Welcome to the Institute of Oral at UTEP, the premier repository for oral histories related to the US-Mexico border. Since 1972, we have collected over 1,600 oral histories and 20,000 pages of transcripts that tell the story of this border region going back more than a century. Our collection tells the fascinating history of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez through the memories and words of the people who lived it. From our early economic and urban growth through the upheaval of the Mexican Revolution, the crisis of the Great Depression, to World War II and the Bracero Program onward to the Chicano Movement and more current issues like the fight to save Barrio Duranguito, the rich story unfolds through our collection. In our bilingual, bicultural collection, you can hear and read the words of people from all walks of life.
Years before I had the privilege to serve as director of the IOH, oral history and especially the Institute, held a special place in my heart. I conducted my first oral histories in 1978 when I took a Chicano Studies class at UT Austin as an undergraduate. In May of that year, I gave my first oral history workshop at Lincoln Juárez University, an alternative institution of higher education that emerged from the Chicano Movement in Austin. I knew then that oral history would play an important part of my life. When I came to UTEP to work on an MA in borderlands history, the IOH and its collection provided me with the foundation of my research.
In the 1978 introduction to those first oral histories I conducted, I wrote, “A people’s history is an integral part of their existence and without recognition of their history they cannot see themselves in the proper context. Knowing our history enables us to see where we have been and where we are now. Oral histories in particular personalize history… As students and as part of the community, it is our responsibility to find the history that exists in the memory of our people and to make that history ours.” Forty-one years later, I continue to believe in the transformative nature of oral history and in the acts of listening and being listened to. I also believe in our responsibility to preserve the histories that live on in our community.
Dr. Yolanda Chávez Leyva