During World War II, between 250,000 to 750,000 Latinos served in the U.S. military, and their contributions to the country didn’t stop there. Many of them returned home to blaze a trail that’s helped shape America.
Until the 1999 launch of the Voces Oral History Project, originally called the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project, these stories were often forgotten. For the past two decades, Voces — led by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a University of Texas journalism professor and the project’s director — has documented more than just the personal stories of war heroes. These tales illuminate the nation’s history through an American Latino lens.
On Nov. 10, the Voces Oral History Project will celebrate its 20th anniversary from 2 to 6 p.m. at the LBJ Presidential Library. Over the years, the project has expanded from preserving the stories of WWII veterans to include the histories of Korean and Vietnam War veterans as well as politically and civically active Latinos across the country.
The upcoming free event, which will be open to the public, takes a look back at these collections with special guest Juan González, co-host of Democracy Now! and author of “Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America.” Many of the men and women whose personal stories have been included in Voces will be present as well as many of the students who conducted the interviews.
“It’s really important for us to stand up to make sure that we don’t get left out,” Rivas-Rodriguez told the American-Statesman when the project celebrated its 1,000th interview last spring.
In 2007, the project received national attention when Rivas-Rodriguez learned PBS was airing a 14-hour documentary series on WWII by filmmaker Ken Burns that excluded Latino veterans. Burns refused to update the film, but a grassroots effort called Defend the Honor pushed for the inclusion of Latinos in the documentary.
Today, the project has more than 10,000 digitized archival photographs and more than 1,200 recorded interviews, which are housed at UT’s Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Over the years, the project’s interviews have helped bring three dramatic plays about the WWII Latino experience to the stage. Its photos have been featured in museums and documentaries, and its research has also produced five books.
"The audience will also learn how this major archive collection is being used by public school teachers as well as academic professionals to fill the huge gaps in educational textbooks and curriculum when it comes to the valuable contributions by Hispanics to the American way of life," said Olga Campos Benz, the event's host committee chair.
Voces plans to make a big announcement about the project's future at the event, according to Campos Benz. Register for the anniversary celebration at bit.ly/vocesat20.
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New era for Latino theater
It was named one of the Top 10 Unproduced Latinx Plays of 2017 by the 50 Playwrights Project, and now the bilingual play “Más Cara” by former Austinite Krysta Gonzales will premiere at The Vortex during the first three weeks of November.
The play, which debuts at 8 p.m. Nov. 1, shines a light on the Latina experience by uniting different female archetypes who bicker, dance and heal together. “Más Cara,” presented by Teatro Vivo and The Vortex, is also the featured presentation of FuturX Festival 2019.
The groundbreaking five-day festival, which runs from Nov. 6-10, describes itself as a platform for "new and avant garde Latinx performances." Its second iteration features work from playwrights, solo performers and improv troupes. The common theme? They all dive deep into the complexities of identity.
Keep an eye out for other FuturX performances including Latino Comedy Project founder Adrian Villegas presenting audiences with the making of his popular “Estar Guars” parody of “Star Wars,” where he’ll reveal a sneak preview of the upcoming sequel. Check the Futurx Festival 2019 Facebook page for forthcoming ticket information and show times.
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Día de los Muertos
Sugar skulls, altars, treats!
Austin has plenty of ways to celebrate Day of the Dead throughout the end of October and beginning of November, but on the actual Nov. 2 holiday, swing by the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.
The center’s annual free celebration from 3-8 p.m. includes sugar skull decorating and face painting as well as live music, food trucks and dance performances.
It’s always a special treat to view the popular community altar exhibit honoring loved ones who have died but remain in our memories. Day of the Dead costumes are welcome.