The VOCES Oral History Project is a multi-faceted national program founded at the University of Texas at Austin in 1999 as the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project. Until 2009 the project interviewed Latinos and Latinas of the World War II generation throughout the country in an effort to document their lives, thus addressing a gap in the literature about the period. After receiving a major federal grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services in 2009, the project expanded to the Korean and Vietnam War. Its goal remained unchanged: to create a better awareness of U.S. Latino/a participation in the development of their communities, their state, and their nation. In 2010 the program took the new name of VOCES Oral History Project. The project is ongoing and is exploring new topics.
VOCES has strived to find the untold stories and to tease out the themes that have emerged in interviews. The project produced the Narratives newspaper “dedicated to the interviews” through summer 2004. Since that time, published books have included A Legacy Greater Than Words: Stories of U. S. Latinos & Latinas of the WWII Generation (2006). Chapters in the project’s four edited volumes include: Latino WWII servicemen and post-traumatic stress disorder, their use of radio, non-citizens serving in the U.S. military, their religious beliefs, the racial complications of Afro-Latinos, and the enumeration of Latinos in the military service in World War II. Authors have generally included oral history interviews in their respective chapters.
From its start, the project focused on research, teaching, and service. It held its first major conference in May 2000 and featured both academic presentations and panels with WWII-era men and women. Since then, it has hosted several symposia and conferences. University of Texas students conduct many of the interviews, and many of the students are enrolled in a class called Oral History as Journalism, as well as in history classes. Interviews are videotaped and interview subjects’ photographs are scanned for use in exhibits and other visual representations.
VOCES is housed in the University of Texas School of Journalism, allowing for one of its signature finding aids—each interview is turned into a news story written by students and edited by veteran journalists. Stories are reviewed by interview subjects before being posted on the VOCES website.
The project uses existing interviews in five-minute documentaries, in photo/audio slide shows, and in podcasts, as resources are available. It has developed educational materials for fifth through eighth graders; the materials are aligned with state educational standards. The program also encourages volunteers to conduct their own interviews and provides training videos and necessary forms to prospective interviewers.
In 2007 VOCES was thrust into the national spotlight when it stood up to PBS and filmmaker Ken Burns over a 14.5-hour documentary on World War II. In early 2007 VOCES was able to verify that the documentary, more than six years in the making, had no Latinos. The documentary, The War, was scheduled to air on September 16, 2007, but was eventually rescheduled to a later date. VOCES spearheaded national efforts to protest the omission and to demand inclusion. The coalition of protestors took the name Defend the Honor and met with officials of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Public Broadcasting Service, and with national and local leaders and community members. The Latino protests were covered extensively in the news media. The exclusion of Latinos in the documentary cut across generational, political, and ethnic lines, as World War II affected all Americans. Burns resisted changes for several months but finally agreed to add three interviews—interviews with two Mexican American and one Native American veterans. Those interviews were added to three of the seven episodes but did not air in all markets.
As of 2015, VOCES Oral History Project was expanding to different interview collections, including those focusing on political empowerment and civic engagement.