Oral History Digital Archive

Agarwal Gyan Family

Oral history is at the core of NIAM’s mission to gather, preserve and share stories of Indian Americans. These “spoken stories” bring the past to life, recording it as remembered by those who lived it. They enable us to reconnect with our roots, appreciate more fully the historic impact of those who came before us and understand the significance of our own lives.

The Collection

The National-Indo American Museum hosts a diverse collection of oral histories capturing the Indian immigrant experience in Chicago since 1965. The early narratives, recorded from 2016 onward, explore themes such as community identity, family ties, and cultural adaptation. Subsequent collections highlight achievements of Indian elders in Chicago pre-1980 or delve into the experiences of second generation Indian Americans. Others give voice to the under-represented and marginalized among us. Supported by the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, this archive preserves stories for future generations, acknowledging struggles while celebrating resilience and cultural vibrancy in Chicago’s Indian American communities.

View the contents of the entire archive. Oral histories -- which include audio recordings, transcripts, and personal images -- are organized into two collections and then alphabetically by interviewee’s last name.
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As you view each oral history, you’ll notice tags associated with different themes, events, or experiences. Click on these tags to uncover other stories that share similar experiences.
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Interactive Map

At the top of this page, you’ll find a link to interactive map. Each pin represents the birthplace of an individual whose story is part of our collection. Click on any pin to discover oral histories from that specific location.

View Birthplace Map

Collections

Below, you’ll see links to the individual collections. These are organized according to the specific collecting initiative during which the oral history was recorded. Explore these links to find stories that interest you. Volunteers and museum staff conducted structured interviews with a wide array of members of the Chicago Indian American community between 2016 and 2021. Each oral history consists of an audio recording, approximately 1 hour long, and a transcript. The collection and preservation of these stories was made possible by grants from Chicago Community Trust and from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.

Photo from one of the Masala Chat Project collection items
Ms. Hena Banerjee
Masala Chat Project

This collection consists of 26 personal oral histories recorded with individuals and married couples who emigrated to the Chicagoland area from India following the landmark Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. The act ended more than forty years of immigration policy that strongly favored migration from European nations. These oral histories point to key themes of the immigrant experience: finding identity through community, family ties, language and cultural differences. Many stories also contain rich detail about childhood and young adulthood in India, and areas of what is now Pakistan, from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.

Photo from one of the At Risk Stories collection items
Mr. Lakshman Agadi
At Risk Stories

Recognizing the risk of losing the collective experience of an entire generation of pioneering elders, NIAM recorded 20 oral histories with Indian Americans who came to the United States prior to 1980. These pillars of the community have led remarkable lives as scientists, doctors, engineers, cultural leaders and businesspeople. Major themes include: building and maintaining professional and community organizations such as NIAM, keeping an appreciation for Indian culture alive in the next generation, nurturing entrepreneurship and achieving financial success, planting roots in Chicago through community service work.

Photo from one of the Broadening Narratives (Coming Soon!) collection items
{Interviews in Progress}
Broadening Narratives (Coming Soon!)

The 20 oral histories in the Broadening Narratives collection will constitute a concerted effort to bring into the archive voices of Indian immigrants to Chicago who are part of marginalized communities such as lgbtq+ groups, senior citizens, low income families, residents in sheltered housing, as well as people in under-represented professions such as artists, cab drivers, gas station attendant, domestic, retail and back-room workers. The collection includes American-born narrators of Indian descent and reflects the socio-economic, regional and linguistic diversity of Indian Americans. These stories will challenge the stereotypes often associated with the “model minority,” and speak to the complexity of the immigrant experience.

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