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Listening to and Learning from Oral Histories

I come from a tradition of storytelling and storytellers. I have heard my mom’s and dad’s stories about growing up and, now, I tell my children stories about my brothers and my childhood. Many of these stories have served as counter-narratives, as challenges to dominant beliefs about Chicanx people and about women; they have helped me to develop and recognize my roots and think of new ways of being today and in the future.

Over the past several years, I have incorporated oral history work into my Composition courses. I was inspired to do this by a good friend who runs the non-profit Studio for Southern California History, and, after seeing how she did this work and knowing she had undergraduates complete oral history projects, I thought about how and why I should/could do this, too. Later on, I came across many of the oral history collections that Voice of Witness has published, and eventually was able to work with them and enhance my own learning around supporting students’ projects. At one point, I asked my mom to come to my class, so she can be interviewed by my students. They crafted and asked her questions, and I had the opportunity to transcribe her oral history.

To me, oral history work is about listening. It’s about recognizing the wealth of experiences, knowledge, and stories that are around us. It’s about stopping long enough to pay attention, record, write, and share with others. Doing oral history work is more about the person speaking (the narrator) rather than the person writing (the interviewer), but it recognizes the incredible work that both parties do and have done to create this text (i.e. oral history) that can be shared with others.

The teachers who are involved in this work, funded by CTA’s IFT grant, are inspirational. One instructor will be focusing on an ambitious year-long project where her students will ultimately conduct their own oral histories with community members. Another instructor is crafting an oral history project centering LGBTQ+ educators. One instructor will be focusing on chronicling how media has changed by interviewing people of different ages. My students have interviewed each other and someone else of their choice, and the finished oral histories are incredible.

We--the oral history team (Karyn, Kimberly, Angelena, and I)--hope that this site serves as a place for people to learn, to listen, to be inspired, and to inspire us. Please contact us if you have questions, would like resources, or (perhaps!) would like to become involved.

Looking forward!

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