Universally, grandmothers are held in high regard and play important roles in the lives of many families. Through a grant awarded by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Holyoke Media is exploring the unique stories of our grandmothers in a multimedia and multicultural exhibit titled Our Grandmothers.  

With stories and photos submitted by adult grandchildren, Our Grandmothers celebrates the influence these grandmothers have both on their family’s lives and in their communities.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Waleska Santiago-Centeno, the Exhibit Curator, to learn more about this project and why it is so important to capture the stories of our matriarchs.  

Submit a reflection about your grandmother.

This story originally aired on May 7, 2021.

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Universally, grandmothers tend to be held in high regard and play important roles in the lives of many families.

Through a grant awarded by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Holyoke Media will present the fourth iteration of a multimedia and multicultural exhibit titled Our Grandmothers. With stories and photos being submitted to the exhibit by adult grandchildren, it celebrates the influence these grandmothers have had on their families’ lives and in their communities.

I spoke with Waleska Santiago-Centeno, the exhibit curator, to learn more about this exhibit and why it’s so important to capture these stories.

Waleska Santiago-Centeno, Exhibit Curator: This is an amazing project. I’ve been doing  it since 2007. Every time is different. Every time we have different experiences.

Sometimes we don’t know if we are celebrating, mourning, crying, or laughing with all those experiences and all those beautiful, wonderful stories.

This one is special because we encourage people from different backgrounds, different ethnicity, to participate. So, you don’t have to be Latino or you don’t have to be a woman. It’s open to everyone.

Zydalis Bauer: It seems that across all cultures, this connection between grandmothers and grandchildren is very deep. And this recent iteration of this exhibit is really going to show that.

What do you think it is about grandmothers that just make them so special?

Waleska Santiago-Centeno: You know, this is make me think about my own grandmother. So, this is a reflection. I think grandmothers hold a special place in our society — in many societies. I think that legacy we carry with us, sometimes we acknowledge that. Sometimes we don’t. So, that’s part of this project that you go through that and reflect on your grandparents and see how much you see them in yourself. So, this is really important.

And also, I want to highlight something here about grandparents. Today, in the twenty first century, we have a lot of grandparents that are parents as well. So, I want to just highlight that. That is very important.

But in the exhibition, I want all different kind of experiences from the grandmother that could cook or bake a wonderful cake, from a grandmother that probably you don’t know. Probably you have something that you remember about that grandma.

I have a little story about a friend. I was talking to her and encourage her to participate. And she never met the grandma, but she has a plant that comes back to that grandma. So, she’s going to write something that has to do with that plant and and the flowers and that make her think about her grandmother.

Zydalis Bauer: One story that was particularly touching for me was that of the grandmother who has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t really recognize her granddaughter anymore. But when she receives a kiss from her granddaughter, it puts a smile on her face, and it brings back that connection.

What story has left a significant impact on you?

Waleska Santiago-Centeno: Oh, we have one story. We have many stories. But one of them touched my soul was, we have a story from my immigrant that she cannot tell us her name due to immigration laws. And then she wrote Anonymous and we call it Our Sister of Guatmela, and the grandmother was about to be one hundred years old, indigenous, and then she would not have the opportunity to go back, if the the grandma passed away, to see her. And that gave me goosebumps. That was one of the most powerful ones that I ever received.

But I have to tell you, all of them are powerful. I had to tell you when I have to edit all these stories, I have a box of tissues because sometimes I cannot continue. I had to take a deep breath and then go back because all of them are experiences, in many different ways, that talks about the universal theme that connects all of us. And all of them are really, really important. All of my stories are really important.

Zydalis Bauer: One thing that I didn’t really necessarily realize, was that the stories of our grandmothers are telling the story in the history of our country. And it was just really amazing to me, because you’re not thinking about that.

What other revelations have come to light through these stories?

Waleska Santiago-Centeno: Oh, when we’re thinking about that, listen, this is go back to oral history, culture studies. This go back to community history. And this is something that when we’re thinking about history of stories, we only think of other powerful people.

Well, we’re not thinking about that we have powerful people in our own family, in our own communities. And this is part of it. I think we have to recognize that legacy in many different ways. And this is a way to recognize this, because otherwise, these stories are going to be lost.

And that’s the project, too. The project, is to recuperate and preserve those stories that connect all of us.

Zydalis Bauer: And that’s exactly what I was going to ask you next, because when I think about my own grandmother, and the connection that I have with her, and the stories and the sacrifices and the struggles, I don’t want any of that to be lost in vain.

So, beyond this exhibit, how can we make sure that we capture these stories so that they’re not forgotten?

Waleska Santiago-Centeno: So, it’s many ways that you can represent and tell the story. It’s not one way. I’m not looking for an essay. I’m not looking for a perfect essay, either. I’m not looking for a perfect grandma, either. So, you don’t have to worry about that. I’m looking for the story. What impact, what legacy, what you remember, what is important to you, and to your family through that through the eyes of this grandchild that sees grandma.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, this is the fourth iteration coming up for this exhibit. Why do you feel the need to keep continuing this exhibit and bringing it back to things?

Waleska Santiago-Centeno: Well, two things. One, people ask me all the time, when are you going to do another one, we need to! Because every time we do it, people feel the need to tell the story. So, I think grandmother has a powerful, powerful role in our culture. And I think in any, in many cultures, right?

And that’s why I think this is powerful, because we all have grandmothers. I mean, we cannot be here if we don’t have grandmas and grandpas, right?

So, I mean, I think that if we go back to that, it’s very important to to have those those stories and those memories alive. You know, that’s that’s part of this project.