An Oral History Collective

Author: kraus (Page 2 of 2)

Prelude to the Interviews



Apprehension is what I feel after a week of learning about being an interviewer. It puts a lot of pressure on you, especially for a project like this. As much as Joe and I are doing this project is for Kirksville, it is our project. Until the future, it’s unclear what benefit this project will have on us, on Kirksville, and on the people we interview. At the moment, it’s us who determine that. It’s us who ask the questions that encourage a story. That don’t push too far, yet don’t leave too many details out.


So, this is step one: the questions. At this moment, I feel we have way too many questions, but we can narrow it down based on who we’re interviewing and what answers we get from other people. For example, if interviewers keep giving us the same answers, we can switch the questions. Nevertheless, here is what we want to know.


Note: Some of the questions may seem general, but they have been simplified since most of the interviewees will be English Language Learners.

Finding Treasure

The special collections portion of our Truman’s library was Joe’s area of expertise; not mine. He knew all the workers by name and seemed perfectly comfortable, probably because he was a Classics major and this part of the library seemed like it was meant for a classics major. I, on the other hand, had only been in the room twice: once for an orientation and another time with my beginner Latin class. Nevertheless, we were both slightly unsure of what to look for when we met with our archivist.


Our unsurety didn’t do much to help the archivist. Since the Congolese population is a fairly new population in Kirksville, there hasn’t been much time yet to create academic works to add to the collection. I asked about the Irish immigration that happened a century or two ago, but little had been written about them as well. Instead, she showed us a cabinet of books about Kirksville history, which could hold something promising, and even some links that described migration out of Kirksville during the gold rush. The only other thing she had related to our topic was a large black box. That box, as it turned out, was the jewel of the trip.


Let me take a second to explain some things about my school and about my area to you. Around a decade ago, an influx of Hispanic immigrants came to Milan, Missouri, which is about 45 minutes away from Kirksville and is home to the Smithfield-Farmland meat processing plant, where many of the Congolese are employed today. Most Hispanic immigrants found work at the plant and still work there today alongside the Congolese employees. From what I’ve seen, Milan has handled the influx pretty well. Today, there are quite a few Mexican restaurants and a grocery store. In fact, I like to think that the town today is like a little Hispanic pueblo in the middle of Missouri. I haven’t heard many complaints or problems about the population; in fact many people I talk to don’t realize that the town even exists (or that unlike the city in Italy, it’s pronounced /maɪ. lɪn/, or /My- lun.) Yet, this population was the first exposure I had to the immigrant population in the area. The first English class I taught was full of Spanish speakers.


So what does Truman have to do with this? Well, once you’ve reached junior status here at Truman, you’re required to take something called a JINS course, or a Junior Interdisciplinary Studies course. This is a writing-enhanced course that strives to cross disciplines and attract students with different majors. Topics might include Music in religious thought and practice or The Art and Science of Humor. About a decade ago, the theme of one of these class was oral history. More specifically, oral history of Latino immigrants in Milan, Missouri.


United Speakers has been trying for a few years to create a project like this. Before the Congolese population became as visible as it is today, club members recorded a couple of interviews with the Hispanic immigrants. The difference between our project and the JINS project is that ours is in Spanish, which means that we have to spend hours transcribing and translating each interview. Our goal is to publish a book with these interviews one day, but lately, we’ve been at a bit of a standstill, especially since we’ve turned our focus to the Congolese population.


While writing this, I realize how much I don’t know about this community. I have worked with them in English classes, I have done my best to translate for their parent teacher conferences, yet I’m not sure how they ended up here or what the school did to integrate them. One thing I do know, however, is that they have influenced the Congolese population. The Congolese and the Hispanics work side by side, which seems to create communication issues at times, but also leads to otherwise unlikely friendships. For example, one Congolese student in my English class is constantly trying to speak in Spanish. Some of the Hispanic students note the French translations. The community is now looking to translate documents into both Spanish and French.


When I went to translate for the Milan public schools this past October, I was fascinated by how well they had welcomed the Spanish-speaking immigrants. Maybe this was something that was ten years in the making. I was also thinking, how could these things be applied to Kirksville high school. Maybe an answer to integration is in some of these CDs.


I haven’t yet had a chance to go through the box. Actually, I’m not even sure what to do with it. Should I offer to organize it and help categorize it for special collections? How can I relate it to the United Speaker’s project? How do I include this in my website without making it the whole topic and without violating copyright?  Honestly, I’m nervous about going through the box before I know how I’m going to use the information. But I’ll figure it out.


As for our website, maybe this, combined with the previous website made by a couple of students,  will be the start of the resources about the Congolese people. Maybe this will be the beginning of answers. Why did they come to Kirksville in particular? How has their arrival shaped our area? But most importantly, how do we help each side in the integration process?


Website made by previous Truman Students:

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