New Roots/Nuevas Raíces featured in The Southern Sociologist
Felicia Arriaga, Duke University
Incorporating Art into Lessons on Immigration, Race, and Development in the United States I am the only graduate student studying immigration in my department, which means grad students and faculty often ask me to guest lecture on immigration. I teach immigration with an intentional focus on racialized immigrants and citizenship status as a marker of stratification. I also incorporate popular education techniques where I draw from both my own and the students’ lived experiences.
One way to begin having this conversation is to introduce them to these subjects with background readings by Natalia Molina and Douglas Massey and incorporating visual aids into group work. This visual aid allows us to have an in-class discussion analyzing a mural borrowed from Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), a non-profit I interned with for two years and where I currently serve on the board. These types of aids provide a holistic understanding of seemingly simple issues and appeal to different learning styles. The mural depicted is a production of the Levante Leadership Institute and the Beehive Collective (please see the original post for images).
The youth who worked on this mural are from farmworker families and most have worked in the fields at some point in their lives. I was initially drawn to work with this non-profit to learn more about educational issues facing the Latino/a community in North Carolina, but I stayed because of the connections I’ve made between my parents’ experiences as farmworkers in the Southeast and those of the families participating in SAF programs.
The left hand side of the mural depicts the current conditions of farmworkers and on the right is the aspirations and dreams of the young people, some of whom aspire to achieve more education but who also recognize that farmworkers should be able to complete their work with dignity. In class sessions, I typically ask the students to get into small groups and then choose an area of the mural they are able to contextualize with evidence from class readings, an area they don’t understand, or an area that just draws their attention.
Each group then describes why they chose that area and other students are welcome to respond if they believe they know more about that particular topic. For example, this section of the mural depicts the words NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) in barbed wire. In a course titled Nations, Regions and the Global Economy, I emphasized this area of the mural where the implementation of NAFTA
resulted in a surplus movement of goods, but not people, back and forth across the U.S./Mexico border. This trade agreement particularly impacted small farmers within Mexico, influencing first internal migration and then external migration. The letters are in barbed wire to indicate the simultaneous militarization of the border, which also results in the deaths of economic migrants searching for alternative routes to cross the border.
Because I study both race and immigration, I’ll also include another example specifically tied to my research. This section reminds the students and myself that it is impossible to have a conversation about agricultural workers without tracing the legacy of slavery, particularly in the South. This section also allows us to dive into the relational nature of race, explained in the assigned readings from Natalia Molina’s book, How Race is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts. There are also handcuffs in this section, allowing us to begin discussing how black and brown bodies are criminalized in the present day. For many farmworkers, who are also undocumented, this criminalization means they are also subject to the threat of deportation, particularly if they desire to stand up against unjust and antiquated labor laws specific to agricultural work. This criminalization of an immigrant’s legal status and the broader
criminalization of immigration law and procedure, known as crimmigration in the legal field. Once students understand that an immigration offense (i.e., illegal crossing of the border) is different than a criminal offense, they recognize that arbitrary and sometimes retroactively implemented immigration enforcement parameters are unjust and essentially more complicated than the national rhetoric would have us believe. By initially talking about economic and historical relationships between Mexico and the United States, students also understand that the immigration “problem” is complicated and based in historically racialized immigration policies.
Finally, I often ask individuals to come share their personal narratives and have students listen to stories about migrants, through the use of New Roots/ Nuevas Raíces collection housed at UNC-Chapel Hill in the Southern Oral History Program. This brings the theoretical to the individual level where students, particularly in the Voices in Public Policy course I teach, are able to recognize how policies implemented without involvement from those most impacted may have differential impacts depending on one’s social position.