Archive for Engaged Anthropology Grant

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Nicholas Limerick

 

Image courtesy Nicholas Limerick

Nicholas Limerick is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. In 2011 while a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Contested Language Ideologies and the Mediation of Indigenous Schooling in Ecuador,’ supervised by Dr. Asif Agha. In 2015 he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Workshops on Multicultural Recognition and Quechua Language Use in Intercultural Bilingual Education in Ecuador,’ 2015, Ecuador.

Ecuador is frequently lauded for its successful Indigenous political movements. In 1988, Indigenous activists institutionalized a national-level intercultural bilingual school system that would be run by Native individuals for Native students. My dissertation research, which occurred from 2011 to 2013, showed how these advances have also led to challenges for Quichua individuals who have now become upper-level state agents in the school system. Through years of ethnographic research, including in coordinating offices of Ecuador’s Ministry of Education, my research has considered the shifting roles that Indigenous individuals have had to exhibit, and the emerging publics whom they engage, as they invoke the discourses of the state as Native individuals. I show how their work in the office frequently places them in a double-bind, where speaking in the framings of liberal multicultural recognition, including how they speak in the language Quichua, sounds quite different from notions of linguistic diversity that their Indigenous constituents hold. Such differences contribute to pervasive divides across the organization.

With the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I planned to conduct workshops in the offices in the Ministry of Education, and in one school where I conducted research, using the findings of my dissertation to help improve public speaking in Quichua and in Spanish. Though I had returned to my fieldsites since the conclusion of my dissertation research, when I returned to the Ministry of Education in June of 2015, I found that the staff had been greatly reduced. Many of my friends had recently been forced into retirement, or they had transferred to work in other offices in the Ministry of Education or in other provinces of Ecuador. This change is the latest step of educational reform in Ecuador, part of which I have studied in my research.

Image courtesy Nicholas Limerick

Given these circumstances, as well as an unusually tense political climate for Indigenous individuals coordinating EIB, I decided to carry out workshops only with directors and teachers of one of the schools where I have long collaborated and conducted research. In June, administrators of the school and I piloted a Quichua education program that would promote speaking by the students in distinct registers of Quichua in the same classroom. Through the creation of their own books, students attempted to valorize non-standardized registers of communication, culminating in storytelling events with prizes for the students. The directors of the school and I then planned a series of workshops with teachers of the school, to be conducted in August, that would incorporate the results of my dissertation into helping the teachers address linguistic diversity among parents and students.

In August, we conducted fifteen hours of workshops. The workshops had several components. We first discussed the importance of teaching Quichua in general, and supporting vastly different registers of Quichua use in particular, at the school. We then discussed how to interact with parents, most of whom are Quichua individuals from disparate regions of Ecuador. Using recordings and transcripts from my research, we evaluated the speeches of directors of intercultural bilingual education, and also of the teachers’ own parent-teacher meetings. In turn, we collectively elaborated how to speak in a register of Quichua that unites disparate Quichua publics, many of whom have negative opinions about standardized Quichua. We then created materials to teach registers of Quichua that are less common to multicultural and multilingual teaching initiatives in Ecuador. The workshops not only allowed me to test some of my arguments and ideas for my book manuscript, but they created an avenue for reflexivity at the school about how to unite a larger Quichua community through speaking in Quichua. The Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant was indispensable not only for applying my research to the daily needs of my friends in Ecuador, but it also jumpstarted my second project on building community in urban schools.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Rosa Ficek Torres

Recording an oral history

While a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Rosa Ficek Torres received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on ‘Migration and Integration Along the Pan American Highway in Panama’s Darien Gap,’ supervised by Dr. Anna Tsing. In 2014 she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Collaborations for a Digital Exhibit: Perspectives on Integration from the Margins of Panama,’ 2015, Panama.

Roads let us access new landscapes, meet people, reach resources. But they do more than that. Roads make landscapes, refashioning social relations and geographies as people, things, and ideas come into contact. Tracing the encounters that take place because of, and along, lines of transport and communication can help us understand what happens when people and places are connected by technologies in new or different ways. My dissertation research considers the social effects of roads, asking how social collectivities emerge, how power and difference shape spaces of belonging and exclusion through and with these material routes.

Workers hired from roadside communities

With support from a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, I traveled to Panama to research a road built to integrate a peripheral area into the national culture, political system, and economy. This road was built in the 1970s to connect Panama to its easternmost province. Migrant peasants from central and western Panama settled along its edges, attracted by tales of abundant land free for the taking. Meanwhile, government planners saw the settlers as agents of modernization. They replaced forests with fields and pastures, establishing relations of property and production that would—planners hoped—drive development while also extending state power into a marginal region. The road was the central figure in these transformations, bringing settlers and state institutions in, taking products out.

Through oral histories of migration and community formation I found that settlers, who soon found themselves stuck on a deteriorated road that signaled isolation and government abandonment, integrated themselves anyway. They used forest materials and communal labor to build schools and rural aqueducts, fundraised for journeys to the city to petition the government for teachers, engineers, and plastic pipes, and maintained the road with stones and gravel dug up from the rivers. However, these oral histories also complicated ideas of integration as the expansion of state power, national culture, and capitalist relations by showing how the indigenous and afrodescendent people who were already living in the area contributed to the making and remaking of the highway, at the same time that these contributions were obscured in settler narratives. Moreover, settlers themselves adapted to the new landscape at the same time that they transformed it. The road, rather than being a force of assimilation, is heterogeneous, brought to life by diverse histories and mobilities that transform its materiality and meaning.

Presidential speech authorizing road work

I returned to Panama in July and August 2015 to share my findings with the communities where I had done research. The road, which during fieldwork in 2008 and 2009 had been repaired and paved with asphalt, had again deteriorated. And yet again machines rumbled, earth was moved, and orange-vested crews worked on repairs to its surface. Among local residents, dissatisfaction with the previous constrution company’s performance had turned into bitter disappointment once the new pavement fell to pieces. This time around, people were determined that things would be different. During the ceremony authorizing the initiation of roadwork the president of the republic gave a speech that echoed promises made repeatedly since the 1960s: the road would facilitate the transport and comercialization of agricultural products, he said, bring economic and social development, and integrate a province that had been isolated from national development. In the audience, members of the vigilance committees that were forming in roadside communities greeted each other with handshakes and slaps on the back. They were organizing to ensure that the road was properly remade. For them, that meant learning which materials were going to be used to rehabilitate the road, and from which local source, and taking samples to a laboratory for independent analysis using their own funds. The transitability of the road depended on the right materials.

Residents of surrounding communities attending ceremony

It was within this context that I carried out the activities related to my Engaged Anthropology Grant—amidst roadwork, amidst a collective feeling of guarded hope, a sense of progress-in-the-making that seemed at odds with the insistent, cyclical deteriorations of the road and the repeated disappointments and setbacks local residents had experienced. I held a series of meetings in communities in which I presented my dissertation findings, reviewed and revised written portions of the manuscript with informants, and conducted oral history workshops where community members were able to narrate their accounts of development on their own terms, identifying the themes and stories that most mattered to them. These oral histories were recorded and assembled into DVDs that were distributed to community members, civil society leaders, and teachers for use in the classroom.

The goal in documenting these histories was to provide alternative representations of a region that is often stereotyped in the media and popular imaginations as a backward province. People think that there is nothing here in Darien, that there is no development, that we’re living in the wilderness, residents often noted. The oral histories worked against these representations by offering counter narratives of a kind of development different from that promoted by the government—of people organizing and using their own time and resources, drawing on forms of communal labor, to build rural aqueducts, schools and churches, petitioning the government for technical assistance and supplies to complete the works. These narratives help us situate the current rehabilitation of the road, people’s keen interest in the work, and the vigilance committees within a history of development where people had to make do and find ways to survive in the absence of the development that had been promised, and that had enchanted them. If things were going to be different this time—if the new pavement lasted and the road indeed reduced inequality in the region—it would be an achievement of local communities, not something that was formulated outside and handed to them.

Director of school with copies of the oral histories

And yet, the accounts people told about their experiences migrating to an unfamiliar place, the loneliness, the malaria, the hard work of building homes with handsaws and axes, of raising families without adequate water supplies, reveal other kinds of histories that destabilize narratives of development, of progress marching forward because it has to. These oral histories hold the shadow of a suggestion that some places should never have been settled at all. At least not in the way that settlers had gone about doing things, clearing forest to the extent that deforestation and loss of biodiversity are the current enviornmental buzzwords, boosting productivity with pesticides that poisoned the already meager water supplies, locating homes and communities in sites that were terribly inaccessible, far from rivers and coasts that offered alternative means of transport—practices that led to the growth of villages and towns with electricity, paved roads, schools, health centers, gas stations, supermarkets, and restaurants, but that also created a situation where you never know if water will run when you open the tap, where pastures extend for hectares but you can’t buy a decent cut of meat, where former landowners who farmed for their families as well as the market now work for uncertain wages after selling to ranchers or teak companies. Things had changed a lot, people reflected in their oral histories. One woman, like many others, recalled feeling despair when she reached the land that would be her new home, breaking down and crying with the realization that it had all been a big misunderstanding, that the stories about good free land were partially true at best. Todo parece un sueño, she sighed. It all seems like a dream.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Kevin O’Neill

 

Image courtesy Kevin O'Neill

Kevin O’Neill is a Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. In 2006 while a doctoral student at Stanford University, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant  to aid research on ‘Producing Christian Citizenship: Evangelical Mega-Churches in Postwar Guatemala City,’ supervised by Dr. James Ferguson. In 2010 he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘Two Ways Outs: Christianity, Security, and Mara Salvatrucha’. In 2014 he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Secure the Soul: A Public Conversation,’ 2015, Guatemala.

July 2015 proved to be a whirlwind. The Engaged Anthropology Grant supported a wide range of events, big and small as well as private and public. These were conversations, meals, moments of outreach, and student mentorship programs that connected colleagues and collaborators. The fieldwork itself shuttled between several sites in Guatemala City and the United States. Each opened a window into a tightening relationship between new forms of Christianity and gang prevention. One field site was Guatemala’s prison system, in which prison chaplains provide prisoners with psycho-theological support. Another field site was a reinsertion program for ex-gang members. The program connected former gang members with jobs in the formal economy. And yet another field site was a growing number of Christian drug rehabilitation centers that often house active gang members in the hopes of converting them out of gang life. There are other field sites, but this selection gives a quick sense of the different actors that my fieldwork engaged. And the aim of the Engaged Anthropology Grant was to bring some of these actors together, to have them engage my work but also each other. In this regard the month proved a tremendous success. There were meetings with prison chaplains and prisoners, hours spent with students at my host university, and long conversations with gang ministers as well as prison and drug reform commissions. All of it culminated in what I think was a poignant and powerful TV interview between me and my main informant. But more on that in a moment.

The Post-Ph.D. Research Grant supported research for the 2015 publication of Secure the Soul: Christian Piety and Gang Prevention in Guatemala. The book makes the argument that underlying Central American efforts at security is a sense of Christian piety—that is, an aspiration to be a better person. It is this Christian piety that provides Central American security with its moral coordinates. At the center of this argument sits the story of a key informant, a man that I call Mateo. His life connects the book’s various chapters. A deported gang member from Los Angeles, Mateo has been the subject and the object of Christian piety most of his life. He gained tremendously from prison chaplains while serving time in Los Angeles and yet he also served as a prison chaplain in Guatemala City; Mateo has worked for reinsertion programs while also having engaged these very programs as a former gang member; he has also been held inside a Christian rehabilitation center and yet months later found himself working for one. Yet more than just connecting the research’s ethnography with a single story, his life also embodies a sense of Christian piety—this idea/aspiration/affect that one should always strive to be a better person.

Image courtesy Kevin O'Neill

Secure the Soul ends with Mateo adrift. Aging out of not just gang life but also Central American security programs, the book ends at a moment of indecision. It is not clear what Mateo will do with the rest of his life. And yet while my research ended, Mateo’s life obviously kept on going. And there was a rough patch. He lost his house. A member of Barrio 18 stabbed him with a screwdriver during a street fight. And he ended up in prison for three months on trumped up drug charges. But then, true to Mateo, he turned his life around, connecting with a missionary project outside of Guatemala City. He now supports the ministry’s activities while also preaching to youth. This includes a weekly television program.

For those familiar with the book, Mateo’s life history provides Secure the Soul with its narrative spine. And for those familiar with ethnography, a project like that entails a tremendous amount of not just trust but also time. Mateo and I spent hours thinking through and recording his life story. Sometimes this took place while walking the streets of Guatemala City and other times this took place on his couch, with Mateo stretched out as if in the middle of a therapy session. And so it came with great excitement to learn that Mateo not only had air time but that we would also be able to spend that time talking about Secure the Soul—with the roles reversed. He would interview me.

It was an amazing experience. As we sat waiting for the camera to turn on, for us to go live, I turned to Mateo. Filled with pride for his life but also for what we had done together (in regards to the book) it suddenly hit me how far this project had gone. I can still remember the first time I met Mateo in a Guatemala City church. I can also remember the first interview we ever did together. And as the producer counted us down from ten to one, to signal the start of the show, I turned to Mateo with no small amount of astonishment—about his life and this book. I asked him how he felt about it all. Feeling rushed by the counting and slightly distracted by the glare of the lights, Mateo just smiled and said, “Look, bro, it’s my turn to ask the questions.” And so he did.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Amy Brainer

 

Image courtesy Amy Brainer

Amy Brainer is an Assistant Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Sociology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. In 2011 while a doctoral student at the University of Illinois-Chicago, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Same-Sexuality and Family Relations in Taiwan,’ supervised by Dr. Barbara J. Risman. In 2014 she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Reimagining LGBT Family Issues,’ 2015, Taiwan.

In October 2015, with support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, I conducted two parent workshops and a symposium around the theme ‘Reimagining LGBT Family Issues’ in Kaohsiung and Taipei. These activities build on my previous fieldwork with queer people and their families of origin throughout Taiwan. (In the grant title and in this report, I use ‘LGBT’ and ‘queer’ interchangeably to refer to a range of non-normative sexualities and genders. My informants vary in how they describe these aspects of their lives and the lives of their family members.) The title of the grant is perhaps all the more relevant in light of the US Supreme Court decision on marriage and the tidal wave of ‘marriage equality’ efforts that have come to define LGBT family aspirations, often excluding the more diverse forms of sex, love, desire, and family formation which are endemic to queer communities globally. With regard to LGBT family of origin issues, emphases on sexual disclosure and pathways to familial acceptance almost completely dominate the field, obscuring more complex family dynamics and practices that often do not center around the ‘coming out’ model. Through the grant activities, I looked for ways to facilitate a more comprehensive conversation about sexuality, gender, and family change, in ways that would be relevant to Taiwanese queer activists, practitioners, and families.

Image courtesy Amy Brainer

I opened the parent workshops in Kaohsiung and Taipei with a brief report on my research findings, followed by a more semi-structured conversation about LGBT parent-child relations in Taiwan today. It was apparent right away that although the parents listened politely to the report, their interest and excitement surrounded the opportunity to share their own stories one by one. During this experience, I felt as if the parents were still the ones ‘giving’ and I the recipient, and I briefly struggled to reconcile this with my wish to use the grant to ‘give back’ to the community. I had to step further out of my academic box to recognize what perhaps should have been obvious from the start—that what I have to ‘give’ such parents is not, in fact, a report, or the larger context I sought to provide for their stories, but rather a platform from which to speak about their own lives. The value of the workshop, for them, was in the ritual of testifying, of being heard, and in the creation of a space where their voices could be amplified. Questions I posed to the parents also sparked some animated discussions as they compared life experiences. One particularly interesting stream of our conversation concerned variation in the experiences and needs of mothers of T (butch) versus po (femme) lesbian daughters. As I am currently writing a new analytic chapter about this issue, this was a rare opportunity for me to workshop my ideas with mothers themselves.

Image courtesy Amy Brainer

I culminated my trip with a symposium on queer family issues arranged to coincide with the International Lesbian and Gay Association-Asia conference in Taipei. The event was advertised locally as well as to conference participants from other parts of Asia. I used this opportunity to give a more structured talk about my research results, followed by an open forum for participants to speak on family issues that they perceive to be critical and/or under-examined in the areas where they live and work. I highlighted the dearth of attention to material inequalities as a source of family pressure for queer women and their heterosexual mothers. In particular, I identified housing insecurity and the gendered distribution of family work and resources as key lesbian family issues emerging from my data. These results resonated with many audience members, who shared personal stories relating to the findings and analysis. In addition, many people expressed an interest in reading the book (now a manuscript in preparation), confirming to me the importance of making this work available in Chinese.

Hosting the symposium during ILGA-Asia opened up a regional conversation that was particularly generative. Participants shared about their work in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Singapore. Many of the questions and comments drew comparisons among diverse Asian contexts. Opportunities for collaboration also emerged. For example, a filmmaker connected with an NGO addressing similar family issues; I received an invitation to visit an organization in southern China and to consider conducting comparative fieldwork there. The presence of practitioners added another meaningful dimension to the workshop, as therapists shared about ways in which the topics discussed related to work with clients in their respective countries.

Image courtesy Amy Brainer

Largely through the generous spirit of my hosts and participants alike, the grant activities met my larger goal of nurturing collaborative relationships not only across geographic regions, but also across the borders that often separate research from activism. I am excited about the new networks that emerged from this symposium. I also appreciate this opportunity to pay respect to long time activists whose work paved the way for my own. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the ongoing support of the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, which co-sponsored and advertised my event. Hotline’s dedication and passionate activism around diverse queer issues is among my greatest sources of inspiration as a scholar and as a queer woman, and I value every opportunity to share with and learn from this group. I am deeply grateful to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for funding this research and the return trip.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Stacey Vanderhurst

 

Wenner-Gren awardee Stacey Vanderhurst with some of the presenters and participants at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, August 5, 2015.

Stacey Vanderhurst is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at The University of Kansas. In 2010 while a doctoral student at Brown University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Victimizing Migration: Human Trafficking Prevention and Migration Management in Nigeria,’ supervised by Dr. Daniel Jordan Smith. In 2015 she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Wanting to Be Trafficked?: A Workshop on Vulnerability in Nigeria,’ 2015, Nigeria.

On Wednesday August 5, Engaged Anthropology Grant awardee Stacey Vanderhurst hosted a full day workshop on human trafficking at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs in Lagos, Nigeria. The workshop featured academic presentations by several local scholars in addition to a presentation of the grantee’s own research, and it was attended by over 30 participants representing a range of government, academic, and non-profit sectors across the region.

Wenner Gren awardee Stacey Vanderhurst, assistant professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas, offers a presentation of her dissertation research.

Wenner Gren awardee Stacey Vanderhurst, assistant professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas, offers a presentation of her dissertation research.

Vanderhurst’s original Wenner-Gren sponsored research demonstrates how local and international stakeholders overwhelmingly conflate human trafficking and migrant sex work in Nigeria and how, on the basis of this conflation, the Nigerian government routinely stops young migrant women from leaving the country. This workshop was therefore designed to examine how Nigerian women understand human trafficking, sex work, and high risk migration, and how those ideas can conflict with the local, national, and global intervention programs designed to help them.

Scholars and activists have documented similar contortions of anti-trafficking policy around the world. But while research on human trafficking has boomed in Nigeria, these critiques have been marginalized in the public discourse, in policy writing, and in academic publications. The goals of the workshop were threefold:

(1)  To deepen understanding of human trafficking politics, especially from a migrants’ rights perspective

(2)  To improve policy and programming related to human trafficking interventions

(3)  To develop future collaborative research and publication opportunities

Prof. Ogaba Oche (left), Director of Research for the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and MC for the workshop, introduces Prof. Franca Attoh (right), professor of sociology at the University of Lagos and panel chair.

Prof. Franca Attoh of the University of Lagos chaired the session, drawing upon over ten years of research on these topics, including regular collaboration with the federal anti-trafficking agency NAPTIP. Prof. Clementina Osezua of Osun State University delivered a presentation on the history of trafficking discourses in Nigeria, and Prof. Oluwakemi Adesina of Obafemi Awolowo University discussed the changing gender roles and opportunities for women in the high-trafficking area of Benin City. Prof. Vanderhurst completed the session with a presentation of her research, tracing these social and historical trends into Nigeria’s modern anti-trafficking policies.

The NIIA rotunda space promoted open debate throughout the day, balancing time dedicated to formal presentations with roundtable discussion amongst all participants. They included a delegation from the Lagos Zonal Headquarters of the Nigerian federal anti-trafficking agency NAPTIP, who hosted the grantee’s original dissertation research.

Delegation from the Lagos Zonal Headquarters of Nigeria’s federal anti-trafficking agency NAPTIP (National Agency for the Prohibition in Trafficking in Persons), including Zonal Commander Mr. Joseph Famakin (right).

The Zonal Commander, Mr. Joseph Famakin, was an especially active interlocutor, regularly engaging critiques offered by presenters and audience members alike. Two representatives from the United States Consulate responsible for compiling national data in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report made significant contributions to the discussion as well. Other participants included members of the anti-trafficking NGO network NACTAL and various research fellows from the NIIA.

Conversation was lively, productive, and direct. The presentations and discussant comments steadily challenged assumptions about women’s victimhood that often circulate in this community of experts. As Prof. Attoh provocatively claimed, “there are no victims in Benin.” Reactions to these presentations quickly revealed the wide range of understandings of human trafficking itself, from a sense of moral crisis around women’s prostitution to outrage at the plight of Nigerian migrants worldwide.

Representatives from the US State Department challenging participants’ use of human trafficking to describe voluntary migrant sex work, a growing debate in Nigeria.

Challenges in aligning these different approaches to trafficking affirmed the urgency of the workshop objectives and pressed upon participants to advance these conversations further in both academic and policy forums.The workshop thereby concluded with a separate meeting for those interested in contributing to collaborative publication project, drawing out these differences. It was suggested that such an outlet for critical perspectives on human trafficking interventions is lacking not only in Nigeria but across the continent. Edited volumes based on other world regions have made significant contributions to the anti-trafficking work, but participants expressed a need to explore their implication in African contexts. Plans for a future meeting were discussed, and participants look forward to carrying on the exchange.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jacob Sauer

Poster created for presentation in Santiago

While a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University, Jacob Sauer received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2008 to aid research on ‘The Creation of Araucanian Anti-Colonial Identity During the Contact Period, AD 1552-1602,’ supervised by Dr. Thomas Dalton Dillehay. In 2013, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Presenting the Archaeological Past to Mapuche Communities and the Public in South-Central Chile,’ 2014, Chile.

It was fortuitous that my presentations in Chile to fulfill the Engaged Anthropology Grant took longer than I expected to carry out (I blame my daughter being born), as it happened to coincide with the month celebrating the country’s cultural patrimony. My Wenner-Gren funded research was carried out in the area of Pucón-Villarrica in southern Chile, along the western flanks of the Andes Mountains. I excavated a site known as Santa Sylvia, which had four different occupations, dating to AD 900, 1100, 1585, and 1850. The 1585 occupation included a Spanish “fortified house” that had been previously excavated by Chilean archaeologist Américo Gordon, who focused on the Spanish occupation of the site. My aim was to examine any previous occupations of the area by the Mapuche culture, to see what sort of changes came about in that culture before, during, and after the Spanish arrival.

The Mapuche are Chile’s largest Native American culture with a population of nearly 2 million living primarily in the capital city of Santiago and in an area traditionally known as the Araucanía between the Bio Bio and Bueno Rivers, as well as on the other side of the Andes in the Argentinian Pampa and Patagonia. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Mapuche lived as sedentary agro-pastoralists, growing maize, potatoes, peppers, and other domestic plants and raising llamas. Later, they adopted the horse and started growing wheat and barley while continuing to live in small communities based on close family relationships that remain to the present. Between 1550 and 1604 the Mapuche fought the Spanish in what is colloquially termed the “War of Arauco,” in which the Mapuche were victorious and maintained control over their traditional territory. Not until the late 19th century were the Mapuche placed on reservations by the Chilean military, a longer span of cultural independence than any other indigenous group in the Americas.

Presenting at the Pontificia Uniersidad Catolica de Chile

I argued in my dissertation and subsequent book The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Araucanian Resilience that how the analysis and presentation of Mapuche-Spanish interactions from 1536 to 1820 and Mapuche-Chilean interactions since 1820 has done a disservice to the archaeological and ethnographic data and has adversely affected the Mapuche today. Primarily, historical research has argued that the modern-day Mapuche exist as a result of Spanish arrival and virtually ignores any pre-1536 information. This has led to the Mapuche losing land rights and standing before the Chilean state, further codified in Chilean law drafted in 1990. My research, and that of other colleagues, demonstrates that the Mapuche have a long and complex history that predates Spanish arrival by centuries, and that despite Spanish efforts the Mapuche were never colonized and managed to maintain strong cultural continuity, limiting the changes to their traditional culture while avoiding the hybridization and syncretism that affected many other Native American societies.

My first presentation on this research was to the Anthropology Department of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, a growing department with several colleagues who research the modern Mapuche. The presentation had been advertised several weeks prior, with some students coming from as far away as Concepción to listen. About 40 people total came, and the presentation was relatively well-received, though some colleagues took issue with my arguments during the question and answer period, but we are continuing to discuss the points I made.

Two students from the Universidad de Concepción traveled to Santiago to hear my presentation, and afterwards I mentioned I would be in Concepción later in the week. They asked if I would be willing to give a presentation to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, which fortunately I was able to do. The turnout was also very good, made particularly welcome by a number of Mapuche students in the audience who were intrigued by my presentation. We had a good discussion afterwards, which will hopefully lead to student collaborations in the very near future.

Poster for the presentations at the Museo Regional de la Araucania in Temuco

I then travelled to the area of my research, Pucón-Villarrica, to present at the satellite campus of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Villarrica. Fortunately the volcano did not erupt while I was there. I had hoped to be able to meet with several of the Mapuche communities in the area, but the timing did not work out due to some political unrest, but plans are already in the works to meet and present later in the year. In Villarrica, my presentation was attended by students from a nearby High School, the majority of whom are Mapuche. They asked numerous thought-provoking questions (“Wait, you can make a living as an archaeologist?”) and made me rethink some of my arguments related to the development of the Mapuche today.

The final presentation came at the Museo Regional de la Araucanía in Temuco, where the materials from Santa Sylvia are currently housed. I started a series of presentations on the topic of “Dialogues about Mapuche Identity and Resistance” as the last in a series of events celebrating Chile’s cultural patrimony. I presented alongside several Chilean luminaries, including National History Award winner Dr. Jorge Pinto Rodriguez, which was somewhat intimidating. It was well-attended, mostly by members of the public. Several audience members liked the archaeological side of things, which they said is rarely presented to the public in this manner, and also that I emphasized the Mapuche perspective over the Spanish which is often how things are presented in their history books and the media.

Presenting in Temuco

In all, it was an excellent trip and a marvelous experience and served to highlight the need for interdisciplinary approaches for investigating Mapuche culture. The histories as written often lack the complementary (and critical) anthropological information that can deepen our understanding of the long-term development of cultures worldwide, and how those cultures continue to develop today. Many of my Chilean colleagues were impressed that the Wenner-Gren foundation offers the Engaged Anthropology Grant program, and more so that Wenner-Gren funds the research of investigators living outside the United States. Hopefully there will soon be an increase in the number of applications from Chile! Many thanks to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for generously supporting this research.

 

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Chelsey Kivland

Image courtesy Chelsey Kivland

 Chelsey Kivland is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. In 2008, while a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Of Bands and Soldiers: Performance, Sovereignty, and Violence in Contemporary Haiti,’ supervised by Dr. Stephan Palmie. In 2014, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Slam Tambou: Building a Peace Movement through Poetry and Performance,’ 2015, Haiti.

 

The Haitian term angaje issues a stronger meaning than the English engaged. Its referent moves beyond becoming involved or participating to suggest moral judgment and political commitment—in short, taking a stance. To meet the Haitian standard for engaged anthropology, then, is to embrace what Nancy Scheper-­‐Hughes calls “militant anthropology.” This entails a turn away from politically disinterested and socially distanced research. A militant ethnographer would make herself “available not just as friends or as ‘patrons’ in the old colonialist sense but as comrades (with all the demands and responsibilities that this word implies) to the people who are the subjects of our writings, whose lives and miseries provide us with a livelihood.” A first step in this process is to share your findings with your collaborators in the field. A second, more difficult step is to be open to the changes in analysis that this sharing might entail. And a third, even more challenging step is to join in the struggle to usurp the detrimental power dynamics revealed in the analysis.

It was toward this end that I returned this past summer to Port-­‐au-­‐Prince to diskite (discuss)—to share, debate, and revise—the findings of my dissertation research, “We Make the State”: Performance, Politick, and Respect in Urban Haiti. Much of my research has explored the urban youth groups—known locally as baz—that act as de facto political chiefs of their urban blocks. The baz are often dismissed as “gangs” in policy and media literature in Haiti and abroad. Yet, as I argue, they are better understood as an emergent form of democratic politics that seeks to provide political representation and control over public resources for an area that has been both neglected by state institutions and targeted by politicians and aid workers alike as the ticket to political success. Despite their noble aspirations, however, bazes become involved in competitions over state and NGO resources, which incite rivalries between them and often lead to violent conflict. A main contribution of my research has been to reveal how this violence is related to the contradictions of democracy—namely, how democratization promised a more egalitarian society and inclusion in the state but has instead lead to greater inequality and the evisceration of the public sector. While my collaborators in Bel Air might not phrase it in these terms, they often identified the same dynamics in their discussions about disrespect. In Haiti, the notion of “respect” (respè) is the social value used to gauge proper human relations and democratic society. My commitment to articulating my analysis through the idioms and sentiments used by informants is the goal of my research, and it formed the cornerstone of my engaged anthropology grant project.

Image courtesy Chelsey Kivland

I organized a two-­‐part presentation of my research at a newly opened cultural center in Bel Air. The first part of the series was a lecture in which I revealed my novel finding that acts of baz aggression are tied to the multifaceted ways in which disrespect is made manifest in the lives of the urban poor, as well as how peace can be envisioned as a world imbued with respect. In particular, I offered four key forms of disrespect that precipitate baz violence: disparaging authority, injuring another, leveling threats, and accumulating wealth in a dishonest or selfish manner. I then illustrated how all of these precipitants reflect failure to uphold the principle of respect, which encompasses the right to be recognized as a consequential subject, to lead a dignified life, to speak and be heard, and to live in an egalitarian society. The lecture unfolded amid long awaited parliamentary elections, which resulted in clashes between residents, politicians, and poll workers at voting offices throughout the neighborhood. Consequently, much of the conversation revolved around  the interconnections between politics and violence, and the perpetual frustrations baz face when they are treated as pawns in the fight for state power. In fact, a novel point raised during the conversations was that being treated with disrespect over and over again can lead to powerful feelings of frustrations that motivate aggressive actions against those deemed responsible, whether political or personal rivals. Overall, participants reiterated their need and desire for less politicking and more governance, or in other words, a robust and responsible state that provides basic services and a degree of opportunity to the citizenry. This was a response I have grown accustomed to hearing, but it was particularly powerful in the context of chaotic elections, proclaiming enduring aspirations for a truly democratic future.

The second part of the series featured a multimedia presentation of residents’ ideas about how to build a more peaceful society. It centered on showing a film I directed with Haitian filmmaker Moïse Pierre about the annual fête patronale Festival of Our lady of Perpetual Help. The film demonstrated how despite a history of political conflict and interpersonal strife all factions of the neighborhood come together to celebrate the “Mother of Bel Air.” Those who represented these different sectors in the film were in the audience, including religious leaders from different faiths, area leaders of different baz, and notables working in the education, development, and political sectors. Another seventy-­‐five residents joined as well, forming a diverse public of men and women, children and adults, employed and unemployed, politicians and citizens. The film showing was accompanied by a poetry slam that featured four youth poets rhyming about the challenges of building peace and security in a highly unequal world. As well, two local rara groups, the name for Haiti’s politicized street bands, entertained the audience, before, during, and after the slam. The rara groups, one comprising all women and the other all men, provided an electric beat, bringing the audience to its feet and inciting people of different faiths, ages, and political persuasions to commune together in celebration.

The film was well received, with audiences commenting on how it offered another image of the neighborhood from commonplace portrayals of violence and dysfunction. Still, others appreciated how it put the problems that do exist in context so that the actions of residents, and especially baz leaders, are seen as tied to daily struggles of poverty, frustration, and disrespect. The conversations started at the showing continued well after the event. When I finally returned to the hilltop shack where I have made a second home, I found a moving scene. My longtime host had borrowed the baz’s collective television set and was showing the film on it for area children and others who missed the earlier showing. It ran on an endless loop far into the night, with new residents joining at each showing and others watching it over and over again. Amid the celebration, I visited a local “notable” who figured largely in the film. A longtime resident, neighborhood leader, and former teacher, whom residents affectionately address as Mèt, he complimented me on the event, and offered some criticism. The event, he said, would have benefited from more discussion of the historical connection between art and politics in the zone. The point was well taken.

But he then told me that he was very pleased, mainly because I had come to understand something fundamental to Bel Air. As he put it, “Bel Air is place few people understand. But that if you spend time here, with people in the street, you can begin to see that it is not what people think. Li pa yon zòn bandi se yon zòn rabel. (It is not a zone of bandits but a zone of rebels.) That’s a big difference!”

This pithy comment reminded me again of how a truly angaje anthropology is to present your research to your interlocutors in formats that are accessible so as to foster rigorous, opinion-­‐changing debate.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Michaela Howells

Pago Pago, the territorial capital of American Samoa.

Michaela Howells is Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. While a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Howells received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The Impact of Psychosocial Stress on Gestation Length and Pregnancy Outcomes in American Samoa,’ supervised by Dr. Darna Dufour. In 2015, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Promoting Dialog Between Health Care Providers and Pregnant Women on American Samoa’.

American Samoa is the southernmost territory of the United States. Found under the Southern Cross, American Samoa straddles the reality between a globalized community and one embedded in traditional ideals and values. In 2011 I moved to American Samoa’s big island, Tutuila, to study the effects of prenatal psychosocial stress on pregnancy outcomes of Samoan women. Thanks to the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation I was able to stay for nearly two years and found a relationship between the stressors experienced by low status women and their infant’s low birth weight. This project informs my ongoing research and was made possible by the committed staff of the American Samoan Department of Health (DOH) and LBJ Tropical Medical Center (LBJ) – the island’s only hospital.

Since leaving the island in 2013, I have been awarded my PhD and became an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Although I have spent the majority of the last three years writing, presenting, and teaching about Samoa, I also suffered the disconnect so frequently experienced by professionals leaving their field site. I missed the women I worked with, and the simultaneously wonderful and infuriating island that I called home. Wenner Gren’s Engaged Anthropologist Grant gave me the opportunity to return to American Samoa in order to share my results and skills with the health care community. Inadvertently it also renewed my excitement for field work and strengthened my relationships with my American Samoan colleagues.

Howells and retired NFL player Troy Polamalu

Originally, I had planned to host prenatal care workshops and training programs across the island. However, a week before my arrival, a medical team funded by retired Pittsburgh Steelers player Troy Polamalu had held extensive medical clinics throughout the community. Troy’s program, entitled Fa’asamoa, held free clinics that extended care to many of the island’s hard to reach residents. At the same time, it overextended many of the health care staff and disrupted normal clinic hours. Upon arrival, it was made clear to me that another mode of outreach would be more useful and appreciated.

When I initially worked with the women’s health community of American Samoa, a frequent point of concern was the lack of bilingual women’s health care educational materials. The available education materials were written in English and frequently featured pa’palagis (white people), a minority on island. Taken together, the health care professionals felt that these posters did not reflect Samoan culture and thus missed an important opportunity to educate women. As a result, I launched a collaborative project between the women’s health professionals at the DOH, LBJ, and Women Infant Child (WIC). We decided to develop five educational posters that focused on women’s reproductive health. These posters were printed and disseminated to women’s health care clinics across the island.

Although the mode at which I chose to achieve my goals changed, the core goal of supporting educational outreach regarding women’s health in American Samoa had not. Reframed, I met the four objectives of my Engaged Anthropologist Grant:

Objective 1: Create an additional tier of education regarding women’s health. The medical professionals at DOH, LBJ, and WIC do an outstanding job of educating women on island. The posters we developed work in conjunction with the one on one education that health care professionals are sharing with women during their appointments. These posters simultaneously act to both introduce and reinforce this important information in the target population. I was also invited on a popular morning radio talk show where I discussed my dissertation work, my current project and answered questions about women’s health issues. Finally, our posters were featured in the widely read Department of Health Newsletter.

Howells, center, with Samoan health care professionals

Objective 2: Create culturally relevant, long lasting health care material in conjunction with the DOH, LBJ, WIC women’s health care staff. This work was done in collaboration with Samoan Doctors, Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, Nursing Assistants and Nurse Educators. Recognizing that funds and time are equally limited for the women’s health community, it was suggested that I brainstorm with women’s health care professionals at a prearranged Hanson’s disease (Leprosy) workshop. This three day workshop allowed me to further integrate into health care community while having a captive audience for a brainstorming meeting over lunch. On the first day of this workshop I sat with some of the more seasoned nurses and outlined the five poster themes and written materials within those posters. These emerging poster themes included prenatal care, high risk pregnancy, nutrition during pregnancy, available birth control options, and breast feeding. I returned the next day with these notes typed up and spent lunch reviewing these themes with a larger portion of the women’s health care community.

By the end of the Hanson’s disease workshop we had developed the necessary text to create our posters. Over the following three weeks, I shaped the posters with near constant feedback from the women’s health care community. Under the direction of the DOH’s Director of Nursing Margaret Sesepasara, I was able to collaborate with a variety of specialists. For example, our birth control poster was finessed by the Director of Family Planning at LBJ. By working together we were able to create Title 9 approved educational materials that helped them reach compliance in health education.

A poster on breast feeding produced as part of the project

With material support (a high quality camera) from the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office (HPO), and the support of the DOH nursing staff I took photos of pregnant Samoan women, Samoan babies, health care professionals, and clinics. Written permission was garnered before I took the photos. I visited the local farmer’s market and photographed healthy Samoan foods (local fish, vegetables), and with a local store I constructed a photograph of less healthy food choices (corn beef, chips, etc). In addition I chose culturally appropriate colors to illustrate these posters.

Objective 3: Print posters and share them with the four women’s health clinics (DOH and LBJ) and WIC. The cost of printing and laminating these large, colorful posters was more than I had originally budgeted. However, I was able to gain sponsorship from a local sign company, All Star Signs, to offset the costs. As a result, I was able to disperse these posters to the appropriate clinics around the island.

An American Samoan mother and baby

Objective 4: Physically disseminate copies of my original Wenner Gren funded dissertation. Although I had shared components of this research before, I sent packages of materials to leaders at the DOH and LBJ prior to arriving on island. These included copies of my dissertation, abstracts from papers I had given (many co-authored with Samoan colleagues), and manuscripts for upcoming articles.

The posters look beautiful, and were met with great support. However, there was an intangible benefit that came from returning on an Engaged Anthropologist Grant. By returning as a fully vested professional anthropologist with time and money to invest directly into the medical community, I was able to strengthen many of the lines of communication I developed during my original tenure on island. It was empowering to go back to my island home with something to give rather than take and am excited to continue working in American Samoa.

Giving Them Their Genetic History: Returning the Results of Molecular Anthropological Studies to Southern Africa

A Final Report from Engaged Anthropology Grant recipient Brigitte Pakendorf, Dynamique du Langage, CNRS and Université Lyon 2, awarded in March 2015.

On the road in Botswana.

I had received a Post-PhD grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2012 to cover part of the costs involved in analysing Y-chromosomal sequence variation among populations of southern Africa, particularly among those who speak so-called “Khoisan” languages. Under the label “Khoisan” I subsume the indigenous languages of southern Africa that are characterized by a heavy use of click consonants and that do not belong to the Bantu family of languages. These Y-chromosome analyses were part of a larger project on the genetic history of the Khoisan-speaking peoples. Since this project is nearly completed, I decided to return to Botswana and Namibia to explain the results to the people whose genetic history we had studied. I undertook this return trip together with my close collaborator, Mark Stoneking from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who had accompanied me to Namibia in 2011 to collect samples and who has been deeply involved in the genetic analyses. Our plan was to visit as many of the communities that had participated in the study as possible to explain to them in person what we had found out about their history.

It should be noted that the original field trips to collect saliva samples in Botswana and Namibia had taken six and seven weeks, respectively, whereas we now had only six and a half weeks at our disposal for the entire trip. Therefore, we were not able to visit all the communities in person, but I sent written reports to those that we could not reach for lack of time. For the communities settled in Botswana, these written reports were translated into Tswana, the lingua franca of Botswana, while for the communities settled in Namibia they were translated into Afrikaans, still widely used in that country; we sent both the English original and the translated version of each report. In these reports – both the written and the oral that formed the basis of our community meetings – I tried to provide not only information concerning the prehistory of the Khoisan-speaking peoples and their Bantu-speaking neighbours in general, but also specific results concerning the genetic history of each individual ethnolinguistic group.

Spending a night in a traditional court in a remote village, Botswana.

We travelled from Johannesburg through Botswana and Namibia to Windhoek, starting on July 7th and arriving on August 17th, 2015 and covering approximately 10,000 km in total in a Landrover driven solely by Mark, which we were able to rent thanks to the grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The other expenses incurred during this trip were covered by a separate grant awarded by the Laboratory of Excellence “ASLAN” of Lyon.

In order to be as efficient as possible, we had set up a very tight itinerary and I had sent letters ahead of time to all of the communities for whom I had addresses, informing them of the time and date we proposed to come; we further arranged meetings by phone on the ground where possible. Unfortunately, not all of our letters arrived at their destination, so that there were several communities who were unaware of our plans until we arrived. In several of these it was therefore impossible to organize a community meeting to explain our results. Nevertheless, of the nearly 40 communities that we visited during our trip, we were able to explain our findings in personal meetings to 28.

Community meeting with Shua in Nata, Botswana, with Blesswell Kure translating.

In order to make the rather complex material more accessible to people who often have only a relatively low level of education, we had brought some illustrations, with the help of which I tried to explain how we can study the (genetic) history of an ethnolinguistic group using saliva samples as well as what we found. In Botswana, my explanation was translated into Tswana by our assistant Blesswell Kure, with a further translation into the local language by a member of the community where needed. In Namibia I conducted the meetings mostly in Afrikaans, which is often understood better than English; again, where needed, a community member would translate what I said into the local language. The size of our audiences in the villages ranged from 10 to approximately 70, with on average 30-40 people listening. Where we were unable to explain our results in person, we left written reports in the hopes that in this way the information concerning our results would spread via the literate community members. We furthermore left these written results after each community meeting, and will be sending more of these to communities and individuals who had requested this.

Community meeting with Haiǁom in Mangetti West, Namibia, with traditional leader chief Geelbooi translating.

In addition to explaining our findings to the communities who had participated in our study, we also gave lectures in Johannesburg, Gaborone, and Windhoek. These targeted different audiences: geneticists at the Sydney Brenner Institute in Johannesburg, interested academics from various fields at the University of Botswana in Gaborone and the University of Namibia in Windhoek, and the general public at the Namibia Scientific Society (also in Windhoek). We estimate that in total we shared our results directly with approximately 1,000 people. Furthermore, we gave a television interview in Gaborone and a radio interview in Windhoek.

While the response among the communities was generally very positive, there were also some who made it very clear that knowing about their genetic history – which often entails events that took place thousands of years ago – is entirely irrelevant to their daily struggle for a decent living and basic political rights, and who would have preferred material support over abstract knowledge. Nevertheless, in general the people we met were very appreciative of our efforts to share the findings from our study with them, and most of them were very interested in our results. Thus, in several cases people started avidly reading the written reports that we had prepared as soon as we distributed them after each meeting, and as I said above, many have requested their own personal copy. This underlines the importance of returning the results of scientific studies to the people involved, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation is to be highly commended for taking the initiative with their “Engaged Anthropology” funding programme.

 

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.