Applied Academic Projects

CeMeCA supports a series of applied research projects that tackle some of the region's most pressing challenges, including state violence within and across borders, corruption, and forced migration, its consequences, and its criminalization.

 

Applied Academic Projects 2022 - 2023


Separated: An Oral History

Fanny García (Oral History ‘18, Columbia) and Nara Milanich (History, Columbia).

Developed in conjunction with the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), this project seeks to amplify the perspectives of Central American migrant families in policy, communications, and other aspects of advocacy work. Thus far, the project has collected more than sixty hours of interviews from more than two dozen narrators. These stories are helping to inform the ongoing process of reunifying migrant families that were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the prior administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Thanks to the project, families in rural Guatemala have been able to share their stories with DHS officials. The project has also produced media pieces based on the interviews. In the spring of 2020, students in the Barnard College course Seeking Asylum contributed hundreds of hours to the project, working on transcription and other tasks.

 

Educational and Rights Workshops for Guatemalan Migrant Youth and Families Part II

Czarina Aggabao Thelen (Anthropology, Columbia), Efrain Lopez Rancho (Maya Poqomam lawyer and ajq’ij or traditional knowledge holder), and immigration lawyers at Catholic Charities.

A successful claim for legal asylum must show the political, societal, and historical patterning of individual persecution. Usually, legal teams rely on “expert witnesses” (often academics) to provide this crucial context to the court for each case they represent.  However, a new collaboration between Columbia postdoctoral scholar Dr. Czarina Aggabao Thelen, Maya Poqomam lawyer and ajq’ij (traditional knowledge holder) Efrain Lopez Rancho, and immigration lawyers at Catholic Charities has explored a new model: empowering Maya youth with this sociopolitical and historical knowledge so that they may strengthen their own self-advocacy skills.

This past Spring, Thelen and Lopez Rancho were approached by immigration lawyers at Catholic Charities to run a series of educational workshops for Guatemalan migrant young people whom they represent in asylum cases. The educational workshops aim to teach Guatemalan indigenous history and culture to these young people, most of whom come from poor rural backgrounds and have had minimal access to education.

The purpose of the workshops is to valorize Maya Indigenous identities and knowledge that are stigmatized because of longstanding anti-indigenous repression in Guatemalan society.  Additionally, and more instrumentally, these workshops aim to help these young people make sense of their own experiences of violence and discrimination for the purpose of their asylum cases. Without this crucial intervention, asylum seekers denied knowledge of politics, society, and history have a much more difficult time making a successful claim.

This is a seed project that could expand and seek additional monies with other funders later on. There are tens of thousands of Guatemalan young people currently seeking asylum in the US, so the impact of this initiative is potentially significant.

Dr. Thelen would like to thank the Dean's office for seed funding, CeMeCA and ILAS for administrative and other support, and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (CSER) for her postdoctoral appointment.

 

 

Applied Academic Projects 2021 - 2022


Buscadoras Research Unit

Mónica Trigos (SIPA ‘21, Columbia) and Greg Odum (Anthropology, Columbia).

The Buscadoras Research Unit (BRU) is a team of student and faculty volunteers that seeks to support missing persons' organizations operating in Mexico and Central America today. BRU was created in the Fall of 2020 by Professor Claudio Lomnitz in conjunction with graduate students Greg Odum and Mónica Trigos, and Professor Mónica Castillejos of the University of California-Berkeley Law School. It dedicated its efforts to developing research in collaboration with a Mexican colectivo of families of missing and disappeared persons, “Regresando a Casa Morelos”, offering volunteer students' time, skill sets, and perspectives to help out with a variety of research and educational needs. A high-profile 3-day conference sponsored by the Center for Mexican Studies, CeMeCA’s predecessor, brought together organizations, family collectives, researchers, and journalists to strengthen networks of people interested in this issue.

This past spring, graduate student members Monica Trigos (SIPA) and Greg Odum (Anthropology) from the BRU were awarded a Magic Grant from the Brown Institute of the Journalism School of Columbia University, for their proposal "Bridging the Search: Buscadoras Documentation Project." As part of that grant, they will create an online toolkit to serve as a repository and portal that offers a space for socializing information, inter-communication, critical analysis, and collective memory construction surrounding issues of forced disappearance. By producing digital media projects with colectivos, and organizing and articulating data, this project will facilitate and inform dialogue between those unfamiliar, and those all too familiar, with the reality of disappearance across borders. 


 

Corruption on Trial: Investigating the Honduran Narcostate through the U.S. Federal Courts

Danielle Mackey (Independent Journalist) and Jennifer Ávila (Contracorriente).

In the past decade, more than a dozen Hondurans from the country's political, security and business circles have been tried for offenses related to drug-trafficking in U.S. federal court. The tens of thousands of pages of records produced in the course of these trials provide an extraordinarily rich portrait of the role of narcotrafficking in Honduran politics and security forces, and in cross-border businesses and money-flows. A binational team of investigative journalists, Danielle Mackey and Jennifer Ávila, are building a database to make this information available to journalists, academics, activists, and the general public, as they pursue their own journalistic investigations into the material. Once finished, the database will be hosted online at Contracorriente, the Honduran media outlet at which Ávila is Editor-in-Chief. This year, CeMeCA will provide student interns for the project and help the project leaders connect to relevant resources elsewhere in the University. 


 

Experiences and Perceptions of Eating and Food Insecurity in Adolescents Migrating as Unaccompanied Minors: A Pilot Study

Manuela Orjuela (Mailman, Columbia) and colleagues.

Food insecurity can be a problem for many migrants, but few studies have addressed this situation. The aim of this pilot project is to explore practices, experiences, and perceptions about eating and food insecurity among adolescents migrating as unaccompanied minors in Northern Mexico. The research relies on a mixed-methods (qualitative-quantitative) study, including semi-structured interviews and integrated brief survey instruments with 30 unaccompanied migrant adolescents in Tijuana and Saltillo, Mexico. The interviews will explore adolescents’ migration history, dietary practices, access to food during their journey, and representations and meanings of eating as well as the relationship of eating to body image.


 

Infancias en Movimiento Proyecto Multimedia 

Valentina Glockner Fagetti (O’Gorman Fellow ‘22, Columbia) and colleagues.

Este Proyecto multimedia ha sido imaginado como un “mosaico” compuesto por muchas y muy distintas piezas que representan las vidas, saberes y experiencias de lxs niñxs y jóvenes (in)migrantes en las Américas. Pero es también un caleidoscopio, que refleja la constante transformación de sus migraciones y de los territorios por los que transitan.                  

Este mosaico-caleidoscopio es un planteamiento ético y político para constatar y afirmar que sin lxs niñxs y jovenes no es posible entender el fenómeno global de la migración, ni el mundo contemporáneo. Es también es una reacción y una toma de postura frente a la desigualdad histórica que los expulsa de sus comunidades. Es un grito de empatía cuando ellas y ellos salen en busca de sus padres o de otros familiares, y un gesto de solidaridad cuando huyen para construir nuevas alternativas de vida. Con su movilidad desafían nuestras preconcepciones sobre la infancia, la inocencia, la inmadurez, la dependencia, las distancias geográficas y el tiempo. Por eso, este proyecto multimedia es también una propuesta para transformar los métodos de investigación para acompañar y construir junto con lxs niñxs y jóvenes migrantes formas de documentación que honren sus experiencias y saberes.

Para saber más visita:

https://infanciasenmovimiento.org/


 

Educational and Rights Workshops for Guatemalan Migrant Youth and Families

Czarina Aggabao Thelen (Anthropology, Columbia), Efrain Lopez Rancho (Maya Poqomam lawyer and ajq’ij or traditional knowledge holder), and immigration lawyers at Catholic Charities.

A successful claim for legal asylum must show the political, societal, and historical patterning of individual persecution. Usually, legal teams rely on “expert witnesses” (often academics) to provide this crucial context to the court for each case they represent.  However, a new collaboration between Columbia postdoctoral scholar Dr. Czarina Aggabao Thelen, Maya Poqomam lawyer and ajq’ij (traditional knowledge holder) Efrain Lopez Rancho, and immigration lawyers at Catholic Charities has explored a new model: empowering Maya youth with this sociopolitical and historical knowledge so that they may strengthen their own self-advocacy skills.

This past Spring, Thelen and Lopez Rancho were approached by immigration lawyers at Catholic Charities to run a series of educational workshops for Guatemalan migrant young people whom they represent in asylum cases. The educational workshops aim to teach Guatemalan indigenous history and culture to these young people, most of whom come from poor rural backgrounds and have had minimal access to education.

The purpose of the workshops is to valorize Maya Indigenous identities and knowledge that are stigmatized because of longstanding anti-indigenous repression in Guatemalan society.  Additionally, and more instrumentally, these workshops aim to help these young people make sense of their own experiences of violence and discrimination for the purpose of their asylum cases. Without this crucial intervention, asylum seekers denied knowledge of politics, society, and history have a much more difficult time making a successful claim.

This is a seed project that could expand and seek additional monies with other funders later on. There are tens of thousands of Guatemalan young people currently seeking asylum in the US, so the impact of this initiative is potentially significant.

Dr. Thelen would like to thank the Dean's office for seed funding, CeMeCA and ILAS for administrative and other support, and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (CSER) for her postdoctoral appointment.