A Great Lakes Colleges Association initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Latina/o/x Oral Histories: Locating Our New Practice

In Spring 2016, faculty at Oberlin College offered the course, Latina/o Oral History for the first time. This class is part of a range of Latina/o/x Studies courses in the department of Comparative American Studies and offers students an opportunity to engage with a range of Latina/o communities in Northeast Ohio and follows in the department’s history of community-based learning and research. When I (Gina Pérez) first offered the course, it was with the encouragement of colleagues and friends from other colleges and universities who assured me that teaching this course would be pedagogically interesting, would be exciting to teach, and would transform me as an educator. All of these insights proved to be true. And in the three semesters since we have first offered the course, Adrian Bautista and I have learned a great deal about oral history pedagogies, the value of training and supporting students in oral history methodologies, and, perhaps most importantly, have deepened our relationships with community members throughout Northeast Ohio.

Each semester we have offered the course, Adrian and I have learned something new. Most importantly, this semester, we have developed a deep appreciation for the importance of collaborative teaching in both training students and logisitical support and coordination of collecting oral histories and public presentations. And while the first two times we  offered the course we focused on audio recordings that became the basis for narrative oral histories on a WordPress site (, this semester we made two significant changes:

First, before the semester began we decided to focus on a theme for this year’s oral histories. As a result of ongoing conversations as well as personal and research interests in the role of the Catholic Church in Latina/o communities, we decided to make this the focus of this semester’s oral history projects. In order to do this, we met with the pastor at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain, Ohio, a parish that was founded as a Latino parish more than fifty years ago and that continues to be a vibrant parish rooted in Latina/o/Hispanic cultures and traditions. Fr. Bill Thaden was eager to collaborate with us, as well Daniel Ortiz, an Oberlin alum and parishoner of Sacred Heart Chapel. Together we identified different people from the parish whom we could interview and prepared students in a focused way for the research and preparation that were soon to come.

The second important change we made was that we ventured into video recording the oral histories. This was probably the most ambitious and intimidating aspect of the semester, but was a response to Fr. Bill’s request for an oral history video project. In collaboration with Oberlin College’s Apollo Outreach Initiative (AOI) and with the indefatigable help of course instructors Claudio Orso-Giacone  and Leah Woods as well as their students, we had a series of meetings prior to the semester’s  beginning and throughout to think about what this collaboration would look like. Most importantly, we identified Sunday April 29 as the date to make a public presentation of the short film we would produce for the community and worked backwards identifying the deadlines and timeline for the semester.

In our subsequent blog posts, we will discuss in more detail our thoughts and reflections on this project which ended up being both incredibly challenging and rewarding, and the beginning to a valuable and ongoing collaboration with Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain.

Written by

Gina Perez is a cultural anthropologist and Professor in the Comparative American Studies Program at Oberlin College. She has been involved in ethnographic work in Latina/o communities in Chicago, Lorain, Ohio and Puerto Rico and is currently engaged in oral history projects connecting Oberlin College students and Latina/o residents and community members in Lorain and Northeast Ohio.

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