Documenting Latino Roots via Oral History Project
A grant from the UO Tom and Carol Williams Fund for Undergraduate Education helped fund “Latino Roots I and II” during the 2011 winter and spring academic terms. Taught by Gabriela Martínez (SOJC) and Lynn Stephen (Anthropology; Ethnic Studies), the course focused winter term on giving a theoretical, documentary, and ethnographic understanding of the processes of Latino immigration and settlement in Oregon during the past 150 years. In spring term, the class taught students how to produce a short video documentary from oral history interviews. Read the descriptions of the oral history projects of four students.
Experiencing Deportation: The story of one family that wanted to dream in English. More than 1.3 million people were deported from the United States in 1995, either by force or by the option to leave voluntarily (Yearbook of Immigration Statistics for 1996). Hidden in that statistic lies the story of people—the stories of families and the stories of single individuals. Statistics serve their purpose and I am not arguing against that; what I am doing with my project is to give a human face to that statistical number. My family is a part of that statistic. I hope that those who have not experienced deportation and are able to see or read my project, they themselves can actually feel some of what that number actually represents for those who have lived through it.
In 1995 after we had lived seven years in Los Angeles, my mother and I were ordered to leave the country voluntarily in less than a month or be detained and deported by force. In 1988, when I was two years old, my mother and I left the poverty we were living in Guatemala and crossed all of Mexico, with my mother’s dreams to give a better future to her child and to be close to her husband. In San Isidro, California, the coyote and my mother’s group were arrested by immigration officers. My mother and I were let out on bail to my father, but we never left the country. My parents knew that if they returned to our set court date, we would be deported to Guatemala. That was not a chance they were willing to take—and this was the ground for our deportation seven years later.
The deportation of my mother and me did not just affect a single individual in my family, but all of us. It impacted my father, who had to stay to work, and my U.S.-born brother in a way that the 1.3 million statistic cannot represent. When I look at that number I see the story of my family and how our deportation to Guatemala was the most difficult time in our lives—this alone completely changes the number; that is why I decided to tell a part of my family’s experience with deportation.
Both my parents experienced our family’s deportation in different ways, and now that they are given an opportunity to tell their stories they themselves are given a voice, and at the same time they become agents of change. My parents tell their happy moments as well as their most difficult. My project better informs a viewer about what a deportation statistic is, and what deportation does to one family. My family’s experience will help bring awareness about the difficulties one family goes through when they are told they have to leave their home, spend their last weeks together and return to the nothing they had in Guatemala.
For my Latino Roots oral history and documentary, I interviewed Lizsandra “Liza” Duran-Arellano, a University of Oregon sophomore. Her story is one of growing up the child of immigrants—her parents are from Mexico. Liza was born in Hillsboro, Ore., where most of her family lives. Family is very important to Liza, and she is especially close to her maternal grandmother, who has been a big presence in her life, and her 6-year-old brother, Alberto Javier, who wants to go to “the duck school” just like his big sister.
I am honored and delighted to be a part of the Latino Roots project. Everyone has a story to tell, but for various reasons, some stories are not heard. Latino Roots offers an opportunity for members of the Latino community in Lane County—and beyond—to talk about their lives and share their experiences, that is, to tell their stories. With any luck, in doing so, they will inspire communitywide conversations about diversity, immigration, family, education and what it means to be an Oregonian. The Latino Roots project provides a unique means to educate and enlighten, and I hope it is the first chapter of a much bigger story.
My documentary covers the life of Rosalina Morales, 55, who was born in a rural village in Oaxaca, Santa Maria Tindú. Young Rosalina went to elementary school for a couple of years before leaving school to work planting and harvesting crops, caring for the animals, and helping her mom care for her younger siblings. Rosalina married when she was 15 years old and had her first child soon thereafter. Her husband, a laborer who had been leaving the village to work in other Mexican states since his teens, first traveled to the United States for work in the ’70s. It wasn’t until the mid-late ’80s that they began considering moving the whole family to the United States under the provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. When their whole family moved to Oregon, Rosalina says that it was intended to be temporary. In an interview this past February, she said, “I didn’t think I was coming here to stay. I was only going to come one, two, three years, and I was going to return because at that time, my mother was still living. And I told her, ‘Mom, I’m not going to leave you; I’m going to go and return.’ But I didn’t, my plans didn’t come out as I thought.”
Rosalina’s story is descriptive of the out-migration experienced in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca. Rural farmworkers pushed and pulled by a variety of factors began coming to the United States for work for the Bracero Program (1942-1964). Later, Mexico’s economic downturn in the ’80s, coupled with the implementation of neoliberal policies that drove crop prices down, came together to make migration to the United States not only a viable but a necessary option. While the first migrants were mostly young, single men, the late ’80s and ’90s saw whole families uprooting from their villages for urban areas in Mexico, and towards agricultural regions up and down the North American coast. Most notably, Tindureños live in Baja California, California, and Oregon mostly working as agricultural laborers and generally in low-wage service sectors. Rosalina, who now resides in Hubbard, Oregon, remembers those that helped her. During her first few months in Oregon, Rosalina remembers people bringing her bags of food and making her feel welcome. It was a big help, she said, in becoming accustomed to life in Oregon.
Rosalina Morales is my mother. I was four years old in 1992 when we moved to Oregon, and I grew up picking berries with her and the rest of the family during the summers. Rarely was the move to El Norte spoken about. For a long time, I didn’t know or understand just how deeply the political and economic futures of Mexico and the United States are intertwined. The relationship that recent migrants have to their place of origin is one way in which they are. As a further example, the introduction of indigenous Mexican migrant’s systems of government adds another important dimension to the social and political history that’s being written in the state. For these reasons, Oregon’s changing demographics require us to become familiar with the stories of the state’s earliest Latino immigrants and the most recent. This is one reason why the Latino Roots project comes at a necessary time.
Fidel Guerra Cuevas, 44, grew up along the banks of the Rio Grande in the town of Reynosa, Mexico. From his classroom he remembers being able to look out the window and see Texas. Reynosa is no longer the pueblo that Fidel recalls of his childhood, with the ten or so different neighborhoods, rather it is now a bustling, highly industrialized border city with hundreds of maquiladoras or factories. Furthermore, the name Reynosa may ring a bell because of the drug cartel violence along the eastern side of the border that has been recurrent in the news for the last five to ten years, with regular reports of shoot-outs, deaths and cartel-government showdowns. Now, many residents of Reynosa cross over the border when things get exceptionally dangerous and return home after the violence has subsided. Since birth, Fidel has lived this life of a fronteriza, living on the border and experiencing the best of both worlds in a matter of minutes, so he has always in some sense felt a close affinity to both cultures. When he moved to Eugene in the 1980s, however, he was met by a much more uniform white culture that only recently has begun to even slightly resemble the rich, multicultural reality of the borderlands of his youth.
Fidel’s story provides interesting insight into what it means to not only live the life of an immigrant but also as a fronteriza person who has been accustomed to experiencing both U.S. and Mexican cultures all of his life. While living in Oregon, he has struggled to find that sense of community that was so prevalent throughout his childhood in Mexico. I think that the concept of feeling neither 100 percent “American” nor Mexican is a common theme for many immigrants, no matter where their homes are. Fidel has lived exactly half of his life in both places, and yet he still feels like a Mexican in the United States and like an “American” or norteño in Mexico. When we are dealing with the documentation of an entire community, the idea is that we contribute to the recuperation of the collective memory through the telling of individual stories. Through those testimonies we will see certain themes that will begin to embody the collective history of this community. In the history books, the Latino community’s presence in the United States has been largely overlooked and over-generalized. The Latino population is complex with many different experiences. It is through projects like Latino Roots that we will be able to understand this and other communities that are part of our state.