Lesson Four: Community-Based Oral History
What is the history and the identity of the people
in my environments? What is my and my familys
To introduce the oral history as a research method using the Smithsonian Institution's
LVGI and the Latin Jazz Oral History collection as a model.
Museum Studies Concepts:
Guiding Questions to be posted throughout the
What is identity?
How is this interview part of history?
Who tells history?
Whose voices tell history?
What is oral history?
What is your story?
Where is your story in history?
Ask students to read the interview on Salsa musician
a contemporary Latin musical style and part of
a youth culture that was exploding in popularity
throughout New York City beginning in the 1970s.
Yomo Toro is the Jimmy Hendrix of salsa. He is
the best known cuatrista in the world, meaning
that he plays the cuatro, a traditional Puerto
Rican instrument that has five sets of double strings.
As the name implies, the cuatro started out with
just four simple strings; it is featured in several
types of typical Puerto Rican song styles such
as rural, or jíbaro, music and Christmas
music, known as aguinaldos.
Toro began his career as a child prodigy from
a very small
Puerto Rico, and gradually
became famous for his incredible technique and
sense of musical style. Thanks to his talent and
determination, he was recording and playing with
some of the biggest names in Latin American music
by the time he was a teenager. By the late 1950s
he was in his early twenties, married, and living
in New York City. It was a Christmas album from
1971 by the name of Asalto Navideño that
transformed him into a household name among salsa
fanatics around the world. He was performing constantly,
but his career truly exploded after his guest performance
on this album recorded by two of the biggest stars
in salsa - Willie Colón and Hector Lavoe.
Yomo Toro was born Victor Guillermo Toro Vega,
on 26 July 1933, in Guanica, in the southeast part
of Puerto Rico.
Yomo Toro is noted for pioneering the use of the cuatro in salsa music
such as in his album Manos
de Oro, with songs like Verde Tropical.
began his musical interest at the age of six.
His father played
the cuatro and encouraged
to learn to play the instrument. By the time he
was 15 years old he played at his school with three
fellow students in a band called "La Bandita de
began his professional career playing for "Bury
Caban y los 4 Ases," along with Tito Lara.
He also played with Jose Antonio Saleman, "El Trio
Universitario de San Juan," "Los Antares" and
He has recorded with Larry Harlow, Willie Colon, and
the Fania All-Stars.
He has traveled repeatedly to Japan, Europe, and
many other parts of the world, playing the cuatro,
Puerto Rico's national instrument.
has done several recordings with his own group
Records. One of his biggest
hits was "Funky
Jibaro." When you listen to any of his recordings,
you quickly appreciate his mastery of the cuatro
and the unique contribution it makes to salsa music,
in the hands of such a talented artist. Courtesy
of Music of PuertoRico.com. Copyright © 2001
- 2005, Jaime Serrat
In the following excerpts from an interview conducted
in Spanish in 1992 at the Smithsonian Institution,
Yomo Toro shares anecdotes about his life and historic
translations follow the original Spanish; if
you think your students can, encourage them
to read the excerpts in both languages.
Analysis of oral history transcripts.
Discussion of Toro oral history.
Discussion and identification of transnational objects.
Begin by reviewing the key terms.
Ask students what the terms mean and what they
mean in their own lives.
Introduction to Oral History
Introducing the concept:
Write the word, "history" on the board.
In order to provide students with a context for
these interview excerpts, prior to the discussion
you might want to have several students write down
responses to several questions listed below.
o How do we learn about history in school?
o How do we learn about the past at home or in our community?
o What sources teach you about the past?
o Have you ever thought of an interview as a historical source?
o Share with students that one way historians come to understand the past is
to listen to (or read) interviews conducted with elders, that isoral histories.
Historians select these people based on what they want to learn about. For
example: a particular time period the person lived through, their culture,
or aspects of their lives (e.g. their profession). For the next couple of days
the students will learn about history by analyzing the oral histories of Latin
American or Latino musicians.
the oral histories: Broadening the analysis
Hand each student a transcript and a copy
of the HANDOUT
A with printed excerpts
from the Yomo Toro oral history.
Have students read the attached excerpts (or
play excerpts if available)
Ask them to respond to Items 1-4 on the HANDOUT
Have students share their responses with the
Have them read the excerpts once again, and ask
them to use a highlighter to underline any section
where the artist speaks about the key terms.
Ask students to respond to question 5.
Split the class into 4-5 groups.
GROUP l: Identity
GROUP 2: Influences
GROUP 3: Trans-national
GROUP 4: Fusion
GROUP 5: Factors for success
Have groups present their findings.
Discuss each of the terms given their findings.
Assemble new groups with representatives
of each of the four "analysis groups" and
have them work together to respond to the following
reflective questions. Their responses should reflect
their analytical themes.