Dispatch from the Field: Interviewing Youth Migrants in Chicago

Cristhian, interviewed for Solito, Solita
Cristhian, interviewed for Solito, Solita

Following the success of the “Seed the VOW Story Fund” Campaign in May, our VOW Story Fund editors are hitting the ground running with their oral history projects.

Editors Steven Mayers and Jonathan Freedman have just returned to San Francisco after a productive trip to Chicago, where they recorded the stories of two young men for their project Solito, Solita: Youth Migrants from Central America. Solito, Solita (Alone, Alone) sheds light on the abuses that youth migrants from Central America face while seeking refuge from life-threatening conditions in their home countries.

While recently sharing some project updates with us, Steven was careful to use a pseudonym for one of the narrators he had spoken to—a reminder of the dangers migrants continue to face even once they arrive on U.S. soil.

“While in Chicago, we spoke with two young men, one from Honduras named Cristhian and one from Guatemala, who we are calling Pedro,” says Steven. “Both came as youth escaping dire poverty and gang violence. After four attempts, Cristhian made it to the U.S. and has won his asylum case.”

Pedro’s fate, on the other hand, has yet to be decided. “Pedro’s father threatened to kill him since a disability rendered him unable to work in the fields,” says Steven. His asylum case is still pending.

The editors have been working closely with advocacy organizations and other community partners in order to connect with narrators and consult with other experts in the field.

“We’ve developed a strong relationship with the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC), a legal organization in Chicago that provides pro-bono legal services for youth migrants,” says Steven. “They are part of the Heartlands Alliance, a social services organization that grew out of Chicago’s historic Hull House, which assisted immigrants throughout the last century.”

Steven and Jonathan’s partnership with the NIJC stems from a shared commitment to sharing the stories of Central American youth migrants. Steven hopes the book will help support the important advocacy work that the NIJC and other organizations are undertaking throughout the country.

When we asked Steven about what’s next for Solito, Solita, he told us they’re planning on lots of local interviewing in the Bay Area, as well as a good deal of travel.

“This summer, we’ve been recording narratives at Centro Legal de la Raza, in Oakland, CA, and are planning trips to the detention center in Dilley, Texas, as well as to a migrant shelter in Arizona. In July, we’ll be traveling to migrant shelters in Mexico including FM4 in Guadalajara and La 72 in Tabasco, named after the 72 migrants massacred in 2010 by the drug cartel known as Los Zetas in northern Mexico.”

We’re looking forward to sharing more updates and excerpts from the stories as the project progresses throughout the summer.

If you would like to support Solito, Solita with a donation, please visit our donation page and write “Solito, Solita” in the comments.

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