The Language of Justice Project is a multimedia oral history project dedicated to the celebration of multilingual spaces and the people who create and maintain them. The name is a playful re-phrasing of language justice, which refers to the right of everyone to be able to communicate in the language in which they are most comfortable. The name is also a nod to the Zapatista ideal of a “world in which many worlds fit.” The language of justice must also be one that includes many languages.
Language is one of our most sacred and personal forms of expression — it shapes how we think, dream, speak, love, and see the world, therefore creating a space where all languages are valued is a way of creating a space where all people are valued. This is especially important for movements that work for racial and social justice.
Multilingual spaces, those special places where communication among the people that are present is prioritized over a reliance on a dominant language (like English), are only possible through the intentional planning of organizers, the work of trained interpreters, and the use of specialized equipment. The goal of the Language of Justice Project is to share and make visible the stories and experiences of the language workers and community members who are essential to creating spaces of language justice. We honor this transformative work by creating a platform to listen to and learn from those individuals whose work is essential to guaranteeing that all languages and peoples get a seat at the table and are heard in the struggle.
Read more here: "Tending the Roots:" A Response to Daniel Kerr; The Oral History Review Blog, April 14, 2017
Word Up Oral History Project New York, USA
In the fall of 2015, I became the custodian and coordinator for the Word Up Oral History Project, an oral history project begun by my colleague, Benjamin De La Piedra, documenting the history and ongoing presence of Word Up Community Bookstore, a multilingual, independent bookstore run by a volunteer collective in Washington Heights, where I am also a volunteer. The project documents the store's beginnings as a pop-up space four years ago, it's growth into a long-term store and the development of the collective that runs it. As we grow, we are exploring the use of oral history as a way to mobilize our collective history in the service of continued transformation and development during the next chapter in our uptown existence.
Memoria Presente La Plata, Argentina
This multimedia oral history project profiles San Lorenzo, a community on the outskirts of the city of La Plata, and el Puente de Fierro, the bridge that dominates its landscape. The community is mobilizing to recover silenced memories of the dictatorship. The bridge was the site of crimes against humanity during the dictatorship, but little is known about it.
These human rights violations do not live in the past. Many Argentines are still relentlessly pursuing justice for their missing loved ones. The community of San Lorenzo is concerned not only with the human rights violations of the past, that took place at the bridge, but also with the poverty and marginalization that characterizes the daily life of its residents in the present. The fates of the bridge and the community are bound up together.
I will be presenting on this work at the 2015 Oral History Association Annual Meeting in October as part of the panel "Generational Activism: Postmemory and Social Justice" in Tampa, FL, where I will screen video from the project.
Failure to Materialize: An Oral History of Puente de Fierro, a Memorial That Never Was Thesis for completion of MA in Oral History at Columbia University.
All narrators expressed a deep commitment to their community, but Rosa’s interview was most illustrative of the ways in which living in Puente de Fierro had changed her own sense of agency. During the dictatorship she was busy working, studying, and raising a family and said “we didn’t have the luxury of being militant.” However, when she came to Puente de Fierro, she discovered the “necessity” of becoming a militant.
...For Rosa, as well as others, 2001 was a breaking point, as well as an igniting spark. Rosa had previously been part of neighborhood organizations, had petitioned for services to be provided in her area, but those activities paled in comparison to the organizing that she began to do in the wake of Argentina’s 2001 crisis, a result of the largest sovereign debt default in history. The needs of the community rose to a fever pitch, and neighbors came together to start cooperative daycares, shelters, and soup kitchens. Rosa told this particularly colorful anecdote of a confrontation she had with a public official during those turbulent times:
I remember one time I went to talk to someone who is really important in the province and he told me “Look, you’re going to talk to me nicely, I don’t like you coming here and pressuring me.” I told him, “I didn’t come to pressure you, I came to explain to you the situation that we’re in and I’m not going to fight with you over a pack of noodles.” So he says: “Look, I’m used to dealing with piqueteros— 5000 of ‘em per day, so I’m not going to start feeling pressured just because of you. So I said to him: “Look, the piqueteros will bring you 5,000 protesters a day and they'll be here for half an hour. I'll bring you 100 kids in the morning and they are going to pee and shit everywhere, they’re going to ask you for mate, they’ll break everything. And when those 100 leave, another 100 will show up and you’ll have to deal with that for two months. So, you choose. I don’t have anything to lose because these kids are starving to death. [pause] Obviously the situation changed.
Yo recuerdo que una vez yo fui a hablar con una persona muy importante en la provincial, y entonces me decía: “Mira, a mí, hablá bien, no me gusta que me presiones,” yo dije que no te voy a presionar, te vengo a explicar en que situación estamos y que no voy a tratar de transar con vos por un paquete de fideos. Entonces él me dice, “Mira, yo estoy acostumbrada a tratar con piqueteros de 5000 por día, así no me voy a dejar presionar por vos. Yo le dije, “El piquetero te va a traer 5000 por día y van a estar media hora. Yo te voy a traer 100 chicos en la mañana, que te van a cagar, te van a mear, te van a pedir mate cocido. Te van a romper todo y cuando se van esos 100, te traigo otro 100. Y te vas a aguantar dos meses, vos eligís. Yo no tengo nada que perder porque ya me están cagando de de hambre. [Pausa dramatica] Obvio, la situación cambió.
Memory in Translation Multimedia oral history exhibit, Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY
“Memory in Translation” is an audio and photographic installation of the same title which was part of a collective exhibit at Union Theological Seminary on May 1, 2014 as part of the Oral History MA program at Columbia University. The piece explores the transmission of memory in post-dictatorship Argentina and the possibilities of its subsequent transmission to audiences in the U.S. across linguistic barriers. What does it mean to listen to a voice in translation? What is gained and what is lost in an audio piece that works across languages? How is the transmission of memory also a process of translation?