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A photo of Cailee Beltran., a 2022 CCDI Jr Fellow.
Cailee Beltran was a 2022 CCDI Jr Fellow. Image courtesy of Cailee Beltran.

CCDI Junior Fellow Spotlight: Cailee Beltran

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This blog post is the second in a series that features the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI) Junior Fellows from the Library’s 2022 Junior Fellows program. These posts highlight each fellow and the projects they developed. CCDI funded six interns in this year’s virtual 10-week program. CCDI is part of the Library’s Mellon-funded Of the People: Widening the Path initiative. This four-year program provides grants to individuals, organizations and institutions to create projects using the Library’s digital collections and that center one or more of the following groups: Black; Indigenous; Hispanic or Latino; Asian American and Pacific Islander; and other communities of color. Learn more about CCDI here.

This summer, CCDI’s Junior Fellows used a range of Library collection materials and multimedia to develop narratives and explore concepts relating to the experiences of Persians, Japanese Americans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans. With the support of Library staff, each Fellow visualized their research in a Story Map, which was published by the Library.

In this interview post, Cailee Beltran, a 2022 CCDI Junior Fellow, shares her experience exploring the Library’s collections, her career goals, and more about her project, “Memories of the Fields: Mexican Migrants in the Imperial Valley 1935-1944”.

Tell us a little bit about your background. What led you to apply for a Library of Congress Junior Fellows internship?

I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, but my family is from Ramona Gardens, in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. I graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso in history and literature, with a concentration in Borderlands studies. I applied for the Library of Congress Junior Fellowship to continue my work on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) initiatives within libraries, archives, and museum settings. I previously worked for my hometown’s history museum and university’s oral history institute and was interested in how we could make these spaces more accessible for all. I knew I wanted to work with the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI).

What project did you work on this summer?

This summer, by using ArcGIS Story Maps, I developed a digital storytelling experience that centers the lives of Mexican migrants in the California fields of Imperial Valley during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. I chose to work with the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information’s Black-and-White Negatives digital collection and the digitized photographs by white photographer, Dorothea Lange, who worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). By examining and contextualizing selected photos, my story map incorporates Lange’s fieldnotes and lengthy, detailed photograph captions to string together a narrative. This story map also serves the purpose of a memory project by considering the following questions: Who were the people working in the fields? What was life like for them? And what can we learn from those in the photographs? This project acknowledges the indispensable labor of Mexican migrants who built up the Imperial Valley as we know it today. This project also uses the photographs to work against the hiddenness of fieldworkers and our food systems in U.S. agriculture.

What was your experience like in terms of exploring the Library’s materials? What is the most interesting item or collection you found?

My search started with the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information’s Black-and-White Negatives digital collection, where I knew photographs by Dorothea Lange were housed. I had to refine my search to look for people who reflected the Mexican migrant communities in the Imperial Valley because I knew they were there but were unexplored and scattered in the digital collection. I could find multiple resources on Dorothea Lange’s photographs of white Dust Bowl refugees, as well as essays, and research guides on her famous photograph Migrant Mother. My most significant find was a Lange photograph titled Mexican mother in California with the caption: ”Sometimes I tell my children that I would like to go to Mexico, but they tell me ‘We don’t want to go, we belong here.'” (Note on Mexican labor situation in repatriation). The photograph is dated June 1935 and is a portrait of a Mexican mother holding her baby. The photo looks very similar to Migrant Mother but is a lesser-known representation of the women in the fields.

How does the work you did connect with your career goals?

As a recent graduate, I’m exploring my options with graduate school. I always knew I wanted to enter a PhD program to study history, and I’m still hoping to begin the application process later next year. But after my internship with the Library of Congress, I realized I enjoyed being in archival/library/museum spaces the most. So, I still want to continue my work in public history and oral history but focus more on community engagement and accessibility through institutions similar to the Library.

For your internship, you worked with CCDI, which is part of the Of The People program. What does this program mean to you? What have you enjoyed about working with CCDI?

I’ve worked with many amazing folks at the Library of Congress and within CCDI. I wanted to work with CCDI because of their efforts to add and amplify the stories of people whose voices have been traditionally underrepresented. I had the space and support to select any materials from the Library’s digital collection and rework them in a way that promoted needed representation while also incorporating aspects of my own Chicana Fronteriza identity and genealogy. With their insight and guidance, I completed a story map that fit into CCDI’s overall goal. I especially enjoyed working with and learning from my Junior Fellow CCDI cohort. Stories of BIPOC resilience and community show the time and care each Junior Fellow put into their project. It has been a privilege to support and collaborate with each other.

For more information on Cailee’s project, check out her Display Day project video here.

Interested in learning more about the CCDI Junior Fellows’ work? Visit the Library’s Story Maps page to view Story Maps created by this year’s Fellows and Library staff. To hear the Junior Fellows share about their projects in their own words, visit the 2022 Junior Fellow Display Day page.

Apply for a 2023 Junior Fellows Summer Internship

You can also work with CCDI as a Junior Fellow!

The Junior Fellows Program is an annual summer internship program for currently enrolled or recently graduated undergraduate or graduate students. Fellows have the opportunity to explore the Library of Congress’ digital and analog collections, while working directly with Library staff across the institution in a variety of fields, including: information technology, reference, preservation, and more.

Subscribe to the Of the People blog to be notified about the open application period for the 2023 Junior Fellows Summer Internship program. Stay tuned for more details on 2023 CCDI Junior Fellow activities!

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