ROCHESTER — When Elsa Ortiz sat down to conduct an interview with 82-year-old Dominga S√°nchez, the 13-year-old eighth-grader casually held a microphone as she asked S√°nchez questions, nodding as she heard the answers. If it weren’t for the microphone, a passerby could mistake the pair as a grandmother and granddaughter just having a conversation.
“I liked it,” Elsa said of the interview process. “You can learn about people’s lives. And that’s interesting.”
Elsa was one of 15 city students who took part in the Puerto Rican Youth Development and Resource Center’s summer program to create a documentary. The film, which the city students will edit and produce, is based on interviews with senior citizens at Centro de Oro at the Ibero-American Action League’s Family Center on Clifford Avenue. Their finished product, “The Forgotten Culture,” will be shown Sept. 24 at PRYD’s Family Learning Center at 30 Hart St., said Noemi Ortiz, a senior youth counselor with PRYD’s Poder program.
As he prepared for the recording session in the center’s dining area Aug. 21, Josh Bloodworth, an instructor at Rochester Community Television (RCTV-15) who filmed the interviews that day, said the station strives to develop youths’ media literacy. The PRYD students received training in editing and interviewing as part of the program, Ortiz said.
“This fits in perfectly with our mission,” Bloodworth added.
The project also met PRYD’s goals to create cultural awareness for the students and develop skills that can lead to future careers, said Mildred V√°zquez, the agency’s executive director.
“Many of our youth think the ghetto is their culture … and do not have a grasp of what being Puerto Rican really is,” she said. “What is our heritage? What are the struggles of our grandparents and our parents went through to provide a better life for them?”
By talking to the senior citizens who gather at the Centro de Oro, V√°zquez said that she hoped the students better developed knowledge of their roots.
“The idea is to teach culture not through workshops, but hands on, really talking to people,” V√°zquez added. “And for the seniors, it’s an opportunity for them to tell their stories … so they’re not forgotten.”
Elsa said that she was surprised in talking with S√°nchez that the parents of the Naguabo, Puerto Rico, native were not overly strict in their discipline.
“Her mom always treated her with respect,” Elsa said.
S√°nchez said that she also liked sharing her stories with a teenager. During her interview, she also reminisced about her jobs, which included being a ticket-taker at a theater and a teacher for 20 years on the island. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Puerto Rico.
“My parents wanted me to get an education,” she said.
Yolanda Morales also enjoyed speaking with Carlos Negr√≥n, 13, during their interview. This project also helped the seniors feel valued, something that they don’t feel on a regular basis, she said.
“I like this kind of interview because it helps keep (memories) fresh in our minds,” said Morales, 62.
Morales, who moved from Ponce, Puerto Rico, three years ago to be closer to her daughter, said that the documentary also serves an important function for the youths.
“Teenagers live such a comfortable life … they at times may feel a sense of privilege,” she said. “They don’t know the hardships, what we suffered in our childhoods.”
Carlos, an eighth-grader at Monroe High School, said that it was enlightening for him to hear Morales talk about getting water from the river, something so far removed from his own life. On the other hand, his grandmother had similar stories of the difficult times during her childhood, with little food and clothing and lack of medical services.
“We had a lot in common,” he said.
While fellow students conducted interviews, Donnelly Franklin took a camcorder and shot footage of the senior citizens in the recreation room.
“This shows me that even when you’re older, you can do a lot more things than what people think,” said Donnelly, 17.
The Benjamin Franklin High School senior had only recently discovered that his deceased grandmother was from Puerto Rico. When he heard about the documentary project, Donnelly said that he became very excited.
“This is a good way for me to understand the culture and where I come from,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: PRYD will screen “The Forgotten Culture” during a celebration for the participants and their families from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at The Learning Center at 30 Hart St. For more information, call 585-325-3570.