The Fight Against Archival Silences: Is “Radical Patience” Giving Up ?

 By: Odalis Mairena

To begin, you might question what is “Radical Patience”? I borrowed this term from my professor. She introduced me to this concept after she saw my frustration as I was dealing with the archival silences of Latin American communities in Peel Region. My professor said that I had to be patient and that I was trying to undertake a project that could take years of dedication to complete.

As I wrote my paper for this class, I came to realized that my professor was right and that being patient does not mean that I am giving up. Instead, it means that I have to continue working to challenge narratives, think critically about issues, and always trust my instincts. In this last blog post, I suggest that social projects such as challenging archival silences with oral history interviews are not about succeeding. Instead, these projects are about patience and persistence.  

I wrote on my final paper that my project failed to materialized because I was unable to see it being made into something. I conducted five oral history interviews, and I felt as if I had failed my community and those who kindly accepted to be part of my project. I could not stop repeating those thoughts to myself over and over.

However, as I did more research on museums and non-profit organizations, as well as other minority groups that dealt with archival silences, I understood that I was trying to find a needle in a haystack. While reading Michelle Caswell, Rodney Carter, Samantha Gregory, Elizabeth Miller, and Richard Sandell, I realized there has been amazing work done on issues related to archival silences. For example, I  discovered that Jorge Ginieniewicz is a historian who is been working on Latin American communities in Toronto.  When I read some of Ginieniewicz's work, I learned that I was not alone. Other scholars were interested in similar issues and were also attempting to answer similar questions.

As one of my favourite philosophers would say, “books saved me from despair.”

Once I decided to move away from trying to force a historical argument, I  realized that there was a conversation, and most importantly, there were people taking action to challenge these issues. 

My job was not to fight the archival silence and succeed. My job was about being patient. My job was to persist. My job was to continue my studies and get the training I need to further challenge archival silence. My job was think critically about the ways in which we preserve history.

  • What histories are being recorded in present-day events?
  •  In the area of internet and information, would archival silences be a concern for future historians? 
  • How can we ensure that our stories will be heard?

I hope someone who is dealing with the same frustrations as I was will come accross this post, and I wish to leave you with this:  Please do not feel like you have to solve this issue alone! Find people that share the same concerns and always follow your instincts.

Here is a list of readings that I used to write my paper, and I hope will further assist you in your research: 

Caswell, Michelle. "Seeing Yourself in History: Community Archives and the Fight Against  Symbolic Annihilation." The Public Historian. 2014. Volume 36, Issue 4, pages. 26 – 37

Carter, Rodney G. S. "Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in   Silence." Archivaria no. 61 2006, pages es  215-233. 

Ginieniewicz, Jorge. “Identity Politics and Political Representation of Immigrants: The    Perceptions of Latin Americans in Toronto.” Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies. 2010. Volume 8, Issue 3, pages 261 – 283

Moore, Darnell L., Beryl Satter, Timothy Stewart-Winter, and Whitney Strub. "A Community's   Response to the Problem of Invisibility: The Queer Newark Oral History Project."  A   Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking. 2014. Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 1 – 14

Ruddins, Fath Davis. “Mythos, Memory, and History: African American Prevention Efforts  1820-1990” in  Museum and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture. Edited by Ivan  Karp, Christine Mullen Kreamer , and Steven D. Lavine. Smithsonia Instituion. 1992.