Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Spanish Community Service Learning and Transnational Migration

As an instructor and coordinator of Spanish community service learning, one of my greatest satisfactions comes from students who say that their experiences in the course have changed their ideas about immigration and immigrants. And this is not an infrequent comment, even though the vast majority of our students come to Spanish community service learning with an already open view of Latin American immigration to the US.
Many times, I have seen that the actual "crossing" stories have great impact on the students.
A few semesters ago, students who worked with one of our community partners learned of the case of a very young girl who became pregnant by her "coyote."
Jose Miguel Lemus, a wonderful TA with whom I have had the fortune to work, collected oral histories from his students, and some of them interviewed their own family members about their "border" stories. With the students' permission, those stories are now the basis of very rich discussions in our classes.

When I was in Italy over the holidays, I heard "crossing" stories from Eastern Europeans who come to work in Western Europe. One woman told me the story of a group of Ukranians led by a "coyote" (of course they don't use that term) on a rickety, jerry-rigged footbridge over a swollen, swift river. He told them they had to be quiet in order to not be spotted. One woman slipped and fell into the river. Another woman--her sister-in-law--yelled and said, "She's fallen. We have to help her." The "coyote's" response? He pushed the yelling woman into the river, and reminded everyone else to be silent.

Truth or myth? I'm not sure. It may be an urban legend that serves as a cautionary tale.

Still, it is important for students to understand that immigrants everywhere must make a serious decision when they decide to cross borders. Their situation in their community of origin must be dire enough to propel them to take that very significant risk.

Just this morning I received an-mail from Ian Easton with one of his grad school papers attached. In it, he described the thousands of "illegal" Chinese immigrants within Russia. Again, another very interesting case of global transnational migration.

It's important that students realize, and that we teach them, that the immigration stories they see during their Spanish community service learning courses fit within a broader, global perspective of human migration.


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