Undergraduate Research and the Latino/a Chicano/a Oral History Project

Overview of Special Section in Anthropology

During the 2005 Fall semester, students who enrolled in the UNT anthropology course "Latinos in the United States" participated in a class project to document the educational experiences of Latinos/as in North Texas. Forty students were organized into ten teams; each team interviewed a Latino/a professor who volunteered to participate in the project. In addition to conducting and transcribing the interviews, students analyzed their data, wrote papers, and presented their findings to the entire class at the end of the semester.

The Latino/a Chicano/a Oral History project has two main objectives. The first is to document the educational stories of Latinos/as in Denton. As in the rest of the nation, the local Latino/a population is rapidly growing. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Latinos/as comprised 35.6% and 42% of the total population for the city of Dallas in the years 2000 and 2004 respectively. In Denton County, the Latino/a population grew from 12.2% in 2002 to 15% in 2004, surpassing the 14.2% national total. While the number of Latino/a students who enroll in college continues to increase—at UNT Latino/a enrollment has increased by 97.8% since 1996—Latino/a undergraduates are less likely than White students to graduate from college (Fry, 2005). Behind all of these statistics are a myriad of stories about failure, resiliency, and success that deserve to be included in accounts about the twenty-first-century Latino/a demographic boom. In an effort to insert the voices of Latinos/as in this emerging story, data for the Latino/a Chicano/a Oral History project will continue to be collected in the coming years. The population will eventually include students and families who reside in Denton and the transcribed interviews will be archived in order to preserve their contents and share them with the public at large.

The second objective of the Latino/a Chicano/a Oral History project is to foster undergraduate student research. Many of the students who attend UNT and who enrolled in the class "Latinos in the United States" mirror the educational profiles of most Latinos/as. They are first-generation college students; they come from lower incomes and most are Mexican American. This project provided seemingly ordinary undergraduate students (often considered at risk of educational failure) the extraordinary opportunity to use a course assignment as a tool for empowerment and transformation. As these students learned about data collection methods, data analysis, and collaborative work, they were able to see the lives of others like them as sources of knowledge and inspiration. In addition, while they interviewed faculty and analyzed their stories they transformed traditional student-teacher roles. Students became producers rather than recipients of knowledge, and in the process they legitimized the life stories of their Latino/a faculty informants.

The papers that are part of this volume present multiple truths about the educational experiences of Latinos/as. While these truths may at times be contradictory, they are representative of a unique Latino/a consciousness. Variably referred to as laconciencia de la mestiza or a borderlands consciousness by Chicana feminist scholars, this consciousness precludes Latinos/as being bound by predetermined categories and expectations. Andrew Jones illustrates this resistance in his description of a professor’s refusal to be constrained by ethnic labels. A push against culture is evident in the educational story of Andrew Jones’ informant. In contrast, the rest of the papers describe the educational trajectories of faculty for whom awareness of their culture, ethnicity, and race played a significant role in their educational choices. Ivonne Solano, Bethany Hardikar, and Johnathan Myers illustrate the significant pull of culture in framing the educational experiences of Latinos/as of various national and socioeconomic backgrounds. Solano and Hardikar discuss how a professor turned the stigma of being born “on the wrong side of the tracks” into professional pride. Similarly, Johnathan Myers describes how the process of becoming an ethnic minority influenced the professional priorities of his faculty informant. Lastly, in Candace Sibley’s “Definition of a Library Cuban,” the push and pull of culture are woven together into the professional identity of a Latina professor.

I wish to acknowledge the hard work and enthusiasm of all of the students who contributed to the Latino/a Chicano/a Oral History Project during the fall of 2005. In particular, I would like to extend my gratitude to Andrea Robledo who acted as project manager and role model for the undergraduate students. My heartfelt congratulations to Claudia Espinoza, Evaristo Verduzco, and Tracey Karlson whose papers about the Oral History Project were accepted to be presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies. Finally, mil gracias to Susan Eve, to the editorial staff of TEF, and to our Latino/a informants for the opportunity to share the stories that comprise this section of The Eagle Feather.