Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Alexandra Délano Alonso's "From Here and There"

Alexandra Délano Alonso is Associate Professor of Global Studies at The New School and the current holder of the Eugene M. Lang Professorship for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring. Her work is driven by a concern with the inequalities underlying the causes of migration, the structures that lead to the marginalization of undocumented migrants in the public sphere, and the limited protection of their rights, from a transnational perspective. Her book Mexico and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration since 1848 was the co-winner of the William LeoGrande Prize for the best book on US-Latin America Relations.

Délano Alonso applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, From Here and There: Diaspora Policies, Integration, and Social Rights Beyond Borders, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The program is a place where participants find tools for education and work. But they also find a space for community and solidarity. The participants are learning and at the same time, they feel comfortable in the space. They establish relationships, share values and solidarity. We teach them to read but we also give them information about a job ad, we give them tools (coordinator, Plaza Comunitaria Chicago, 2009).

We are creating a space where people feel recognized, where they realize that as individuals they can do more than work. The Plaza creates a space for growth and opportunity to change their expectations in life. It gives them opportunities to live better, to have better jobs, to speak up, to feel safe, to have self-esteem, to have security. This preparation gives them tools to defend themselves, to avoid abuse, and to aspire to work in better places (coordinator, Plaza Comunitaria, Chicago, 2009).
Page 99 of the book discusses the Mexican government’s Plazas Comunitarias adult-education program, which operates through its 50 consulates in the United States, in collaboration with schools, hospitals, community organizations and prisons. This is one of various initiatives focused on education, health, financial literacy, labor rights and citizenship that Mexico –and to a lesser extent other Latin American countries— have developed in the US in the past two decades to promote access to social rights for migrants with precarious status.

The analysis of these programs is at the core of the book: I discuss the interests that underlie them; the innovative discourse of integration and shared responsibility that has developed around these initiatives--and its limitations; the collaborations between consulates, private and public institutions in the US, and migrant communities that make these programs possible; and the concrete results of these initiatives in terms of improving the material and social conditions of migrants’ lives regardless of their legal status.

Page 99 provides some examples of information from surveys, interviews and reports that demonstrate that even though the reach of the programs is limited (and quantitative analyses of their results are sparse), some of the most significant contributions that they make in supporting migrants is in offering spaces where there is a sense of trust where they are more likely to be receptive to information about and enroll in social programs given the linguistic and cultural familiarity, as well as the assurance that a person’s migratory status is not a factor in being able to participate. The Plazas Comunitarias were initially conceived as spaces where migrant populations could continue the education they could not complete in Mexico by offering literacy, elementary, middle and high school programs, textbooks in Spanish, and online testing tools through the Mexican Ministry of Education. My visits to the Plazas, interviews with participants and with educators revealed that in addition to these original goals, students in the Plazas are also learning English, and completing GEDs and skills certification programs, which have helped them access better opportunities for work, health and education in the US.

The two quotes above from page 99 capture key elements of the argument of the book, which is that these programs challenge traditional notions of integration. First, by including origin countries in a process of English language acquisition, education and understanding of the institutional context that is traditionally assumed as the sole responsibility of the country where they now live. And second, by demonstrating how these transnational spaces of community and solidarity that include a variety of government and non-government actors from the country of origin and destination contribute to integration in the sense of supporting equal access to rights and opportunities for migrant communities.
Learn more about From Here and There at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue