Graduating Senior Speaks at PCUN-UO Event

Lidiana Soto speaks at the special event marking the PCUN-UO partnership (photo by Jack Liu).

Eugene, Oregon: June 6, 2011—My name is Lidiana Soto. I’m a graduating senior at the University of Oregon majoring in Ethnic Studies and Political Science. I had the opportunity to be a student in the Latino Roots courses that produced the videos you’re about to see on display upstairs in Special Collections [Latino Roots student documentaries]. Our Latino Roots courses brought together a group of 18 students over two quarters. During Latino Roots I, taught during winter quarter we learned about the racial/ethnic history of Oregon since more than 500 years ago and the place of Latino and Latin American history in that larger story. We also learned how to conduct oral history interviews and how to work a video camera. We each identified an individual or family whose story we have documented. We recorded an audio interview and then also a video interview. This quarter, during Latino Roots II, we learned how to shoot and edit our videos and each have produced an original ten minute documentary which we are going to present today. We are also archiving the audio file, video, a transcript, and finished video with the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections & University Archives. We are, literally, making history [See story on CLLAS website].

Let me tell you something about my own story. I grew up in Mt. Angel, Oregon, and worked the fields of the fertile Willamette Valley alongside my family for many summers.Mt. Angel is the home of the Oktoberfest, a traditional harvest festival that celebrates the bounty of the earth and the goodness of creation. And at one point, Mt. Angel was also the home to Colegio Cesar Chavez, a “college without walls” whose student population was composed of those who labored the earth in Mt. Angel, and the surrounding farming communities. Considering what Mt. Angel is known for, I think this was a very good partnership. Unfortunately, Colegio Cesar Chavez closed its doors after 10 years in 1983. It was the first four-year independent accredited Chicano College in the U.S. In 1977, Colegio granted degrees to twenty-two graduates, a number exceeding the combined number of Chicanos who graduated that same year from University of Oregon and Oregon State University. I discovered of its existence only after I came to the University of Oregon.

Mt. Angel is not only a critical symbol of the continued presence of Latino farmworkers. Mt. Angel, a small Bavarian village also witnessed the trials and tribulations of the early struggle for farmworker rights, a struggle that would give birth to PCUN first as the Willamette Valley Immigration Project in 1977 and in 1985 as PCUN. Since PCUN’s founding, the history and accomplishments of this Latino organization have grown remarkably. Today we are here to celebrate the partnership of PCUN and the University of Oregon through the transfer of PCUN’s rich archive for preservation in our library.

But as my small anecdote shows, the rich histories of many of these communities lie dormant; many Oregonians know little of it. Much like the fertile Willamette valley, Oregon’s Latino history is rich, waiting for laboring hands of students and researchers.

I was happy to find that Professor Stephen had been conducting research in the Woodburn area for many years, and she had spent a considerable time going through the PCUN archives and working with PCUN on a variety of research projects. Similarly, Professor Martinez has a more recent relationship with PCUN, but she is equally interested in their archives, having helped already with the preservation of two important documentaries produced by PCUN—A Raise Now and Our Struggle for Justice. I congratulate the University of Oregon for recognizing the need to learn more about PCUN and about the histories these archives hold as well as the other histories we have been documenting in our Latino Roots classes.

These archives will be the foundation for future researchers both students and faculty.The PCUN papers and Latino Roots stories will provide alternative lenses for those studying Oregon’s history, here at the University of Oregon, and at research institutions nationally and internationally. Information that we as students have recorded in our Latino Roots classes already offers rich stories that will contribute to our understanding of the struggles that Latinos in Oregon face, as well as knowledge about how Latinos have existed and settled in what is now the state of Oregon, and how they are active agents for change. The PCUN-UO partnership shows that we’re very aware of our changing state, and our university’s willingness to engage with those communities early on. In my time here, a lot of the material we read was coming from the southwest. It’s exciting and refreshing to begin to compile historical resources on Latino communities from the Pacific Northwest, particularly from our state.

We are tapping into a wealth of information by braiding together three distinct groups in these projects: (1) the academic community at the UO, (2) community organizations, in this case, PCUN, and (3) individual Latinos and Latino families whose stories have been documented by students in Latino Roots classes. The weaving together of these three groups of people and the information they have brought to the table gives us a rich framework from which to analyze the social and political history that’s being written in the state. I believe this benefits not only Latino students and faculty at the University of Oregon but non-Latinos as well, as it provides a research framework with the potential for immense personal growth and transformation, and reflection.

I asked my classmates about what they were leaving the Latino Roots classes with, and I received some very insightful answers that reflect the intense process we have gone through together for the past five months. These thoughts reflect all aspects of our learning:

  • Lisa Rummler remembers how difficult it was to learn about a past law in Oregon that forbade Black people from living in the state, and subjected them to a public whipping and a fine for breaking this law. This and other knowledge about the racial and ethnic history of the state led to a lot of very candid conversations in class.
  • Ivan Sandoval-Cervantes pointed out that during our first semester, we had a really important turning point on the day when we were asked to talk about identities, labels that we’ve heard or that we live everyday. It was a turning point he said, because it marked the day when we were able to start speaking in a personal way on subjects that are often only dealt with in very academic and formal settings. For Ivan, one thing that struck him as the class moved forward was the way in which people began to develop an intimate relationship with their peers as they tackled difficult themes around immigration, deportation and racism.
  • Like Lizzy Miskell says, we are able to forge new friendships where we only had acquaintances before both with our classmates and with the community members we interviewed.
  • Scott Erdman says he leaves the class with a sense of purpose, a deeper respect for those who migrate to make a better life, and a developed sense of curiosity about his own family’s story.

I’m honored to have taken part in this course that brought together students from multiple departments and Schools including Anthropology, Ethnic Studies, International studies, Latin American Studies, Journalism and Communication, and Spanish to name a few. I feel very lucky to been a part of this group, most of whom I can now call friends. Classmates, I will remember the conversations, the stories, and the long nights of labor in the Cinema Studies lab where we all worked on our movies endlessly. I know that this class has taught you all the tricks of the trade: how to do archival research, conduct oral history interviews, ethnographic methods, and documentary filmmaking. I look forward to your future work, and am excited knowing that other students might be able to receive this kind of training in the future.

I call upon those of you who help to determine what kinds of courses are developed, funded and institutionalized to give other students in the future the chance to take the Latino Roots courses. The kind of training we have received and the intense learning we have engaged in together should be imparted to more students in the future. The idea of such a possibility is exciting.

Thank you.