“What Was About To Happen”: Oral Histories from Puente Project Students During the Pandemic

In 2021, Voice of Witness partnered with The Puente Project to produce a digital oral history book capturing the experiences of the students centered in their work.

The Puente Project Book

The Puente Project is an organization that works to increase the number of educationally underrepresented students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities through interdisciplinary programs. Throughout the pandemic, students mentored by Puente were able to lean on each other during an increasingly isolating time. Voice of Witness (VOW)  was honored by the opportunity to help Puente amplify their own student voices through our oral history storytelling process.

The VOW Education Team led two virtual workshops in June that facilitated space for students to interview each other and then edit their own narratives for the book. Students from all over California at different stages of their academic careers were able to join and participate. They came together to form new friendships, capture each other’s stories, and refine their own experiences to share out widely.

As you read the fourteen narratives in the collection, titled “What Was About To Happen,” we hope it serves as a time capsule for a uniquely challenging period that these students faced. They tell us about their moments of bravery, resilience, joy, heartbreak, depression, anxiety, fear, achievement, and more.

Program Participant Reflections:

It’s really wonderful to have a collaboration with a like-minded organization, an organization that stands up for social justice. We’re very happy that VOW is able to hold space for us in this way. I felt so gratified speaking with a student and listening to her story, and being able to share my own story. I’m always happy for opportunities where the voices of our community are amplified and shared out and I’m so thankful VOW was able to do this for us. Puentistas, you are really the heart and soul of why we do this work…. We need spaces like this for everybody.

Grace Ebron, Associate Director of Professional Development at the Puente Project

At first, interviewing for me was something new. But after the first few questions, it was interesting interviewing my [project] partner. It was just really empowering hearing her story. I heard, basically, ‘You’re not in this alone.’ Her story really empowered me in that we all got struggles going on, but it’s a beautiful struggle. We’re so resilient, we end up pushing through, and sometimes we feel like we won’t be able to make it, but with that support system as far as Puente, that’s just promising and really helpful. I just want to say thank you for giving us this chance to interview someone else and build that friendship.

Andrew, a Puente Project student

I was very excited to be part of this and being allowed to speak up and talk to other people. In my mindset, I was staying very positive, and then at the end, I realized there was loss for me. There was a lot of fear. And it wasn’t just for me, but mainly because my kids were afraid. I like to stay positive even through very difficult times, but it’s important knowing the underlying conditions that affect our mental health. Even if we stay positive, there are residual feelings and residual hurt that we need to channel a little more. I feel that there is an underlying hurt that I still haven’t dealt with.

Gabriela, a Puente Project student

It really gave me a different touch, a different level of compassion, because I was able to really see the vulnerability in someone, the strength, the resiliency. Overall, it also served as a reminder that we’ve gone through stuff, but we also overcame a lot of stuff. In the end, we’re here and speaking about our colllective shared experience but also our individual experiences. One thing I was able to grab from that, especially from my [project] partner, was that there is a lot of resiliency. A lot of hardship, humbleness, that I was able to connect with. I’ve been wanting to connect with my Puentistas all over, but I can only connect with so many of them through my college, and having this experience is a luxury because there are different Puentistas from different colleges in this room right now. That gives me a different level of experience that’s beautiful.

Miguel, a Puente Project student

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