Latino Voices: The Beginnings
The project started with the creation of an advisory board drawn from community members and university specialists. Under the direction of the board we applied for matching funds from the Utah Humanities Council and the Marriner S. Eccles Foundation to hire a native-speaker to help direct the project, and to train and engage native speakers to do the interviewing. As the project progressed, we also hired a recruiter to help enlist community members as interviewers and interviewees. To this end, we advertised for a bilingual assistant director and received more than fifteen applications. We hired Elisaida Méndez, a native of Puerto Rico, and a doctoral student in psychology at USU to be the project’s assistant director, and Jorge Rodas, a local real estate agent to train project interviewers and recruit project interviewees. Rodas immigrated to the United States with his parents from Guatemala when he was 19 years old. He lived in California and Arizona before moving to Utah. Aside from being a native speaker, Jorge brought the essential experience of migration, which would be part of the life-histories of many of those interviewed. Furthermore, he had personal experience in the two prominent religious traditions of Cache Valley’s Latino communities: the Roman Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These life experiences gave Rodas the cultural tools needed to introduce the project, get feedback from Latino community members and enlist their help and support.
In collaboration with folklorist Elaine Thatcher, Randy Williams (project director and USU SCA Fife Folklore Archives Curator) created the interview questions and wrote the project mission statement and letter of information. Williams and Méndez worked closely with USU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which reviewed and approved the mission statement, release form, questions, and letter of information. The decision to work with the IRB gave project participants an offsite, non project organization to interact with. This additional regulation worked to protect the community.
The project’s success was contingent on our ability to organize, but also on our ability to win the support of Cache Valley’s Latino community. We followed the American Folklore Society ideal that enjoins oral history professionals to work “at the invitation of and with the collaboration of the members of [the] community” (AFS). To this end we insured that all literature, advertisements, forms, and training materials were in both Spanish and English. This provided control and respect to the project community. We employed translators to examine all of our documents, which were then meticulously reviewed by Professor María Luisa Spicer-Escalante (Associate Professor of Spanish & Linguistics, Department of Languages, Philosophy & Communication Studies, Utah State University) and Elisaida Méndez.