Did you know there used to be an Hispanic American Student Union (HASU) on campus? Did you know that the group (for, indeed, it was a student group, not a building) was around for at least a full decade? And that it hosted a high-profile, multi-day, annual symposium with funding from the Government of the Student Body (GSB) for at least seven years in a row? And that this symposium created a unique space for American students with Hispanic/Latinx heritage to celebrate and share their culture, create dialog around social issues, converse with prominent activists, and voice to their own experiences?
You didn’t? Don’t feel bad: neither did I.
Neither did any of the SCUA staff, in fact, until a few days ago. This is because scarcely a whisper of such a group exists in our archives. We have no collections of meeting minutes from HASU secretaries, no photographs, no write-ups in the yearbook (a staple in research on ISU student life). Virtually nothing.
So how did I find out about it?
Well, I stumbled by chance across an article, not in a campus publication, but in the public library’s digitized copies of the local Ames Tribune while trying to answer a reference question.
I think it was the detailed nature of the article that peaked my interest, the inclusion of the full schedule for the benefit of community members wishing to attend. How could something like this have slipped so completely under our radar? Especially when none of the archivists had even heard of HASU, and it did not appear in any of our indexes or subject guides.
With an exact date to go off of, the University Archivist managed to track down a recording of the lecture delivered by Arnaldo Torres. But this turned out to be less helpful than we’d hoped, as the lecture is recorded in an older tape format and has not yet been digitized. So my curiosity remained unsatisfied.
I am particularly interested in the past and present (aka “future history”!) of student organizations on campus, and I know that this kind of detective work — the business of hunting down ghosts — while frustrating, can also be really fun. So I decided I was going to learn something about this mystery organization. As a side note, I didn’t carry the investigation very far, as I was really only hunting for blog post stories. But I wanted to share some of my methodology in this post so that any of you readers who find yourselves interested in this, or similarly under-documented histories, can replicate the steps and make your own discoveries.
Since I found the group in a news article, I decided to move my search to newspapers. Fortunately, my first stop, the Iowa State Daily, produced results. One is not always so lucky.
Unfortunately, the Iowa State Daily back issues are not digitized or keyword searchable prior to the 1990s. This means, in order to find anything, you have to scroll through miles of microfilm. And the microfilm is not housed in SCUA (on the 4th floor of Parks), either. It’s housed in the Media Center which is located (yes, you guessed it) in the basement of Parks. Naturally.
For those of you who have never used a microfilm reader before, this should give you an idea.
Essentially, then, a microfilm reader is a cross between a giant sewing machine, a film projector, a microscope, and a really old, bulky desktop computer. If that sounds off-putting to you, don’t worry: the staff at the desk are all trained to help, and you get the hang of it pretty quickly.
The real draw-back to microfilm, though is that, while it’s easy to find articles by date, it’s less easy to search for them by subject matter. For a limited date-range, though, the archives does have a printed subject index for Iowa State Daily articles, and this helped me out a ton.
So, using the index, and then searching the dates it gave me on microfilm, I found a few articles pertaining either to HASU or to their annual Hispanic Symposium in Daily issues from 1985, 1987, and 1990. And because the first mention of the symposium billed it as the “fifth annual” event, I could tell right away that HASU had existed and been active from at least 1981-1990. As to whether it continued beyond that, who can say? However, if I had decided to continue my research beyond this point, the date range would have provided an important clue.
Anyway, here are some of the articles I found on HASU and their annual Hispanic Symposium. I hope you enjoy them, and I hope they inspire you to do your own archival research. You never know what you will find with a little persistence.
And please, if you are an alumnus, and you remember participating in HASU in the 1980s, do get in touch with me. We’ll do what we can to help you tell the story of your group more fully for the benefit of future researchers.