AUSTIN, Texas - Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a University of Texas journalism professor was recently named director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT, but it’s just one more way she continues her mission to preserve Hispanic Heritage.
Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez also founded the Voces Oral History Center, a project that started as a way to record and preserve interviews with Hispanic WWII Veterans.
"Welcome to my office, it’s really messy, I don’t spend that much time here," Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez says as she opens the door to room 3.380 at the Belo Center for New Media.
It’s no wonder she doesn’t spend much time in the office, she heads up many things and even in a pandemic, she hasn’t slowed down.
"You’ll see here, my calendar from March 2020!," Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez points out. It’s a moment, a story frozen in time, just like stories untold of Hispanic people. It’s stories like the ones Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez has worked to preserve for more than 20 years.
A video clip from 1999 shows an interview with Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez around the time she’d just started the Voces Center, "Just recently as this last weekend, a veteran said, ‘why is it that we’re not in those movies? And why is it that we’re not in those books?’ They feel as if nobody knows that there were Hispanics like Ed Feniche at D-Day and they feel they’ve made their contributions and why is that not part of the whole story?"
Its bits of history often lost that Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez is on a mission to save.
"Over and over I just kept on saying, ‘we’re just left out, we’re just left out,’ how do you address it?" Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez explains. "Well you have to write the books and well if the books are not already written, then you have to write the books, you have to write manuscript, have to write the journal articles."
And that's what she did, authoring books making sure veteran Latina and Latino stories were included.
"It's been hard because I haven't always felt that what I was doing was understood," Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez says.
She says her work in journalism and academia faced speed bumps due to a lack of diverse perspectives
"My department chair and my Dean, they’re very supportive and they get it but it’s taken me 22 years to get to this point," Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez says.
Now, the Voces Oral History project has expanded to include veterans of every war, they’re preserving stories of mariachis, Hispanics in tech, journalism, animation, even stories of the Latino pandemic experience in the U.S.
"I could've given up a long time ago, frankly because there are people who couldn't quite understand the connection between oral history and journalism, to me it was so clear!" Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez says.
And as conversations about diverse perspectives and social justice continue today, Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez says history, its preservation, understanding and diverse storytelling will lead us into the future.
"It’s very relevant because we’re still having some of the same discussions, we're still talking about how do we bring more people of color into the news organizations. My feeling has always been pretty, pretty simple, higher them, that’s what you have to do," Dr. Rivas Rodriguez says with a smile.