UNLV journalism graduate student Monserrath Hernández simply cannot pick her favorite of all of the interviews she’s done for the Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada project.
Hernández, ’18 BA Journalism, was thrilled when she heard about the oral history effort shortly after graduating. The project reflected her deep interest in telling her community’s stories. She joined the team in February.
After participating in 33 oral history interviews, 18 of which she led, there have simply been too many terrific and memorable life stories.
“Each of our narrators is unique in their own way. I've cried and laughed with so many of them that to narrow it down to one person is impossible,” she said. “I walk away from each interview with new perspectives, lessons, and bonds with people.”
The Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada team has collected more than 100 oral histories from the region’s Latinx population. Now those deeply personal stories will be shared with a wider audience as part of a novel approach to oral histories: a student-led podcast. The effort, which debuts in fall, is the result of a recent collaboration between KUNV radio and the University Libraries’ Oral History Research Center. The inaugural season, Latinx Voices Unveiled, features the Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada project.
The podcast effort began making headway this spring and has been a passion project for Hernández, which she collaborated with fellow UNLV students Elsa Lopez, Rodrigo Vazquez, Nathalie Martinez, and Laurents Bañuelos-Benitez to create.
As one of the graduate researchers for the Latinx Voices project, she’s been scheduling interviews for herself and her fellow students while also conducting them for the overall oral history project. Some of the audio clips meant so much that she wanted to see them reach a larger audience.
Like the other students, she’s taken an active and eager role in creating the podcast series, each episode of which revolves around themes culled from the interviews they’ve done.
"The first episode brushes on general topics that in future episodes we go in-depth with," she said. “These topics drive conversation among us. We ask, ‘What do you mean? Do you relate?’”
Students take the lead
The first season of the podcast includes six pre-recorded episodes, each one a discussion of a topic that is culturally relevant to the Latinx community in Nevada: identity, food, art, nuestra herencia (our heritage), language, and the power of oral history.
Audio clips from some of the oral history interviews are played during the podcast to spark discussion among a three-person panel of student researchers, one of whom acts as moderator.
A KUNV producer splices those audio clips for the students ahead of podcast recording sessions and acts as a producer during the show. The radio station also provides the recording space.
Because all student team members speak Spanish, they're able to interview sources in Spanish, so some of the audio clips played in the podcast are not in English. The students provide summaries of the Spanish audio during the episodes.
The episodes generally last 40-65 minutes, and generally, five to nine interviews are sampled during each episode.
Speakers cover a wide range of industries and have all made contributions to Southern Nevada’s heritage, whether it be socially, economically, or otherwise. They demonstrate the broad and lasting impact of Latinx people on Southern Nevada.
Hernández said the voices of several interviewees, such as Nancy Brune, executive director of the Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, Marisa Rodriguez, Latino Bar Association president, and Patricia Vazquez, College of Southern Nevada English professor continue to inspire her.
“I can see similarities between these women and myself, and their life stories and triumphs really resonated with me,” she said.
The podcast is an effort by University Libraries to make the recorded oral histories of Southern Nevadans more easily and broadly accessible to a new audience.
“This gives the audience a way to interact with very powerful snippets of very, very good interviews," said Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center. "It is a podcast that is designed for all of us to become more culturally savvy."
Hernández said that although she had previous experience with podcasts, the process of seeking out the perfect audio clips to ignite a discussion and hammering out themes with a team was a new and welcome challenge. Those are skills she can take with her after she graduates and attempts to tell more stories.
“Anyone can do a podcast, but it takes hard work, research, dedication, and teamwork to create something with substance," she said.
Since the Latinx Voices project began in August 2018, a group of graduate and undergraduate students overseen by project coordinator and oral historian Barbara Tabach have recorded more than 100 interviews. The interviewees, Latinx individuals representing a wide swath of ages, range in profession from hotel maids to business leaders and include U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-NV, the first Latina in the Senate.
In the taped sessions with student researchers, speakers describe their lives and offer their perspectives on everything from their community's roots in Latin America to its tremendous growth in Southern Nevada. The students then transcribe the interviews, the written records of which are kept in the library’s Special Collections & Archives and will be uploaded online.
The concept was a natural accompaniment to the center’s work on African American and Jewish oral histories, White said. It also provides an important record for posterity about the growth of one of Southern Nevada’s largest demographic groups.
“I think it's the ideal time,” she said of the project. “The Latinx communities are a force to be reckoned with, and we get to see that power, we get to see the magnificence of their contributions.”
The center obtained a $100,000 matching National Endowment for the Humanities grant and has also been supported by a $50,000 grant from the Las Vegas Centennial Commission, $50,000 from MGM Resorts International, and other gifted funds.
It was Bañuelos-Benitez, '17 BA Journalism and Media Studies and a former DJ at KUNV, whose suggestion set the wheels for the podcast in motion. A partnership with KUNV seemed a natural progression of the center’s efforts to expand the audience that could experience these treasured histories.
“When he said podcast, we were on board 100 percent,” White said. "It allows us to tell these stories in a new way, a powerful way, and a quicker way than waiting for all of these interviews to be put online.”
To White, the students’ work allows University Libraries to introduce the Latinx history project to the general public in a familiar, flexible format. The public doesn't have to travel to the university and await the binding of the interviews into hardcover books or uploading of online text files to read these stories.
White said the project's aim is to have about 200 interviews completed by the end of 2021. The students anticipate that may provide them with the content, time, and audience interest necessary to produce multiple seasons of the podcast.
To celebrate its debut, the podcast will come to life during a celebratory event Oct. 14 at Greenspun Hall. Moderated by Hernández, the event coincides with Hispanic Heritage Month and UNLV’s Research Week.
“I think there's nothing more powerful than to have history presented by a person who experienced an event. It shows you the power of experiences and then it makes you look at yourself and say, ‘Wow, I have a story as well,’” White said.
Hernández said she’s thrilled at the prospect of unveiling the podcast and its episodes publicly after all of the team’s hard work.
“It's really nice to see our project coming to fruition and to see the response of the people we admire that work with us,” she said. “It’s exciting.”