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Oral history project strives to keep the voices of Haitian earthquake survivors alive

LatinaLista — On January 12, 2010, the first catastrophic earthquake in modern memory to hit close to the United States happened 710 miles off the Florida coast in Haiti. The severity of the earthquake, the number of people killed and the thousands who have had to struggle with rebuilding their lives amid a corrupt and broken system attracted worldwide attention — for a little while.

It wasn’t long before the eyes of the world were distracted by other world events. Yet, the survivors of Haiti live on and according to several university researchers the stories of the Haitian earthquake survivors need to be heard, recorded and preserved — and that’s what they are doing.

Claire Antone Payton, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History and Institute of French Studies at NYU partnered with UK’s Nunn Center to create The Haiti Memory Project.

According to the Project’s website: The Project assumes that (the) earthquake is a point-zero in the lives of individual Haitians and in Haitian history; it is a moment that divided time into “before” and “after”. The project is an attempt to document that change.

Haitians were interviewed for the oral history project in their native language to tell their stories about what happened to them during and after the quake. Though the first interviews, of the 100 recorded interviews, available online are in Haitian Creole, the researchers eventually plan to have all interviews translated. The ultimate goal is to have the interviews available online to a worldwide audience to hear the stories of how Haitians coped with such a catastrophe and looked towards the future.

While almost all of the interviews reference the earthquake, many of the accounts focus on life after the event, including life in refugee camps. Interviews range from 30 minutes to approximately two hours and reflect such topics as politics, culture, medicine, religion and attitudes toward foreigners.

The interviews are complete and founders of the Project see the recorded interviews as not only helping global researchers with understanding how humans adapt to catastrophic events but helping future generations of Haitians remember an important part of their own history.

“This project grew out of my sense that the forces that had largely excluded Haitian voices from the archives in the past are still at play even today,” Payton says. “In the wake of an event as significant as the earthquake, I wanted to make sure the voices and perspectives of ordinary Haitian men and women weren’t lost to future scholars the way they have been in the past.”

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