The Immigrant Experience 

Who is an American?



Macho! Graphic

Museum Exhibition Oral History


When many people think about history, they think about textbooks and encyclopedias, dusty documents, archives and libraries. In fact history is all around us, in our own families and communities, in the living memories and the experiences of people. We have only to ask them and they can tell us enough stories to fill a library of books. This kind of history -- that we all gather as we go through life -- is called ORAL HISTORY. 

As part of your study of The Immigrant Experience, you and your classmates will gather some of these stories by conducting interviews and writing oral histories, which will be published as a chapbook.

To complete this assignment:

1. Carefully read Tips on Doing Oral History.

2. Make a list of possible interviewees. Consider family, friends, neighbors, and people you know from church or work or sports. Your subject should be an immigrant who came to the United States as a teen-ager or adult. Choose your subject and make an appointment. 

3. Make a list of questions you want to ask.  Consider the following questions, and add some  of your own. Ask follow-up questions: Why? Could you tell me more about that? How did that feel? What did you do then? etc. 

Why did your family come to this country? 
What did your family hope to find here? 
What are some of the best things your family has found here? 
What are some things you have been disappointed in? 
What do you remember about the journey? 
What do you remember about the country you emigrated from? 
What did you do when you first arrived in the U.S.? 
How did you come to live in Sonoma County? 
What difficulties did you encounter when you first arrived? Later? 
What differences have you noticed in regard to: 
  • living circumstances (housing, food, transportation, etc.)
  • education 
  • jobs 
  • gender roles (what is expected of men or women) 
  • social customs and culture 
  • values and attitudes 
What are some customs that you have felt comfortable keeping? 
Have you dropped any customs because you felt some pressure to do so? 
Do you have plans to return to your home country to visit or live? 
4. Conduct and tape your interview. (Take the time to check that the recorder is working at the beginning of the interview by recording a little and playing back!) 

Begin by asking your subject his/her full name, age and occupation. Have the subject spell her/his name for you. Also ask if you can reproduce the interview transcript online or in other published work. If so, have the subject sign a release form.  

Be sure to thank your interviewee.

5. Transcribe the tape. (Write down, word for word, what your subject has said) This will probably take 3-4 times as long as the interview itself. 

6. Write a first person narrative based on your interview. 

  • categorize your subjectís comments (comments that go together to form basic ideas) 
  • organize these categories into a logical sequence 
  • organize your subjectís comments into a logical sequence 
  • write your subjectís experience, using his/her own words.  Add transitions, delete repetitious comments, delete extraneous language (ums, uhs, etc...). 
The overall goal is to have an organized, descriptive story of this personís experience, in his/her own words. Do not add many words of your own, other than those needed for transitions, or to combine sentences, or other grammatical needs. 

7. Submit your interview as a hard copy and on disk, or email it.