#3 Migrant Justice

“Make America Great Again” has become one of the most renowned slogans of this past year as Presidential Candidate Donald Trump uses it to promise us a land free of those who poison it. With a large group of supporters and the money to be influential, Donald Trump has used his power to characterize Mexicans as “criminals, rapists, and killers”. While these false accusations can be dispelled with facts, I decided to take to the streets and interview people about their views on Mexicans in the US.

The first person I asked was Nora, a sophomore at Middlebury Union Middle School. When I asked what her general thoughts about the Mexican people are she told me, “I honestly don’t have an opinion on Mexicans in comparison to any other person. I don’t remember any interactions I had with Mexicans that would allow me to formulate a generalization about them.” As I heard this, I realized that Nora had a good point. The majority of Vermonters wouldn’t have a personal experience with a Mexican. In fact, another interviewee (who prefers to remain unnamed) said, “I don’t think anything of them besides the fact that they are Mexican and I like rice.” As a result of Vermont being located over 2,000 miles away from the border, the only things we believe about the Mexican people are the rumors and stereotypes we hear every day.

The next person I interviewed was my mother, Jessica Holmes, who holds the title Honorary Consul to Mexico. This means that she is in charge of helping to provide assistance and protection to the Mexicans living in Vermont while serving as a cultural liaison between Mexico and the United States. I asked my mother the same and her response was quite different from my other interviews. “Mexicans are kind and generous people, rich in history and culture. I think the media sometimes portrays Mexico as a country plagued by violence, crime, and poverty but there are several cities in the United States that are far more dangerous than Mexico. In Vermont, Mexican migrant workers are the backbone of our dairy industry but because of their undocumented status, they often live in the shadows. This is unfortunate because these are people that can bring more diversity and a cultural richness to Vermont.” As I heard this I found myself agreeing with everything she said. I myself lived in Mexico City last year and was able to discover firsthand what it meant to be Mexican while appreciating a new sense of family and kindness that I had never experienced before.

As I look back on this week, I realize that only a select few are lucky enough to know the Mexican culture and how Mexicans are as a people. I believe this is a strong base to start my project on as I am fortunate enough to have friends and family who are Mexican and I believe that their culture is one that everyone deserves to experience.

 

Featured Image Posted on Flikr by iivangm
Nora. “Opinions on Mexicans.” Personal interview. 22 Sept. 2016.
Jessica Holmes. “Opinions on Mexicans.” Personal interview. 24 Sept. 2016.
Justin Holmes

10 Responses to “#3 Migrant Justice

  • Hi Justin!
    I’m Clara. I’m really interested in your topic, and it seems like your and your family’s connections to Mexico and Mexican people gives you a great background from which to draw. I liked that you kept these conversations and the general tone of this open-ended; it’s clear that you’re trying to gauge general public opinion as a way to better understand the issue. I’m interested by the idea that undocumented Mexican immigrants “live in the shadows”…clearly they live and work here, but it seems as though you’re saying they don’t really interact with the Vermont communities out of (rational) fear. Of course there’s a danger associated, but it makes me wonder whether part of the solution to many people’s using “rumors and stereotypes” as the basis for generalizations is for them to meet and get to know Mexican people as individuals rather than caricatures.

    • Clara,

      Thanks for sharing your reflections with me! I hope that my experiences regarding Mexico will help me with this project and I know my interest in this subject will help me to learn more about this issue. Yes, this first week I tried to keep the topic generally open in order to learn about people’s true opinions towards the Mexican population. I decided that if I were to ask people very specific questions my interviewees wouldn’t be able to respond, especially if they had no prior encounter with Mexicans (as seen in my quotes from the interviews). I think it would be interesting to compare our studies as I can already notice a strong association between the two issues.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment!
      Justin

  • Hey Justin,
    I’m Elsa and I am extremely interested in your topic. As you know, mine relates to yours and I find it interesting to look at this issue of stereotypes and distance between Mexicans and Vermonters and then relate it to our industry (mostly dairy). I noticed that you sort of tied it in there and I think it would be intriguing to see what people who worked with Mexicans on farms thought of them compared to your everyday Vermonter who might not have any contact with them. This may apply later when we really look into depth on our topics, but it’s something to keep in mind. You definitely have great resources within your family, which will be super helpful throughout the course.

    • Hi Elsa,

      I very much enjoyed learning about yours and I also noticed the correlation between our two subjects. I definitely would like to learn more about people’s opinions on Mexicans and deepen my pool of opinions from which I am drawing my conclusions. I think before any solution is decided upon or the exact problem is discovered, we must learn more about other thoughts on migrant workers and gather different outlooks on why the migrant workers don’t integrate into the community. I’m excited about the potential of our topics!

      Justin

  • Hi Justin,

    I really appreciate the way you sought input from people around you about your topic, and I appreciate your discretion in not naming some individuals with whom you talked.

    As you explore your topic in more depth, I would be interested to see what Mexican migrant workers say about the role of language in their experiences. I say this for a couple of reasons: 1) I lived in Brazil most of my childhood and when I returned to the US for college and grad school, I began studying the effects of migration and repatriation (returning home). Language (the language of the home, the heritage language, the mixture of language in every day speech) played a role in people’s identities and experiences. 2) I’m reminded of a famous ethnographic study by Shirley Brice Heath (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirley_Brice_Heath) called Ways with Words: Language, Life, And Work In Communities And Classrooms. It’s a different topic but Heath was instrumental in helping ethnographers to consider the role of language in lived experiences.

    Your experiences of having lived in Mexico are an asset for your project. Keep reflecting on those experiences and using them to help you shape the ways you approach the project and the questions you ask.

    I’m excited to keep following along in this project.

    Amy

    • Hi Amy,

      That’s a very interesting topic you bring up. I would definitely have to look more into the subject, but I do know that language can present itself as quite a challenge for migrant workers in Vermont. Often workers will find themselves not being able to speak up for themselves and as a result, they have no way to communicate their point of view. One story I heard about that recently took place in Vermont was a case where a police officer did a routine traffic stop to discover a dark-skinned gentleman who wasn’t able to speak English sitting in the passenger seat. This eventually resulted in the driver (a UVM student) granted permission to leave while the latino man had to stay with the officer until the U.S. Border Patrol arrived at the scene. While I don’t know all of the details about this story quite yet, I strongly believe that if no language barrier had presented itself the Mexican farm worker would have been allowed to leave the site as well. Also, farms tend to have their own local “leaders” who have a better understanding of the language and are able to communicate well with local Vermonters. All of this being said, I would definitely love to delve further into this subject as I think it has a quintessential effect on the quality of living here in the United States.

      Thank you for your useful insight!
      Justin

  • Hi Jus!

    As I read this post, it dawned on me that even though I live in a Vermont town with some dairy farms (and near other towns with even more), the only reason I know that there are Mexican workers here in Vermont is because I have heard that there were. One would think that I would have somehow been more directly aware in my everyday life.

    Which got me to thinking that your research might show me something that heretofore has been entirely theoretical before. Right away, I’m interested. If I’m interested, others might also be. It’s almost as if I’m living in a place where there is a parallel society going on.

    I like what your mother said about the perceptions Vermonters have of just what is going on in Mexico. My parents, partner, and I travelled to Mexico several times, and before each time we went, I cannot tell you how many people tried to warn us off going. In their minds Mexico was a monolithically violent and drug-addled country that we were crazy to hazard. (And The Donald sure hasn’t helped with this misimpression.) It reminded me of when I was in China, and a young man said to me that it must be hard to drive to work at dangerously high speeds while people were shooting guns at my car, trying to kill me.

    • That’s such an interesting comment, Brad! What accounts for the invisibility of Mexican migrant workers in Vermont, I wonder? Reminds me of a story I heard on NPR about Ramiro Gomez, who paints people who are typically not visible in paintings (and perhaps in our minds): “Ramiro Gomez paints modernist houses in Beverly Hills, perfectly appointed kitchens and exclusive shops on Melrose Avenue. His pictures have nothing, and everything, to do with his background. Gomez’s mother is a janitor, and his father works the graveyard shift driving a truck. Workers like his Mexican immigrant parents show up in his paintings — part of the invisible landscape of luxury LA.” http://www.npr.org/2016/04/11/473384990/gardens-dont-tend-themselves-portraits-of-the-people-behind-las-luxury (check out the article and the art—it’s good stuff!)

    • Brad,

      As you mention that you weren’t aware of the Mexican population here in Vermont until hearing about it rather than experiencing it first-hand, I can’t help but think that this needs to be the basis for change. I strongly believe that if their presence was better known in Vermont, our culture would change experience a detrimental change. Another thought that comes to my mind is that because of the media’s outlook on Mexico and their people, Vermonters are afraid of having this change take place in their community. This hurdle is a very tough one to get over because in very few places around the United States are migrant workers accepted into the community. We often view them as beings of a much lower social class and don’t recognize their importance in our society. As soon as we are able to get past this first problem and show Vermonters that migrants should be treated equally like the rest of the population is, great changes will come. I believe that our communities will experience a very beneficial change that will leave our state much more rich in culture and diversity.

      I look forward to hearing your opinions as I dive deeper into my project!
      Justin

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