garage so that we might hop around in a schoolyard screeching white boy, don’t laugh, don’t cry, just dieeeeee at top volume, startling the churchgoers. I look more tortured than happy to be up on that stage, but it’s still liberating to watch decades later.

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