Many would be surprised to hear that Cache Valley is home to several refugee populations. In partnership with the Library of Congress, the project called “Voices: Refugees in Cache Valley” has been collecting the stories of this largely unknown population.
Randy Williams, the Fife Folklore Archives curator and oral history specialist at Utah State University, said that this project has been a win-win situation for both students and the refugees.
“Students can come away with exposure to new techniques with interviewing, cameras, and recorders, but also with digital exhibit preparation, and cultural sensitivity and new friends," Williams said. "This is a class where students walk away with quite a few tools for the toolkit.”
The classroom is abuzz with activity as students are wrapping up their final group projects. Each group represents one of three refugee communities living in Cache Valley: the Karen, Eritrean, and Burmese Muslim. David Giles, a master’s student in the folklore program, said that he was shocked to hear how plainly the refugees spoke of the horrors they’d experienced.
“Whenever she saw a soldier or policeman in the camp, the instruction was to just run," Giles said. "It’s a small detail but it makes the whole experience profoundly terrifying. That is the scariest detail we’ve heard of the camp so far.”
Cami Dilg is a master’s student in American studies and says she’s passionate about shining a light on minority populations.
“It was just quite surreal and humbling for me that they were letting us into their homes since that was likely one of their only safe spaces," Dilg said. "It was a privilege to get to know them, but it’s also eye-opening because you realize that you are privileged in different ways and you have to do something with that privilege.”
This three-week intensive course will culminate in a community event at the Logan City Library on Thursday, May 28 at 7 PM. The students, including literature and writing master’s student Deanna Allred, will present exhibitions including the photographs and interviews they’ve collected.
“I think the thing that has stuck with me the most is when one of our interviewees said ‘I have always had to start every conversation with an American. Why can’t somebody say "hi" to me first?’" Allred said. "It’s like ‘Oh, I can do that. That is something I can do.’”