This interview was conducted over e-mail with Mellon Visiting Professor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Jill Anderson , by Julia Kaufman, ’18 a Human Rights Certificate Student and working at the Duke Human Rights Center. Professor Anderson is currently teaching two courses at Duke: Immigrants and Exile and Education and Deportation.  She spoke with Julia about these courses and her current work with the organization Otros Dreams en Acción, which advocates for deported immigrant youth in Mexico.

Julia Kaufman (JK): How did you get involved in the work you’re currently doing to support and advocate for deported immigrant youth in Mexico with Otros Dreams en Acción?

Jill Anderson (JA): My work with ODA, Otros Dreams en Acción has been the obvious (albeit not traditional) next step after the publication of the first edition of the book Los Otros Dreamers in September 2014. The book evolved from my postdoctoral research and it was successful in connecting many deported and returned young people who were born in Mexico, grew up in the United States, and are now in Mexico due to the robust deportation system that the United States has been building up over the course of their lifetimes. I co-founded ODA with Maggie Loredo, who grew up undocumented in Georgia, in 2015 in order to continue the community-organizing that the book could only gesture towards.

JK: What does the organization do to empower youth?

JA: In January of this year ODA inaugurated “Poch@ House,” a bicultural center in Mexico City for people living in exile from their families and communities in the United States. The term “pocho or pocha” is a derogatory term used in Mexico to describe a Mexican who speaks with accented Spanish or otherwise seems like they are from the United States. At Poch@ House, ODA receives deportees and their families who need basic identity documents, housing, revalidation of education documents, and support finding jobs. We also host workshops on topics ranging from tax responsibilities in Mexico to visa applications to visit the United States, as well as yoga classes, English conversations, and slam poetry nights. Immigrant youth determine the events and the priorities of ODA as staff members and as community representatives.

In addition to creating community and mutual support in the midst of crisis, ODA is also building campaigns to position the stories and demands of returning and deported families in strategic spaces where the voices of those most affected by policy decisions are heard by policy-makers “aquí y allá”, in Mexico and in the United States.

JK: Your course, Immigrants in Exile, explores the realities that people face after deportation from the US. What made you want to teach a course on this topic? What do you hope students get out of the class?

JA: I wanted to teach a course about the aftermath of deportation and the transnational realities families face as a consequence of deportation. We have also been trying to better understand deportation systems globally, across history, and in all their complexity. I hope that my students walk away with clearer perceptions of the industries and also the violence associated with deportation as a state power, as well as the long-term consequences of deportation for an astounding diversity of immigrant families around the world. I also hope they feel like they have more tools to speak up and act around a complex issue that has been distorted into a rallying cry for racism, hate, and violence.

I am also teaching a graduate course called Education and Deportation. In that course, we have been studying public policies for education, immigration, and health in comparative perspective, looking at both the United States and Mexico. We have been exploring the myriad ways that the crucible of overlapping but uncoordinated US and Mexican immigration and education policies over the last fifty years have given birth to the generation 1.5 of undocumented immigrants often referred to as the “Dreamers.”  

 

JK: How can students get involved with the work you’re doing?

JA: Two Duke students have already confirmed plans to travel to Mexico City this summer to do research and/or volunteer at Poch@ House. We are looking forward to collaborating with them on what we see as the co-creation of knowledge and skills in short-term projects that are grounded in an awareness of the intersectionality of cross-border identities, privileges, and oppression. For example, a Duke student will support English-language classes and curriculum design on a team led by deportees. We would love to explore other opportunities to co-collaborate with undergraduate or graduate students.  

We would also love to collaborate with Duke students from afar. We are looking for a web designer and graphic design volunteers to help ODA to update our website (www.odamexico.org) and design impact-oriented visual materials for important information regarding deportation and return to Mexico.

JK: Are there any opportunities for student engagement in supporting returning immigrant youth in Mexico?

JA: Since our visit to Durham in March 2017, ODA has connected with the Define American Duke Chapter. It is a new student group on campus dedicated to supporting and defending the rights of undocumented and DACAmented students at Duke. We recently co-hosted an immigrant youth forum on campus about the realities of losing protection under DACA as told by those who have already lived through deportation and return. Over a hundred people came out to the event! We are looking to continue the mutual support between Define American Duke and ODA, so a great first step for any Duke student is to find out how they can get involved with them. Students can also follow ODA on our Facebook page and via Twitter in order to stay updated on our evolving projects and campaigns.  

JK: What does it mean to you to be a “scholar activist”?

I have a deep admiration for brilliant scholars and the ways that many of them have advanced theories and vocabularies that really blew my mind and opened my heart in high school, college, and graduate school. I also feel indebted to activists who have exposed hypocrisies and harm to communities in ways that have concretely, even immediately, improved the realities of people around them. And I think there are many ways to be a “scholar activist” today. For me, working as a “scholar activist” has challenged me to conceptualize my research in terms of the questions and the demands of the immigrant youth I have interviewed, as well as the freedom to be very creative in the ways I publish that research. In concrete terms, it was also my choice to work as a “scholar activist” that led me to invest my time and skills in the co-creation of an organization and a place instead of another book. Academic questions and audiences are just one element of a diverse set of context-specific motivators for the research I do and the publics with whom I hope to connect, and that makes every step of my work so compelling.

One of my students recently asked me how I can research a topic that is as depressing and discouraging as deportation in this moment in history. I responded immediately that I can only do it because I have also become an activist. Diving deep into the daily work of community-organizing and politically-engaged cultural work alongside those directly affected by human rights violations instills a hopeful.

You can read more about Professor Anderson’s background and work in a recent post by Catherine Angst for the John Hope Franklin Center.