Monday, March 24, 2014

Surviving 9/11 / Surviving Hate: Transcribing one Muslim American's Experience Surviving a Hate Crime and Resisting the Death Penalty

Tu-Uyen Nguyen transcribing the TAVP interview with Rais Bhuiyan

Tu-Uyen is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Classics, Latin and Asian American Studies and concentrates in the Cultural Studies strand of the Identities and Communities Bridging Disciplines program. You can learn more about Tu-Uyen in our Meet the Interns post as part of our First Person series, introducing some of the people behind the TAVP archive. 

This post is the fifth in a series titled Digital Archives Internship (also tagged as Archiving the Death Penalty) where TAVP interns publish their reflections on processing the TAVP collection. 

Surviving 9/11 / Surviving Hate: Transcribing One Muslim American's Experience Surviving a Hate Crime and Resisting the Death Penalty
by Tu-Uyen Nguyen

Ten days after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Aryan brotherhood member Mark Stroman attempted to kill three men he assumed were terrorists: Vasudev Patel, Waqar Hasan and Rais Bhuiyan. Only Bhuiyan survived to become a spokesperson against Islamophobia and the racial ignorance it represents. Ten years later when Stroman faced an execution date, Bhuiyan sued Texas Governor Rick Perry to stop Stroman's execution.

When my supervisor Rebecca first told me about the opportunity to transcribe eight tapes -- nearly eight hours -- of her interview with the Bangladeshi American, I was strangely ecstatic to volunteer because I knew I would be using my Asian American Studies major. It provides a critical framework for understanding what it means to be an American despite resembling the current enemy of the state. I had to learn how Bhuiyan's story is one representation of the Muslim American experience in the U.S. after 9/11.

In this clip, Rais describes the images of the USA he encountered before immigrating
Apart from this academic imperative, why do I look forward to the seemingly mundane task of furiously typing Bhuiyan's spoken words? Why do I work for the Texas After Violence Project, part-time, without course credit, without a stipend, without a clear link to my majors? These considerations pale in comparison to my exposure to oral history as a primary source of human experience, and to the opportunity for further professional development. I am forging a relationship to a small community of caring, passionate, and critically minded believers in social justice, despite the unjust circumstances in which these narrators may live.

At first, I was slow at transcribing and getting used to the narrator's voice. Now, my record is eight minutes of speech in one hour of transcribing! My efficiency depends on my energy level, how much I've slept, my posture, and whether the sun is out that day. I can tell when the narrator is getting tired when it becomes more difficult to understand their words. I am like an invisible ghost of the future sitting in the room with them, reliving the interview itself in the present. 

In the midst of transcribing TAVP's interview with Rais Bhuiyan

Each punctuation, unspoken word, and physical gesture connect me, the volunteer transcriber, to the narrator, the interviewers, camera personnel, and to the future tech-savvy generations who may read these words and find meaning in the experience they represent. I knew from experience that transcribing is grueling, neck-aching work. It can mean involuntary eye twitching, cold fingers, and lower-back pain. All of this is worth the educational opportunities the archive holds for people of all ages and backgrounds, learning about individual and collective experiences with the death penalty. 

By archiving this interview with Rais Bhuiyan, TAVP facilitates a global conversation about surviving the violence of racial hatred and engaging with the shared public memory of that violence. Now living in  Dallas, Bhuiyan is as Texan as I am. I feel like I'm learning from a neighbor who has lived through so much. Although I have not technically "met" Rais Bhuiyan, listening to him share memories of his life before, during, and after the "shooting incident" has helped me reach new levels of understanding the American Dream, Otherness, and what it means to be human in a global community.

Rais Bhuiyan's full-length oral history interview will be available on HRDI sometime in Summer 2014.

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