Covering the Margins, Part II: Promoting Buffalo Through Piecemeal Portrayals of Refugee/Immigrant Populations

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Covering the Margins, Part II: Promoting Buffalo Through Piecemeal Portrayals of Refugee/Immigrant Populations

In a period of increasing political contention and global displacement, the conversation around refugees, immigration status and documentation/legality has become more prominent within the news media. In the second installment of her Covering the Margins series exploring news coverage of marginalized populations in Buffalo, NY and Ahmedabad, India, Kali Villarosa examines how three news outlets in Buffalo have framed the story of refugee/immigrant populations in order to tell an especially celebratory story about the city itself.

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‘War is a Failure’: A Conversation with John Casserly

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‘War is a Failure’: A Conversation with John Casserly

It boggles my mind to think that the United States spends so much money and energy on war, a venture that always ultimately leads to destruction and death. Though it is debatable whether war is underreported (obviously, some wars are underreported, depending on who is fighting and dying), I do think the issues of peace movements aren’t discussed enough by the news media. This led to my desire to start interviewing pro-peace/anti-war veterans and creating miniature profiles of them, starting specifically with members of Veterans for Peace. These are people who, at some point, probably saw military service as one of the highest performances of patriotism. Eventually, however, they became disillusioned with the U.S. as a military power, and for me this gives their criticisms of war even more credibility.

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Attack on Academia, Part 4: Interview with Melissa Zimdars

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Attack on Academia, Part 4: Interview with Melissa Zimdars

In November 2016, facing Donald Trump’s impending election, Zimdars created a document to help her students practice analyzing the credibility of various websites claiming to share news. After the list went viral, Zimdars was doxxed by alt-right activists, and quickly received a series of threats. At one point, campus security had to be posted outside her office door. 

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Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez: Building Peace in Sinaloa, Mexico, One Promise at a Time

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Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez: Building Peace in Sinaloa, Mexico, One Promise at a Time

On Friday and Saturday, July 14 and 15, 2017, my classmate from the University of San Diego Elizabeth Moedano and I traveled to Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, to meet with the lead organizer of the coalition Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez as part of the Trans-Border Institute’s project “Mapping Positive Peace Projects at the Grassroots Level.” The coalition is dedicated to the revitalization of the rural town of Villa Juárez, situated about 20 miles southwest of Culiacán. Our goal was to shadow the coalition and interview its organizers in order to better understand their goals, methodology and theory of change. Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez is one of six violence-prevention groups in both Mexico and the California that the Mapping Positive Peace Project is profiling, with the end goal of analyzing the group’s effectiveness to highlight best practices and in turn, promote collaboration between the groups.

Elizabeth and I were very fortunate to be invited by Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez to travel with the group to Villa Juárez and to participate in two community events. Villa Juárez is located in the heartland of Sinaloan agribusiness producing mainly fresh produce and grain crops. These major growing operations bring seasonal workers and their families north from the mountainous state of Oaxaca. Amidst the wealth of huge agribusinesses, Villa Juárez remains extremely impoverished. Tensions between seasonal and local year-round farmworkers often lead to discrimination against the Oaxacan people who travel to Sinaloa for half the year. Arriving in Culiacán, locals told us about a February shootout earlier in 2017 between armed groups in Villa Juárez that left five people dead, one of them a woman who was uninvolved. This episode of violence has had lasting effects on the town.

Limited access to garbage disposal forces residents of Villa Juárez to burn garbage or dump it in the canal. (Photo: Savannah Crowley)

The peacebuilding efforts of the coalition were spurred by leadership from the Cárdenas Foundation, founded by Daniel Cárdenas Izábal, a grower who sought to give back to the farmworkers and their families. The coalition, Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez, encompasses farmers’ associations, community activists, local NGOs and faith based organizations.

On Friday, we traveled with an organizer to Villa Juárez to attend the “graduation day” for the first summer school program for children ages 9-13. During the classes, children learned about practicing healthy lifestyles, saying no to drugs and learning how to promote positive self esteem. The children were each given diplomas and their names were announced before the whole group. This small act of presenting the children with diplomas gave them something to be proud of, to feel supported and to be connected to a community. An organizer explained that getting the children involved at a young age with civic activities would increase their chances of staying involved once they get older and would hopefully prevent them from using drugs or turning to violence.

Flyer Advertising the summer program. (Photo: Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez)

Students wait to receive their diploma for attending Villa Juárez’s first summer program for children. (Photo: Elizabeth Moedano)

On Saturday, we returned to the city, but this time we were accompanied by two large farm dump trucks. Our mission was to pick up any garbage that could collect water and become a breeding ground for mosquitos carrying the sometimes life-threatening dengue virus. Villa Juárez only has one clinic with three beds to provide for 50,000 people in the small city. Lack of access to healthcare, coupled with extreme poverty, lead many people to avoid seeking treatment for dengue fever.  

Poster advertising the community clean-up day. (Photo: Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez)

Volunteers gather in front of trucks donated by the Cárdenas Foundation (Photo: Savannah Crowley)

Volunteers filled the trucks with anything that mosquitoes could breed in, such as tires and old mattresses (Photo: Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez)

While this is a serious issue, one might ask why the coalition decided to tackle this problem in a city that struggles with security, drug abuse and access to education and healthcare. As Elizabeth and I walked behind women with megaphones announcing “¡Buenos días! Vengan a tirar los neumáticos, cubos, cacharros y recipientes que acumulan agua para prevenir el dengue!” (Good morning! Come throw away your tires, buckets, pots, and anything that accumulates water to help prevent dengue!), we also wondered why we were walking door to door, meeting skeptical faces when we asked the residents for old tires and buckets. But after an hour into the day, a garbage truck showed up with a woman from the local municipal government, and the residents started thanking us profusely. A volunteer told me that the first time she started volunteering in Villa Juárez, the garbage hadn’t been picked up in a month, something that wasn’t unusual, we learned. This explained the piles of burning garbage we walked by in the streets and the other piles accumulating in the canals.

When I watched the municipal officer talk with Rescatemos Villa Juárez organizers, I realized she had been successfully shamed into showing up. If the municipal government wasn’t going to take care of the people, the coalition of community leaders, found a way to provide instead. This action in turn pressured the municipality to bring the garbage truck to Villa Juárez and do its job. However, even as the municipal officer walked with us, she made discriminatory comments about “how dirty the people were” and about how cleaning the town was hopeless. This prejudice has exacerbated the poverty of people living in Villa Juárez.

The garbage truck (Photo: Savannah Crowley)

With a simple act of coming around to pick up garbage, the community got to know Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez as a group that is working for the people that can be trusted. One organizer told me that even if the people don’t understand exactly what Rescatemos Villa Juárez is doing or why, residents can see that the group is doing something good and they will begin to recognize the coalition. This is how trust is slowly and sincerely built and how community involvement will grow. By providing small but important services consistently, community networks strengthen to the point where bigger problems can be confronted. Next, with help from the community, Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez is looking to transform over 20 public spaces into park areas for families and children in the region.

Rescatemos Villa Juárez going door to door asking community members to participate in the community clean up (Photo: Savannah Crowley)

This experience taught me that when the fabric of community has been seriously frayed by violence and poverty, it is following through on small promises, like ensuring there will be a Saturday garbage truck, that builds community trust and eventually strengthens community resilience enough to stand up to violence and build peace.

Thank you to the Trans-Border Institute for this special opportunity to travel to Sinaloa and to Rescatemos de Corazón Villa Juárez for the invitation. Special thanks to my friend Elizabeth Moedano for help with translation.

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A Space to Practice Practicing Space

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A Space to Practice Practicing Space

In her latest report for our Weaving the Streets project, Sheila Murray takes us to Practice Space, an innovative Boston space that focuses on "rigorous self-care" in order to "weave through its locality to strengthen a community."

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Turning 30 in Gaza

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Turning 30 in Gaza

In this post, reprinted from the We Are Not Numbers project, Basman Derawi describes some of the challenges that come with living under perpetual siege in Gaza.

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Attack on Academia, Part 3: Interview with Lisa Durden

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Attack on Academia, Part 3: Interview with Lisa Durden

After appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight to defend a Black Lives Matter event, Lisa Durden was met with a wave of online harassment and subsequently fired by Essex County College. However, Durden’s side of the story, revealing the lack of due process and communication from the college, indicates deeper problems faced by adjuncts, people of color and women that regularly contribute to similar incidents to her firing, which she described as a “public lynching.”

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Forgetting and Remembering Collective Memory in Spain

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Forgetting and Remembering Collective Memory in Spain

As a contributor to the Weaving the Streets project, I have been looking into the issue of collective memory and the reconstruction of identities in post-dictatorship Spain. My first two blog posts focused on Lavapiés, a multicultural neighborhood in Madrid, using street art as a medium for juxtaposing modern-day activities with the history of the Franco dictatorship. This third post focuses on Santander, a city where the present and the past exist simultaneously.

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Dissecting Boston XII: Forest of Watchers

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Dissecting Boston XII: Forest of Watchers

As part of our ongoing Weaving the Streets project, Tzintzun Aguilar-Izzo reveals his final act of artistic resistance. As the conclusion for this "Dissecting Boston" series, Tzintzun created a public installation on the beach of Plum Island, Massachusetts. This installation, "Forest of Watchers," embodies the subaltern gaze. It destabilizes the colonial borderlines of history; borderlines we are all complicit in constructing.

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