'Our Stories Are Shared Stories:' Project To Archive Latino COVID History

This story first appeared on Iowa Public Radio. An excerpt can be viewed below. To read or listen to the full story click here.

A statewide project, 'Voces of a Pandemic,' has launched in an effort to record and archive Latino experiences in Iowa as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

The project initially started at the University of Texas at Austin at its Voces Oral History Center, led by professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez. It was Rivas-Rodriguez's idea that inspired Iowa State University professor Lucía Suárez to start an Iowa version of the project. She learned about it at the Latinx Studies Association conference in Washington D.C.

"Part two is the [ISU] Parks library wanted to do an oral history project," Suárez explained about the "coalition birth" of Iowa's rendition of 'Voces of a Pandemic.'

The director of ISU's U.S. Latino/a Studies Program jumped at the chance to specifically highlight Latino experiences.

"I saw a need. There's a need for more stories of our Latinx communities here, right? There's just a need for more connections," Suárez said.

She said the oral histories project was first offered at the university as an Honors class, but Suárez said not one of the interviewees were Latino. That's why she enlisted the help of student Iris Martinez. Now the inaugural intern for the Latino Studies Program project, Martinez leads the project for Iowa.

Martinez, who trained for the U.S. military in South Carolina before working as an intern, is a sophomore. This summer, she’s interviewing Latinos about their lives now that the pandemic is slowly beginning to subside. She said it’s important to remember everyday stories of Latinos, and not just what she calls “bad news” regarding immigration.

“We're gonna all realize that everyone has a story and [for] the underrepresented people, it's just so much harder to find their stories in history now," Martinez said. "I feel like it's so important to get their stories and just to make sure that we remember them.”

Suárez added the everyday stories act as a counter to the negative news surrounding Latinos. Such as, how many Latino communities were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Right now, Martinez said the process is based on trial and error to find out what works best for Iowans. The interviews are conducted over Zoom or in person. Martinez also allows her subjects to not use video if that makes them more comfortable.

She started in February with a focus on COVID-19, but now the topic has shifted. Since there are no longer mask mandates or other requirements to deter the spread of COVID-19, Martinez said she'll ask people to reflect in a more thoughtful, big-picture way.

She said a theme most interviewees have touched on is isolation. She has mostly spoken to essential workers and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. She wants all different types of people to learn from this oral history endeavor.