Patricia Preciado Martin is an author, oral historian, and speaker whose work has been invaluable in documenting and sharing stories of Mexican-Americans in Tucson. She has written two books of oral histories, Images and Conversations: Mexican Americans Recall a Southwestern Past and Songs my Mother Sang to Me: An Oral History of Mexican American Women, and three collections of short stories, El Milagro and Other Stories, Days of Plenty, Days of Want, and Amor Eterno.
Patricia’s work can be like getting in a time machine and exploring daily life in a Tucson that seems so distant, so buried under technology and concrete and human numbers, that imagining such a world taxes the brain. Images and Conversations, written in 1983, features oral histories with people who were in their seventies and eighties at the time—sometimes the parents of these interviewees were born in Tucson before the railroad arrived in 1880, and, sometimes, they share stories of that world. This gives you a remarkably direct connection to the long nineteenth century, not to mention the 20th. I could write an entire monologue about why connecting to that time and those people is important and I probably should, but, for now, suffice it to say that the legacy of historic Tucson surrounds us today. We may lack the memory to know it, but we taste that earlier Tucson in our food, recreate it in our architecture, relive and repurpose it in cultural activities. It’s the reason that the city is, still, ethnically divided along the railroad tracks.
Patricia’s work, like that of the best historians and authors, reminds us that much of the past isn’t past. It is, instead, a part of the present that influences us everyday, though we are too ignorant to notice, like the child who assumes that all the food his parents buy originates from within the four walls of a grocery store. If you are interested in what makes Tucson unique, if you want to add a layer of richness to the world you see everyday, you will like reading Patricia’s work—it’s fun, fascinating, and, I think, it’s really important stuff.
Patricia's work brings us intimate, warm pictures of other people and their lives, but, for this interview, I wanted to focus on her story: memories of growing up in Tucson, how her thinking about ethnicity and identity evolved throughout her life, and how recording oral histories changed the way she thought about Tucson, its people, and herself. We spoke for three hours in early 2016 and I have edited that down to about 38 minutes.