Who are the Latinxs living in Ohio? No need to dive into physical documents at an archival institution; Dr. Elena Foulis, Latinx scholar and senior lecture at Ohio State University (OSU), has recorded and created a digital collection, Oral Narratives of Latin@s in Ohio, in collaboration with the Ohio Hispanic Heritage project, an OSU sponsored initiative where one can engage with the stories of Latinxs from Ohio. In order to gather the multiple narratives, Dr. Foulis partners with OSU students, project archivist Cassie Patterson, and Dr. José Díaz, curator and librarian, to bring about this compilation of lived experiences.
Dr. Foulis’ goal for this project is to create a resource that preserves the history of Latinxs, at the same time presenting counternarratives to deconstruct the stereotypes of Latinxs in this country and, more specifically, in Ohio. The collection, currently, consists of sixty-seven videos that range in length from twenty minutes to two hours of participants answering various questions, developed by scholars. Participants’ backgrounds are vastly different; some have been in the state of Ohio since the 1940’s and others are recent arrivals. Also, their careers, socioeconomic backgrounds, and reasons for moving to Ohio vary. The interviews will generally have one individual at a time, while others will have multiple participants, including families, groups of friends, and couples. Because of the diversity of the interviewees, their responses provide an intergenerational perspective on life in Ohio, as well as strategies to preserve their culture (Foulis, 2018).
As I navigated the collection and the videos, my intentions were to review the Oral Narrative collection solely as a scholar, but as a fellow Midwestern Latinx, I felt a strong connection to everyone’s stories. In the late 90s, my family moved from the east coast to a city near the Ohio border. Many of the places mentioned in the videos, I recognized due to my family’s frequent visits to these locations. To say the least, I was thrilled to engage with this material.
Coming from a multi-ethnic and biracial family, and moving from New York to the Midwest was a challenge for my family. We left everything we were accustomed to, for a place where we did not see or hear people like us, nor did most people understand our backgrounds. Therefore, as I watched the videos, I found myself agreeing with several of the comments made of participants’ lived experiences and values, because to me it represented my family and our reality in the Midwest at a specific moment in time. As a result, I felt connected to all of the individuals and proud to hear their stories.
Carlos Martinez’s interview describes his reality as a Garifuna who moved from the Bronx to Columbus, Ohio. In his account he shares how living in the Midwest, he had to frequntly use English, which impacted his and his younger brother’s Spanish language development. Martinez also discusses how as the only Afro-Latinx in his OSU community, he was responsible for representing his culture, and educating others on the existence of Afro-Latinxs and Garifunas. Without Carlos’s narrative, his invisible labor as an Afro-Latinx in an Ohio institution of higher education informing others of his culture would remain untold. His narrative empitomizes the goal Dr. Foulis seeks: to preserve Latinxs’ experiences, culture, and histories.
She futher emphasizes her goal of centering and celebrating the Latinx culture and language by recording in Spanish and English. For example, for heritage speakers like Carlos Martinez, the interview allowed him to proudly converse in the language he stopped utilizing when he moved to Ohio as a young kid. The English intervews allow participates to also share their unique Latinx expereinces, such as Candelaria Mota, who shared her encounters with marginalization in Ohio. This collection is an authentic example of how the archive can bring to the forefront the voices of those usually excluded and marginalized to support their efforts to preserve their stories.
Returning to my reactions as I read, I couldn’t help but question my excitement. Why was I drawn to these stories, even though I frequently and intentionally visit and engage with Latinxs spaces? I found the answer to my question in the concepts of symbolic annihilation and representational belonging described by Caswell et al. in “To Suddenly Find Yourself Existing.” Symbolic annihilation means “to be an eternal outsider whose very existence is presumed an impossibility” (Caswell et al. 58), and representational belonging “describes the affective responses community members have to seeing their communities presented with complexity and nuance” (Caswell et al. 75). This resonated with me because I never realized that the stories of my small, local, marginalized community could be preserved, valued, and shared for others to learn from our experiences and culture.
Nevertheless, I am left pondering the implications of this collection being held and supported by an institution of higher education. While reviewing the site and the recordings, I was thrown off by the use of university propaganda as the background display. Was OSU trying to remind the viewer that they funded this project in order to engender positive perceptions of OSU? Equally important is the use of written English language to describe the project. Why did Dr. Foulis and her team not include a Spanish version, for predominantly Spanish speakers to read? With this in mind, I ask, could this project be handed to community leaders to flourish into an independent community archive, or would it be possible for community members to become collaborators of the project? “Archives and archivists should empower rather than wield power” (Kelleher 21). Even though this collection can be a source of empowerment, there’s opportunity to transfer power to the community.
Dr. Foulis and her team are centralizing and conserving the oral history of Latinxs in Ohio. Their efforts are a necessary task that is part of a bigger movement to represent marginalized groups in spaces where they have been excluded in the past.
Caswell, Michelle, Marika Cifor, and Mario H. Ramirez. “To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing: Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives.” The American Archivist, vol. 79, no. 1, 2016, pp. 56-81.
Foulis, Elena. “Oral Narratives of Latin@s in Ohio.” OSU Folklore Archives. Jan. 2018. (https://cfs.osu.edu/archives/collections/ONLO). Accessed 5 November 2018.
Carlos Martinez. YouTube, uploaded by Elena Foulis, 18 Jan 2015, https://youtu.be/y7J6fEbLljM.
“Oral Narratives of Latin@s in Ohio Canderlaria Mota 2018.” YouTube, uploaded by Elena Foulis, 11 May 2018, https://youtu.be/TeLZ4yWgqC4.