The Voces Oral History Center

Hispanic Community September 2021 PREMIUM
A Mission to Preserve Hispanic Heritage

Theirs are not household names, but Aida Barrera, Gilbert Louis Delgado and Frank Bonilla were pioneers in various aspects of education: Barrera was the creative force behind the 1970s children’s bilingual television show Carrascolendas; Gilbert Louis Delgado translated American Sign Language into Spanish;  Frank Bonilla had a leading role in creating the field of Puerto Rican studies. Their entire interviews can be found within the archives of the Voces Oral History Center, in a library at the University of Texas at Austin.

Since 1999, the Voces Oral History Center at the University of Texas at Austin has recorded interviews with over 1,500 Latinas & Latinos in the US. It began as the US Latino & Latina World War II (WWII) Oral History Center, dedicated to the Greatest Generation. Founder and longtime director Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez had become aware that the stories of these men and women had not been well documented – in fact there was not a single book about them.

“I was a journalist before I became an academic,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “When I was writing a magazine story about Texas Mexican American postwar civil rights achievements, I found very little had been written – or chronicled in any way.”

That was 1992. But that lack of research sparked an idea: an oral history archive could provide the raw material to write those books. In 1999, now with a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as a new journalism professor at UT-Austin, Rivas-Rodriguez tackled creating just such an archive. Partnering with the world renowned Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, the work was underway.

Over the years, the project has expanded beyond WWII to the Korean and Vietnam War eras; political and civic engagement; culture; and various professions/careers. But since the start, education was a key part of the interviews. Many interview subjects, asked if they had advice for a new generation, invariably urged them to seek the best education they could.

A Lasting Legacy in Education: Voices of Three Pioneers

Here is a little about each of the three individuals who made lasting impacts on their respective fields:

Aida Barrera: A native of a small South Texas town 10 miles from the Mexican border, Barrera spoke only Spanish growing up. In school, the other students chided her when she made mistakes in pronunciation. Those early memories helped her develop a keen appreciation of the importance of being proud of speaking Spanish.

Her introduction to creating educational resources came when she produced and narrated educational Spanish-language filmstrips called the Gloria and David series. The filmstrips were distributed to schools throughout Texas – an early way of using multimedia. In 1962, Barrera got a job as the on-air Spanish-language teacher for KLRN, the then-regional fledgling PBS station serving the Austin and San Antonio communities.

But within a few years, Barrera became increasingly attuned to greater news and opportunities. The Chicano Movement was in full sway and many Mexican American civil rights activists insisted that their Spanish language be appreciated for the wealth it represented to its speakers. The 1968 Bilingual Education Act created funding for bilingual instruction programs in schools. There were also opportunities for television programs.   

“I was reading about bilingual education … and I thought ‘Well you know, why can’t we do something like this?’,” she said. “And so that’s when I approached the station [KERA] and I said, ‘I have an idea.’” 

 Carrascolendas was born in 1970. It was an entertaining and educational bilingual program based on a mythical town with talking animals (adults in costume) and a diverse cast of children.

“I was very conscious of the images that should go out … if I was going to be part of anything… I wanted to create something that would reflect this diversity,” Barrera said.

The name “Carrascolendas” was based on the original historical name of her hometown, Rio Grande City. The show ran for six years until it lost funding. But it is still remembered fondly by those people of all races and ethnicities who grew up on it.

Her entire interview may be found on the Voces YouTube channel.

Frank Bonilla: Born on February 3, 1925 in New York City, Bonilla was what might be called a Newyorkican. That identify of a Puerto Rican born on the mainland would lead him to a lifetime of thought and analysis of what it means to be Puerto Rican and how mainland Puerto Ricans relate to Island Puerto Ricans. His initiation into asking the big questions came when he served with the 65th Infantry Division during WWII. The 65th was comprised mostly of Puerto Ricans from the island and he became aware of the deep divisions between mainland and island Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Ricans who had emigrated to the mainland were seen as "American Joes." Puerto Ricans from the island considered themselves "pure" Puerto Ricans, Bonilla said.

When the “Star Spangled Banner” played, the Puerto Rican soldiers paid little if any attention. But they stood at attention whenever “La Borinqueña,” the Puerto Rican anthem, was played.

“The soldiers in the regiment, although proud to be U.S. citizens, felt that they were a Puerto Rican army, not a U.S. army,” Bonilla said.

He eventually earned a Doctorate in Sociology from Harvard University in 1959 and worked in various positions with the federal government and then taught at MIT and Stanford University. He was instrumental in creating the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York.

Bonilla died in 2010.

Gilbert Louis Delgado was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on September 3, 1928.  When he was 5 years old, he was enthralled when he witnessed his friends use sign language to communicate with their deaf grandmother. After serving in the Marines after WWII, Delgado used his GI Bill for his education. He earned a Ph.D. in Educational Technology in 1969 from American University and began working with the Department of Education on close-captioning for television and telephone communications for the deaf. He taught at Gallaudet University, a leader in education for the deaf and hard of hearing. At Gallaudet, Delgado was instrumental in creating deaf resource centers at universities in Latin America. He also translated American Sign Language from English to Spanish and was the author of a book on problems related to Latinos experiencing hearing loss. Delgado died in 2019.

These are a few examples of the contributions to American society of over a thousand Hispanics whose life stories are collected at the UT Austin Voces Oral History Center. To find more of their stories, across many eras and occupations, including the most recent “Voces of the Pandemic”, please visit:

Subscribe to the Voces YouTube channel at: to watch entire interviews, as well as recordings from events and more.

Photos courtesy: Voces Oral History Center

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