StoryCorps records South LA’s diverse stories

StoryCorps kicked off its national mobile tour on Oct. 23 with mariachis, celebrities, and public officials at South L.A.’s California African American Museum. From now until Nov. 16, the StoryCorps mobile booth will be set up in front of the museum waiting to record and share the many stories upon which the vitality of South L.A. is built.

Actors Cheech Marin & Art Evans were in attendance

Actors Cheech Marin & Art Evans were in attendance

StoryCorps is no stranger to South L.A. This is its seventh year visiting greater Los Angeles, and its third time at the California African American Museum. It is also partnering with Pasadena-based radio station KPCC to broadcast some of the stories collected.

“We really love the partnership with CAAM and also KPCC,” Mobile Tour Manager Dina Zempsky said. “These organizations embrace our mission to retain diverse stories. We are back over and over again.”

Listen to reporter Denise Guerra tour the mobile booth in a story from Annenberg Radio News

Though diverse, the day’s stories all emphasized the importance of storytelling.

Actor Cheech Marin of the popular comedy act Cheech & Chong was the first to venture into the mobile booth — an airstream trailer outfitted with a recording studio — to tell his story titled, “Being Born in East LA.”  

“I was born and raised in South Central,” Marin said, laughing, “but my parents are from East Los Angeles and their story is one to be told — one I am happy to have the opportunity to tell.” 

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of California’s District 59, which includes most of South L.A., shared family stories of his own. His uncle was one of The Little Rock Nine, the group of Black high school students who fought for integrated schools in 1957.

Jones-Sawyer’s mother later did the same. When a neighbor warned her to pull Reggie out of his all-White school “before things got ugly,” she refused, telling her son: “Don’t ever let someone take away your right to education.”

These stories, Sawyer said, set the foundation for his success, and the success of his children. His daughter recently begun working in South L.A. as a teacher, and a son is on his way to medical school at Harvard.

The mariachi setting the vibe | Photo credit: Skylar E Myers

The mariachi setting the vibe | Photo credit: Skylar E Myers

All stories recorded by StoryCorps mobile tours have the chance to be archived in the Library of Congress with participants’ consent. Once recorded and edited, StoryCorps publishes the stories on its website where community partners, professors, social workers, and even doctors can find resources for data analysis, teaching, or to illuminate certain issues concerning each particular community.

“Stories are how we share our mutual humanity,” Zempsky said. “I think they are also an interesting way to help younger people understand the history of our country and our diversity.”

Want to share your story? Reservations are now open: Call StoryCorps’ 24-hour, toll-free reservation line at 1-800-850-4406, or visit

StoryCorps suggests a donation of at least $25 for each MobileBooth interview. Those unable to contribute may participate at no cost so that StoryCorps remains a free public service.  

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