by Zac Johnson ’22, work study student for the DHRC@FHI

This semester, I am participating in the DukeImmerse: Rights and Identities in the Americas. The program consists of 4 classes which you take with all the same cluster people: Identity and Linguistic Rights, Human Rights in the Americas, Family/Human Rights, and Research on Human Rights. As DukeImmerse typically has a travel component with its research, we’ll travel to Mexico City and Puebla at the end of October for around two weeks. Our goal is to complete sociolinguistic research with retornados – people who have recently returned to Mexico either voluntarily or involuntarily. We’ll also meet up with partner students at Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) who have been working in tandem to our classes. By the end of the semester, we hope to have full research papers answering our particular questions, but most of all, we’ll have an eye-opening experience serving to humanize an often vilified group of people.

Much of our classes have been in preparation for this trip. We’ve discussed relevant topics, how to conduct research ethically, and important contexts in the Americas. Our studies so far have been directed towards American history with immigration, family regulation, homophobia, sexism, indigenous peoples, and complex identities. We also focus on modes of research, good and bad practices, and ethical debates within the sociolinguistics world. We keep an experiential journal to write about our thoughts, concerns, and feelings regarding the program and our impending trip. Because this can be an emotionally exhausting program, we have a coordinator dedicated to teaching us self-care, empathy, and trauma stewardship (featured on the far right). 

A few weeks ago we took a trip to a local Mexican grocery store, bakery, and restaurant La Superior. We met with a previous DukeImmerse student to discuss their travels to Mexico, their experience conversing with returnados, and their navigation of ethically complicated questions around research, all while eating tortas and burritos and drinking horchata. We’ll have a few more opportunities to closely interact with Latin American cultures and histories over the next few weeks before our trip. This past week, we practiced our sociolinguistic conversations with a few voceros (“spokespeople”) of the immigrant community to gain a better understanding of ethical research, the indigenous experience in Durham, and active listening skills. Our conversations were loosely constructed and served as an example of how conversations with returnados may go in Mexico City and Puebla.