Immigrants’ memories often include hard work, resiliency, and sacrifice.
Tony Hernandez, founder of the Immigrant Archive Project, has recorded over 3,000 of these stories since 2008 and considers them the “quintessential American stories.”
Thios story is part of a series. For more click here.
Now, his Miami-based collection of immigrant testimonies will forever be archived in the Library of Congress, which holds over 170 million items in archives and collections.
“Knowing that the single most important library in the United States designates this work to be of historical and cultural value to the country is the highest possible honor to be bestowed upon us after 14 years of tireless work,” Hernandez said.
As a former television executive and an immigrant from Cuba, Hernandez decided to start the project in the mid-2000s after noticing the “xenopohobic rhetoric” surrounding immigrants on news channels where they “were blamed for all kinds of things that were nonsense.”
Growing up in Union City, New Jersey, he lived in a “high-density immigrant community” and interacted with other children who shared similar stories and perspectives.
In 2008, he decided to put together a project that “enabled the average American to have access to the dinner-table conversations about the immigrant journey that I grew up around.”
He added: “I thought if we give people access to these stories then it will begin to humanize the immigrant experience.”
Hernandez was surprised at the response early on. ““People were sharing really deep moments. When you give people the dignity and respect of really listening and asking questions, then these become cathartic conversations,” he said.
Since his start interviewing close friends and family members, he says the project has “snowballed into something much larger,” where he has interviewed Grammy-nominated artists, Fortune 500 CEOs, professors, and individuals of different nationalities, races, and walks of life in the past 14 years.
“Having revisited the archive recently, and sitting down as if it were the first time, I was instantly transported back to all of these remarkable experiences over the past 14 years,” he said.
Future plans for IAP
Hernandez plans to expand the Immigrant Archive Project into media such as podcasts and create a branch of the IAPs called “I Am Proud” that will highlight the multi-cultural experience in the United States.
These projects will widen the lens on the diverse stories.
To Hernandez, this project is one of many that emphasize the need for representation of Latino and immigrant tales. Other projects such as the National Museum of the American Latino, will be “further validation to the oversized contributions Latinos have made in this country since day one.”
“We, as Latinos, have made outsize contributions in science and the arts, as well as in politics,” he said. “We have defended the nation in wars and conflicts since the beginning. We are as American as it gets.”