Highlands Oral History Project

Posted on May 14, 2013


From left to right: Mike Grella, Mimi Adams, Yonerky Santana, Ana Stipanovic, Walnut, Julia Greene, Wendy Joseph, Jeff Mulumbi at the Lynn Museum.

From left to right: NSCC students Mike Grella, Mimi Adams, Yonerky Santana, Ana Stipanovic; workshop leader Walnut da Lyrical Geni,  Julia Greene, Wendy Joseph and Jeff Mulumba at the Lynn Museum premiere of the Highlands History Project.

Ana Stipanovic sought refuge from the war-torn region of Bosnia. Others came looking for decent jobs and food on the table, a better life. City Councilor Hong Net barely escaped from the killing fields of Cambodia, where starvation, disease and forced labor were the norm. Ana, Hong and many others who immigrated to Lynn or whose parents or grandparents immigrated, tell their stories in a new film produced by the Mass Foundation for the Humanities and the Highlands Coalition called the Highlands History Project: the Meaning of the Highlands Today.

Nineteen Lynners were interviewed for the film, which premiered at the Lynn Museum on Wednesday, May 8, before a crowd of 125. Project director Wendy Joseph said  12 students from Northshore Community College (NSCC) and youth from Girls, Inc. and the Khmer American Youth Association (KAYA) conducted the oral history interviews, making this a multi-generational endeavor. A $10,000 grant from Mass Humanities funded 2 scholars from NSCC, a videographer and student stipends.  “In addition, there was easily $250,000 of  in-kind donations–time and treasure given for free–that went into the film’s production.

Joseph said the uncut oral histories will be stored in the archives of the Lynn Museum for all to see and the film will be shown to civic organizations, church groups and other interested parties.

Professor Julia Greene of NSCC was one of the scholars on the project. She led workshops in public speaking and interviewing skills. “It was a service learning project,” said Greene, “so the students who participated went above and beyond what was expected of them academically.” Among her students was Ana Stipanovic, who not only conducted interviews but was interviewed for her story’s inclusion in the film.

Lynn performance artist Walnut da Lyrical Geni worked with the interviewers to get their creative juices flowing, taking elements from hip hop, poetry and theatre to foster their artistic expression. Jeff Mulumba served as director of photography and videography.

Listening to the interview subjects in person and in the film, I felt a deep respect for their stories. I marveled at the montages of old photographs with the interviewees telling their stories. This is a film well worth seeing, much more so than the latest Hollywood blockbusters. It is a local “…labor of love for the Highlands, a valentine to the community and the city,” according to retired English Professor Carl Carlson, who gave opening remarks at the reception.

David Gass, whose ancestors fled persecution in the Ukraine, says in the film, “We see all these negative things about Lynn. We complain about the schools. When immigrants from other countries come here they say, ‘Wow, running water. No dictator.'”

If you would like to see this film or think your group would be interested in it, the Highlands Coalition is taking suggestions from the community for showings. Contact Wendy Joseph (wendy_joseph@mac.com) if interested.

Posted in: Diversity