Mariana Castro first approached SPOHP with the idea for the Voices of Dreamers project in the summer of 2017. She wanted to conduct interviews with undocumented students that could be used in a student-created training, UndocuPeers, which is now offered to University of Florida faculty and staff in Student Affairs. However, she also wanted to make sure that the interviews would become part of a public archive, so that the students’ stories and voices would be able to be heard by wider audiences in perpetuity. We decided to establish the project as a track for our fall 2017 internship in oral history and social justice, parallel to a track devoted to developing a play about the Women’s March on Washington (Voices from the March), and a third track working on Black history in Gainesville’s 5th Avenue neighborhood for the Heritage Trail project. VOD was driven by the hard work of six University of Florida students: Mariana Castro, Angela Locarno, Grace Chun, Kendra Blandon, Chelsey Hendry Simmons, and Juan Paniza.
They worked throughout each week on developing the interview guide, doing background research, honing their interviewing skills, and conducting, transcribing, and extracting clips from the interviews themselves. Throughout all of this, Mariana went above and beyond in helping to coordinate most of the interview opportunities herself, in addition to conducting interviews and undertaking the same work as her peers. Thanks to Mariana’s vision and leadership, and the VOD team’s hard work--with a bit of guidance from internship co-instructors Dr. Ryan Morini and Jeff Pufahl--the UndocuPeers training was able to draw on clips from in-depth interviews with ten currently and former undocumented students and six allies.
To include a wider collection of voices and understand undocumented students’ experiences in different institutional circumstances, Mariana also coordinated a trip to the University of Central Florida, where the team conducted eight more interviews with undocumented students from UCF and Valencia College, as well as faculty mentors who work with them. Under Mariana’s leadership as well as that of Kendra, who is now one of SPOHP’s Latina/o Diaspora in the Americas Project coordinators, the team plans to continue expanding the collection, including conducting interviews at other schools in and outside of Florida. In fact, the team plans to stay an extra two days at SOHA to conduct more interviews at the undocumented student centers at Fullerton and UCLA.
The stories in the VOD collection are powerful. Some narrators opted for anonymity, and signed their release forms under agreed-upon pseudonyms; others are public about their status and chose to put their names on the transcripts. Some narrators have already been very public about their stories in newspapers and even before the state legislature; others had few if any conversations about their citizenship status outside of their families or a very close circle of friends. The VOD collection includes stories such as the successful student-led fight for tuition equity, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition; a student whose attempt to go through the proper channels was thwarted because their family’s scheduled appointment happened to be on September 11, 2001; and the incredible sacrifices and hard work of many parents to work to provide the opportunity for educational advancement to their children.
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