The Immigrant Archive Project
Former US Representative Ileana Carmen Ros-Lehtinen left Havana Cuba for Miami with her family when she was just 8 years old. Fast forward to some two decades later — after accumulating a PhD and a seat in the Florida House of Representatives — Ros-Lehtinen at age 37 became the first Hispanic woman elected to U.S. Congress.
“When it comes to stories of immigrants,” says Ros-Lehtinen, “we’re of different parties and different parts of the world. That I can be a member of the United States Congress says a lot not about me but the project and this country. The stories of immigrants involve stories of dreams coming true every day.”
Those stories – including the challenges and achievements — are countless and now, thanks to a video project founded by Miami-based Latin Broadcasting Company CEO Tony Hernandez, they’re also documented in what’s become the largest oral history project of immigration in the United States. Called the Immigrant Archive Project (IAP,) Hernandez has since 2008 conducted interviews with over 3500 immigrants in pieces airing both in Miami and in national channels. This year, it’s been archived in the Library of Congress and woven into its educational curriculum.
“The project enables the average American to have access to the dinner-table conversations about the immigrant journey that I grew up having around the table,” said Hernández. “I saw the need to humanize the issue of immigration by sharing stories that open hearts and minds by highlighting our shared humanity.”
IAP features Americans – those journeyed here themselves and also those children and grandchildren — from Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, as well as Holocaust survivors. Hernandez frequently travels across the country to meet with sources and films the conversations with cameras also used by major movie studios.
“Many don’t enjoy the same level of diversity as Miami do,” said Hernández. “There tends to be a fear of the other when you don’t have the opportunity to interact with those who are just like you on a regular basis.”
The IAP immigrant interviews feature people of all occupations. From factory and migrant farm workers to celebrities such as Mexican American actor Edward James Olmos, the Irish actor Colin Farrell, race car driver Tony Kanaan, Padron CEO Jorge Padron, AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega and Aida Levitan, Ph.D., today chairperson of U.S. Century Bank.
The interviews are aired through Latino Broadcasting Company and its many corporate partnerships. For example, in a media agreement with Univision, the interviews were shown on newscasts and celebrity magazine programs. In a deal with McDonald’s Corp., the project interviewed the chain’s immigrant owners and operators for pieces that aired on the company’s YouTube Channel.
All the video is archived in the Library of Congress, which will include the IAP in the Handbook of Latin American Studies Web Archive, part of a larger collection of historically and culturally significant websites designated for preservation.
The research arm of Congress “hopes to share its vision of preserving digital content and making it available to current and future generations of researchers,” it said in a letter to IAP. “We believe the historical record would be incomplete if websites like [these] are not preserved.”
“That was an absolute blessing,” said Hernández. “For the nation’s leading library and to consider the work culturally and historically significant for the nation is the highest form of validation.”
For various publications and online platforms, Nile Fortner works as a South Florida-based community culture writer and multimedia journalist. Nile, who is a graduate of FAU, has and continues to cover news, venues, and people for the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald’s M.I.A./Legacy, Miami New Times, New Pelican Newspaper, and more. His written work has made the front cover of numerous newspaper editions and he is also a podcaster for BocaFirst, Cinephellas, and more.
Here, Nile hopes to inform, inspire, and bring unity and integrity by providing news on cultural community topics. You may also find Nile having fun in the Wynwood Arts District, watching his favorite movies such as ‘The Dark Knight’, on social media such as Instagram and Twitter @Nile_Fortner, and eating soft to the bite warm chocolate chip cookies.