Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Expats in Mexico: Park alum tells their stories

Shauna Leff is a TVR major (class of 1999) who lives in Mexico and works for the American Benevolent Society, creating an oral history of the stories of American expats living in Mexico. (She might also be working with TVR professor Mara Alper this summer on her documentary about the Huichol tribe.)

A recent magazine profile described her work capturing the stories of the Americans who have made a home and a history in Mexico:

Shauna Leff enters the basement to the nose-twitching smell of must and cool air. Before her lies a clutter of boxes, wheelchairs, computer hard drives, blue fi ling cabinets and bookshelves.

A 30-year-old with contagious energy and a tiny nose piercing, Leff is ABS’s youngest board member and the organization’s self-described cheerleader. With the 140th birthday celebration fast approaching (to be celebrated February 20 at the US Ambassador’s residence), she’s digging for photos to use in the anniversary video.

Leff is spearheading the ABS’s Story Archive Project. Like NPR’s StoryCorps and the BBC’s digital Telling Lives project, Leff is recording expat interviews to preserve the stories of the older generation —stories she hopes will raise the institution’s profile and engage the new generation of Americans in Mexico. So far, Leff has
recorded 10 interviews on professional audio quality equipment. It’s expat history as never heard before.

Former ABS president Vicky Silvan, 83, and her husband Len tell of how they met, painting the scene at the Hotel del Prado, the popular expat hangout that crumbled in the 1985 earthquake. Author Diana Anhalt’s childhood memories of the 1950s take
listeners through Polanco cornfi elds, down a Paseo de la Reforma still traveled by burros and horses, and to the Pyramids back when you could still dig in the rubble and take home pre-Colombian artifacts.

Leff asks how her life changed by moving here. Anhalt’s voice cracks on the recording: “It gave me another language, it gave me another culture … and it gave me the gift of life.” A pause. “You know it’s funny, Shauna, I never realized how much it moves me
until I started talking about it.”

Parkies: they're using their talents and expertise to tell life's stories. All over the world.


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