Trinity College student Gabriel R. Sorondo Guirola ’23 was selected to be a student panelist at the annual meeting of the National Humanities Alliance on March 14. Based on his work with Trinity’s “Voices of Migration” oral history project, which documents the stories of members of the U.S. Latinx community in Hartford, Sorondo Guirola was invited to join two professors from other colleges for a discussion about engaging undergraduates through the public humanities.
An international student from Caracas, Venezuela, Sorondo Guirola is a Hispanic studies and theater and dance double major. Here, he talks about his experiences working on the oral history project and being part of the National Humanities Alliance panel discussion:
How are you involved with the “Voices of Migration” oral history project at Trinity?
This oral history project is one of the many Public Humanities Collaborative projects at Trinity. I started with doing online work, because it was during the pandemic, and then did projects in a class that was related to the project. After this class, the professor asked me to become an interviewer during the summer. I then was hired as an intern/fellow the next fall. To catalogue an interview, I will watch it and divide it into parts based on what people are talking about and when. This makes it more accessible, because the interview can be two hours long and people may want to listen to a specific part. When it comes to interviewing, basically I speak with different Latinx members of the city and listen to their stories and, most of the time, ask questions to keep the flow of the conversation going.
Why is it important to keep an archive about Latinx people in Hartford?
It’s humbling, inspiring, and eye-opening to hear the stories of other Latinx people and be able to understand their struggles and hardships. I learned a lot about the different ways Latinx people have impacted and affected the city of Hartford and that are unknown to many members of our Trinity community. Many people don’t realize that the Latinx people of Hartford make up 44 percent of the population of the city. They have a profound impact in the way that the city continues to grow and develop, shaping all the spheres of the city ranging from the social to the cultural to even the gastronomical. I now understand that Hartford has what I call a much “hidden history,” and the oral history project seeks to break the barriers that exist about the city and in academia. The city has always been filled with interesting people whose stories were being ignored because of prejudices and biases regarding Latinx people. You can hear these interesting stories over coffee with strangers, whether these be artists, activists, politicians, or owners of restaurants. The project helps break the stigma of the Latinx voices not being archived and academically focused and puts them at the forefront of the discourse.
What does the “Voices of Migration” oral history project mean to you personally?
For me, not only as a Latinx person, but also as a Venezuelan migrant, it makes me feel like I am finally giving back to my people. It makes me feel that I’m sitting down with some of the eldest members of the Latinx community, as well as some of the younger ones, and I am letting them know that their voices and stories matter, that they matter for what they have contributed to their community. That has led me to better understand that my migrant people matter and that my own story matters. I want to expand this oral history project to become a national and international archive, little by little. No one tells their own story better than themselves. Your voice will say what you want to say and how you want to say it, and that is the beauty of all of this.
What people and courses at Trinity influenced your work on this oral history project?
[Lecturer and Spanish Language Coordinator in Language and Culture Studies] Aidalí Aponte-Avilés, [Associate Vice President for Libraries and Distinctive Collections] Christina Bleyer, and [Director of Community Learning] Erica Crowley are the principal people at Trinity who I’ve worked with in the project and have offered me their support throughout it. I can also extend thanks to most, if not all, of the faculty from the Hispanic Studies Program, especially my advisor [Professor of Language and Culture Studies] Priscilla Meléndez, for their continuous support. The “Hispanic Hartford” course, taught by Prof. Aponte-Avilés, made a big impact on me because it’s where I learned that even when you may think people might not have interesting stories, turns out they have them. The class was born years ago as a result of students and members of the Trinity community not knowing about the Latinx community of Hartford and has since evolved and expanded itself into the “Voces de la Migración” (“Voices of Migration”) project.
How’d the panel discussion go at the National Humanities Alliance annual meeting? What did you talk about?
The conversation with the panel was me alongside two professors: Febe Armanios, a professor of history and co-director of the Axinn Center for the Humanities from Middlebury College, and Katharine Trostel, an assistant professor of English from Ursuline College. It dealt with how to engage undergraduates with humanities research. How can we tell them that it’s beneficial for their careers to do community-engaged work and also humanities-based work, even if they are STEM-based majors? A lot of people don’t realize that no matter if you’re studying humanities, languages, arts, STEM, whatever work you do, you’re working with people. You’re not going to be working in a vacuum. You’re going to be working with communities that interconnect with each other and impact the work that you do in one way or another.
How did the panel reflect the work you have done with the “Voices of Migration” oral history project?
Both of the student communities of the other colleges, Middlebury and Ursuline, have a growing connection to their adjacent communities. And I think that for us, the most important part of the “Voices of Migration” project is not only getting the undergraduate research point of view, but the fact that Trinity is in the middle of the city, in comparison to Middlebury and Ursuline, which are somewhat separate from their communities. It is important to get to know the nearby neighbors, so that you have a good working relationship, and that they also feel respected and welcomed by your institution through these programs.
What does it mean to you to be selected as the student panelist for this discussion at the National Humanities Alliance’s annual meeting?
It’s very heartwarming because it’s a way of saying, ‘You have done a great job and you deserve to be seen.’ It also means a lot for me because as an immigrant and an international student, it’s kind of a way of saying, ‘You belong in these spaces, and you belong in these conversations.’ It represents the epitome of my work at Trinity so far and it only makes me want to reach higher and keep working to have a bigger impact in my own communities.
How has participating in a public humanities project impacted you as a student?
It’s completely changed my interests. I came to Trinity thinking I wanted to study neuroscience and international studies; now I don’t even have my science requirement filled yet! The oral history project has made me more attracted to testimonial literature and oral history in general. It certainly is making me consider a master’s or Ph.D. in journalism. There’s so much more to do and more to engage with. Public humanities projects have absolutely uprooted my environment and my career path. I am now going down the right career path—the one I truly was meant to follow.
What is the impact of public humanities initiatives on undergraduate students?
It engages you with your community in a new, meaningful way; it’s a thing of the people, for the people. The humanities have so much more depth than what they are given credit for. Even if you are an economics major, a neuroscience major, whatever you are doing, do a public humanities course, as it will expand your outlook in investigations, research, engagement, and so much more. They are interesting projects that will benefit any area of research that you might be interested in.
How will you continue with this type of work from the project after your time at Trinity?
I hope I’m one day able to create an oral history archive of my own people in Venezuela. We are going through one of the biggest migratory crises of the entire continent, if not the world. There are amazing people who had to leave their families and businesses and careers: what happened to that doctor that left and now he’s selling ice creams on the street to survive? What’s his story? What happened to the family that walked all the way to Bogotá looking for a better life? What’s their story? Becoming a journalist would be the dream, the big grand slam of my life—that way I get to meaningfully tell the stories of people whose voices have not been as uplifted as they should be. We’re seeing the work of journalists with the invasion of Ukraine and elsewhere, so I would love to do the same for Latin America—especially for Venezuela, because many of the voices of the Latin American people are being ignored, and it is time to shift the paradigm and have our voices heard.