by Kendra Dickinson
I hope that you all enjoyed your Spring Breaks, whether you were on the beach relaxing or building houses with Alternative Spring Break. I myself had a very unique Spring Break this year, as I spent many hours working on the Water Survey that I have been talking about a lot in my posts. Just in case you are not familiar with it, the survey, written in Spanish and administered only to native Spanish speakers, aims at gaining more information about: (i) The perceived and actual household water quality of Spanish-speakers in the Midwest, (ii) The access of the Spanish-speaking communities of the Midwest to information about water quality, (iii) The main sources of water of members of the Spanish-speaking communities of the Midwest, (iv) Preoccupation of Spanish-speaking communities in the Midwest with water contaminants.
Throughout the semester I have worked on various facets of the survey including writing and editing questions, compiling and analyzing data, and distributing the survey by mail. However, during Spring Break I went out onto the streets to actual interview people face to face for the survey. Before doing this, I sat down with Francisco, one of the outreach coordinators that I work with, and discussed some of the possible obstacles and challenges of stopping people on the street to give them a survey. We discussed the idea that people might not trust a random person on the street, or might not have time to stop to talk to you. While I had thought about the numerous challenges that I might face, it was in fact far more difficult than I ever would have expected.
I went out one morning to walk around my own neighborhood in Chicago, Albany Park. The neighborhood is relatively diverse, but there is a large Mexican population in the area. First, I just walked around the neighborhood to survey the scene and to assess my options. I ultimately decided to stand outside of Harvest Time Grocery store, a local food store where many Spanish speakers shop. I asked people if they were interested in completing the survey as they went in and out, but most people were not interested and were clearly busy and had time constraints. I did talked to a few people there, but after that I decided to walk around the neighborhood and look for other locations. As I walked I came upon a Laundromat, and went inside. There I was able to interview a number of people, as they were simply sitting and waiting for their clothes to dry. Many of the people that I talked to even seemed interested in the goal of the survey. After that it started to rain, so I was forced to return home. I went out the next day to the local school to try and talk to some of the Spanish-speaking parents as they waited for their children, but just as I got there it started to rain! Finally the next day I was able to walk around the neighborhood some more and visit other Laundromats, and was ultimately fairly successful in interviewing people for the survey.
Doing this also got me thinking about communication and limits to accessing information. Last semester I took AGCM 430, Communication in Environmental/Social Movements, taught by Professor Ann Reisner. Part of the course focused on limitations to participation in environmental and social movements. One of the types of limitations is called a biographical limitation. This means that a person, because of the role that they play in society, is not able to participate in environmental/social movements or to access information that would aid them in their lives. Examples of these types of limitations include, for example, having dependents that rely on you for care so you cannot attend community meetings, or working constantly so that you do not have time to be involved in social movements. I encountered some of this while I was on the streets giving the survey. Many people were perfectly nice to me, but were not able to stop and talk to me because they were working, or going to pick their kids up, or had some other responsibility that conflicted with their ability to talk to me.
While I did feel that time-constraints did limit the number of people that I was able to talk with, I still felt very successful, as this survey overcomes another type of biographical limitation that is a language barrier. Many immigrants in the United States may not have access to information that they need about their water quality because they cannot read the information in English, or are not able to participate in surveys like our Water Survey because they do not speak English. Therefore, this survey surmounts one of the biographical limitations of the involvement of the Spanish-speaking community in environmental and community health related issues.
I learned a lot of this experience. I never would have expected the hours that it can take to administer a simple survey to a few people. However, doing this made me value even more every single survey that we have been able to get completed and made me realize the dedication that it takes to do research in the field. I am now even more motivated to continue working on this survey because I realize that every single person that participated took time out of their busy schedules to aid in the gathering of information about the water quality of Spanish-speakers in the Midwest, which will hopefully aid in eliminating the language based and biographical limitations that prevent Spanish-speaking immigrants from accessing information and participating in the resolution of environmental and community health/social issues.