I really enjoyed perusing the Immigrant Stories part of the Minnesota’s Immigrants site. Minnesota has a surprisingly varied immigrant population (seriously, what says “Welcome to the US!” like being sent to super cold Minnesota…), and I think that the site did a good job of pulling together stories from representative groups. It balance the diversity with the relative number of immigrants from that background in Minnesota.
The first story I watched was that of Chiyoko Toguchi Swartz, a native of Okinawa who moved to the US in the late 1960s/early 70s with her American soldier husband. The story, narrated by her grandson, used a parenting reference book Chiyoko purchased just days before her trans-oceanic move. The book remained a touchstone for this woman learning to live life in a totally new environment. In this particular example, I did not feel like the sound particularly supported the story. The piece began with traditional Japanese music, and had the noises of airplanes above the island she lived on during World War II. The music at the beginning was nice, and could have continued beneath the narration without distraction. The stopping of the music made the airplanes seem out of place, though, which was only deepened by the fact that there were no additional sound “cues” for listeners later in the narration. As an aside, I was disappointed by the role of the book in the piece. I expected it to have more of a tie to her story than was presented. I think the narration could have been strengthened by specific examples of the book’s importance, and also by the grandson who narrated it including some personal memories or notes.
The second story I watched was Caceelia Moe’s, who moved to the US at a young age as a refugee from Myanmar/Burma. In this story, I felt that the visual images were compelling and well-used. No image was shown too long, and they gave a clear image of what Caceelia was describing at the moment. However, I do think that the video could have been improved by the inclusion of some sound cues, or at least by lengthening the pauses between the segments of her story. It sounded rushed, and there’s so much information in Caceelia’s story that I think that some down time would have strengthened the importance of the information in the listener’s mind.
One of the last stories I listened to was William Nyang’un, who emigrated to the US from Kenya in 2012. He told the story of his mother’s journey to America, his experiences in Kenya without her, and then his transition to the US. Again, the photos he used nicely exemplified what he was talking about, but I still felt like his piece would have been improved by some music or sound cues. William did have a very musical cadence to his voice, though, which drove the piece along.
Overall, I think that the pieces could have been improved by musical transitions within the narrations. Four minutes can feel like a very long time to sit and look at pictures and listen to the same person talk, particularly if the narrator has a thick accent. Providing a transition noise could help the listener digest what they have heard, and catch up if they’re trying to work through an accent that is difficult for them.
I do like this site as an example of public history, too. The fact that the stories are narrated by the person who experience them or their relative I think shows a lot of shared authority. I think the ability to contribute emotions or memories would improve the site as an example of public history, and also having the option to look through all the photographs included in the video. Overall, though, I think the vignettes show a nice diversity of experiences and tell many different stories in the immigrant narrative.