After more than a decade documenting thousands of interviews for the Immigrant Archive Project, which he founded, Tony Hernández is finally getting his wish: The Library of Congress will archive his work.
Reading the email from the Library of Congress recently requesting permission to archive the project “gave me a lump in my throat, the way I’m experiencing right now retelling the story," Hernández said.
The Library of Congress will include the Immigrant Archive Project in the Handbook of Latin American Studies Web Archive, part of a larger collection of historically and culturally significant websites that the library has designated for preservation.
Hernández, 59, said the immigrant story was “the quintessentially American story.”
It was in 2008 that Hernández, with a small team of three, began capturing the stories of Americans from immigrant families. Traveling across the U.S., Hernández conducts lengthy on-camera interviews, which he edits into short testimonies, not more than a couple of minutes long, at his offices in Miami.
The interviewees include celebrities, such as the Mexican American actor Edward James Olmos and the Irish actor Colin Farrell, as well as prominent CEOs and government leaders.
But some of the people he interviews are ordinary Americans, including farmworkers and a young immigrant who was wrongfully convicted of murder when he was 18 and served 25 years in prison before he was freed. Some of the interviews are very emotional, while others are funny.
The Library of Congress said it hopes to “share its vision of preserving digital content and making it available to current and future generations of researchers,” adding, “As the internet has become an increasingly important and influential part of our lives, we believe the historical record would be incomplete if websites like [these] are not preserved and made a part of it.”
While the project first focused on Latino immigrants, it was eventually expanded to include immigrants from Asia, Africa and Europe, including Holocaust survivors.
Hernández, an entrepreneur who co-founded Latino Broadcasting Co., a multimedia content provider, was 5 years old when his family immigrated from Cuba. He said it gives him satisfaction to know the interviews he has collected over the years — over 3,000 — will be available at the Library of Congress for future generations.
“When you’re asking people to come in and bare their soul on camera ... there’s an amount of pressure on your shoulders to ensure that those stories are made available as widely as possible and not that they collect dust in a drawer somewhere,” he said.
Hernández is launching a new initiative, called “I am Proud,” which will refocus the lens on stories of multicultural entrepreneurs.