Monday, January 31, 2011

Harnessing the Power of Oral History

(Our ninth entry in an ongoing series on preserving memories of loved ones…)

A national nonprofit institution, StoryCorps has been mentioned several times in this blog over the past two weeks.  The mission of StoryCorps is “to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.”  In other words, they promote the practice of preserving memories.  And not only do they promote it, but they know how to go about doing it.

If you’re looking for resources to help you in your quest to preserve family history, check out StoryCorps and see if they can help.

If things work out, your family member’s story could join the 30,000 taped interviews that they’ve assisted in collecting since the program started in 2003.

Joe Da Rold, Director of the Plainfield (NJ) Public Library, collaborated with StoryCorps on oral history projects that recorded and preserved the stories of some of Plainfield’s African-American and Latino residents.  In recalling these oral history projects, Joe remembered one particular interview during the Latinos in Conversation project that both captured the importance of the oral tradition within a family and beautifully expressed the value of a unique reminiscence.  The following are two excerpts from this Latinos in Conversation interview:

INTERVIEWEE:  “And the thing about it is that my children and now my grandchildren, you know, the older aunts or uncles, they sit down and tell the stories of when they were growing up, and we all sit around.  I remember when I was in Puerto Rico, when I was there, at my aunt's house: everybody used to sit around and listen to the stories.  And so now my grandchildren, they hear me and they hear my cousins and they hear my mom, and they sit around, and they have gone to family reunions to Puerto Rico and to New York, so they learned a lot like how my parents and my grandparents, what they went through, and we keep up the same like -- pasteles, the eating in Christmastime, pasteles, the panin, that’s pork.  So all those things, we keep up.

“... one thing that my father would do was like every Sunday when we got there, we would get in the car, and he would fill up the trunk with food and drinks, and we would go to learn from each town.  Like we would go from town to town, and learn what that town had, like [Ayjuanito] is the town of the clowns, Guayama is the town of the witches, Yauco is the town of the coffee.  So we learned, and we met people, and we learned different -- if we would say on one side of the island [olla], they would say caldero, and that’s a pot.  It was the same pot, but in one side of the island, it was different.  So I learned a lot about my culture, and I think that was the best that they did, the teachers, because the beauty of the island, and how the traditions and the families, though, that made me love Puerto Rico.”

I’d like to express a very warm and grateful thank you to Joe Da Rold for sharing his experience and insights during the past two weeks!

Our series on preserving memories will continue on Wednesday with an interview with an expert in audio preservation (how to ensure the survival of the material on those fragile cassette tapes!).

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