Nancy Herrera ’15
Project: “On Immigration and Justice: Writing and Delivering the Story of my Grandfather”
Major: Science, technology and society; self-designed writing minor
Grant: Esterly award
Faculty: Kimberly Drake, director of the Writing Program, assistant professor of writing
Two years before Nancy Herrera’s grandfather passed away, he requested that she pass down his story. When he died last February, Herrera decided to do just that, using her summer Esterly award to memorialize his life in an online writing project.
Working with Professor Kimberly Drake, Herrera devised four points her writing would focus on—four things she knew about her grandfather. Over the course of the summer, however, Herrera discovered she had it all wrong.
“Everything I thought I knew was wrong; things were intentionally hidden from me,” Herrera says. “It was an emotional process. I was trying to simultaneously deal with grief, and sometimes I just couldn’t write anymore.”
In learning new details about the grandfather who raised her, Herrera realized people often undergo complete transformations over their lifetime.
To fully unearth her grandfather’s true story, Herrera conducted in-depth interviews with four family members, all in Spanish. She then transcribed the conversations into English to craft her paper, and finally transcribed her work back into Spanish to share with her family in Mexico.
Her grandfather’s stories reveal what Herrera calls “the unintended consequences of government programs.” A participant in the Vasaros program that brought Mexican workers to the United States for temporary work, her grandfather was fighting until his death to receive all the money promised to him by the government. While he was not successful, Herrera concluded that even failed social movements are important to document.
The main challenge Herrera faced was choosing how to tell her grandfather’s story when many of the reports family were telling her about him were contradictory.
“We talked about the idea that her project would not be a traditional biography (in the sense of being factual and unified), but would foreground the many informants, or storytellers, that would help her shape her version of her grandfather’s life,” Drake says. “The fact that his story is part of an erased history of California gave the project even more significance to her and to the Scripps community, as did the question a family member asked: ‘Why aren’t you writing this in Spanish?’”
Herrera was constantly in dialogue with her family about how to present information about her grandfather to show that while he’s not perfect, he should be respected for his contributions.
“I think this project has turned out to be a perfect example of the kind of critical work Scripps students learn to do while here—destabilizing academic conventions and forms, combining critical concepts from disparate disciplines, and showing how social structures and boundaries shape individual lives,” says Drake.
Herrera learned it’s invaluable to know about your ancestors, because everyone has a story to tell.
Herrera published 12 of her grandfather’s stories on her website , memoriasdemiabuelito.com, as well as a story exclusive to The Scripps Voice.
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