Resulting interviews usually lasted at least an hour and sometimes more than two. Fuentes interviewed about 25 people for the project.
Many of them said the same thing: “I’ve never told anyone this before.”
Stanford and Princeton universities have led the American Voices Project, with support from the Russell Sage Foundation, the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, and San Francisco, and other partners. They work to build an understanding of the day-to-day experiences of individuals and families in communities across the country. The project began as a way to study US poverty. It has grown into a trove of personal narratives similar, in some ways, to StoryCorps, the widely known public effort to collect and archive individuals’ personal histories. Interviews conducted over the past year also serve as an oral history of how people across the country weathered the pandemic.
“I’m a big proponent of the power of stories to influence change,” Fuentes said. “I grew up in a storytelling culture. My family would often tell me stories about their upbringing.”
Stanford selected its American Voices Project interviewers from a group of applicants well-versed in research methods. The selection process was highly competitive; Grusky joked that it’s harder to become an American Voices Project interviewer than it is to get into Stanford itself. Interviewers are selected for their empathy, openness, and interest in understanding others.
For Fuentes, this was his first post-college job, and the skills he honed are sticking. Now, “even with old friends, sometimes when they confide in me, I’ll find myself in interview mode,” Fuentes said.
That habit of digging for more information is likely to come in handy at his new role. Fuentes was named a Coro Fellow in San Francisco. During the one-year fellowship, participants do rotations in public- and private-sector organizations to gain a better understanding of how they work.
“I’m so grateful to the participants in the American Voices Project,” Fuentes said. “They’re entrusting us with their experiences, their stories. It can be very healing for people.”
American Voices Project began conducting interviews in 2018, with support from partners including a coalition of regional Federal Reserve Banks, the Russell Sage Foundation, and others. The dataset of interviews will be open to other researchers; the project’s next step is a public call for submissions of research proposals.