Archive for July 26, 2016

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Serious Play: Anthropology and Game Design for Farmworker Health and Justice

Playing “Farm-o-Poly,” an agricultural themed version of the classic board game “Monopoly” and wondering, “Where are the farmworkers?”

Eight students from California’s Pájaro Valley and two interns joined anthropologist Dvera Saxton in summer 2015 in a creative workshop that led to the conceptualization and design of two farmworker-themed video games. By winter 2016, the games will be digitized and ready for their public debut on the Internet. The students, who all come from farmworker families, learned ideas and methods of anthropology, game design, and graphic design and combined those new insights with their own life experiences to create the games. It is our hope that our video games will foster greater empathy for farmworkers and a deeper sense of appreciation for the skilled but socially and economically undervalued work that they do in the strawberry fields.

 

Workshop participants from top left, intern Juan Morales Rocha, Kat Torres, Samuel Hernandez, Xavier Rodriguez, Fabian Rocha, Marco Baltazar, and intern Kevin Cameron. Bottom from left: Juan Pablo Chavez, Mar Uribe, Victoria Moran, and anthropologist Dvera Saxton.

When you play classic board games like The Game of Life or Monopoly, the stories and narratives, and even the outcomes of game play, do not necessarily reflect our lived realities. And the values that the contemporary versions of these games instill are also problematic, and deviate from those intended by their originators (and, according to historian Jill Lepore, author of The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, certainly from those of the Old World inventors of the some of the first spiral board games in India, East Asia, and the ancient Middle East).

Immigrant workers, are largely invisible in contemporary popular board and video games (as they are in real life), despite their critical roles in producing and maintaining wealth: the construction workers who build dream homes, the housekeepers and nannies who maintain the gleaming interiors and care for the children of more privileged full time workers, the gardeners who preen and prune the landscaping, and the farmworkers who harvest the strawberries plunked into the champagne or sliced atop a Starbucks parfait.

Director of the Digital Nest, Jacob Martinez, takes a break to play. Photo by author.

Even amidst great struggles—from dangerous border crossings and family separations to devastating and permanently disabling injuries—farmworkers and their families still found time for humor and playfulness in everyday life. It is from my observations of farmworker families at work and at play that I drew much of the inspiration for the Game Over: Game Design for Farmworker Health workshop. With the collaboration of two interns–Kevin Cameron, a UC Santa Cruz Game Design program graduate, and Juan Morales Rocha a UC Santa Cruz Cognitive Science major and son of farmworker parents–eight students (recruited from Watsonville High School and Pájaro Valley High School), and our host, the Digital Nest (a non-profit that provides space for youth and adults to learn about emerging technologies and collaborate on projects), we developed two farmworker themed video games that we hope will foster more empathy for the people who harvest the fresh foods we eat.

The anthropologist hoists the piñata at a Christmas-time guerilla toy distribution for farm worker children at an apartment complex in Watsonville. Photo by Gabe.

I went back to my field notes to think about the instances of playfulness I observed in farmworkers’ everyday lives, and how this contrasted with the unbearable struggles and suffering they endured behind the scenes. Play is a method of coping with seemingly insurmountable challenges. It is a survival strategy, a way of blowing off steam or decompressing from a long day at work, and also a means to instill values and morals in children and to reinforce them amongst adults. As political scientist anthropologist James C. Scott observed, there is a playfulness to rural workers’ resistance in the fields.

Farmworker play is diverse, and takes place both at work and off the clock. El Teatro Campesino toured across California’s farm fields, entertaining workers and inciting them to respond to injustices through comedy and theatrical plays. At work, farmworkers may sing along with the radio, sneak a ripe berry into their mouths, or take part in lunchtime soccer matches or gambling card games. At one field site site near a flower nursery, I saw that farmworkers had ingeniously made their own impromptu glove drying rack. At farmworker households, families played rounds of loteria (a classic Mexican version that is similar to bingo), especially at Christmas time. I reminisced about the guerilla piñata parties an area activist group would throw for farmworker neighborhoods around Watsonville at Christmas time. At a community garden run by farmworkers, children played by running up and down the rows and occasionally helped their parents. All the while, they were learning the differences between edible and inedible weeds and how to grow food for their families the same ways they do back home in Mexico. I thought about the participation of farmworkers and their children at rallies, and the clever and colorful posters they made. How could we mobilize this playfulness to challenge popular misconceptions about farm work and farmworkers? What games could we create that might help farmworkers preserve their health, or know their rights?

Children of farmworkers play “farmer” atop a tractor at a farmworker-led community garden.

California’s Pájaro and Salinas Valleys are major strawberry-growing regions, producing 80 percent of the strawberries consumed throughout the United States. In this region, from May through October, thousands immigrant laborers, mostly of Mexican and Central American descent, rise before dawn to harvest strawberries, red and black raspberries, and blueberries. Many people enjoy these and other fruits at breakfast time, several hours after the sun comes up.

These strawberry fields (not the ones idealized by the Beatles) are where I conducted my dissertation research on farmworker health and wellbeing. I observed that many factors—from pesticides to the piece rate of pay—contribute to devastating farmworker health problems that layer and evolve over time in bodies and communities. My research and activism in response to farmworker health issues involved networks up and down the agricultural hierarchy. It has and continues to contribute ethnographic labor and critical analysis and reflection to social and environmental justice movements.

Retired farmworker grandparents and their grandkids with hand-colored posters with serious life-or-death messages at a demonstration against the toxic pesticide methyl idodie.

During our workshop, we merged the methods and concepts of ethnography, game design, and graphic design to make a series of serious games. This kind of game play aims to achieve more than entertainment. There is a great range of serious games, and the ideas and ethics they promote: from social justice causes to ethically problematic military and police training games. In addition to fostering empathy for farmworkers, we want our games to serve as educational and political resources in response to the a-political curriculum games featured on the websites of agribusiness companies and advocacy organizations, such as the American Farm Bureau and the California Strawberry Commission.

We conducted participant observation by playing and discussing many different board and video games with farming, food, immigration, and political themes. Some featured explicit and serious social justice themes, like The Migrant Trail. In this game, players can take on the role of an immigrant crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, or the role of a border patrol agent. We thought critically about the problematic storylines of games like Harvest Moon, which features a young farmer who can till, tend, and harvest the land without ever running out of stamina. This is a stark contrast to the experiences of farmworkers, who are often permanently disabled by the repetitive motions and intense pace of the labor.

Drawing ourselves as video game characters as we contemplate the absence of Latino/a characters in games that aren’t racist or based on pernicious stereotypes.

Each of these games are fun to play, but for these teens, playing The Migrant Trail proved to be a more powerful experience than Oregon Trail, because their families’ stories are brought to the center of the gaming experience. So too, are the tensions between first generation immigrants and their descendants, some of whom, the youth observed, ironically, get jobs as border patrol agents. Playing a border patrol checkpoint agent in the game Papers, Please! gave students temporary access to indiscriminate amounts of power over the lives of other migrants trying to get into the fictional country of Arstotzka. The longer they played, the less sympathetic they became to immigrants’ pleas and stories, and the more obedient they became at enforcing the bureaucracy.

There are opportunities for anthropology, with the creative assistance of communities and other disciplines, to flip the script on games and other modes of learning and play in ways that aim to validate and politicize everyday life. The games that we came up with this summer provide a constructive means of engaging some of the complex and serious issues that farmworker families face every day.  We will be throwing our game launch party in Winter of 2016, and we look forward to sharing our work with Pájaro Valley farmworker families, teachers, health care providers, non-profit directors and staffers, and elected officials, and from there, the rest of the internet accessible world. We hope that the games inspire other kinds of pragmatic, or practical, solidarity with farmworkers, in addition to furthering the trend of disseminating anthropological research by unconventional and innovative means.

Kat Torres tests out the prototype. The objective is to pick and grade the strawberries as fast as possible with few to no inconsistencies or errors. It is a lot harder than it looks and sounds! The physical prototype is like a rough draft of what will eventually become a final digitized video game.

After analyzing and playing these and other games, and brainstorming different ideas and variables for our own farmworker-themed game, we developed, constructed, play-tested, and refined two video game prototypes. Our game suite, Guardians of the Field: The Strawberry Jam (or Guardianes/as del Campo: El Jale de la Fresa in Spanish) will be launched online with free access in Winter 2016. One of the games simulates the experience of working at a piece rate of pay and the work of picking and grading berries for different global markets at a fast pace. The second is puzzle in which the player must pick and arrange the berries into a series of baskets under a time limit. In the end, the berries in each basket must weigh approximately one pound and must not overflow. Both of these are highly skilled parts of strawberry farm work. Our teen coconspirators know, sometimes from second hand knowledge from their parents and grandparents, and sometimes from first hand knowledge having spent summers alongside their kin in the berry fields, that farm work is not merely mindless physical labor. In reality, a lot of skill, focus, knowledge, and care, as well as physical energy, goes into picking and packing the strawberries that end up on supermarket shelves and in our refrigerators.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Caitlin E. Fouratt

 

Workshop participant discusses his family’s migration story

Caitlin E. Fouratt is Assistant Professor in the International Studies Program at California State University, Long Beach.

In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine, she received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Presences and Absences: Nicaraguan Migration to Costa Rica and Transnational Families.” In June 2015, she returned for one month to Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant to teach a seminar on Migration, Family, and Policies at the University of Costa Rica and to facilitate two community workshops. The seminar included presentations on her own research as well as current research from local colleagues and students’ research projects. The first workshop, with Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica, focused on the challenges of family separation, gender and migration, and strengthening family ties. The second, with relatives of migrants back in Nicaragua, examined shifts in Costa Rican immigration law that migrants face and the complexity of transnational family relationships.

 

Seminar participants at the University of Costa Rica

My dissertation research focused on the experiences of Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica and their families back in Nicaragua. Nicaraguans represent the largest immigrant group in Costa Rica and make up almost 8% of the population. In my research, I looked at the ways in which members of transnational families navigate the shifting meanings of family when faced with the challenges of migration. Two of the biggest challenges Nicaraguan transnational families face are the result of state policies on either side of the border. In Nicaragua, where decades of conflict, natural disasters, and economic crisis have deepened poverty, the government has been unable or unwilling to provide basic social services for much of the population. Most poor Nicaraguans seek to provide care for themselves and each other through family networks. But with high unemployment and low wages, families are forced to make difficult decisions, including deciding to migrate internationally to provide for food, housing, education, and healthcare for loved ones. Unlike in the rest of Central America, most Nicaraguans travel not north to the U.S., but south to neighboring Costa Rica, where wages are relatively higher, the journey takes less than one day, and immigration enforcement has not been as repressive as in the United States. However, this situation has been changing over the past ten years. Indeed, my research showed that, like other receiving countries around the world, Costa Rica is moving toward immigration policies focused on increasing restrictions for entry and residency and ramping up enforcement efforts and the costs of fees and fines. All of this affects families’ abilities to maintain relationships across borders.

Some seminar participants after our last class at the University of Costa Rica

I applied for a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant because I wanted to facilitate dialogue with Costa Rican colleagues working on migration and to share my results with the families who participated in the project. As a bonus, I was able to return with my now 3 year old daughter who was born in Costa Rica during dissertation research. During my dissertation fieldwork, my husband, Chris, and our daughter were my constant fieldwork companions for the 18 months we spent in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Like many scholars of transnational migration, at various moments throughout my fieldwork, I found myself tracing and retracing the paths and journeys migrants themselves traveled. Becoming a mother while in the field, became integral not only to building rapport with my Nicaraguan interlocutors but also to my expectations of how I would undertake fieldwork and my understandings of kinship and family. Returning as a family allowed us to reconnect with the families with whom we spent so much time during her infancy.

Koen Voorend, researcher and professor at the University of Costa Rica, presenting on Nicaraguans’ access to and use of public services in Costa Rica

With the help of very supportive colleagues at the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales at the University of Costa Rica, especially Koen Voorend and the Institute’s director, Dr. Carmen Caamano, I organized a 4 session seminar on Migration, Family, and Policies.  We invited students, faculty, and community members to come together to talk about pressing migration issues in Costa Rica as well as global trends in migration and recent migration studies research. Because we wanted the seminar to create a space of dialogue rather than just a class about my research, we invited participants to share their own research, experience, and projects on the key themes of the seminar. As the first day of the seminar approached, I felt increasingly nervous. Other than in an article, I had never articulated my research in Spanish before, especially before a live audience. Plus, it was the end of the academic term and students and professors were preparing for exams. Would anyone even attend? I needn’t have worried. Our first meeting included 26 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and researchers, NGO members, and even some Nicaraguan migrants who had participated in my research.

Olinda Bravo, coordinator and founder of the Network of Women Migrants presenting to students about the history of immigrant organizing in Costa Rica

It was exciting to present my work to Costa Rican colleagues and receive their feedback. But even more rewarding was to hear colleagues and students present on their recent work. Koen Voorend presented on the relationship between Nicaraguans’ legal status and use of social services in Costa Rica. Dr. Carmen Caamaño, the director of the IIS presented on her work with migrant organizations, and Olinda Bravo, the coordinator of the Network of Women Migrants, on the network’s experiences standing up for labor rights and advocating for immigrants in Costa Rica. Students also presented their thesis projects, which ranged from work in psychology on the mental health of Central American refugees in Costa Rica, from Social Work in gendered aspects of border crossings, and to a Fulbright scholar home on vacation about unaccompanied child migrants in the U.S. What impressed me most was the level of interest that these issues sparked among students and faculty. As one colleague noted, years ago when she completed her masters at the University of Costa Rica, she was almost the only student working on migration. Now, there are students across disciplines and levels interested in issues of migration and gender, mobility, family, and law. The dialogue sparked by planning and facilitating the seminar has already prompted plans for joint publication with Costa Rican colleagues and I hope will set the stage for future collaborations.

Participants in Costa Rica drawing their families

In between seminar sessions, I also organized two workshops, one in Costa Rica and one in Nicaragua with former research participants and members of transnational families. These workshops would have been impossible to organize without the help of the very dedicated staff of ASTRADOMES, the Association of Domestic Workers, and the Network of Women Relatives of Nicaraguan Migrants. These women supported and encouraged me during fieldwork years ago, and were key to handling all the logistics and organizing needed to pull off the workshops successfully. The first workshop, in Costa Rica, was hosted by ASTRADOMES, and included 15 migrant women, who trekked through a torrential downpour to attend. We started the day introducing ourselves by drawing our families, then I presented some key insights from my research, particularly on the gendered work of maintaining family ties, and received lots of audience input and commentary. We closed by brainstorming some strategies that migrants could use to strengthen transnational family relationships.

Carmen Cruz, labor rights promoter for Astradomes, preparing typical a typical Nicaraguan meal for workshop participants

In Nicaragua, our workshop was cut short by the celebration of the Repliegue de Masaya, a reenactment of a battle leading up to the anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. But again, the coordinators of the Network of Women Family Members of Migrants and Astradomes ensured that we would have a great turn out. Although I had hoped to give a more formal academic talk before the workshop, the schedule changes meant few faculty could make it and workshop participants needed to arrive early to avoid public transit delays. In the end, I presented on Costa Rican immigration law and the lived experiences of “illegal” migrants to the workshop participants themselves. Afterwards, many participants noted that this was a topic they rarely discussed with their family members in Costa Rica, though many of them were undocumented. The presentation offered a new perspective on the challenges their loved ones faced abroad. But what made this part a highlight was that several professors from the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) attended and expressed interest in collaborating with the Network and Astradomes.  These faculty members were key contacts that the network had been trying to connect with and build relationships with for a long time. I hope that the conversations started here will lead to more fruitful collaborations not only for myself, but for Astradomes and the network.

The conversations sparked in these activities have not only helped me think through my research in light of participants’ comments, suggestions, and critiques, and to brainstorm future avenues of research, but have prompted conversations among academic and community-based colleagues about continuing to develop spaces for collaboration and feedback.