Oral history project captures Washingtonians’ pandemic experiences

Kiyomi Taguchi

Manuel S. Martinez, a lifelong campesino, trabajador and community organizer, recalls the beginning of the pandemic. Interviewed by UW student Adriana Martinez. 

Zoom, masks, family and politics — these are some of the lasting memories shared by participants in a University of Washington student oral history project.

Undergraduate seniors in the Public Health Global Health major at the UW School of Public Health partnered with the Washington State Historical Society to record the experiences of friends, family and associates living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the course’s winter quarter capstone project, students recorded an interview with a person in their community about what they’ve seen and thought about since the pandemic began. Interview subjects were encouraged to submit a significant “artifact” related to their pandemic experience, like a photo of their home office or vaccination card. The course was taught by Anjulie Ganti, associate teaching professor in the School of Public Health, with teaching assistant Nola Liu, a graduate student in public health and urban planning, and aimed, in part, to document stories from marginalized communities who have been most impacted by COVID-19.

Anthony Trinh is a sophomore in high school and is currently participating in virtual learning.  Interviewed by UW student Tina Trinh.

Margaret Wetherbee and Molly Wilmoth from the Washington State Historical Society joined the class regularly, instructing students in how to conduct oral histories and prepare a historical record. All of the recordings, artifacts and notes will be archived at the Washington State History Museum.

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) representation has been left out or minimized in historical narratives. This public health project offered the students and the Historical Society an opportunity: a collaboration bringing BIPOC voices at a significant moment in history directly into the Society’s collections, where they can be preserved and shared for generations in the future.

Gilbert Rivera is an executive manager at a major retail store in Seattle. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilbert proposed to his partner of four years. Interviewed by UW student Dan Nguyen.

Partnering with a museum is unusual for a public health project, said Ganti, and a particularly beneficial example for students. Through the process of collecting oral histories, they gain a better understanding of the people represented in public health data.

“This partnership trains students to innovate beyond current public health approaches by centering equity through collecting oral histories,” said Ganti. “It’s a means to lift up the stories of people who already hold the solutions for addressing their public health needs. All we have to do is listen and respond.”

Araceli Lucatero is a licensed home daycare owner whose income was impacted by the pandemic. She talks about how the spread of COVID-19 was perceived in her Hispanic community. Interviewed by UW student Ariana Deniz.


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