Recording personal histories, one witness at a time

It was a warm affair at the River Oaks home of Albert and Anne Chao Wednesday evening when a sizeable group of Rice students, faculty and staff were joined by members of the Asian-American community for the Chao Center for Asian Studies’ 2012 Houston Asian American Archive (HAAA) Oral History Project Appreciation Dinner.

Bullard

Maddy Bullard

More than an appreciation dinner, the event was an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable strides HAAA has taken since the inception of a summer oral history internship program in 2010. The program is ideally suited to support the archive’s overall goals of fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of Houston’s immigrant history by researching, preserving and sharing the rich history, diverse cultural legacy and continuing contributions of Asian-Americans to the city.

In practice, this meant receiving professional training and experience in the art of oral history for this year’s interns, Rice undergraduates Maddy Bullard, Sarah Craig, Dae Shin Ju and Saima Toppa.

Maddy Bullard

Sarah Craig

 
For Craig, an anthropology and linguistics major, the internship’s focus was a compelling match. “Oral history is very similar to my fields of study because it involves talking to people and understanding history and a culture from a qualitative, personal perspective,” Craig said. “I’m also taking Asian studies classes, and I wanted to get a more personal perspective, hear people’s stories and not just read about them in books.”

 

Together, the interns interviewed four first-generation Asian-American community members of various ages and ethnicities over the past two months. Working under the guidance of Chao Center Associate Director of Programs Brian Hammer, the process involved gaining an in-depth understanding of the individuals’ migration stories and developing a set of specific questions based on this background. Following this process, each intern developed a proposal for further research on themes that emerged during the interview process. 

Dae Shin Ju

Dae Shin Ju

Edward Chen ’59 and his wife, Eugenie, were among the project’s first interviewees. He said the internship program is critically important. “Houston is probably the largest metropolitan area in the country without any sort of permanent Asian-American archive or record – despite having one of the largest Asian-American communities,” Chen said. “We’re very fortunate the Chao Family Foundation and the Chao Center are supporting this effort.”

Saima Toppa

 

Anne Chao, who earned her doctorate in history from Rice in 2009 and has used the archives’ materials for her own research, said the oral history project provides a body of knowledge that makes history more real. “Everyone has such an amazing, inspiring story,” Chao said.

All oral history interviews and transcriptions are centrally archived and fully accessible through Rice’s Woodson Research Center at Fondren Library and online at http://library.rice.edu/collections/WRC/finding-aids/manuscripts/0573. For more information about the Chao Center, its programs and activities, visit www.chaocenter.rice.edu.

About Jeff Falk