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“When Letters Speak”: Arnold Grant Helps Share the Stories of Irish Immigrants
01.09.14 |
Due to her personal Irish background, Dr. Gabriela McEvoy, an assistant professor of Spanish at LVC, has always expressed an interest in the Irish immigration narrative, and in particular, the story of those who moved to Peru.

“I always wondered what brought them there, so I wanted to take my personal interests and add an academic perspective,” she said.

After completing extensive archival research, McEvoy published the article “Irish immigrants in Peru during the 19th Century” in a journal that focuses on Irish migration in Latin America. More recently, McEvoy was awarded an Arnold Grant that has allowed her to complete further research, and, with the help of students Robyn Moore ’14, Melany Reyes-Rodriguez ’15, and Sarah Wise ’14, to transcribe over 50 personal letters between an Irish family living in Peru and the United States between 1851-1878.

Through these transcriptions, Patrick, John, and James Dowling (James pictured at right) are given a voice and the opportunity to narrate the history of Irish immigrants from a unique, personal perspective.

Obtained from the Indiana Historical Society, the series of letters contain correspondence between a father living in Peru, a son who was sent to study in the United States, and an uncle living in the United States.

According to McEvoy, the letters are significant in that they provide a “personal perspective of the social and economic conditions of the country” while also showing individual transformations due to the environment and time.
In order to better understand the significance of historical personal correspondence, McEvoy asked her student-collaborators to research and understand the theory related to this method of communication in addition to their responsibility of transcribing.

After theory was mastered and transcriptions complete, Moore and Reyes categorized and analyzed the letters’ main topics, arranging them in an article that they plan to present at the 2014 Mid Atlantic Council of Latin American Studies (MACLAS) conference which will be held March 7-8 at Rutgers University.

“The student process of transcribing, theorizing, and categorizing is unique for students and is beneficial for them in understanding Spanish,” McEvoy said. Though some letters were writen in English, many of the earliest were completely written in Spanish. The final paper that Moore and Reyes-Rodriguez will present will also be written completely in Spanish, providing an opportunity for the Spanish majors to polish their written communication skills.

After the 2014 conference, McEvoy plans to build on the existing project. A similar series of letters have been located at Columbia University, and she hopes that a new group of students will share her desire to provide voices for the Irish immigrants that have been silent for many years.

“A lot of history has been written about Irish during the great famine around the world, but they also made a great impact in Peru. This is where letters can speak,” McEvoy said.

Photo: James Edward Dowling
Courtesy of Dr. Robert Keeler

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