VFOA currently consists of three main initiatives:
On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal opened. It was the result of the death-defying labor of hundreds of thousands of Black British West Indian men, recruited by the U.S. from their home islands with both true and false promises about the presumably golden opportunity of building the canal. The canal, the Panama Railroad, the United Fruit Company, and the promise of economic opportunity, more generally, attracted British West Indians to Panama from the mid-nineteenth into the early twentieth centuries. This segment of VFOA works to capture the experiences of modern-day Panamanian West Indians in their own words, and guides interested individuals and groups in using that material to expand awareness of these histories and stories in Panama and beyond. The Center for Latin American Studies, the Department of English, and the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt have provided crucial support for this project.
This segment of VFOA seeks to collect, compile, and disseminate narratives from this diverse and growing region. One aspect of it focuses on stories of African-American life in the region, with a particular focus on life in the 1950s. In addition to providing new insight into the childhood dreams, educational experiences, and sense of self and community of African Americans in the face of Jim Crow segregation, the project explores individuals' subsequent approaches to parenting, , choosing a career, defining values, and perceiving this increasingly multi-national and multi-cultural region. Thanks to Humanities Tennessee, we have also been able to mount a youth program as part of this effort. The other aspect of VFOA's work in Middle Tennessee centers on compiling the life stories of Caribbean, Latin American, and African immigrants to the region, providing a basis for educational materials, programs, and policies that advance inter-ethnic understanding and education. Support for this work has been provided by the Vanderbilt International Office.
This segment of VFOA works to compile scholarly and popular views of Black women's mobility through interviews with and educational workshops on African-American and Caribbean women expatriates, migrants, and tourists. Countering the ubiquity of the now iconic image of Stella from How Stella Got Her Groove Back and the absence of attention to Black women in Immigration Studies scholarship and from discourses on cosmopolitanism, this section aims to generate new primary sources that will expand and enrich the range of stories told about Black women within and beyond academia. This work has been made possible by support from The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities and the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt.