Ross School - Senior Projects 2011
Mentor: Shelby Raebeck
Title: Untold Stories
Untold Stories is a book composed of interviews done with both the documented and undocumented immigrants of the Eastern End of Long Island. I worked on interviewing techniques, such as how to get people to open up, along with learning the editing process. I focused on each individualÕs story, their struggles, and how relatable these peopleÕs lives are to other people. Immigration is a major issue being heavily debated in this country, and one I find particularly important in our local community. I decided on a book format because I believe these people have beautiful stories and I wanted to give the opportunity for them to be shared.
For my senior project I interviewed both documented and undocumented immigrants and made a book containing all of their interviews. All of the people I interviewed were of Latino decent. I wanted to focus on this demographic because Latino immigration is currently such an important and national topic of debate. I met a lot of really incredible people, but before I talk about them IÕm going to talk about what lead me to choose this topic.
I have many passions, which is why it was so difficult for me to settle on a project. Creative writing has been a passion of mine for many years, which is why my first idea for a project was to write short stories in a creative writing style. I wanted these stories to be focused around the East End. After thinking more about this I realized that I didnÕt want to write about the east end in only a creative style.
I decided what I wanted to do was look at how living on the Eastern End of Long Island shapes us as people. This led me to look at all the different kinds of people that live in this area.
WeÕre a unique area in that we have such a diverse community of people. I wanted to look at this diversity more in depth. My goal was to find someone from each class: Someone very wealthy, someone of the middle class whoÕs family has been here at least three generations, and someone who immigrated to this country.
As much as I love writing I also love art and I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate this into my project. So my new idea was to interview one person from each group and tell their story and accompany their stories with a visually moving collage piece.
Although I liked this idea of speaking to people from different socio-economic backgrounds, what I came to realize is that most of us (especially coming from this school) are more aware of the wealthy and the middle class population rather than the immigrant population in our community. As a whole, not many of us have been able to connect to the immigrant population on the East End. A lot of us have traveled and have experienced what it feels like to be an outsider in a new country, not knowing the language at all. IÕm aware not everyone has had this experience, or the opportunity to travel, but IÕm sure everyone could imagine how this would feel. Through my book I wanted to make it easier for our community to reach out to these people who may not have established their identity here yet.
This is what led me to my final idea, which was focusing purely on the immigrant population in this area and getting their stories through interviews. Although I still wanted to use a visual medium to portray their experiences here on the East end, ultimately the visual component needed nearly as much of my time as did the writing portion of this book. I decided I would rather get more stories and not do any art. I thought it was important to talk to as many immigrants as possible in order to reveal as many stories as I could within my time limits. The interviews are rich in details and in drama and by creating narratives; I feel I have woven a more personal tapestry of many of these individualsÕ lives.
My final product is a book containing 8 immigrantsÕ stories.
There has been a 77.4% increase of immigration in Suffolk County between 1990 and 2000. For example: There are translations under every sign at all the grocery stores. There are Spanish translations on shampoo bottles, detergents, and almost everything else. Everywhere we go we are constantly seeing more and more of the Spanish language. Knowing Spanish is becoming an increasingly more important part of every day life.
Through interviews I wanted to find out why there has been such a dramatic increase. My goal was to get peoples stories and find out their reasons for coming here. What I found is that usually people are reluctant to leave their home unless they think it would be highly beneficial for them and possibly their family to do so. Every person that I interviewed had a really incredible story and meeting these people and interviewing them was by far my favorite part of the process
Before I held the interviews I assumed that everyoneÕs story would have a decent amount that had to be cut in order to make the story coherent and interesting, but after going through everyoneÕs story one by one with my mentor we found that wasnÕt a lot to cut.
Although there wasnÕt much to cut, the editing process was still a challenging process for both my mentor and me. Figuring out what to cut without changing the meaning of what someone was saying was difficult, but there are ways to do in which I learned about during the preparation for my interviews. For example I learned you can add an ellipses (the three dots) to the end of a sentence to show that there was more to the sentence, but for some reason it was cut out in the editing process. We had to go through every interview at least twice to check for any errors and to make sure each story was as coherent and interesting as possible. Although the editing process was challenging, the thing that took the most time was typing up the interviews. Each interview took and hour and a half to three hours to type up, which is why 8 interviews was really the most I could have done
Learning to use booksmart was a challenge because IÕd never worked with a program like it before. I didnÕt get to work on my actual book or the layout at all until I was done with editing all my interviews because I felt there was really no point in putting unedited interviews in there. Picking the pictures for the book was difficult because I wasnÕt able to take pictures of anyone I interviewed because a lot of the people werenÕt legal and didnÕt want their pictures taken for that reason. What I decided to do instead was to get pictures of the East End because everyone I interviewed lives in this area and itÕs been heavily referenced throughout the book
I needed to send in a first draft of my book to make sure everything looked the way I wanted. The first deadline was November 15th, so that was when I needed to have all my interviews done by. This was difficult because it was dependent on more than just me. I had to work with other peopleÕs schedules and make it work for them. I didnÕt have a problem with people canceling on me, but sometimes getting an interview set up with someone in the first place was a challenge enough. Getting to the places of the interviews involved driving between Montauk and East Hampton AND most of the time it entailed meeting people at their places of work, but there were a couple of people that I met with after their work days. Even after getting the first draft of the book back there were still corrections to be done. There were little things that looked different than they had on the computer, but there were also grammatical errors that IÕd missed even after multiple read-throughs.
Something that really inspired me throughout this entire process was a book called WORKING by Studs Terkel. This is a book of interviews all about people and how they feel about the jobs they do. After reading this book I knew IÕd found the interview style I wanted to emulate. Studs Terkel could get people talking and make them comfortable enough to tell their full stories without him constantly having to prompt them with questions. It felt more like reading stories and less like reading interviews. For me this turned out to be the perfect combination of story telling and interviewing. Learning how to make people feel comfortable to talk with me about their lives was one of the most useful skills I acquired. When youÕre interviewing someone and they feel comfortable with you it becomes more of a conversation and theyÕre much more willing to share really personal things.
It was interesting because I ended up doing a follow up interview with the first person I interviewed towards the end of my process and I found that I felt so much more comfortable than the first time IÕd sat down with her. I remember the first time I interviewed with her I had a set list of questions that I really stuck to and I was a little nervous and the whole thing felt a bit awkward. After having interviewed with 7 other people and then meeting this woman again I felt so much more relaxed because I was now able to make her and myself feel comfortable. I didnÕt even go in with a list of questions. We were both laughing and we ended up talking for an hour and I got so much more out of her than I did the first time because IÕd learned how to make people feel comfortable when I interviewed them.
Although the editing process was a bit tedious it was more than worth it. Meeting these people was a really interesting and incredible experience and I hope that through reading their stories people will see why their stories matter not only in our community, but also on a national scale. Through talking to these people IÕve discovered that many of their friends also went through similar experiences in getting to the U.S. and living here. Although there are only 8 stories in the book I think the stories could speak for a lot of people.
In my opinion, a lot of times people get caught up in statistics and facts about immigration, such as the ones I showed you. But itÕs also important to remember that these arenÕt just statistics, theyÕre people. If our community could be more aware of what these people went through to get here and why they came their opinion on immigration might change. Every person has a story that is easily relatable. Some came at young ages because their parents wanted to, some came to be with the ones they loved, and some came in hopes of their children having a better life. For me this project was about people seeing the more humane side of this national topic of debate
Finally, people who come here and spend a big part of their life here come to feel like this is their home. The United States is a country made of immigrants and sometimes I think in worrying about the political issues surrounding this topic people forget about that. IÕve always believed that powerful stories can make an impact on peopleÕs opinions and hopefully this book will show people another side of this political issue.
Works Cited or Works Consulted
Clinical Social Worker
My outside consultant has worked with many immigrantsÕ. Some were illegal, some working on obtaining a visa, and some who had obtained a visa or citizenship. She had great knowledge about how a lot immigrants have felt about getting here and living here. She helped me see things from a non-political perspective.