When it comes to immigrant stories, oftentimes it’s reduced to headlines but now the Library of Congress is preserving the real stories of immigrants directly from the source. The Library of Congress recently requested permission to archive thousands of interviews of American immigrants telling their stories, as a part of its Handbook of Latin American Studies Web Archive (HLAS). The Immigrant Archive Project (IAP) was founded by Latino Broadcasting Company executives, Tony Hernández and Gustavo Pombo in 2008, and features interviews with prominent Latinx immigrants and children of immigrants, including Luis Fonsi, Prince Royce, Olga Tañon, Elvis Crespo, and Susie Castillo, amongst others.
“The fact that our project has been designated for preservation in the U.S. Library of Congress is both an honor and complete validation of the cultural and historical significance of the immigrant experience at this particular moment in our nation’s history,” Hernández tells The Boca Raton Tribune.The HLAS Web Archive is one part of a growing guide of historically and culturally significant web sites that the library intends to preserve, and currently includes web sites dating back to 1999, although the HLAS as a whole has been published since 1936.
Hernández has traveled across the country for more than a decade, conducting video interviews with immigrants with the goal of “preserving the life stories of America’s vast multi-cultural immigrant community,” in what IAP calls “visual history testimonies.” Initially, the project focused solely on immigrants from Latin America, but it has evolved to include a diversity of immigrants originally from countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, and including migrant and farm workers, laborers and even Holocaust survivors.
“As the internet has become an increasingly important and influential part of our lives, we believe the historical record would be incomplete if websites like [these] are not preserved and made a part of it,” the Library of Congress tells NBC News.
This news comes just a few months after the library announced that it would be removing the terms “aliens” and “illegal aliens” from headings in its catalogs, which are widely considered offensive and dehumanizing, and the use of which has been contested for years. The decision came not long after the Biden administration moved to remove the terms from use within U.S. immigration agencies. However, it was met with criticism from Texas Senator, Ted Cruz, whose father was a Cuban immigrant.
“Replacing words in search terms, indexes, or indexing language for political reasons is an abuse of the trust that Congress has placed in the Library to accurately and neutrally compile original sources and make them easily accessible to the public,” Cruz wrote in a letter to the library. “What is entirely unacceptable is elevating politically-motivated phrases above legally accurate and historically based phrases actually used in source material.”
What is clear though with the Library of Congress’ decision to include the Immigration Archive Project in its archives, is that it wants to ensure that immigrant stories told by immigrants themselves are made a permanent part of our nation’s recorded history, and that it intends to do it in a respectful way that honors the American immigrant experience.