MC students and professor produce 'Hispanic Oral Histories' newsletter

Dec. 11, 2013
Contact: Chelsea Morgan ‘13, Communications Assistant

Through student and professor collaboration, the Hispanic Oral Histories of East Tennessee (HOHET) newsletter is now being distributed throughout Blount and Knox counties.

In 2009, Maryville College Associate Professor of Spanish Dr. Geoffrey Mitchell and students began the HOHET project in an effort to document the impressions and experiences of individuals who immigrated to East Tennessee from Spain or Latin America.

“I wanted to record what was it like for them coming here, leaving behind family, culture, language and adopting a new way of life,” Mitchell said. “Most people in this region have never had to do that. It’s not a common experience to drop everything and integrate into a place that is not your home, and in some places, you’re not well received because they hear an accent, and they assume something. That’s unique.”

Ben Royer ’10 conducted the first interviews, helping to craft the interview questions and translating them into Spanish. The interviews were also conducted by Rachel Treadwell ’12 and Miranda Clower ’13, as well as students enrolled in the College’s Spanish 343 practicum course.

“At first, we focused on professionals, business men and women, professors – they’re from every part of life,” Mitchell said.

Having recorded around 20 interviews, Mitchell saw an opportunity for students majoring in Spanish at the College to fulfill practicum hours by transcribing the interviews, conducted in Spanish, into English.

After joining Mitchell on the HOHET project, MC senior Cosset Avalos ‘14 began compiling the transcriptions into a newsletter format that could be easily distributed throughout the community.

“When Dr. Mitchell invited me to participate in HOHET and I saw all the interviews that had already been done, I found a great opportunity to use that information by turning it into a medium of communication that would allow us to inform and nurture cultural sensitivity toward the Hispanic community,” Avalos said.

Mitchell said the newsletter was “never even on my horizon” when the project began.

“Cosset has really been the prime mover of ideas for this project in the last year,” he said.

Mitchell and Avalos hope the newsletter will provide insight and a better understanding of the Hispanic communities of East Tennessee and continue to cultivate a relationship between the local immigrant population and the College.

“Education is always a good thing for everybody,” Mitchell said. “The stories that we share are very compelling. They share a common thread. They love being here, but there is still that sadness of saying goodbye to something they knew all of their lives.”

“Their individual and collective experiences can serve as examples and lessons for the wider community,” Avalos added.

According to Avalos, since distributing the first issue last April, the monthly newsletter has received many compliments from the interviewees and members of the Hispanic community, creating a snowball effect with regards to individuals willing to be interviewed.

“Our first goal was to use the interviews that other students had completed previously and also interview Hispanic students who are currently studying at Maryville College,” Avalos said. “Simultaneously, I started to interview people in the community who hold or has previously held a position in various Hispanic organizations. These people gave me names of other Hispanic individuals who have immigrated to America, forming a network of people to interview.”

With Avalos graduating from the College this spring, Mitchell hopes to recruit new students to work on the project before May. Until then, Avalos said she is excited to continue working on the project.

“After graduating, while I'm in Tennessee, I would love to continue working on the newsletter,” Avalos said. “I think it's a great source of news that has many possibilities.”

For more information about the Hispanic Oral Histories of East Tennessee newsletter, email or visit HOHET on our website

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.