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Borderlands: W&M research team explores 'life on the hyphen'


The following text was produced by Steve Otto for the William & Mary arts and sciences news pages. Get Otto's complete report.  —Ed.

Over spring break 2009, Professors Jennifer Bickham Mendez (Sociology and Latin American Studies) and Silvia Tandeciarz (Hispanic Studies) led a research team of eight students to the Tucson/Nogales region  of the U.S.–Mexico border. The pilot project combined interdisciplinary field research, course work, and civic engagement to focus on "border issues": the political, social, and cultural effects of immigration from Mexico/Central America to the United States.

Participating students co-enrolled in either Hispanic Studies 361 or Sociology 440 and received 1 credit for their work. Borderlinks, a bi-national organization "bringing people together to build bridges of solidarity across North and Latin American borders and to promote intercultural understanding and respect," acted as institutional host and provided delegation leader Lilli Mann '07. The project was funded through the Charles Center's QEP/Mellon grant.

The Tucson/Nogales region has become one of the most heavily trafficked and perilous crossing points between Mexico and the United States. The W&M group met with humanitarian organizations, customs/border and courtroom officials, and immigration attorneys to gain an understanding of the complexities of immigration issues as they play out on the border and beyond.

On the Mexican side of the border, students and faculty shared meals with migrants who had recently been deported from the United States, and they interviewed migrants preparing to make the treacherous journey across the desert. They learned about the militarization of the border and its human cost, and were guided along one of the desert trails frequented by migrants on their way to the United States.