Excerpts from my dissertation: Challenges in Activist Community Research…

From my Dissertation in Progress

My dissertation is a work in progress and I will finish it in my own terms. In my work I bring all of me, my life, my body and my senses. Working with migrant farm workers and their families is not a job for me it’s my life’s calling. There have been so many moments when I have wanted and tried to walk away from my community work but something and someone always pulls me back in and keeps me there. Now in Vancouver, sitting in one of my favourite cafes on “the Drive” I turn to my methodology chapter. Reading its last few paragraphs gave me chills.  I am struck by my own emotions and I am reminded how writing is not merely theorizing and being objective, it is the act of pouring my emotions and witness accounts onto my computer screen. I carry with me stories and pains that do not belong to me and the more I keep them within the more my body aches.   Here is an excerpt I wanted to share…

Challenges in Activist Community Research and Visibility Making

My particular activist research approach has been consuming and challenging on various levels. The time spent attending to cases, traveling to remote rural areas, organizing and so forth has meant producing less published work and delaying the dissertation process. This in turn translate into ranking low in academic standing where access to funding is limited or completely withdrawn if certain program components are not completed in a set time determined by the university. Students are to justify delays through paper work, procedures and signatures. Funding is tied to particular student work as graduate or teaching assistants and thus taking time away from vital community work. The unpaid work that I conduct through Justicia for Migrant Workers, such as casework, workshops, lobbying, strategizing meetings with and for migrant workers are not considered as part of my formation as an academic.

I recall one particular weekend when I decided to stay home to work on my dissertation and not venture off to rural Ontario for my usual intense weekends with Mexican migrant workers. I decided I could not waste the Sunday.  I stayed local. I only drove 40 minutes to a farm in Georgetown to do some outreach and promised myself I would finish early in order write.  On the way there I received a frantic phone call from another Justicia organizer. A Mexican woman who I am very close to was run over by a tractor. She was admitted to a hospital two hours away. I had a choice to go or not to go. But how could I turn my back from her in such time of need? I care for her and her entire family in Mexico. Where is the accountability when I say, “no, I am busy writing my dissertation”?  How is the necessary detachment to finish my dissertation complicit in injustices and unethical when I know that Consulate officials and employers more often than not deport workers when no one else intervenes in these types of situations? The convictions that inspired me to embark on this academic journey in the first place, made my decision crystal clear.  As soon as I walked into her room at the hospital we were both in tears.   Perhaps this would make me an activist first and everything else second. But this assertion would be feeding into the split and compartmentalization that I have tireless defied in this journey. In all we do we are human beings engaging with one another and our roles, emotions and attachments are infused into one another making us who we are.

Although difficult to sustain and to embody in the everyday, the particular activist research approach that I have carried out has proven to be a solid bridge into the lives of migrant women and men spanning transrural sites and realities across Ontario and Mexico. There is a need for boundaries, standards and deadlines. This includes respecting personal limitations, especially in relation to structural forces that perpetuate injustices. There are also personal relations, feelings and emotions that are tangibly vested in this work.  It is crucial for academe to afford activism a rightful place and to encourage students to engage in the community, starting from the undergraduate level. In this way “community” better permeates the privileged space of academe to perhaps broaden the scope of who can actually “speak” and move “across worlds.”

Through these pages I seek to make visible stories of people in the margins and to bring them to the fore to permeate various worlds. This includes visibility making of my own work as an activist researcher working in transrural spaces. These are the forgotten and taken for granted spaces that few trespass and interpose. In my engagement with workers I have sought to remain as invisible as possible in order for my work not to risk their participation in the Program. I have confronted employers when needed, refrained from government officials in Canada and Mexico and denounced injustices in the newsmedia as warranted but I have primarily focused on convivir with workers and their families. Working in the countryside as opposed to the city where there are more established activist networks of mutual support has added to the invisibility of my work that oftentimes felt overwhelmingly isolating and alienating.

However, I have been part of the universe of the Program, in my own way. I have found my own community within this universe. I have been witness and participant of stories, emotions and feelings among migrants and their families. We have been at the margins together.  In my work I have learned that migration is fundamentally about the pursuit of life and the painstaking journey to claim belonging in the world.  Migration “happened to me” when I was a child. Since being uprooted from my place of birth and into a foreign racialized gendered terrain, my life’s journey has been about claiming my roots and place in the world. I have found my place within the margins of the forgotten and silenced. It is through these passions and yearnings that I have sustained myself in the arduous journey of activist community research.

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