The oral history interviews in this collection are newly accessible even though they were conducted between 1973-1975 because until now, only transcripts were available – you couldn’t listen to the actual interviews which were recorded on cassette tape. BHS is a leader among archives who give researchers access to the actual audio/video of interviews rather than just transcripts. BHS gives primacy to the audio document because as Alessandro Portelli says, “The tone and volume range and the rhythm of popular speech carry implicit meaning and social connotations which are not reproducible in writing.” (The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories, 1991). This is one of the ways BHS furthers our mission to make the vibrant history of Brooklyn tangible, relevant, and meaningful today.
Everyone is welcome to come to BHS to listen to the voices collected in this oral history, which is also made accessible at Centro. Centro gives online access to some of their collections including this excellent bilingual educational resource: The Electronic Schoolhouse/La Escuela Electrónica.
Listen to Amna Ahmad, BHS Oral History Intern and Columbia student, discuss her experience digitizing this collection from cassette tape and the stories she heard listening to ALL 75 HOURS of interviews! [audio: http://www.brooklynhistory.org/podcast/PROH_Amna.mp3]
Pedro Juan Hernández, Senior Archivist at Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños/Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, CUNY; Chela Scott Weber, Archivist & Director of the Othmer Library at BHS; and I also spoke on Friday about the importance of this collection. Among those joining the discussion were El Diario’s Erica González; folklorist Elena Martinez, creator of the Steamship Migration tour of New York on the City of Memory; and Stephanie Alvarez, mother of Cassie Alvarez, BHS Visitor Services Assistant who we were surprised to discover is a descendant of Luis Felipe Weber, an important leader of the Puerto Rican community in the 1920s who is often discussed by narrators in this collection.
Here are some samples from the Puerto Rican Oral History collection. These interviews were recorded between 1973-1975:
Listen to Celia Vicé (b 1920), civic leader, former Commissioner of NYC Commission on Human Rights, and at the time of the interview president of Puerto Rican Heritage publications: [audio: /uploads/celia-vice-2-copy.mp3]
Listen to Honorina Weber Irizarry (b ca. 1905) talk about how being bilingual helped her in the workplace and the generosity of her brother Luis Felipe Weber: [audio: /uploads/honorina-w-irizarry-copy.mp3]
Listen to Luis Hernandez (b ca. 1923), then NYC Commissioner on Human Rights talk about leaders in the Puerto Rican community in Brooklyn: [audio: /uploads/luis-hernandez-1-copy.mp3]
Listen to Sister Carmelita (b. 1907) talk about the Spanish-speaking community in Brooklyn and changes in religious practice: [audio: /uploads/sister-carmelita-copy.mp3]
To hear more, including interviews in Spanish, please visit BHS and listen in the Library.
To read more, here’s a Select Bibliography about Puerto Rican community in New York City.