On Saturday at Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, panels at least ten feet tall displayed pictures of Oakland immigrants, artists and business owners of different ethnic backgrounds. As Latin music played, visitors strolled by and read the biographies of those featured in the exhibit.
“Alla en el Rancho Grande,” referring to a traditional Mexican song, was the first of a series of upcoming events related to the public programming initiative called Latino Americans: 500 Years of History. The National Endowment of Humanities (NEH) and the American Library Association (ALA) funded the initiative, awarding the hacienda $10,000 to host educational events on Latino American history until July 1, 2016. Peralta Hacienda, home to a historic house museum that serves as a setting for school field trips and cultural community events, was one of 203 organizations in the United States to receive the grant.
“The reason the grant is so significant to Peralta Hacienda is that this place itself reflects 500 years of history,” said executive director Holly Alonso. The Peralta family is “very deep and early in the history of California,” she said.
The Peraltas were part of the de Anza expedition sent by Spain to colonize Alta California, which covers present-day California and expands several states to the east. The family, which included Gabriel Peralta, his wife and four children, arrived in the area in 1776. In 1820, the last Spanish governor, Don Pablo Vicente de Solá, awarded Luis Maria Peralta, the son of Gabriel Peralta, a piece of land called Rancho San Antonio as a reward for 40 years of service to the Spanish crown as a military sergeant.
In the following decades, several Peraltas built adobe homes on the 44,800-acre piece of land that extended from present day Albany to northern San Leandro. The area flourished as a cattle ranch and became one of the first Spanish-speaking communities in the East Bay. Peralta Hacienda Historical Park centers on the Italianate Victorian farmhouse Antonio Peralta built in 1870 located in present-day Fruitvale.
“The missions are celebrated, but the ranchos are not very well-known, especially in Northern California,” Alonso said. “The fact that Oakland was founded as giant cattle ranch, just no one is aware of that.”
The organizations selected for the Latino Americans: 500 Years of History initiative are also required to feature the documentary series “Latino Americans,” created for the Public Broadcasting Service, in their events. During “Alla en el Rancho Grande,” organizers screened “Foreigners in their Own Land,” the first episode of the series. The episode focuses on Spanish explorers arriving in North America.
Ray Telles, the consulting producer for the film, held a Q and A with the audience after the screening. “I think the true long life of these films is in the schools and communities,” said Telles before the event. “Hopefully people will come to a better understanding of the role the Latinos have in American history.”
Peralta Hacienda Historical Park also represents other cultures. Sambo Ly, who fled Cambodia in the 1970s, was featured on a display panel with an excerpt from her book “All I Heard Was My Sorrow.” The book is about the journey she took to arrive in the United States.
“It’s a great opportunity that we have these stories posted so that our community learns about refugees,” said Ly, who was once a refugee in Thailand before arriving in the US.
The installation featuring community members was a preview of a larger, permanent pavilion that board members plan to establish on the property. The pavilion will be at the site of the second adobe home the Peraltas built in 1840, and it will feature more stories of the Oakland community. Alonso said the project is set to cost over $1 million, and the Latino Americans: 500 Years of History grant would not cover the project.
In addition to viewing the exhibit, visitors learned how to make dolls out of cornhusks, and some children participated in rancho activities like learning to lasso.