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Fronteras Extra: Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez: 'Dig Deep,' Collect Your Own Oral Histories

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a professor of journalism at UT Austin, founded the Voces Oral History Project in 1999.

The Voces Oral History Project marks its second decade in 2019. The project’s founder, Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, said they’ve “gotten very fancy” in the last 20 years.

Credit Eli Reed
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez shows her students how to set up for an interview on Mar. 30, 2019 in Corpus Christi, TX. Their interviews are part of the Voces Oral History Project founded by Rivas-Rodriguez in 1999.

“We're becoming established as a center on the UT campus with partnerships and affiliations with the units on campus,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “We're housed in a journalism department within the College of Communication, which is a little bit unusual for oral histories, but in some ways it makes a lot of sense, because our project is so media heavy, that it's really very natural for us to be where we are.”

Advances in technology have allowed for the project to improve.  

“I could never have foreseen 20 years ago that we would be doing the kinds of things that we're doing now,” said Rivas-Rodriguez.

They don’t just collect audio. Rivas-Rodriguez and her team videotape and publish full interviews online.

“Putting them up on YouTube is one thing,” she said. “Nobody is going to sit there and watch a two-hour interview unless it's (an) interview with a loved one. But if it's indexed, and you see that this part of the interview deals with their educational experience, then that may be the area that you want that you want to look at.”

Rivas-Rodriguez encourages everyone to “dig deep” and collect their own oral histories with an assist by Voces.

“There may be something about the Mexican school in your little town, and so doing interviews with people around that Mexican school or whatever it was in your hometown that really was a pivotal time for your community, that's the kind of stuff that we'd love to partner with people and show them how we've done it. Not that they have to do everything that we've done, but we've kind of gone through and eliminated a lot of things that didn't work. So my hope is that if we can show them what we've done, they can adopt whatever part of what we've done to their own operation and make it work for them.”

Rivas-Rodriguez said she gets emails from people who have loved ones with interesting stories.

“I do get requests from people saying, ‘my dad is a Vietnam vet and he has a great story,’ or ‘my mom, during Vietnam, had this experience,’ or they were involved in this or that,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “If they can come up to Austin, we have a studio space and we have a videographer...and it's easier for us. If we have to travel outside of Austin it's a little bit harder for us, because it involves mileage and it involves hotels.”

Rivas-Rodriguez said Voces can provide information how to conduct oral history interviews. Send an email to voces@utexas.edu for a pre-interview form and YouTube instructions.

Norma Martinez can be reached by email at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1. Lauren Terrazas can be reached by email at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter @terrazas_lauren

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren