César Chávez and the Life of Migrant Farm Workers
Oral History Interviews


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Oral History is a method for historians to discover the impact of events, laws, and ideas on the people of a particular period of history. The type of people interviewed is determined by the kind of information sought. If the social scientist wants to know why a leader made a specific decision, it is important to find out from that leader, or others directly involved, the details and understandings of the event at the time. This specific type of interview process is used by reporters, biographers, and analysts of such events as Kennedy’s response in the Cuban Missile Crisis or Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb.

But the task of oral history can be much broader. It may be used to understand a recent era in a much deeper manner than the study of the leaders and events will ever reveal. Taken as an aggregate, oral interviews help the researcher find out what a time or place was really like for the people who lived it. What were their hopes, fears, needs, and accomplishments? How did these things influence their perception of leaders, political policy, and events? How did the passage of a law or the actions of some people impact the lives of others?

This oral history project is designed to learn about the life of migrant farm workers in the last thirty-forty years and the impact of César Chávez’ work on those lives. The interviews are intended to be conducted, recorded and transcribed by students. The subjects of the interviews may be family members, community members, or even other students. These subjects should be people who have worked as migrant farm laborers, been members of the family of farm workers, lived in communities where they were in frequent direct contact with migrant workers, or who ran farms, ranches, or businesses who hired these workers. The interviews may be conducted in any language. The goal is to post a few of these on the Internet in order to build understanding of the migrant worker experience and the life of César Chávez among teachers and students in California

When conducting an interview, it is important to be impartial and to put the subject at ease. Sometimes it is difficult to do both. The interviewer should begin by introducing him or herself and giving the subject some background about what the purpose of the interview and how the information will be used. Reassure the subject that nothing will be posted on the Internet unless they give express permission. Ask permission to record the interview on video or audio tape, but always take notes at the same time as a back up and to keep the interview focused.

Students at Pasco High School in Washington conducted interviews of themselves and family members located here. Read and discuss these interviews. Develop four or five simple questions and practice interviewing one another in class until you feel you can manage an interview in the field. There are so many details involved with recording, taking notes, and making the interviewee comfortable with the process, that it is often easiest to conduct an interview as a team of two or three students. The downside is that having so many people in the room at once can intimidate the subject.

Learn more about oral history at the Library of Congress Oral History Project: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/lessons/oralhist/ohhome.html


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