Visualizing Immigrant Youth in Phoenix

Kristin Koptiuch

Arizona State University-West

Though largely unrecognized by official planning instruments and unacknowledged by the public in anti-immigrant Arizona, immigrants are transforming metropolitan Phoenix. Visualizing Immigrant Phoenix, a student-faculty research collaborative I direct at Arizona State University, explores these transformations by engaging its audience through vibrant visualization of immigrants’ imprint upon the Phoenix urban environment. This project occurs at a time when immigrants are increasingly demonized, criminalized, and denied due process. Our work responds by according due importance to migrants’ creative and deliberate impacts on everyday urbanism in transnationalizing cities.

In an era of unprecedented human mobilities, Phoenix diversity is not unexpected for a major American city. Current US Census data shows 20% of city residents are foreign born, 65% coming from Mexico, and 41% of the city population is Latinx. Stymied by reigning anti-immigrant sentiment, city residents and civic leaders are reluctant to acknowledge—let alone cultivate—creative ways that migrants already influence the city as informal, unintentional urban planners-from-below. Our projects track the ways in which immigrants have revived stagnant neighborhood economies, brought magical-realist redesign to the cityscape, added colorful flair to the city’s subdued design palette, infused global youth practices, and transnationalized Phoenix urbanism with local outcroppings of global religions, cuisines, cultures.

Immigrant and diaspora youth in particular play a critical role in bringing this realization into view. Our youthful team of undergraduate researchers brought fresh perspectives from their own migrant and diaspora communities. The inclusion of a Somali refugee, a first-generation Assyrian-Iraqi, and a Mexican DACA recipient this past spring extended the project’s reach and depth of insight. Although our gaze is not exclusively directed at youth, young migrants frequently do become central to our inquiry as team members engage their own networks to pursue their research.

Origins of the Project

Billboard in central Phoenix neighborhood (2012), Kristin Koptiuch

Billboard in central Phoenix neighborhood (2012), Kristin Koptiuch

Visualizing Immigrant Phoenix is an extension of my long-term commitment to teaching, researching, and visualizing the impact of immigrants on metropolitan Phoenix, where I’ve lived for 25 years. Having taught courses on migration and worked with migrant advocacy organizations, I began to create ethnographic photo essays to defuse Arizonans’ hyper-sensitivity toward immigration, integrating emotion and affect with a resistant critical gaze (e.g. Cruzando Fronteras/Crossing Phoenix,” 2012). To integrate students into these initiatives, I successfully applied for modest funding through a unique student-faculty research program offered by ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, which provides student teams with a budget of $500 and modest student stipends or two academic credits.

Thus far we have completed some two dozen photo essays and curated photo sets, accompanied by short descriptive and analytical ethnographic narratives. Researchers submitted drafts of their essays and photos, and revised them in response to my editorial comments and suggestions into finished projects, showcased on our website. At once visually stimulating and thought-provoking, we sought to share them with “live” audiences in a manner that preserved the immersive, visually rich digital format of the website presentations. We’ve experimented by creating an exhibition of our urban visual ethnography project, anchored by enlarged photos that capture the project’s key themes (immigrant portraits, artifacts, events, neighborhoods, businesses, landscapes).

Exhibit at Arizona State University-West (2017), Kristin Koptiuch

Exhibit at Arizona State University-West (2017), Kristin Koptiuch

Presented first at the 2017 Society for Applied Anthropology conference in Santa Fe and then at our own West campus of Arizona State University, the exhibit also includes video shorts, sonic atmospherics, live website projection, a portfolio of printouts of individual projects, banners, promo materials, and QR codes that take viewers’ mobile phones straight to the website. To better engage our audience, we took seriously the truism that, welcome or not, “we are all immigrants.” Our interactive portrait booth (now featured on our website) drew an enthusiastic response from over 100 visitors who declared their solidarity as immigrants and their descendants.

Youth Circulations in Phoenix

Folkdance class, Assyrian Student Association of Arizona, Crystal Cespedes

Folkdance class, Assyrian Student Association of Arizona, Crystal Cespedes

Several of our stories track young migrants as they circulate through the city and beyond. For instance, many Iraqi refugees have resettled in metro Phoenix over the last 20 years, including Assyrian and Chaldean Christian minorities. Crystal Cespedes’ interview with a first-generation US-born Assyrian leader of the Assyrian Student Association of Arizona briefly unpacks the origins of Assyrian ethnics in Phoenix and highlights the importance accorded to education and cultural preservation by the student club at Arizona State University, through peer instruction of folk dances to traditional music.

Teaching modern Aramaic, Ileen Younan

Teaching modern Aramaic, Ileen Younan

The preservation of Assyrian language and history is also foregrounded in Ileen Younan’s piece on instruction in modern Aramaic by a young Iraqi-born teacher to first-generation children through their community church. The church also offers Aramaic education to older Assyrian youth like Younan herself, so they can learn to write and speak their parents’ native language.

Feast at weekly Iraqi family gathering, José Grijalva

Feast at weekly Iraqi family gathering, José Grijalva

José Grijalva’s visit to a weekly family gathering at the home of an Arab Iraqi classmate introduced him to Arab culture, language, and cuisine. Significantly, the lively family interactions and mountains of Middle Eastern food resonated with Grijalva’s experiences at his own Mexican American family’s cookouts in the Arizona border town where he grew up.

Phoenix is also home to post-colonial British diasporic communities whose youth perpetuate their parental legacy in the sport of cricket, an under-represented sport in what is otherwise a highly sports-conscious city. Hussein Mohamed’s short video introduces us to several immigrant and first-generation Pakistani team members of the Arizona Stallions Cricket Club. This is one of 18 Phoenix cricket teams comprised largely of immigrant youth hailing from cricket-playing nations like Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and South Africa. Interviews recount team members’ association of cricket with their families’ immigrant homeland roots.

Cricket match in Phoenix, Hussein Mohamed

Cricket match in Phoenix, Hussein Mohamed

DACAmented youth struggle for belonging and identity, Argenis Hurtado Moreno

DACAmented youth struggle for belonging and identity, Argenis Hurtado Moreno

As is well known, not all migrant youth have the luxury of open visibility. Argenis Hurtado Moreno invites us to hear the stories of two Mexican DACAmented youth, aka DREAMers, who struggle for belonging and identity in the America that enculturated them throughout their youth but stigmatizes them as young adults and legally excludes them from a pathway to citizenship. The two women interviewed express a palpable frustration and sense of injustice toward the nation that refuses to accept them as the exemplary made-Americans that they know they are.

Mexican pointy boot, José Grijalva

Mexican pointy boot, José Grijalva

While doing fieldwork at Mercado de los Cielos, a Mexican makeover of a defunct mall anchor department store, José Grijalva was entranced by an elongated-toe boot on display at a shop selling Mexican cowboy boots. In sleuthing out the meaning this cultural artifact, Grijalva discovered that the Mexican pointy boot links transnational youth circulations on both sides of the US/Mexico border. Dance crews don custom-made boots with points as long as seven feet, offset by color-coordinated skinny jeans and cowboy hats. They perform choreographed steps to a recent style of Mexican music called Tribal, mixing Aztec and African sounds over a cumbia baseline, the DJ tapping into multi-ethnic and autochthonous Mexican roots that may carry special appeal to migrants far from the homeland. These dance competitions are popular in Dallas, Texas, as many Mexican immigrants there come from the state of San Luis, where Tribal is popular. Clearly, the pointy boot is an element of Mexican subcultural style that has easily crossed the border.

The Power of Migrants and the Subversion of the Community[i]

Through the subtle subversion of depicting these everyday migrant crossings and contributions, Visualizing Immigrant Phoenix seeks to intervene in the public perception of migrants in Phoenix. Our stories of migrant youth depict them as resilient as they are vulnerable. Youth are the site of intensive parental investment for perpetuating immigrant cultures, languages, histories (Heidbrink 2014). Yet migrant and diaspora youth connect as fluidly with local practices as they import transnational styles and fads through music, fashion, dance, relationships. Thus, they complicate simplified notions of “preserving” cultural forms. They cross virtual transnational bridges that span the spaces of their daily lives, rendering a subversive ordinariness to crossing borders (Leurs 2015). Their American dreams are defiant, insisting upon the legitimization of all of their global identities (Dissard & Peng 2013).

Visualizing Immigrant Phoenix’ collaborative ethnographic photo essays offer a visually rich counter-narrative to the intensifying discourse of fear promulgated by current instabilities in national and state immigration policies. By centering on migrants’ everyday mobilities, our critical visualization strives to (re)move walls and expand the appreciative embrace of immigrants in our city’s collective gaze.

Works Cited

Arau, S., Arizmendi, Y., & Guerrero, S. (2004). A Day without a Mexican. Televisa Cine.

Dissar, J. and G. Peng. (2013). Documentary: I Learn America. http://ilearnamerica.com/

Heidbrink, L. (2014). Migrant youth, transnational families, and the state: Care and contested interests. University of Pennsylvania Press.

James, S., & Dalla Costa, M. (1972). The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. Consultado el5.

Leurs, K. (2015). Digital passages: Migrant youth 2.0. Diaspora, gender and youth cultural intersections.  Amsterdam University Press.

[1] This subtitle evokes the transformative, classic feminist treatise, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (1972). Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James argued that the centrality of women’s domestic work to the social reproduction of capitalist relations generating surplus value makes women key subversive protagonists in the struggle to re-appropriate the social wealth they produced. Migrants now are similarly positioned; its jokiness aside, films like A Day Without a Mexican (Sergio Arau 2004) show us that popular culture has already grasped the potential subversive power of migrants.

Kristin Koptiuch  is a cultural anthropologist and urban ethnographer who tries to practice anthropology as much performance art as social science. She is associate professor of anthropology in the School of Social & Behavioral Sciences at Arizona State University-West.

 

 

 

La Resiliencia de Jóvenes Sin Cuidados Parentales/Resilience of Youth without Parental Care

by Angélica Mejía

(English translation below. For additional posts in this series, visit: "Migration and Belonging.")

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  Actividad escolar. Créditos fotográficos:   Lauren Heidbrink

Actividad escolar. Créditos fotográficos:  Lauren Heidbrink

La falta de cuidados parentales es un problema que afecta a un número significativo de niños y adolescentes en Guatemala. De acuerdo al informe de la Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar (RELAF)  (2010), más que 5,600 niños están institucionalizados en Guatemala, muchos de quienes experimentan inseguridad considerable mientras están transferido a través de orfanatos e instituciones por el país. Las razones por la ausencia de cuidado parental son diversas--como una alta prevalencia de enfermedades crónicas, pobreza extrema, el conflicto armado, un legado de la violencia a migración significante que pueden resultar a la desintegración familiar. Estos factores deben ser entendidos necesariamente como factores relacionados entre sí en lugar de entender como factores individuales o aislados que resultan en la pérdida de cuidados parentales.

Si bien las estadísticas son alarmantes, es importante reconocer cómo algunos niños y jóvenes sin el cuidado parental desarrollan la resiliencia. Al analizar cómo los jóvenes se emprenden proyectos de vida, tales como la búsqueda de educación formal y vocacional, así como sus fuentes de motivación, podemos empezar a desarrollar las instituciones y programas que inspiran más que impiden su desarrollo.

A través de mi colaboración desde 2007 con varias organizaciones comunitarias, he llegado a trabajar con 29 jóvenes, varios de los cuales encarnan condiciones de desigualdad y abandono al tiempo que demuestra al mismo tiempo la resistencia y la fuerza a pesar de estas condiciones. A pesar de encontrar algunos orfanatos e instituciones que disuaden a niños a partir de continuar su educación o el aprendizaje de las competencias profesionales, es decir, otras organizaciones sociales promueven el desarrollo personal y ofrecen importantes recursos educativos. Los que recibieron el apoyo y la oportunidad han terminado el ciclo de primaria, básico y bachillerato; algunos iniciaron una carrera en la universidad.

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  Actividad escolar. Créditos fotográficos:  Angélica Mejía

Actividad escolar. Créditos fotográficos: Angélica Mejía

Tal es la experiencia de Marcos(1), 17 años de edad en su último año de bachillerato y sus hermanos menores, Mercedes de 15 años de edad y Dario de 13 años de edad. Son becarios de la Fundación Portales de Esperanza, ellos lograron continuar su educación, recibir apoyo de una organización comunitaria, y sobreponerse ante las circunstancias socio-económicas. Otros han optado por estudiar en escuelas vocacionales—carpintería, cocina y mecánica—para lograr un empleo que les permita contribuir con sus familias.

En mi colaboración durante la última década con las instituciones y organizaciones que sirven a los jóvenes sin cuidados parentales, los jóvenes articulan varias fuentes de resilienciade un deseo de continuar su educación, a contribuir al sustento de su familia, a la creencia en su propio potencial, a un deseo para controlar sus propias condiciones y futuros. Aun cuando estamos a menudo rápidos alabar a organizaciones no gubernamentales, fundaciones privadas e iglesias de distintas religiones para "salvar" a los niños y niñas necesitados, hay que señalar que los propios niños y niñas demuestran la resistencia en la identificación y la búsqueda de oportunidades dentro de estas redes sociales.

La identificación de las fuentes de la resistencia interna de los jóvenes es crítica. También lo importante es apoyar a las instituciones estatales, sociedad civil, y los sectores privados que reconocen y fomentan la capacidad de niños y niñas de recuperación. Sólo por crear oportunidades para que la población infantil participe de manera significativa en estas conversaciones, que podamos satisfacer las necesidades de los niños y niñas sin cuidados parentales.

Bibliografía:

Informe situación de la niñez sin cuidado parental o en riesgo de perderlo en América Latina (2010). Contextos, causas y respuestas. Guatemala: Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar.

Mejía, Angélica. (2014) Tesis: “Orientación, metodología para la atención escolar de los niños huérfanos”

Angélica Mejía (Angie) cumplió una Maestría en Gestión Social para el Desarrollo Local de la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Guatemala (FLACSO-Guatemala) y cuenta con estudios de licenciatura en administración de organizaciones educativas de la Universidad San Pablo de Guatemala. Ella ha trabajado en diversas organizaciones educativas con enfoque social en organizaciones locales principalmente atendiendo a la niñez en orfandad.

(1) Seudónimo.

Resilience of Youth Without Parental Care

School activity. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

School activity. Photo credits: Lauren Heidbrink

The lack of parental care is a significant challenge confronting a growing number of young people in Guatemala. According to Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar (RELAF) (2010), over 5,600 children are institutionalized in Guatemala, many of whom experience considerable uncertainty as they are routinely transferred between orphanages and institutions throughout the country. The reasons for an absence of parental care are diverse—from a high prevalence of chronic illnesses to extreme poverty to armed conflict to a legacy of violence to significant out-migration that may lead to family disintegration. These factors must necessarily be understood as interrelated rather than individual or isolated factors leading to loss of parental care.

While the statistics are alarming, it is important to recognize how some of the children and youth without parental care develop resiliency. By analyzing how young people undertake life projects, such as the pursuit of formal or vocational schooling, as well as their sources of motivation, we may begin to develop institutions and program that inspire rather than impede their growth.

Through my collaboration with several community-based organizations since 2007, I have been able to work with 29 young people, several of whom embody conditions of inequality and abandonment while simultaneously demonstrating resilience and strength in spite of these challenges.  While I have encountered some orphanages and institutions that dissuade children from continuing their education or learning vocational skills, that is to say, other social organizations promote personal development and offer important educational resources. Those receiving support and opportunity have finished primary, middle and high school; some are pursuing a college education.

School activity. Photo credits: Angélica Mejía

School activity. Photo credits: Angélica Mejía

Take the experiences of Marcos(1), a 17-year-old in his last year of high school, and his younger siblings, 15-year-old Mercedes and 13-year-old Dario. With scholarships from the Fundación Portales de Esperanza, they have been able to pursue their education, receive support from a local organization, and begin to overcome difficult socioeconomic circumstances. Still others pursue vocational training—carpentry, culinary and mechanical—eventually securing employment to contribute much needed financial resources to their families.

In my decades’-long collaboration with institutions and organizations serving young people absent parental care, youth articulate varied sources of resilience—from a desire to pursue education, to contributing to their family’s livelihood, to a belief in their own potential, to a desire to control their own conditions and futures. While we are often quick to laud non-governmental organizations, private foundations, and churches for “saving” young people in need, it should be noted that young people themselves demonstrate resilience in identifying and pursuing opportunities within these social networks.

Identifying the sources of young people’s internal resilience is critical. So too is supporting state institutions, civil society, and the private sector that recognize and nurture their resilience. Only by creating opportunities for youth to meaningfully participate in these conversations, may we meet the needs of young people without parental care.

Works Cited

Informe situación de la niñez sin cuidado parental o en riesgo de perderlo en América Latina (2010). Contextos, causas y respuestas. Guatemala: Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar.

Mejía, Angélica. (2014) Tesis: “Orientación, metodología para la atención escolar de los niños huérfanos”

Angélica Mejía (Angie) graduated with a Masters in Social Management of Local Development from Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Guatemala (FLACSO-Guatemala) and has a bachelor’s degree in Administration of Educational Organization from Universidad San Pablo of Guatemala. She has worked at various educational organizations with social focus on local organizations principally serving orphaned children. 

[1] Pseudonyms.

For the previous blog in the series: Ramona Elizabeth Pérez Romero: El Papel de las Comadronas de Almolonga/The Role of Midwives in Almolonga

For the next blog in the series: Celeste Sánchez, Giovanni Batz, Lauren Heidbrink, and Michele Statz: A Conversation on Translation/Una Conversación sobre Traducción

Rethinking Home: A Powerful Look at Return Migration via Film

Contributed by Tatyana Kleyn, The City College of New York and Director & Producer of Una Vida, Dos Países (One Life, Two Countries) 

Una Vida, Dos Países: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico is a 30 minute documentary film with free educator resources that explores the experiences of US-born or raised students who have spent all or most of their lives in the US and returned with their family to Oaxaca, Mexico. The film is a rich teaching tool for conversations in schools about immigration and identity. To read a recent New York Times article featuring the film, please click here.

We drove for four days through California, New Mexico and Arizona to get to the El Paso, Texas border [with Mexico]. There I spent my last moments in the US. I turned around and said, ‘I will be back, I don’t know when, but it’s a promise.’ I took my last breath on that side of the border and turned around, leaving not just friends and family, but a life I will never forget.
— Melchor, 17 years old
Photo credits: Ben Donnellon

Photo credits: Ben Donnellon

People from all over the world dream about migration to the United States for “a better life.”  Some receive permission from the US government to immigrate, in the form of a green card or visa.  Others cross into the country without papers when it is nearly impossible for them to attain the required permission.  Currently, there are more than 11 million people in the US who are unauthorized and are the topic of contentious immigration debates in our country.  Melchor (quoted above) and his family belonged to this subcategory of migrants during their 10 years in the US.  

While we hear a lot about immigrants coming to the US, less is known about what happens when they leave.  The discourse is often around deportations and the rising numbers of individuals the government forces to return to their country of origin.  However, other families who are in the US without papers find that circumstances related to living undocumented also force them to return.  This phenomenon reminds us that migration is not a linear process, but a cyclical one.

Photo credits: Ben Donnellon

Photo credits: Ben Donnellon

Aside from deportations, there are a range of reasons families make the difficult decision to return.  These include reuniting with elderly family members they have not seen in years (or those their children have not even met); medical issues that require long-term healthcare that undocumented immigrants cannot access in most states in the US; discrimination via state policies that prohibit undocumented immigrants from accessing drivers licenses, college education, or financial aid; racism and xenophobia that many immigrants of color face on a regular basis; and the economic struggles of supporting a family while living in the shadows and being exploited of by the labor system.  

In order to share the stories of these returned families, and to focus on their US born and raised children, I was part of a team with Ben Donnellon, William Perez and Rafael Vásquez that created a short documentary to delve into these phenomena.   Una Vida, Dos Países: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico explores how elementary and secondary students struggle with their identity, language learning and loss, and schooling.  The film shows some of the benefits of being “back,” such as meeting grandparents and enjoying delicious fresh Mexican food, but it also shares the challenges that returning youth face - fitting in, using Spanish for academic purposes, communicating with family who speak indigenous languages, and the economic struggles that make education an obstacle for them.  

The goals of the film are to raise awareness about this growing population of students, some of whom are dual US and Mexican citizens.  The film is also accompanied by a Spanish-English bilingual curriculum for secondary schools in the US, Mexico and beyond.  The lessons prepare the students to watch the film and to delve deeper into the areas of identity, language, economics and policies. 

A resource guide for educators in Mexico, whose students cross literal and figurative borders throughout their lives, also accompanies the documentary. These include the most obvious border, the artificial division between the US and Mexico, in addition to borders that are crossed from one state to another while living in the US.  Another border students cross daily is languages, such as English, Spanish, and, in the case of some of the families in the film, Zapotec (an indigenous language spoken in certain parts of Mexico).  These students also cross cultural borders as well as those across school systems.  For all these reasons I use Lynn Stephen’s (2007) term transborder to describe them. 

A group of transborder high school students, who call themselves “The New Dreamers,” meet to discuss the realities and challenges of being back in Mexico. Photo credits: Ben Donnellon

A group of transborder high school students, who call themselves “The New Dreamers,” meet to discuss the realities and challenges of being back in Mexico. Photo credits: Ben Donnellon

That these students are now (back) in Mexico does not mean that is where they will stay.  Those who are dual citizens of the US and Mexico, (if they were born in the US to at least one Mexican citizen parent), can freely travel between the two nations as long as their documentation is up to date.  Many who were undocumented in the US still see that country as their home, and many hope to return.  However, applying and receiving papers or re-crossing countries’ borders without authorization are tremendously costly and difficult for Mexicans.  But regardless of where they will be in the future - the US, Mexico or another nation - they bring with them a wealth of resources. including their multilingualism, cross-cultural capabilities and in-depth understanding of how national and transnational policies – or the absence of them – impacts people at the most human level.  

The film and accompanying resources can be accessed via: www.unavidathefilm.com. For additional updates on the film, screenings and the transborder students, join us on Facebook and Twitter. The film and resources were funded by the US-Mexico Foundation.

This blog was originally published on the American Immigration Council’s Education blog, Teach Immigration on March 28, 2016.  The American Immigration Council’s Education Department strives to promote a better understanding of immigrants and immigration by providing educational resources that inspire thoughtful dialogue, creative teaching and critical thinking. Please click here for more information.