Methodology of the Oral History Interviews
- Why the interviews were done
- Why only half of the interviews are being made available online
- Dr. Gutiérrez' perspective on the interviews:
- The value of oral history
- Goals/content of the interviews
- Selection of interviewees: geography and gender
- Interview length
- Interviewer bias
- Problems in the field
Why the interviews were done
This collection of interviews arose from research conducted by José Angel Gutiérrez for his planned book Chicano Leadership: Local Elected Officials in Texas, 1950-2000. Dr. Gutiérrez began interviewing in June 1996 and concluded in the spring of 2000, during which time he interviewed 151 people (47 women and 103 men). Seventy-seven of these interviews form the Tejano Voices Project. According to Dr. Gutiérrez, at the time his manuscript went to press, this set of interviews represented the largest collection of political biographies on Chicanos/as in the United States. As he notes in his book, "Typically, these subjects were the first Chicano or Chicana to be elected in their jurisdiction or they were the youngest."
Why only half of the interviews are being made available online
The University of Texas at Arlington received funding from the Texas State Library and Archives TexTreasures program in partial support of the Tejano Voices Project. The funding allowed UT Arlington to catalog approximately half of the interviews completed by Dr. Gutiérrez. The interviews chosen to be cataloged were limited to those for which the interview tape and transcript had already been delivered to the UT Arlington Library at the time the grant proposal was submitted (March 2001). See the September 2001 press release for more details about the grant. The UT Arlington Library hope to secure additional funding in order to make the remainder of the interviews available online. These additional interviews, as well as those presented on this web site, are available for use on-site in the UTA Libraries' Special Collections.
Dr. Gutierrez' perspective on the interviews
The following sections are excerpts from chapter 4 of Dr. Gutiérrez' draft of Chicano Leadership: Local Elected Officials in Texas, 1950-2000.
The value of oral history
"The value of an oral history project is the reconstruction of political history and biography from a participant or subject's point of view, usually not explored previously. Recent advances in Chicano Studies and Women's Studies accurately point out that the role of Chicanos/as has been ignored in the making of history by traditional scholarship, and is now being recovered via oral histories and new approaches to the study of history, biography, and autobiography. ... Oral history and interviews are becoming the staple of researchers interested in recovering that banished history."
Goals/content of the interviews
"Texas has the most Hispanic elected officials of any state simply because it has more units of government from which persons are elected. Hispanic elected officials in Texas are found in every public office at every level of local government and even federal service, except the U.S. Senate. A few Hispanics have reached election and appointment to statewide office in Texas beginning with Roy Barrera, Sr. as Secretary of State in 1960. ... In this study I focus only on the Chicano/a elected, local, public official at the most basic of governmental units: city council, county government, school district, and community college."
"I focused primarily on the stories of struggle of Chicanos/as to gain political power. I inquired about their family history and personal attainment to have an insight into their leadership development. ... I sought multiple information in each interview: biography, early childhood memories, information on their political career, both electoral victories and first political lessons, such as facing discrimination and public rage. Because this work is among persons of Mexican ancestry, their ethnicity is an issue. Their individual struggle to gain public office is grounded in the larger community and Chicano group struggle, particularly among those elected in the decades of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, less so after that period to the present time. The presentation of their story and their representation or sense of being an agent for their group is as much a part of the interview and ethnic narrative than the quantitative information gleaned from the responses to ... specific questions."
"I asked specific questions on leadership and issues seeking opinion. The main questions in this area were: What is leadership? Who is the most effective Mexican American leader today? Which is the most effective Mexican American [political] organization today? What is the most pressing issue facing the Mexican American community today?"
Selection of interviewees: geography and gender
"Geography was a concern, as was gender, in the selection of those to be interviewed. Women have been winning election to public office in recent decades and their gains have been substantial in terms of numbers. ... Nonetheless, Chicanas are underrepresented in public office as a part of the whole number. I made an effort to include as many as I could find available to interview. ... Those interviewed [of either gender] are located in every geographic area of the state, except East Texas where there are no elected officials of Mexican ancestry as of 2000. In Central Texas, I did very little work for the same reason; there are few Mexican American elected officials in that area. The bulk of the interviews were conducted in South Texas, West Texas, the Panhandle area, the major urban areas, and Southwest Texas. The largest growth areas, in terms of the number of Chicano elected officials, are West Texas and the Panhandle, followed by major urban areas. In all three locations, opportunity to gain election at the local level is being created with every election. By contrast, in South and Southwest Texas, a person of Mexican ancestry already takes most of the local, elected offices. The change in these two areas is not in the number of Mexican Americans in office; rather the change is in the gender of the office holder, more women are winning elective office than male candidates."
"The interviews vary in length, some are short and some are long, depending on the time constraint imposed by the situation, usually the schedule of the interviewee. ... If the subject had time, I choose to obtain more information than less during the interview."
"The questions I asked during the course of an interview not only interrupt the narration and analysis but also, interject my own analysis. Often, I was frustrated by what I felt was the lack of substance in a response and continued probing with more questions into the same topic, almost as if I wanted a specific answer. The interview with Francisco "Pancho" Medrano comes to mind. Since graduate school I have labored with the limitations of traditional social science research and its norms. The stress on objectivity by the academy does not serve me well. As a member of an underrepresented and excluded ethnic group in political life, I cannot be objective. To not be subjective is to limit my research and my interest. To this day, few oral history projects have delved into the political struggle of the Chicano community to attain political power. Chicano biography is practically non-existent. These interviews represent the first major collection of such combined mini-biographies and stories of struggle in Texas. I feel compelled to help the story find a voice and audience, and I feel compelled to let the narrator tell their story as they remember and see it today in retrospect."
"I tried to keep the person being interviewed in one language, but working with Chicanos/as it is next to impossible. Chicanos/as are bilingual and bicultural; some more than others, but all the subjects presented some degree of difficulty for the transcriber and translator. The difficulty for transcription purposes is with code switching or using different languages in speaking, often in the same sentence. ... Readers of these interviews will also experience difficulty in following the text that contains many translations, particularly within a sentence. The most difficult of these interviews were, for example, Mike V. Gonzalez and Richard Telles, as were the persons from El Paso and other border counties. It seems that code-switching from Spanish to English and back to Spanish is a language along the border, particularly El Paso. But almost all persons used some Spanish idiom, expression, folk saying, or dicho in their interview. In some cases, I was the problem because I used Spanish early in the interview, which may have prompted some persons to continue in Spanish. In other cases, I asked the persons to try and stay in one language, and usually was unsuccessful. The interviewee has every right to speak and represent themselves in the language they feel most comfortable with to convey their image and message of themselves."
Problems in the field
"Usually, the interviews were conducted in the person's office or home, sometimes they came to me in my motel room or some other loaned office space. Lighting, air conditioning noise, ringing telephones, other persons interrupting, and related problems are all to be anticipated."