How Oral History Projects Are Being Stymied by COVID-19

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tags: oral history, public history, COVID-19

Diana Emiko Tsuchida lost her grandfather at age 8, long before she was able to understand the hardships he experienced as a Japanese American citizen incarcerated by the U.S. government during World War II.

Not one to let another opportunity slip by, Tsuchida interviewed her father, who was also interned as a young boy, about his time at the camps. Inspired by the conversations with her dad, she founded Tessaku, an oral history project that interviews Japanese American survivors of the camps, to ensure that future generations would be able to hear about that experience from those who lived it.

But now, with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down much of the nation and threatening older populations most of all, her work, and that of many other oral history projects, has come to a halt. Many of the subjects of these projects belong to populations, including the African American and Latino communities, that have borne the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Historians and activists like Tsuchida must now grapple with how they can forge ahead with existing projects in the face of a pandemic that shows no signs of letting up.

A few years ago, Tsuchida interviewed camp survivor Tadashi Tsufura over the phone. He spoke calmly, even slowly, she recalls. Tsufura had told his story before, but he never sounded scripted. “He had a hint of sadness in his voice,” she said. She hung on to every word he uttered. The call lasted for two hours; she didn’t notice.

This April, she learned that Tsufura died from COVID-19; she would never have the chance to meet and talk with Tsufura in person.

Read entire article at Smithsonian Magazine