Thursday, October 27, 2011

This blog has moved

Dear Readers, I have moved this blog to a new address.  Please visit Living Ethnography at this URL

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Beyond the Borderlands: Updates, Readings, and more

I've created a new website for my book, Beyond the Borderlands, published last month by the University of California Press.  The website offers a sample chapter, upcoming readings and presentations, and information for reading groups and teachers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Obama and NCLR

Obama addressed the National Council of La Raza today. It was exciting to see him live, although his comments were fairly predictable.  I've included a linke to the CNN coverage here.  I'll add a few of my own photos in a few minutes.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

2011 NCLR Annual Conference

I'm attending the National Council of La Raza conference this weekend.  I was a presenter this morning, talking about my research in Manassas.  It's been a fantastic weekend so far.

The Harvest/La Cosecha

I heard about this film today during the Latinas Brunch at NCLR.

The Harvest/La Cosecha - Theatrical Trailer from Shine Global on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What if the Mexicans (or immigrants) stop coming?

This article from the NY Post posed the question: what happens when Mexicans stop coming?  It examines the reasons-on both sides of the border-that have led to decreased immigration from Mexico.  It seems that changes in Mexico, such as a lower birth rate and increased socioeconomic status, and in the U.S., including a recession and fewer job opportunities, has brought immigration from Mexico to a halt.

What's next?  It all depends on the economy.  If things pick up, immigration likely will too, although perhaps not from Mexico in the numbers we've experienced in the past.

New Gun-Buyer Rule Approved for Mexican-Border States - ABC News

Finally, the DOJ has made a move to keep American-made firearms out of the hands of drug smugglers on the border.  It's a small step in the right direction.

Chasing the American Dream: A Better Life

From today's Washington Post, a review of a new film about a Mexican immigrant in L.A.:

Chasing the American dreamFriday, July 15, 2011By Ann Hornaday Early Oscar list-makers, please write down this name: Demian Bichir.Bichir, a movie star in Mexico whose most familiar role to date was as Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” delivers one of the most powerful performances of the year in “A Better Life,” Chris Weitz’s engrossing, unassuming drama about an undocumented Mexican worker in contemporary Los Angeles. With such classics as “El Norte” and, more recently, “Sin Nombre” and “Under the Same Moon” having addressed the subject matter already and so well, viewers might be forgiven for asking just how many immigration movies we need. As “A Better Life” proves, as many as there are stories to tell.
In this case, the story concerns Carlos Galindo (Bichir), who does lawn-care work while taking care of his 14-year-old son, Luis (Jose Julian), an angry, spoiled kid who, surrounded by “Hollywood Cribs” on TV and gangs on the street, is on the verge of succumbing to the lures of thug life. When Carlos takes an opportunity to buy his boss’s truck, he’s finally in a position to create a business for himself. While he’s atop a swaying palm tree one day, that dream comes crashing down, turning the movie into a 21st-century American version of the wrenching Italian neorealist drama Bicycle Thieves.
Weitz, whose resume includes the dizzyingly diverse slate of “American Pie,” “About a Boy” and a “Twilight” movie, hews to a disarmingly simple storytelling style in “A Better Life,” which chronicles Carlos and Luis’s journey through the most elite and impoverished precincts of L.A. as they embark on a classic cinematic quest. But what Weitz and screenwriter Eric Eason capture so vividly is the sense of simultaneous dislocation and complete integration experienced by young people of foreign descent who have grown up drenched in American culture. With his hip-hop Spanglish cadences, Luis embodies the contradictions of that generation with poignant, pointed subtlety, whether with the withering contempt he gives his working-class dad in a posh nightclub or quizzically listening to the announcer whose Spanish he can’t understand at a local Fiesta del Charro.
If “A Better Life” falls into too-pat schematic order at times, its emotional pull is undeniable, thanks in large part to Bichir’s quietly potent performance of a good man who’s incapable of doing the wrong thing until he does. Without a scintilla of showboating or begging for the audience’s sympathy, Bichir never allows Carlos to be a victim, instead giving him the dignity of his choices: good and bad, smart and dumb, legal and illegal.“A Better Life” might not change any minds about immigration policy, but it illuminates the conversation with context, compassion and understanding. And by the time Carlos utters the film’s heart-stopper of a final line, audiences may feel ambivalent about where he’s going, but they’ll have a newly awakened sense of where he’s coming from.
Contains some violence, profanity and brief drug use. 

Changing Pattern of Mexican-American Population Growth | Pew Social & Demographic Trends

This report from the Pew Research Center discusses the growth in the Mexican-American population in the U.S. Immigration is no longer the major factor; the birthrate is.

The study notes:

The pattern from 2000-2010 was a change from the previous two decades, when births to Mexican-American mothers in the U.S. were matched or surpassed by the number of new immigrant arrivals.
The birth trend is largely attributable to the surge of immigration from Mexico in recent decades. The report uses data from the Current Population Survey taken by the Census Bureau, as well as Mexican government data on migration of Mexicans in and out of that country. Immigration to the U.S. from Mexico ebbed in the 2000s compared with the 1990s.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Field School: Fits and Starts

When I met with students this week,  we gathered in small groups so I could have one-on-one time with each research team. The purpose of the team meeting is to review the week of research and to make certain that these emerging ethnographers are on the right path.

For the most part, the first independent week in the field has gone extremely well, although some students were so sure. One team completed entire interview and at the end the informant asked them to please delete it. She wasn't happy with what she had to say, and on reflection decided she didn't want to have her statements immortalized in an archive. "What to do?" the team asked.  That one was simple. You erase the interview. The experience points to the fact that ethnographic fieldwork can be really difficult. You can spend time and energy and effort preparing for what you hope will be a successful oral history collection. In the end, even your best laid plans might not work out.

Other students reported great interviews, but they didn't produce the information they were hoping to collect. “He didn't have much to say about Columbia Pike," was a common response to several initial interviews.  One student was concerned that she had committed a faux pas, in that she had to decline an informant's request to do an interview in the public space. It's true, if we were not concerned about the overall quality of her recordings while doing the oral histories, completing an interview at a restaurant, a public park, or even a laundromat might work. However, the digital recorders that we use are highly sensitive and produce  broadcast quality recordings. Because of this, and because one of our goals is to produce an oral documents that will be available for generations, we have to be a bit more selective of the places where we conduct interviews.  Once we explain our reasoning, most informants understand.

Despite a few minor glitches, initial reports were very positive. Students found their informants to be generous and talkative, and even in instances where the students felt like they didn't do their best, upon reviewing the information they found was that the collection was still a success. This too, is reflection of being relative newcomers to ethnographic data collection. It's hard to take a step back and see how effective your efforts are while you're in the midst of everything.

We have two weeks to go, but I began to plan for our final report. I booked a room at the Arlington Central Public Library so that community members can more easily attend. Ideally, I would love to have everyone who participated in the interviews and anyone who would like to participate in an interview in the future, as well as our sponsors collaborators with the Columbia Pike Documentary Project and other interested parties, to join us on June 23. I have posted details below.

On Thursday June 23 from 4-5:30 PM researchers from George Mason University will present an overview of the Columbia Pike Documentary Project Oral History Collection. This project is a collaborative project between the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress ( and the Folklore Studies Program at George Mason University (

Researchers will present an overview of their month-long oral history collection and and details about the collection that will be archived at the Arlington Public Library's Virginia Room and at the Northern Virginia Folklife Archive.You can follow the progress of the field school athttp://livingethnography.b and view the photo documentary project at

This event will take place in the Auditorium of Arlington Central Library.

Transportation: the Central Library is a short walk from the Ballston Metro Station and parking at the library is free.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Fieldschool: Now the fun begins

We finished the second week of the field school on Thursday.  The procedures have been reviewed, teams selected and contacts distributed.  For the first time since summer school started, I returned home without a load of recorders, mics and batteries.

The first weeks of a field school are intense, but fun.  We've toured the Pike by car and bike, the students have been sent out to hang out, observe and document.  My sense is that the students are ready to make the move into the field put into practice what they've been learning in the classroom.

In planning for the project, my goal was to have a solid list of potential informants for the students to interview.  Something reasonable, about 2-3 interviews per person.  My preliminary fieldwork was much more successful than I expected, and I have a list of about 50 people who would like to participate in the project.  My hope is that the student teams can interview most of them.  

I'll be meeting with individual teams throughout the rest of the term.  I'll keep you posted on their progress.

Here are a few photos from the last week.

Field school participants Marielle Barrow and Brittney Pierce.  They will be examining musical traditions on the Pike
Folklife Specialist Guha Shankar from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress gives a lecture on the use of digital recording equipment
Annie Hallman and Sahar Haghighat will be focusing on the Douglas Park neighborhood of Columbia Pike

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Field School: Participant-Observation on the Pike

The first week of the field school was exhilarating and exhausting.  The students spent most of the week learning the finer points of cultural documentation, focusing on interviewing techniques and working with field equipment.

Over the weekend students were instructed to complete their first foray into participant observation.  They set out of the Columbia Pike Farmer's Market, Bob and Edith's Diner, among other places.

Tiffany Kajer Wright explaining the field school project to Marie Flores
CPDP was invited to a family Memorial Day weekend cookout--the 46th Annual Flores-Gambino Picnic.  Three students, Tiffany Kajer-Wright, Jessica Brenchick, and Katie Kerstetter all attended the picnic and spend a productive afternoon meeting some long-time Columbia Pike residents.  The photos that follow are courtesy of Lloyd Wolf, lead photographer for the Columbia Pike Documentary Project.

Field School participants Tiffany Kajer Wright (left) and Jessica Brenchick (center)
talk to Joe Flores about CPDP and the work they will complete this summer.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bike the Pike

On Sunday May 22  I met with five students who have signed up for the Field School for Cultural Documentation--a collaboration between GMU and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  This was an optional bike tour of the Pike neighborhoods, led by the director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, Takis Karontonis.  The goal was to become familiar with the neighborhoods along the Columbia Pike and to get a feel for the history through an examination of the built environment.

We met at the farmer's market on the corner of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive.  From there we biked toward the Pentagon to visit neighborhoods that have almost been swallowed up by roads and government installations, then headed west.  The students got a good feel for the different neighborhoods, and the distinctiveness of this community.    We finished about three hours after we started.  We were dehydrated and exhausted, but as a group I can say the students were very enthusiastic about the tour and the project.

Special thanks to Takis for taking time on Sunday to show us around.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Columbia Pike Documentary Project -Emmy nomination

This film, a production of Arlington County, documents the Columbia Pike Documentary Project.  It has received a regional nominated for an Emmy.  On Monday, a group of GMU students will begin training to span out and begin taking systematic oral histories of Pike residents.  This course, The Field school for Cultural Documentation,  is a collaborative between the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and the Folklore Studies Program at George Mason University

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What happens in a folklore class?

This semester I'm teaching Latin American Folklore.  I have a great group of students, all who have joined into the multiple activities I require when taking an upper division folklore course.  A few weeks ago we visited an authentic Salvadoran restaurant, yesterday we hosted a baile folklorico, in this case a Bolivian folk dance troupe, Alma Boliviana.  Below are a few photos taken by Rebecca Martin, a student in the class.

Monday, April 18, 2011

News from the Pike: Holiday edition

There were two notable news items from the Columbia Pike.  I'll start with the most mundane.  Columbia Pike is going to have a new Taquería Poblano at the corner of Columbia Pike and South Adams Street.  I've eaten at the Del Ray restaurant, and I look forward to visiting the new location.

It was also reported that a Flash Mob convened inside the Bank of American on the Pike.  The demonstrators were with Tenants and Workers United as part of a national tax day protest. It's not that TWU opposes taxes, but the fact that B of A paid no taxes last year.  Some 50 people participated in the protest.  No one was arrested.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beyond the Borderlands

Well, it's finally happening.  My book is coming out.  Here is a preview of the cover.  It will be available on Amazon in April.  Here is a synopsis:

Immigration from Mexico was once considered a localized problem.  In the last three decades immigrants have moved beyond the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to diverse communities across the U.S., with the most striking transformations in American suburbs and rural small towns.  These new locations of immigrant settlement have generated new ways of thinking about immigration, belonging and local identity.  Beyond the Borderlands vividly captures the difficulties of the early years of Mexican settlement in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a small farming community known as the "Mushroom Capital of the World."  In an evocative and highly readable account based on a ten-year ethnographic study in Mexico and Pennsylvania, Beyond the Borderlands considers how feelings of belonging and displacement are central concerns for communities that have become new destinations of Mexican settlement.

Beyond the Borderlands traces the process of migration and belonging, drawing on experiences of Mexican settlers and their American neighbors.  It demonstrates that newcomers and long-term residents must each adjust to the transformations brought on by immigration and the new community that is emerging as a result.  Beyond the Borderlands completes the cycle of migration, following Mexican families as they return to their home community in Mexico for holidays and vacations, and in the process revealing the tenuous sense of belonging that Mexicans experience as they journey home.

Friday, March 11, 2011

News from the Pike

I spend a lot of time in Arlington this week.  Most of it was spent interviewing folks and getting familiar with the cultural landscape, but two things struck me as interesting, one of which I want to follow up on in the coming weeks.

The first is the destruction of the Arlington Mill Community Center.  Built in 1965 and originally a Safeway store, the community center is largely acknowledged as an important part of the social life of  immigrant communities along the Pike.
The center, pictured on the left, looked to be in pretty good shape.  The new center will be larger, more modern and offer more amenities for community members.  It won't be finished until 2013, however.

There is a strong need for a community center like this in most neighborhoods, but only a handful in Northern Virginia have the luxury of having one within walking distance.

I'll be documenting the progress of the new Arlington Mill here

This is the plan for the new Arlington Mill Center.  It should be an amazing addition.

The Utah Way

The last few years have been somewhat Dickensonian--the best and worst of times.  I can cheer for the new gay marriage resolutions, but despair at the Congressman King's anti-Muslim crusade on the Hill.

Then there are the unexpected joys, like the "Utah Way."  The immigration bill passed in the Utah state legislature, and immigration enforcement bill.  The legislation includes both an enforcement provision that is a much more reasonable approach to dealing with immigrants who have committed crimes (that police say won't make much difference) and a guest-worker program that could mark a turning point in the way Americans think about immigration, if it survives constitutional challenge.  The law grants legal status to undocumented workers and allows them to live normal lives.  It appears to be a one-state version of the overarching immigration reform package that Congress has repeatedly tried, and failed, to enact.

What is so encouraging about this is that the Mormon church has been such a strong moral force behind this legislation, as has the business community.  Finally, conservatives have come to see the importance of immigrants to local economies and living up to their religious values.  The Catholic Church could learn a few lessons from the LDS community in this regard.

The law is not perfect, but it give me hope.  For that, I'm giving thanks today.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning a New Community

An amazing series of stories from some of Arlington's newest arrivals.

Tell Arlington's Story

I'm very pleased to announce my participation with Tell Arlington's Story, a county-wide initiative to collect the stories of everyday Arlingtonians.  Check out the website, it's amazing.

Virginia's Changing Communities

I've decided it's time to refocus this blog so that it is more in line with my current research agenda.  I began blogging in 2006 when I started fieldwork in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  I was studying a group of North American and European retirees who had decided to make Mexico home.  It was a great run, but a series of health problems and new job demands in the U.S. have pushed my research in new and exciting directions.  I am, and always will be, a scholar of human migration.  However, my focus has reoriented toward communities in Northern Virginia. 

In 2007-2009 I did some work with Latino and U.S.-born residents of Manassas, Virginia.  It's an interesting place, but the work was not a good fit.  I found that although I enjoyed the people who were willing to share their life experiences withe me, the racial and ethnic tension there was overwhelming.  There are a lot of great people there, but also a few bad apples who aren't interesting in getting along.  They want to push their Latino neighbors out.  I did not want to continue to work under that constant pressure, so late last year as I was writing up my last article on Manassas, I decided it was time to start something new.

Since then I've started a new project in Arlington County.  For Washingtonians it probably seems like a move to the other side of the world, and in some respects, that's true politically.  Arlington is more urban, and certainly much more accepting of their immigrant populations.  But what draws me to studying Arlington is the fact that despite the rapid changes and the many immigrant populations, they've taken a different approach to their new neighbors.  My plan is to examine this as another of Virginia's changing communities.

Because my interests will be similar, I will still post on immigrant issues and legal proceedings.  I will also talk about my research process, as I will be working with students and community members throughout the project.  For this reason, I've returned to the blog's original title, "Living Ethnography."  I'm still "the Gringa," but my identity as a researcher is likely to be more expansive, and thus not limited to the U.S.-Mexico context as it was before.

I hope you'll continue to join me on this new ethnographic adventure.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Workforce Compliance and the IMAGE program

As I've long stated, effective immigration control has to go after employers. This article from the Washington Post seems to confirm this position.
TYSON FOODS, one of the world's largest food processing firms, has a checkered past when it comes to employment practices, specifically the hiring of undocumented workers. A decade ago, the firm faced federal charges that it conspired to smuggle undocumented workers into the country to operate its production lines. A jury acquitted Tyson, but the damage to the company's name was done.
So it was notable this week when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that Tyson had received a federal seal of approval for its hiring practices, which it has improved over the past five or six years. After months of scrutiny by officials, who combed through employment records for virtually every one of Tyson's 100,000-plus workers in this country, ICE and Tyson signed an agreement certifying that the firm and its workforce were on the right side of immigration law.
The event is instructive, not least because Tyson is an outlier; in the past four years, only 115 companies have enlisted in the so-called Image program that Tyson signed up for last week. Most of them are small- to medium-sized ventures; Tyson is one of just two Fortune 500 firms on the list. Although some 250,000 companies have enrolled inE-Verify, a federal program that screens potential new hires for employment eligibility, most firms appear reluctant to have their existing workforces scrutinized, as the Image program requires. And no wonder: An estimated 6 million or 7 million undocumented immigrants are in the U.S. labor force.
To its credit, the Obama administration has more than tripled the number of ICE agents assigned to check hiring practices. The agency has targeted several thousand employers with stepped-up audits of their workforces, arrested hundreds of company officials and levied fines amounting to millions of dollars against companies hiring undocumented workers. Recently, ICE announced that it is beefing up its ability to go after larger companies that may employ undocumented workers. All that is a sensible shift from Bush administration policy, which emphasized raids on factories featuring mass detentions of the workers themselves.
If the current policy turns up the heat on corporations, so much the better; they may in turn increase pressure on Congress to reform America's broken immigration system. As it stands, that system ignores the fact that millions of undocumented workers play an integral role in the economy and that the nation needs a realistic mechanism for admitting sufficient numbers of low-skilled employees to fill jobs that Americans don't want, even with the nation suffering from high unemployment.

The administration has cracked down on employers, tightened border security and stepped up its deportation efforts, particularly against undocumented immigrants with criminal records. Those steps, combined with the recession, have dramatically slowed the inflow of workers here illegally. Still, some 11 million of them remain in America, working in the shadows. As long as Congress refuses to act, the problem will continue to fester.

Immigration Reform's Image Problem

This is an amazing commentary about the lack of marketing strategy used by non-profits trying to promote the DREAM Act.  The basic message: you cannot sell a rights issue by saying you deserve it.

There is a subtext to this piece, about the fact that Americans don't believe anybody deserves anything (except perhaps the rich who deserve to make as much money as possible and have little or no social or community obligation).

It's something we should all think about.