StoryCorps Historias Launches in Washington, DC

Thursday was the official launch of a new initiative through StoryCorps dedicated to collecting the stories of Latinos. It’s called StoryCorps Historias, and its aim is to record interviews throughout the country between friends and family members from the Latino community. The interviews collected will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress as well as in prominent Latino archives, thus forming part of an effort to record the American experience as told by the people who live it.

The StoryCorps Historias launch featured appearances by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Many of the Caucus members were very excited about gathering Latino stories and shared some personal moments. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of California’s 34th Congressional District (aka Los Angeles) spoke at the event and shared a story about her mother’s childhood neighborhood where the streets were unpaved and her desires to see her community’s area improve .

Congressman Jose Serrano of New York’s 16th district (aka the Bronx and parts of Harlem in New York City) emphasized the importance of the Puerto Rican community. Other Caucus members that were present include Xavier Becerra from California, Congressman Charlie Gonzalez from Texas and Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico. Other noted speakers include United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez.

To participate in StoryCorps Historias and to see when StoryCorps Historias is coming to you, visit their website here. And you can see more photos of the event below.

Here you can see StoryCorps founder Dave Isay with CPB’s President and Chief Executive Officer Pat Harrison:

Booths like this one will be traveling the country recording the stories of Latinos. People can come in and record conversations in these airstream trailers:

StoryCorps Oral History Project

StoryCorps Historias is an initiative to record the diverse stories and life experiences of Latinos in the United States. According to StoryCorps founder David Isay, this bilingual project will also ensure that the voices of Latinos will be preserved and remembered for generations to come.


More than 30 years ago, Blanca Alvarez, originally from Nogales, Mexico, crossed the border and settled in Los Angeles, California with her family.

Blanca Alvarez and her daughter Connie came to a StoryCorps recording booth in LA. They remembered their early years in the United States, years that were very challenging for their family–they were a time of eating only bean tacos and working late at night. Back then Blanca worked cleaning offices and Connie used to come and stay with her mom wearing her pajamas. Now Connie went on to graduate from UCLA in 2000. She still sees her mother’s life of working late while raising children as an inspiration.

“There is nothing that can stand in my way that didn’t stand in yours,” she said to her mom.

Blanca has overcome many obstacles herself: she became a US citizen in 1985.

Listen to StoryCorps founder Dave Isay’s conversation with Maria Hinojosa about this year-long initiative and hear them present this story from the series about the Alvarez family.

Right-click here to download an .mp3 of this segment.

To find out more about recording your own Historia, go to the StoryCorps Historias website.

Para hacer una reservación para grabar su historia, llame 1-800-850-4406.

StoryCorps Historias

Since 2003, over 50,000 people have shared life stories with family and friends through StoryCorps, a public radio oral history project. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to its broadcasts on public radio and the web. Each conversation is recorded and is preserved at the Library of Congress.

This month, StoryCorps launches a new initiative: StoryCorps Historias. Over the course of the next year, Latino USA will partner with StoryCorps to bring Historias to our public radio audience.

Dr. Gustavo Mestas and his family lived in Cuba during the early years of Fidel Castro’s regime. In 1963, however, they escaped and came to Florida.

Dr. Mestas’s daughter, Ileana Smith, was 10 years old when they came to the United States. She asked her father about his reasons for escaping Cuba.

“That is a very complex problem,” he said. Dr. Mestas describes the mixed feelings he had: an initial moment of happiness at Castro’s victory, and then the eventual realization that this was, in his own words, “not good for my children.”

So when a friend was leaving, Mestas and his family also got on the boat and headed for Florida. Upon coming to this country, Mestas struggled. He had to take classes at night so that he could practice as a doctor. In the daytime, he worked picking tomatoes and cleaning motels. He would walk to his night classes.

Mestas was an orthopedic surgeon in Cuba. But he decided to be a general practitioner in the United States — he didn’t want to wait for years before being able to practice.

Despite the difficulties, Mestas is happy with the way people have accepted him into their lives. “The way they accepted me and the way they treated me, I paid them with hard work, ” he said.

Mestas worked for 30 years as a doctor. And he still has a good relationship with his former patients. “Even today, after more than eight years retired, I go to the grocery and I see the ladies and they kiss me,” Mestas said. “I think they love me.”

Ileana sees her dad as a large influence in her life.

“I love you and I respect and admire you,” she said.

LISTEN NOW to their story.
Right-click here to download an .mp3 of this segment.

Web Extra: Danticat Awarded MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant

Edwidge Danticat (Photo by David Shankbone)

The MacArthur Foundation announced 24 new grant recipients this week, commonly known as the “Genius Awards.” Among this years winners was Haitian immigrant and novelist Edwidge Danticat.

Listen to Maria Hinojosa’s April 2008 interview with Edwidge about the death of her beloved uncle while in custody of U.S. immigration officials and about her latest book, Brother I’m Dying.

Right-click here to download an .mp3 of this segment.

A Tale of Two Dairy Farms

The price of milk these days is not a matter of pride for this country’s dairy farmers. Not that this is good news for consumers either, as most of the price associated with milk comes from transportation and labor costs. The situation is so dire that Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania, this week introduced the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2009 (S. 1645) to allow the Secretary of Agriculture to determine the price of milk used for manufactured purposes.

To help control labor costs, dairy farmers over the past two decades had come to rely on immigrant labor. Many immigrants had first hand knowledge of working with animals and were not afraid to work the long, grueling hours needed on a dairy farm. And many dairy farmers are calling for an expanded guest worker program.

But the immigration controversy complicates matters for farmers. From the Feet in Two Worlds Project, reporter Valeria Fernandez and producer Rene Gutel bring us the story of two dairy farms in Arizona, where immigration is an extremely hot topic.

Right-click here to download an .mp3 of this segment.

Watch a slide show as you listen. (Photos courtesy of Valeria Fernandez and Terry Green Sterling.)

A Tale of Two Dairy Farms from NPR's Latino USA on Vimeo.

Ethical Issues Around Healthcare

When South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson interrupted President Barack Obama’s speech with his now famous “you lie” outburst, the actual statement by the President that prompted that incident was how federal healthcare legislation would not mandate coverage for undocumented immigrants. In fact, the bills touted by Congress in the days that followed excluded undocumented immigrants, even if they wanted to buy into the system voluntarily with their own money.

Dr. James J. Walter
For his part, Congressman Wilson later apologized to the President, who accepted. But speculation on whether racism was a factor filled the national media this week. And few in the media even examined the wisdom of a policy that would literally leave millions of people who live in this country out of the healthcare system.

Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa speaks with Dr. James J. Walter, Professor of Bioethics at Loyala Marymount University, about the ethical issues surrounding the issue.

Right-click here to download an .mp3 of this segment.

Commentary: What We Don’t Know About Sotomayor

After an intense grilling by members of Congress and saturated media coverage of her personal life story, new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor can rightly be described as a celebrity. From her humble beginnings being raised by a hard-working single mother, to her battle with diabetes, to her “wise Latina” comments, Sotomayor has been thoroughly vetted by the media. Or so it would seem.

This week, Associate Justice Sotomayor heard her first case on the Supreme Court. But actually there’s a lot we don’t know about Sotomayor or issues of Latinos and the law despite the intense national scrutiny recently. Commentator Michelle Garcia faults the media for this fact.

Right-click here to download an .mp3 of this segment.

Hate Crimes Task Force

On Nov. 8, 2008, Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, was murdered in the town of Patchogue, New York. Police say that several teenagers who called themselves the “Caucasian Crew” were partaking of a little sport they called “beaner jumping” when they beat Marcelo Lucero to death.

Among other things, the incident led to the formation of the Suffolk County Hate Crimes Task Force, pictured above. What the task force quickly learned was that Lucero wasn’t the only beating victim by these and other teens.

A new report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center documents the “Climate of Fear” in Suffolk County. It goes on to name names of political leaders they identify as hate “enablers.”

Mark Potok is director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project and editor of the new report. He speaks with Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa about the fears of immigrants in Suffolk County, New York.

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El Paso’s New Emphasis on Domestic Violence

In the 1950s and 60s, police often treated cases of domestic violence as personal family issues. Many women’s groups and activists worked throughout the 1970s and 1980s to change attitudes of prosecutors and law enforcement groups. But the issues surrounding domestic violence don’t simply go away with an attitude change.

El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza
In El Paso, Texas, teams of officers and victims advocates specializing in domestic violence cases are charged with investigating such complaints within 24 hours. It’s a program launched by the El Paso District Attorney. And it’s resulting in stronger criminal cases against offenders and quicker assistance for victims.

Latino USA contributor Monica Ortiz Uribe reports.

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Jazz Harpist Edmar Castañeda

Bandleader Edmar Castañeda started playing the harp in his native Bogotá, Colombia when he was just 13 years old. In 1994, Castañeda moved to New York where he was infused in the local jazz scene.

Today, Castañeda combines his Colombian harp style of play with a New York Jazz sensibility. His unique style of play has earned him a firm place in the international jazz scene. Sometimes he’ll perform with his wife, singer and poet Andrea Tierra, but usually he can be found performing with his band The Edmar Castañeda Trio.

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The Edmar Castañeda Trio on YouTube.