Service Learning Students Document Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Washington County

Service Learning Students Document Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Washington County
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This fall, communication students in the Service Learning course Environmental Community Adaptations worked with the City of Fayetteville to research primary and secondary findings on the Hispanic and Latino populations in Fayetteville between 1950 and 1990.

The city has been working on a project to broaden the knowledge and history of Fayetteville's cultural groups, and the students aligned themselves to this cause through a successful semester-long project. On Dec. 8, they gave a presentation to the Fayetteville Historic District Commission on their findings and demonstrated how the project is a step toward giving these communities better representation in Arkansas history.

Throughout the project, their goal was to uncover and discover Hispanic and Latino presence in Washington County. To understand migration patterns, students started their research by collecting secondary sources through phone directories, the U of A special archives and naturalization records, to name a few. They learned that some of the history of Hispanics migrating to Northwest Arkansas can be attributed to the growth of the Tyson industry, but primary knowledge came from first-hand interviews with families. They obtained personal contact information from festivals such as the Hispanic Heritage Festival and conducted intensive research into Washington County archives. As a result of their findings and interviews, the students were able to find numerous, prominent Hispanic and Latino families that lived in Washington County before 1990.

The students even created a Facebook page called "NWA Hispanic and Latino Collections" so that residents can begin an online community to document family stories and connect with others. The page's aim is to "give a voice to people who have not been noticed in our city's history," and the students have recently passed the page onto the U of A Latino Society so they can continue building and managing it. One of their interviews came from a connection made on the Facebook page. Additionally, the students shared the project and Facebook page on La Zeta 95.7 FM, a Spanish-language radio station that covers Northwest Arkansas. One student mentioned that a rewarding part of the project was "getting to do an interview on the Hispanic radio station La Zeta" and that "this class has prepared me for the real world and helped my communication skills."

In the final presentation, students elaborated on why they conducted this project by sharing how Hispanic and Latino communities made up 1% (428) of the NWA population in 1990, but now these communities reportedly account for 17.5% of the Washington County population (16,189). Thus, there is a real need to provide "an accurate and true oral history for a community that deserves their rightful place in the history books."

Britin Bostick, a City of Fayetteville employee who worked as the students' client, stated that their work on the project was "outstanding" and that the students demonstrated "a keen understanding of my comments to them at the start of the class that our identity is so often closely tied to place, and as our Hispanic/Latino community grows in Fayetteville, we want people to be able to see themselves here and connect to this place — to feel the sense of belonging that can come with knowing your culture is part of the place that you live."

Another student stated that "this project has been extremely fulfilling talking with Hispanic families and being immersed in their culture. It has also been humbling to hear the struggles these families have gone through to get to where they are today. I hope our project lays a foundation that can be built on years after we graduate."

Please visit the Service Learning Initiative on FacebookInstagram and our website for more information on courses. 

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