The Hazleton Oral History Project is a joint effort between adult ESL learners taking adult ESL classes at the Hazleton One Community Center through the Concerned Parents of the Hazleton Area English as a second language program and first-year rhetoric and composition students at Penn State Hazleton. Over the course of several weeks, adult ESL learners and Penn State Hazleton students met to co-author a story about the adult ESL learner coming to America and/or living in Hazleton.
As we know, Hazleton has gone through many changes in the past fifteen years: an increase in crime, gang violence, and teen drug use and a decrease of high-paying jobs (Gilgoff). Many have blamed these problems on the increase in Spanish-speaking immigrants (Kroft).
Scapegoating is not new. It usually begins when we don’t understand (or refuse to understand) a complex problem, such as the economic decline of a once robust city. It’s much simpler to blame a group of people, especially if that group of people looks, speaks, and acts differently. When we don’t understand each other, walls are built, and the space between fills with fear. Racism, xenophobia, and ignorance provide easy, albeit wrong, answers to questions we have about changes in our community, further dividing and reinforcing the biases, stereotypes, and blame.
The Hazleton Oral History Project attempts to carve out a space for greater understanding and dialogue. The oral histories collected and posted on this site are from the lived experiences of the new Spanish-speaking immigrants living in Hazleton, and they are all true stories. Upon reading these stories, I hope, instead of the differences, readers will be able to identify what Hazletonians have in common: desiring a good job, coping with abuse, sacrificing for the family, wanting to create a better life for younger generations, working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. If we can recognize that we all share many of the same dreams, hopes, and struggles, perhaps scapegoating would not be as easy. Then, the difficult work of understanding and resolving a complex problem can finally begin.
This project is the continuation of a collaborative effort by approximately 50 members of the Hazleton community and 50 Penn State first-year rhetoric and composition students. In the spring of 2014, these two groups came together to write together. The result was over 150 pages of text and two published books. The first, One Community: Oral Histories of Immigrants in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, told the stories of 12 immigrants who had recently moved to Hazleton, while the second, Our Town: Oral Histories from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, captured 42 stories, detailing the everyday lives of everyday Hazletonians, newcomers and old-timers alike. Much has been written about this collaborative project, and copies of these books can be found at the Hazleton Area Public Library as well as the Penn State University Libraries.
The Hazleton Oral History Project seeks to build on this effort, not just on the collection of oral histories from local Hazletonians but on the relationships formed by composing them. Bridges between the community and university, between newcomers and old-timers, and between students and locals have been build, and the continuation of this project strengthens them.
Together we are a stronger community.
Dr. Steven Accardi
Assistant Professor of English
Pennsylvania State University, Hazleton