Finding the Voice of a Generation

Rosa Pruneda wins first place in the VOCES Oral History Project, credits IE program

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A recent video contest hosted by the VOCES Oral History Project through the School of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin highlighted several powerful stories from Latinos and Latinas who served in WWII and the Korean and Vietnam Wars with Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium (IE) participant Rosa Pruneda receiving first place.

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Pruneda's work was her project for the IE pre-graduate school internship, designed to connect undergraduates with faculty and seasoned graduate students to explore what makes graduate school unique to that of an undergraduate education in areas such as research. Each year, IE helps approximately 300 students from nearly every academic discipline on campus to find educational and career direction.

Pruneda's award-winning documentary on pioneering Women's Army Corps (WAC) veteran Carmen Contreras Bozak was produced through VOCES and is currently being showcased on VOCES seeks to hear the voices and share the stories of generations of Latinos who have fought for the U.S. in order to document and create a better awareness of their contributions. The piece received top honors after being evaluated by judges Nancy de los Santos and Jesus Trevino from Los Angeles and Roland Hartzog from Houston.

Voces highlights Latina WWII veteran Carmen Contreras Bozak from Moody College of Communication on Vimeo.

Pruneda credits much of her success to IE and her graduate mentor Manuel Avilés-Santiago, a recent graduate of the Ph.D. program in Media Studies housed in the Department of Radio-Television-Film, whose dissertation on Puerto Rican soldiers analyzes the use of social media to tell their digital stories.

"Week after week I have continuously learned more from him and he has been such an inspiration to strive for my goals and accomplish great things down the road," said Pruneda. "Thanks to him I was able to participate in the VOCES project and have met interesting professors, directors, producers and students that share the same passion in Mexican American studies. I couldn't have done any of this without the support of the IE program, Dr. Cherwitz and of course, my awesome mentor, Manú!"

Avilés-Santiago has been a research associate of VOCES since 2007 and upon completion of his PhD, was hired as Assistant Professor in Communication and Culture at Arizona State University. He plans to continue mentoring students and promoting the idea of citizen scholars.

"My main goal with Rosa was to introduce her to graduate school through one of her passions, which is the arts and the reason I encouraged her to participate in the editing contest," said Avilés-Santiago. "Through the competition, she was able to combine her interests in research, Mexican American Studies and film, to produce a creative piece with a socio-historical value."

Pruneda, a junior majoring in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education with a minor in Mexican American Studies, said she became interested in the multidisciplinary IE program, which is open to all undergraduates of UT in all colleges and schools, because of her desire to grow intellectually.

A native of Houston, Pruneda is the first in her family to attend college. To complete her documentary, she was provided photographs, music and film footage from an oral interview of Bozak, who is of Puerto Rican descent.

"For this project, I used the iMovie program and began learning how to work it as I went along. I am now learning how to use the Final Cut Pro editing program and I am excited to put it to use," said Pruneda. "After this semester, I have taken a great interest in film production and I am looking into double-majoring in Public Relations and Radio-Television-Film."

For achieving first-place, Pruneda received a Macbook Pro with Final Cut Studio software, a textbook entitled, "A Legacy Greater Than Words: Stories of U.S. Latinos & Latinas of the World War II Generation" published by The U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project Group, a DVD titled, "The Bronze Screen: 100 Years of the Latino Image in Hollywood," and other gifts provided by The National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

"I learned from this experience is that it is important that you find a mentor – someone to guide you and help you make decisions regarding your future," said Pruneda. "Manuel has also helped shaped my view on graduate school and I now have dreams of pursing a master's degree after I graduate."

VOCES Oral History Project

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"The video contest has been a remarkable way of disseminating the amazing interviews we have," said Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, founder of VOCES and professor in the School of Journalism. "We're looking to expand our video contest to other universities."

VOCES was created in 1999 and originally focused solely on the WWII generation.

According to a recent study conducted by VOCES contributor Karl Eschbach, approximately 500,000 Latinos served in the armed forces during World War II but the exact number has historically been difficult to determine due to varying race categorizations on enlistment and discharge papers. As a result, the historical perspective of this period has often not included the experiences of this generation of Latinos.

When WWII ended, many American Latinos returned to segregated communities and a society that didn't welcome them. The war did, however, provide Latinos the tools to challenge inequality by using the GI Bill to receive higher education and training for better careers.

In 2010, the project expanded into the Korean War and Vietnam War generations of Latinos and Latinas, made possible through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Most interviews are of veterans, but the project also seeks to document the larger Latino civilian experience of men and women alike.

On the VOCES website, there are hundreds of stories and thousands of photos, oral history training videos and available forms and guidelines necessary to submit a videotaped interview or tribute to the project.

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer