Creating Oral Histories That Humanize Immigration

HumanitiesX
Immigration and Migration @DePaul
2 min readMay 23, 2022

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By Juliana Zanubi and Lauren Rosenfeld

DePaul students and BPNC fellows partake in an icebreaker activity. Image courtesy of Lauren Rosenfeld.

This summer, publishing company Restless Books will offer an Immigrant Writing Lab to bring essential immigrant stories to the page. Last fall, the Immigrant Writers Association (IWA)/Association des écrivains immigrants (AEI) published its third anthology written by members. And this spring, an unconventional and innovative course at DePaul University is working towards a similar goal.

Partnering with a community organization on Chicago’s Southwest side called Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC), students are interviewing immigrant activists and will edit these interviews into an online anthology for BPNC. The course, called Sharing Their Stories: Latinx Immigrant Activists’ Oral Histories, was developed through DePaul University’s HumanitiesX fellowship. It is team-taught by poet Chris Green and historian Dr. Amy Tyson, faculty in DePaul’s English and History Departments, respectively.

On April 22, 2022, students of Sharing Their Stories met with the participating members of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council on the DePaul campus to get to know each other and discuss the upcoming interview process. After each BPNC member and DePaul student introduced themselves, the group embarked on an icebreaker activity that involved passing a ball of yarn and sharing personal facts. The activity created a foundation of trust, care, and fun for the collaboration. Andrea Ortiz-Landin, the director of organizing at BPNC, led the activity with the help of BPNC’s two youth liaisons Esmeralda Montesinos and Citlali Perez.

In the weeks that have followed, students in this experimental, co-taught classroom began the work of collecting, transcribing, and editing the spoken words of nine BPNC activists. This process follows five weeks of training in oral history methodologies and verse expression by public Tyson and Green. This process, as well as the end product of the anthology highlighting the oral histories of BPNC’s community activists, serves to make visible not just the struggles but multiple aspects of these immigrants’ stories, opening the door to further work that will help raise awareness about the experiences of immigrants in the United States.

We live in a world where immigrants and the process of immigration is seen very abstractly and full of bias. Anthologies such as this one help return the human aspect to the conversation, and recognize that each person’s story is unique, valuable, and worthy.

Anthologies such as BPNC’s can help return the human aspect to the conversation, showing immigrants to be not victims, heroes, or people undeserving of being seen, but rather as humans that are deserving of both dignity and rights.

Juliana Zanubi and Lauren Rosenfeld are 2021–22 Student Fellows with HumanitiesX.

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