America Works, an ongoing podcast series from the Library of Congress, features the voices of contemporary workers from throughout the United States talking about their lives, their workplaces, and their on-the-job experiences. Drawn from hundreds of longer oral history interviews collected by fieldworkers for the American Folklife Center’s Occupational Folklife Project (OFP), America Works is a testament to the wisdom, wit, knowledge, and dedication of today’s working Americans. These engaging oral histories, which have are preserved in the American Folklife Center’s archive, are enriching and expanding America’s historical record.
Bernardo “Bernie” Piña, Fresh Produce Salesman. Nogales, Arizona
Arizonian Bernardo “Bernie” Piña is the sales manager at Ciruli Brothers, a family-owned fresh produce import company in Nogales, Arizona. For generations, the city of Nogales, which is located directly on the US-Mexican border, has been a major port-of-entry for the buying, selling, and shipping of fresh fruits and vegetables imported into the US and Canada from growers throughout Mexico and Latin America. If you, like most Americans, enjoy eating fresh produce from Mexico, it probably came through Nogales. Mr. Pina, a third-generation produce worker, tells folklorist Nic Hartmann what it’s like to be a salesman in Nogales’ vibrant and close-knit produce industry.
Mike Peabody, Garbage Man and Recycling. Barre, Vermont
Mike Peabody of Barre, Vermont, is a program coordinator at the Additional Recyclables Collection Center (ARCC) of the Central Vermont Waste Management District, one of the few hard-to-recycle centers in the country. He talks about how he learned his trade, the cultural and ecological importance of working with hard-to-recycle materials, some of the characters and challenges he deals with at work, and why he’s proud to be involved in waste and recycling work. Upbeat and full of great stories about recycling in his New England community, Peabody was interviewed by Archie Green Fellow Virginia Nickerson as part of her occupational history project “Trash Talk: Workers in Vermont's Waste Management Industry,” which documented the work experiences of the men and women who collect garbage and recycle trash throughout the Green Mountain State.
Jim Mercer, Commercial Marine Diver. New Bedford, Massachusetts
Underwater marine diver Jim Mercer describes his year-round job checking, maintaining, and repairing commercial fishing boats in and around the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It’s a unique, challenging, and dangerous job. Jim, who grew up in the New Bedford area, is totally committed to it. He is interviewed by Madeline Hall-Arber from the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center as part of the American Folklife Center’s Archie Green Fellowship project “Working the Waterfront: New Bedford, Massachusetts.”
Kim Spicer, Electrician and Wire-Women. Queens, New York
Electrician and journey wire-woman Kim Spicer is a proud member of The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local #3, in Queens, New York. Kim talks about how she tried numerous other, less fulfilling jobs before apprenticing to become an electrician and why she loves it. She touches on her training, some of the tasks and skills involved in her work, her daily on-the-job routines, and the challenges of being a woman in a traditionally male trade. Kim was interviewed as part of the Archie Green Fellowship project “Illuminating History: Union Electricians in New York City” by fellow electrician Jaimez Lopez and artist/documentarian Setare Arashloo.
Jennifer Sgro, Nurse Practitioner, Night Ministry Bus. Chicago, Illinois
This episode features Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Sgro, who works with The Night Ministry in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1976, The Night Ministry provides housing and healthcare to people who are homeless or who are living in low income situations. Sgro talks about providing healthcare on the Ministry’s Outreach Bus, which travels to a different low-income Chicago neighborhood every evening. In this thoughtful interview with documentarian Margaret Miles, Nurse Sgro talks about her job, her career, her clients, and the satisfaction she finds in her work.
James Hensley, Port Pilot. Houston, Texas
Houston ship channel pilot Captain James Hensley has the daunting task of guiding giant ocean-going ships into and out of one of the world’s largest and busiest ports. The famous Houston Ship Channel is 52 miles long and in some places incredibly narrow. His is not a job for the faint of heart -- there is literally no room for mistakes! In this interview with folklorist Betsy Peterson, Captain Hensley talks about learning and practicing his highly-skilled occupation, his family’s longstanding maritime traditions, becoming one of the first African Americans to be officially credentialed as a captain, and the pride he takes in his work.
Just a few episodes but I’m loving it!
I’m so pleased to hear stories from regular working people. No matter the job, the work itself has value