I have blogged about and referenced the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project many times in recent and past years. I first shared about the TOR project in 2007 (Time of Remembrance: Move Over Ken Burns!), blogging that I would soon be documenting the stories of Japanese-American citizens in the Florin-Elk Grove region (south of Sacramento, California) who, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, faced discrimination, exclusion, and forced removal from their communities. Thanks to my district’s partnership with the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC), their talented videographer Doug Niva joined me and my colleague Kathleen Watt on the journey, filming and editing professional quality interviews with over 30 former internees.
Five years ago Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly, a City Councilman at the time, shared a little known story from the Vietnam War with our superintendent. Steve had learned about our TOR World War II project and asked that we consider documenting the Secret War in Laos. As a refugee from the Secret War, he thought it important for the Elk Grove community to know about the many ways Hmong and Mien (two growing populations in Elk Grove) had supported U.S. troops during our involvement in the Vietnam War.
Steve Ly was the first interviewee in our Vietnam War section of the TOR project.
Thanks to Steve’s recommendations and the continued commitment by the SECC to bring history alive, we now have 16 interviews from our Hmong and Mien community. Their interviews provide invaluable insights to understanding the challenges faced by refugees, such as language barriers, cultural differences, huge shifts in geography, and loss of homeland and heritage.
We also have interviews with American pilots (“Ravens”) who flew secret missions over Laos, which stand as a testimony to the contributions and sacrifices of their brave “backseaters”/”Robins”.
This week we will be transforming our former Student Gallery page to a broader topic: On Coming to America. The On Coming to America page will still feature student-led interviews, but also teacher and community-led interviews, all with the common thread/theme of the challenges, contributions, and resilience of our immigrant and refugee populations.
Our first spotlight story is an interview with author, poet, community activist, and Holocaust survivor Hannie Voyles.
In 2011, my Chico friend (and TOLI colleague) Pam Bodnar contacted me to share that she had invited Chico resident Hannie Voyles, a Holocaust survivor from the Netherlands, to share her survivor story with a group of students at Marsh Middle School. Minutes after Hannie’s visit, Pam called to recommend that Doug Niva and I come to Chico to interview Hannie. We did.
Note: To quickly access specific parts of Hannie’s interview, here is the link to the time codes and short descriptors. Thank you to Doug Niva and our partnership with the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC) for filming the interview.
Nine years later, I connect with Hannie on every opportunity I can find – including four bike & barge trips across the Netherlands (with a 5th trip coming up in August). With each visit and each trip, Hannie provides me with another window into her childhood in Amsterdam, where she attended the same Montessori school as Anne Frank before the Nazis invaded.
Last week I drafted a lesson to accompany Hannie’s interview. As always, I sought feedback from Kathleen. We soon had the lesson ready to share, along with a teacher’s guide. Accordingly, the On Coming to America page (formerly the Student Gallery page) of the TOR website now includes a link to Hannie’s interview, along with time codes and descriptors (so students/teachers can quickly move the YouTube bar to specific parts of the interview).
We anticipate more Holocaust interviews to come, starting with “second gen” authors: journalist Judy Fertig Panneton and former teacher Joan Arnay Halperin.
If you know Holocaust survivors or “second gen children” in the greater Sacramento region who would be willing to share their stories, please leave a comment. I strongly believe in the power of story to change hearts and minds – and the need to document first-hand and second-hand accounts before they are forgotten and lost.
“We must keep this history at the forefront of our collective memory, to prevent other individuals or groups from suffering as we did. We are always vulnerable to societal weaknesses;we are not too wise to repeat ourselves.” Hannie J. Voyles, Storming the Tulips
As always, we invite students to document On Coming to America stories from their families, school districts, and communities – and share them with us via the TOR website.