This oral history interview is an intimate conversation between two people, both of whom have generously agreed to share this recording with Oral History Summer School, and with you. Please listen in the spirit with which this was shared.
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The interview with Belkis Alcantra was recorded in Hudson, NY on June 16, 2014. Belkis was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States 20 years ago. She originally came to New York where her brother was living. Her brother was killed three months after she arrived and she managed on her own (without speaking English), working at Dominican-run salons given that she was trained as a beautician. She was in the country illegally at this time. She married and had a daughter in New York, and got her “papers”. Her husband first came to Hudson finding work at a factory. Belkis lived in Hudson intermittently before settling in the community. For a short time, she worked in a factory as well, but preferred to do hair. She has lived in Hudson for sixteen years and owns a hair salon on Warren Street. Her salon is a place where people comfortably gather. She is committed to Hudson and to her family (husband, daughter, and son), and to her family in the Dominican Republic, visiting them every two years and hoping to bring her parents to this country at some point. This interview might interest people curious about the store owners up and down Warren Street in Hudson. More generally, Belkis speaks to the immigrant experience and what it is like to go from being at a distance from a place to becoming an integrated citizen, and the hard work and struggles involved in doing so. Her interview also addresses what it is like to negotiate multiple places simultaneously, one’s place of residence with one’s place of origin.
I am a native Kentuckian who grew up as the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants and I have been interested in relationships among Arabs and Jews away from the Middle East and urban locales in this country. I have found that Arab and Jewish immigrants in Kentucky have been brought together through shared otherness, fears, and experiences. More intriguing to me, are the stories of Arab and Jewish women as it is through women’s words that Arabs and Jews can see their likenesses and shared humanity. I am trained as a sociologist and have been devoted to giving voice to women’s situations for nearly two decades. Years ago, I conducted oral histories with Appalachian women on welfare during welfare reform in the hopes of bringing women’s stories into the public conversation about public assistance benefits. I wrote the book, Adopting Maternity (Praeger 2004), about white women in Kentucky who had adopted children of another race and/or nationality to relay the complex maternal dance that takes place when women cross racial, class, and national boundaries to own a maternal identity.
This interview is hereby made available for research purposes only. For additional uses (radio and other media, music, internet), please click here to inquire about permissions.
Oral history is an iterative process. In keeping with oral history values of anti-fixity, interviewees will have an opportunity to add, annotate and reflect upon their lives and interviews in perpetuity. Talking back to the archive is a form of “shared authority.”