Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez has spent the last 15 years piecing together an undocumented portion of Latino American history. Through more than 900 interviews, Rivas-Rodriguez’s VOCES Oral History projects documents how Latino WWII veterans sparked the Chicano and Latino civil rights movements in the country and the impact they had on generations that followed. Rivas-Rodriguez sees her work as filling in gaps in American history books, one interview at a time.
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez in her home office on Monday, August 17, 2015. Rivas-Rodriguez runs the VOCES Oral History Project at the University of Texas at Austin. She has been interviewing Latinos for the past 15 years in an effort to better include their perspective in 20th Century American History.
Behind the Story: My Next Generation Radio experience
As a Brazilian-American raised mostly in the United States, Professor Rivas-Rodriguez’s VOCES Oral History Project has resonated with me since I learned of it almost two years ago.
The project’s goal is to amend our understanding of 20th Century American history by incorporating unheard Latino perspectives through interviews with women and men who lived during and participated in key historical moments, including World War II, the Vietnam and Korean Wars, and the ensuing Chicano and Latino Civil Rights Movements.
In searching for a story to report on for NPR’s Next Generation Radio Project, I jumped at the opportunity to profile Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez since it would allow me to learn more about what the project had uncovered in the fifteen years since it started. I also wanted to learn more about its dynamic creator and what drove her to undertake such a compelling but challenging project, one with seemingly no end.
Since I hadn’t worked in radio before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I asked Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez to share her archival interviews thinking they would help the project come alive to listeners. Little did I know how long combing the old tape would take (this, even after Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez pointed me in the direction of some of her more animated interviewees).
In addition to speaking with her in her home office in Austin, I drove to San Antonio with Prof. Rivas Rodriguez and her staff (which included her college aged son) where they had arranged to meet two voting rights activists Charles Cotrell and Rosie Castro, the mother of Julian and Joaquín Castro, both involved in politics in Washington, DC.
As soon as we entered the house where the interviews were to take place, Prof. Rivas Rodriguez’s team set into motion–prepping cameras, staking out the quietest rooms in the house to conduct the recordings, and scanning photographs and old documents into a portable scanner they had brought along. Although it didn’t end up in the piece, I interviewed Prof. Rodriguez’s son, Juan Augustín Rodriguez, who was spending an early Wednesday morning just before the start of the fall semester helping his mom out. He quipped “she knows she can get free and happy-enough labor out of me and my brother,” JK.
All in all, it was a good idea to report on a story that I felt passionately about–my interest in the subject matter got me through some of the more time-consuming (read: mind-numbing) work reviewing the archival audio. And all along, great suggestions and direction from my mentor Tina Pamintuan, and my editor, Traci Tong, kept me on track and focused on telling the story as best as possible.