CLASS Scholar Summer Reflection: The Refugee Project

Jackie Rodriguez - Class of 2020

CLASS Scholar Summer Reflection: The Refugee Project

My research for this summer focused around the general idea that there are many stories of refugees in the United States that go unheard, and if they are heard, they often disappear from the greater media quickly. The preservation of these refugee stories is important to understanding their struggles, to keep their struggles relevant to outsiders, and to keep this understanding on a very personal and individual level. The point of the research I conducted with Professor Bartle pertaining to the refugees in Utica this summer was to find these stories and preserve them so that they can live on in relevancy. Since Utica is such a diverse city with refugees from places such as Iraq, Palestine, and Thailand, to name a few, the surroundings that these people are thrown into after spending time in refugee camps really alter their ways of life— some positively, and others in other ways.

Preserving the stories of refugees who flee countries of great turmoil is becoming more and more easy with how fast digital media is improving. I spent the majority of my time this summer using microfilm and microfilm readers to look through copies of the Observer Dispatch, Utica’s newspaper, from the 1980s to the 2000s specifically looking for articles that highlighted stories of refugees. Professor Bartle and I are in the midst of creating an archive of sorts for future researchers to be able to have easier access to the Refugees’ stories in Utica. Because this archive will be digital, it preserves the articles and information in a way they are not currently. As of right now, if anyone wanted to access information about past articles in the Utica Observer Dispatch pertaining to refugees, they would have to do as I’m doing now. Creating this archive will save researchers a lot of time in the future.

I also spent the summer collecting interviews and oral histories from different refugees in Utica. This was another important part of the story preservation we sought out to do. We collected many past stories from the old newspapers, but the stories don’t stop with the year 2000. Refugees are not people of the past; their stories are very real and relevant— especially in Utica where there is such a large population. Transcribing these oral histories digitally preserves them thus keeping them real and relevant.

This summer’s interviews included a young woman from Palestine, a young man from Thailand, and a restaurant owner from Iraq. Each of them discussed how they came from their refugee camps and how they have settled in the city of Utica. The two young people had much to say about education and adapting to life as adolescents trying to find their ways. The restaurant owner, coming here as an adult, had more to say about his business and politics. An aspect of collecting these interviews and oral histories was keeping an eye out for connections that could be drawn between interviews taken in the past. Since the Refugee Project has been an ongoing project, there are many interviews from past years that I transcribed along with the interviews that were conducted this summer. From this array of interviews we have been able to look for common themes that permeate the interviews whether they are specifically about the trials and tribulations of education for refugee students, or about working in the business sector of Utica while being a refugee.

Because of the lack of interviews collected this summer, Professor Bartle and I chose to reorient the project around organizing the information we currently have that has yet to be really processed and archived. This is still an ongoing process we are tackling.