La Selva


The author, on the streets of Tarapoto, Peru. (Photo by Travis Gregg.)

By Shane Fallon

Stories of pink dolphins, anacondas, and piranhas piqued my curiosity to venture to the rainforest, or as it is called in Peru, la selva. My research finally brought me to this mysterious, tropical environment to learn more about Peru’s jungle gastronomy, which is unparalleled to any other place in the world.


Flow of people on and off of the boat while docked at a village along the Amazon River. (Photo by Shane Fallon.)

My Amazonian adventure began in Tarapoto, a city in Northeastern Peru positioned at the base of the Andean foothills. With a noticeably warmer climate than any other place I visited in the north, I welcomed the heat, yet covered myself up in long loose layers to protect myself from mosquitos. After spending two days in Tarapoto, I spent 3 days and nights sleeping in a hammock and cruising down the Amazon River to reach Iquitos, the largest city in the world not accessible by road.


Working on the boat! (Photo by Travis Gregg.)

Perhaps expecting to see more wildlife, for most of the journey we just stared out at a seemingly endless vista of trees and fauna. Despite traveling in dry season, we got caught in some heavy rain storms that generally ceased as quickly as they commenced. Reflecting back on this experience, would I recommend taking “the slow boat”? Absolutely. Would I want to do it again? Likely not. However, this long journey down the curvaceous, east-moving river provided a unique opportunity to interact with people from villages along the Amazon River every time we stopped to load and unload cargo.


The Amazon River is massive, curvy, and murky. (Photo by Shane Fallon.)


Only 5% of the Peruvian population lives in the Amazonian forest, yet it makes up 60% of Peru’s land mass. Though rich in lucrative natural resources such as oil and gold, most of the local economy in these rural villages survives off of selling goods to passengers when passing boats dock. As our boat stopped to unload cargo such as mandarins and chickens, villagers came storming onto the boats to sell jungle grub. Here I got introduced to an assortment of river fish such as orange-bellied piranhas, variations of cooked bananas, and my favorite, juane. Essentially juane is a concoction of rice, meat, olives, hard-boiled egg, and spices, all wrapped in a macaw-flower leaf and then boiled for an hour and a half. Loaded with flavor and easy to transport, it makes sense that juane are the perfect street snack. Common accompaniments are fresh hearts of palm (peeled like string cheese), suri (chubby worms), and boiled bananas.

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Despite stopping at some incredibly remote places, my time in the jungle only confirms that no place in Peru can escape the free market economy; sugar sweetened beverage companies are ubiquitous. So while most of the people on the boat sold modest protein-based meals and fruits, one could also count on someone coming by with a bucket of soft drinks. I am simultaneously horrified and in awe that places so isolated and lacking basic social services have no shortfall of soft drinks. This observation makes me hypothesize that large fast food chains are arguably not the biggest threat to nutritional health; instead, sugar sweetened beverage companies are the biggest health hazard of the future. As the accessibility of these beverage companies continues to infiltrate even remote Amazonian communities, it is up to the government- elected by the people- to decide to what degree they want their future health status to be shaped by this profiteering industry.

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Hitching a ride from this local on the Amazon River after we reached Iquitos. (Photo by Shane Fallon.)




Shane Fallon is a graduate student in the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley.

To read more about Shane’s travel and research visit her blog at

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From Qualitative Research to Research as Quality Time: When Being “in the Field” is also “Coming Home”


Dando la vuelta, author walking on the shore of Lago Villarica/Mallalafquén, Volcán Villarica/Rucapillán in the distance. (Photo courtesy of Marcelo Montalvo.)

By Marcelo Garzo Montalvo

In a paradigm of research as theft (Robbins 2006), research as a dirty word (Smith 1999), or an otherwise extractive imperial process of hurried knowledge production; qualitative research projects are often terribly momentary, fleeting, temporary endeavors – designed to last days, weeks, or perhaps months. In this epistemic context, I reflect on the value of what Dwight Conquergood has referred to as “deep hanging out” (Conquergood 2013), or what I am calling here: a methodology of research as quality time. As an ethnic studies scholar, a young researcher of color, I am intentionally blurring the lines between the researched and researcher, the subject and the object, the field and the home. With my own family as a point of departure for exploring and unpacking research problems – what I have thought of as a familia-based methodology – I seek to build a meaningful qualitative humanistic scientific research agenda. As the son of Chilean exiles, I return to Chile this summer as an outsider within (Collins 2002), un hijo becado, a nepantlerx (Anzaldúa 2009), an inbetweener (Older 2015), a bridge (Anzaldúa 2013). Thus, I am thinking and asking these questions from this space that is in-between, a space that so many activist-scholars occupy.


Research takes time, energy, space, resources; including profound emotional labor and inner work. As I land in Chile – the home country of my parents and extended family, a home country that my family was forcefully displaced from – I have spent long days sleeping, eating, drinking and connecting with my family members. On an almost daily basis my relatives have mentioned how infrequent this kind of experience is amidst a contemporary culture of consumerism, where everyone is moving too quickly, or estan metido en sus celulares, lost in their smart phones. In this context of consumismo, preoccupied con su mismo, with ourselves, my family laments that they never get to spend this kind of quality time together. We celebrate gathering at the table for once (tea time), for lunch, for dinner, for anything, as a precious and un-lucrative act. It feels almost as an act of resistance, in a culture of neoliberalism (the privatization of everything [Watts 1994]) to sit for hours on end and connect with my family – a family I have been distanced from through political, economic, social and cultural violences; that is, by neoliberalism itself.

I feel as though there is a deep political and methodological weight to the act of processing emotions with my family members, both living in Chile and the United States, working through the personal and collective traumas that we carry as a family, as a people, and as a nation. The feelings of abandonment, deep hurt, sadness and loss are a grief that we must hold together; with love, compassion and understanding. Moving through this process is a humbling act of healing, a transformative process of addressing the trauma of exile itself. While hundreds of thousands of students march on the streets of Santiago and other major cities of Chile, and as indigenous Mapuche activists remain on hunger strike in the nations prisons, tears of grief are resistant offerings to a post-dictatorial, decolonizing world. All of these moments are crucial to my research process, and feel unethical to omit, erase, or silence as I focus on the objective, rational or otherwise positivist aspects of my work.

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In this culture of lament, I am reminded of how building relationships must remain at the center of all of my work: as a researcher, activist, educator, and artist. I am also moved to ask: Why do we not honor these aspects of our work as such? That is, why hasn’t building relationships ever been mentioned in the countless methodologies classes I have taken? Why is this labor not understood as the work itself?

Research entails vulnerability – both for researchers and researched. Being vulnerable with each other requires building and maintaining deep trust, similar to the ways in which loving relationships asks us to honor our vulnerability in order for that love to be possible. Should our research be grounded in similar ethics of love? If so, why? If not, why not? Does this approach compromise our supposed objectivity, or does it ground our work in the integrity and power of love itself? What good does our research do if it is not rooted in this love and understanding?

Lighting a candle with my mother for my childhood neighbor who passed away on Monday. Building an altar to grieve the violent attack on queer and trans people of color in Orlando. Coming out to my family members as queer when they don’t quite understand why I’m so profoundly affected by seeing the faces of other queer brown people who were violently slaughtered in the shooting. Spreading the ashes of my Tio in the waves of Reñaca; himself a figure who represents a whole set of charged histories and controversies within my own family. Cheering on as Chile scores their golazos (pobres Mexicanos). I can’t help but reflect on the amount of time, energy, space and resources we are expected to spend as researchers going to “the field” (to work with Others) – only to produce work that is consumed and discarded as quickly as the next saga of Candy Crush – when we have so much deep, slow work to do at “home.”

Marcelo Garzo Montalvo is an artist, musician, activist, educator and PhD Candidate in Comparative Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.


Works Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria and AnaLouise Keating. This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. London, UK: Routledge, 2002.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader. Ed. AnaLouise Keating. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002.

Conquergood, Dwight. Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2013.

Older, Daniel José. Half-Resurrection Blues: A Bone Street Rumba Novel. New York, NY: ROC, Published by the Penguin Group, 2015.

Robbins, Paul. “Research is Theft: Environmental Inquiry in a Postcolonial World.” Approaches to Human Geography: Philosophies, Theories, People and Practices. Ed. Stuart Aitken and Gill Valentine, p. 311-324. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 2006.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London, UK: Zed Books, 1999.

Watts, Michael. “Development II: The Privatization of Everything?” Progress in Human Geography, 18(3), p. 371-384. 1994.

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Mitigating Conflicts Through Education in Chile


Marcela Salazar, instructor at the Grange School in Santiago, teaching at the Escuela de Primer Agua, Mapuche. (Photo by Cristobal Madero.)

By Cristobal Madero

With support from CLAS and the Tinker Foundation, I spent two weeks in May implementing an education project in Chile with Daniel Cano of Georgetown University. The idea behind the project was relatively simple: to take history teachers educating the wealthiest 1% of Chileans into schools throughout the country’s south, a region that has historically been prone to conflict between the Chilean state and the indigenous Mapuche people. The goal was to educate teachers about the conflict and have them reflect, alongside local teachers in the southern town of Tirua, about the way in which the history of indigenous populations in Chile is taught.


Kultrun and other Mapuche instruments. (Photo by Cristobal Madero.)

Today, the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and illiteracy can be found in the Araucania region where there is an ongoing conflict between the Mapuche, the government and the private sector. At the heart of these problems are the political instability and economic distrust created as a result of violent confrontations between indigenous peasants, Chilean settlers, and the national armed forces. Mass media has contributed to the tense climate by labeling Mapuche social protests as terrorism — a description that is not only inaccurate but also misinforms society and perpetuates a cycle of violence and tension in the region. Business consortiums that control the forest industry also control the country’s major media channels. Needless to say, the cozy relationship among these disparate businesses fuels the conflict by actively seeking to promote particular economic interests while legitimizing the intervention of the state apparatus against those Mapuche communities that resist territorial occupation.


Cristobal Madero and Jordan Finch observe a mural at the entrance of the Mapuche Museum of Culture in the city of Cañete. (Photo courtesy of Cristobal Madero.)

During our stay, we were witnesses to just how unfair the historical treatment of the Mapuche has been. Even the exaggerated stereotype of a violent and aggressive Mapuche nature they are purported to have does not compare to the degree of force the state police units routinely deploy against them. It was a common sight to see police, armed as if in a war zone, patrolling the streets of small towns and stopping civilians on roadways to check their documentation. We also saw how the vast majority of the Mapuche are peaceful people dedicated to working their land. At the project’s conclusion, teachers and principals at the four schools we visited during our stay came to believe in our project and our intentions, despite initial reservations. This gives us reason to be optimistic that this project has the potential to generate a change in the mindset among the elite class in Chile in regards to the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, our faith in the power of education to mitigate conflicts has been strengthened by our experience in Araucania.

Cristobal Madero is a student in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley.

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Curator’s Corner: Learning Curation & Early 20th Century Anthropology Collecting in Mexico

For the past two semesters, I have been a student in a History of Art Department Mellon Graduate Seminar that culminates in “The Papyrus in the Crocodile: 150 Years of Excavation, Exploration, Collection, and Stewardship at Berkeley,” an exhibition at the Bancroft Library.

Typical course responsibilities largely revolved around curation. Early stages of meeting with curators and exploring collections were followed by the crafting of object groupings that indexed layered narratives of collector personalities, departmental origins, and current-day scholarship.

Museum Registration in Practice (Photo by Elaine Yau)

Museum Registration in Progress, Photo by Elaine Yau

In addition to my duties of handling the exhibition loan paperwork, what I came to most appreciate during the course of this curatorial training was the tremendous range of object and archival collections: geographically, culturally, and of course, materially speaking.

With our exhibition location in California, I understand the selected Mexican objects on display as representative of a broad historical nexus of the United States’ interactions with its southern neighbor at a time when Mexico and, more specifically, its diasporic communities are often framed in terms of a political discussion of their relationship to the U.S., whether in presidential debates or across news headlines. A century ago, however, the relationship between Mexico and the United States was exemplified by the personal background of the main collector of the exhibition’s Mexican objects: Zelia Maria Magdalena Nuttall (1857-1933).


Portrait of Zelia Nuttall, Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, BANC PIC Nuttall, Zelia — POR 1

  She was an archaeologist…A lonely daughter of culture, with a strong mind and a dense will, she had browsed all her life on the hard stones of archaeological remains, and at the same time she had retained a strong sense of humanity, and a slightly fantastic humorous vision of her fellow men.

D.H. Lawrence describing the Nuttall-inspired character of Mrs. Norris in The Plumed Serpent (1926)

Ethnohistorian and archaeologist Zelia Nuttall stands as one of the most important, yet underappreciated, catalysts to the founding of a department and museum of anthropology at Berkeley. Born into San Francisco high society, with a family ancestry in Mexico that inspired her research, Nuttall excelled as a mediator between geographic areas as well as between “the world of patronage and the world of scientific projects in need of patronage.”


Pillar dollar design, Mission-era presentation basket donated by Nuttall in memory of her close friend and Berkeley anthropology museum founder, Pheobe A. Hearst (1842-1919), Courtesy of Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, 1-22478

A life-long Mesoamerican scholar in topics ranging from pre-Columbian codices and figurines to historical manuscripts and headdresses, Nuttall was a pioneer in Mexican anthropology. Her regional interest began as a child when her mother gave her Lord Kingsborough’s Antiquities of Mexico.

 Her first publication — on a collection of terracotta heads from the famous archaeological site of Teotihuacán — led to her 1886 appointment as an honorary assistant in Mexican Archaeology at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, a position she would hold for 47 years.


Mexico object case with diverse materials ranging from a 16th century indigenous codex to a Mission-era presentation basket in the Papyrus in the Crocodile exhibit. Photo by Amanda Guzman

Arguably, Nuttall’s greatest contribution to the field of Mexican anthropology was her commitment to and promotion of the recovery and study of codices (manuscript paintings) through their purchase and/or replication in both museum and private collections. She garnered such distinction that a codex published by Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology was named after her and is still known today as the “Codex Nuttall.”

Today, the legacy of Nuttall’s Mexico lives on in the ever-growing geographic and temporal diversity of Mexican objects housed at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

Speaking on behalf of all the graduate student curators who contributed to this undertaking, it is our hope that the exhibition will serve as a departure point for future hands-on engagement with and critical thinking about UC Berkeley’s 150-year material legacy of diverse object and archival collections housed in numerous repositories across campus.

HearstMuseum_3-584,  Facsimile Painting of a Codex-p1ai3tnalmgjplfb60r10mnjgt

Facsimile Cloth Painting of the Geneology of Quauhquechollan-Macuilxochitepec by Mexican artist Genaro Blacio, Courtesy of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology, 3-383

I suspect my fellow anthropologist Zelia Nuttall would have agreed:

As far as ancient Mexico is concerned, it is my experience, for instance, that even after twenty years of study I have barely penetrated its vast field of investigation, and that the more I explore its untrodden paths and discern its multifarious contradictory and perplexing features the less I am inclined to formulate definite conclusions concerning the points at issue.

Zelia Nuttall, American Anthropologist, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 1906), pp. 134


Exhibition Details

The Papyrus in the Crocodile: 150 Years of Excavation, Exploration, Collection, and Stewardship at Berkeley

May 6 – July 29, 2016

Bancroft Library Gallery, University of California, Berkeley

(The Gallery is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed weekends and administrative holidays)


Amanda Guzman_photograph

Amanda Guzmán is a third-year graduate student in Anthropology at UC Berkeley. Employing different museum institutions as field sites for a broad comparative perspective, she analyzes the history of American museum collecting in, and representation of, Puerto Rico.

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From Plant Ecology to Nonlinear Optics, and a Few Places in Between

I had the opportunity to visit the nonlinear physics group at the University of Chile in Santiago this past December. During my stay, I met with researchers working on a broad range of theory and experiments that really highlight the universality of nonlinear phenomena across many fields.

I am broadly interested in the emergence of patterns throughout the natural world. Similar patterns can be found in very different systems: think about all the places you find stripes similar to ripples that appear on sand dunes in the desert. Another example, labyrinth patterns, have been observed in magnetic nano-particle suspensions called ferro-fluids and on pufferfish.

More striking in my mind is the fact that spatially localized structures that consist of a patch of pattern embedded in a homogeneous background can emerge even though there is no preferred location in the system. This is, however, a universal phenomenon that has been observed in a wide variety of nonlinear systems throughout biology, chemistry and physics.

A motivation for my thesis work comes from understanding the formation and dynamics of vevegetationgetation patterns in semi-arid regions. The patterns arise in these ecosystems to optimize the use of water or other limited resources. I am particularly interested in how spatially localized patches of vegetation respond to periodic fluctuations in growth conditions, say variations in precipitation.

The original purpose for my visit to Chile was to take my theoretical predictions that were motivated by plant ecology and apply them to a nonlinear optics experiment. This experiment uses a liquid crystal cell similar to what is in your TV screen to generate localized structures whose dynamics can be studied in great detail. Moreover, the researchers can introduce fluctuations in time that play the same role as variations in precipitation for vegetation patches. Unfortunately, an earthquake misaligned the optical components of the experiment a few weeks before I arrived and they weren’t able to get it running again before I left. Maybe this will give me an excuse to go back?

I was, however, able to make a connection between vegetation models and another experiment being done there to study Faraday waves on the surface of a vertically vibrated container of fluid. Michael Faraday first studies the basic setup in the 1800’s when he noticed that a wealth of different patterns could appear depending on the frequency and faradayamplitude of the vibrations. Amazingly, this simple experiment is still producing new and surprising results today. For example, the researchers at U. Chile found that they could generate spatially localized patterns by using a container that is very thin in one direction. Moreover, the localized patterns didn’t appear for the amplitudes of vibration that they expected. It turns out that the reason may have an analogy to the large-scale redistribution of water in plant ecology of semi-arid regions. This is work in progress.

While in Chile, I was also fortunate enough to attend an international workshop on instabilities and nonequilibrium structures in Valparaiso. Having spent the previous week in Santiago getting to know some of the researchers in attendance at the workshop made the experience much more enriching for me. I was able to have more in-depth academic discussions because I already knew many people and had background knowledge of their current research focus. I found some time for sightseeing with a few other students during on an off day at the conference. One of the highlights was a visit to the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparaiso. We happened to run into my advisor there.

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My time in Chile has exposed me to a diverse range of applications of nonlinear physics. I learned about dynamics in systems ranging from fluid systems, nonlinear optical media, and magnetic materials to ecology, traffic, and the Chilean school system.   Thanks to my gracious hosts in Santiago and an engaging workshop in Valparaiso, I have returned to Berkeley with new ideas and connections to researchers in Chile and across the world.

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Punit Gandhi is a Ph.D. candidate in the physics department at UC Berkeley. He studies pattern formation and was funded by a CONICYT grant to develop models of experimentally observed localized structures in collaboration with the nonlinear physics group at Universidad de Chile.


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Reckoning the Hill within Nahua Cosmovision

By Jessica J. Stair

During the fall of 2015 I had the pleasure of conducting dissertation research in Mexico. In addition to the rich archival materials I examined and the supportive colleagues with whom I consulted, one of the most striking and perhaps unexpected realizations I made was related to the significance of the landscape in relation to my subject of research.

I study a corpus of late 17th- to early 18th-century manuscripts created by indigenous communities in Central Mexico known as the Techialoyan Codices. These manuscripts were produced in response to the viceregal policy of composición, which required landowners to produce papers concerning the legitimacy of their land claims. If communities did not have the original grants of sale, they took whatever means necessary to prove their claims, including producing manuscripts that asserted to be from an earlier time. Roughly thirty-five of the Techialoyans are known, and their pages are filled with vibrant depictions of hills, valleys, plants, and bodies of water, which describe the boundaries of the communities’ landholdings.

Within Pre-Columbian and early colonial manuscript traditions, places are often represented with a uniform pictograph of a hill. These glyphs tend to have a similar visual appearance and serve as a base to which an affix is added to indicate the particularity of the place. In the Codex Boturini, Chapultepec is represented with the generalized hill glyph as the base and the addition of a grasshopper. The Nahuatl word for grasshopper is “chapolin,” “tepetl” means hill or mountain, and “-c” is a locative suffix, therefore Chapultepec literally means “Grasshopper Hill.” Its visual correspondence is represented with a hill mounted by the insect.

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Facsimile of Codex Borturini, Museo Nacional de Antropología. (Photo by Jessica J. Stair.)

The Techialoyans do not strictly adhere to this glyphic tradition, as they were produced roughly one hundred years later when visual conventions had significantly evolved. However, the image of the hill is a prominent and repeated feature throughout the corpus. For instance, Chapultepec is depicted as a rounded hill covered with one large grasshopper and six smaller ones.

In indigenous manuscripts a hill glyph represented an altepetl, an ethnically based, socio-political entity. The Nahuatl word, altepetl, derives from the word “atl,” meaning water and “tepetl,” meaning hill or mountain. Successive hills create coves in which water can be held. A mountain and watery cove would have been considered an ideal place for indigenous groups to settle. This idea connects to the mythical migration narrative, which describes the Mexica, also known as the “Aztecs,” as coming from an aquatic underworld in Aztlán. They emerged from the caves of Chicomoztoc and set out on a long journey before ultimately settling in Tenochtitlan.

Considered as living entities, hills and mountains held immense significance in Nahua cosmovision. Not only did they connect to the foundational acts of their ancestors, they also provided sustenance to support growing communities. The representation of hills in both the glyphic forms of early manuscripts and the evolved modes of the Techialoyans do not merely represent a place, they connect to the profound, primordial idea of giving and supporting life.

As I traveled across the magnificent landscape of the Valley of Mexico, I was struck by the multitude of mountains and hills. It is no wonder that the hill featured as a significant aspect of Nahua cosmovision; it is an ever-present feature of the landscape and shows up repeatedly in manuscripts to communicate the idea of place, which ultimately links to ancestral times.

This idea struck me most, though, when I was traveling on the bus from Mexico City to Puebla and I looked out the window to see a distinctive two-peaked mountain range. I thought to myself how familiar it looked because I had just seen a depiction like this one the previous day in the Techialoyan of Ixtapalapa at the Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia. I came to find out that, indeed, the distinctive mountains at which I was gazing were those of Ixtapalapa.

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View of Ixtapalapa. (Photo by Jessica J. Stair.)

At that moment, I realized just how closely linked the past and present can be. The places depicted in manuscripts that were created three hundred years ago still exist. The names and the landscape features remain the same. At the time the manuscripts were painted, the artists may have recalled a time when their ancestors founded the altepetl at the base of the same hill. Despite the myriad changes that have taken place in this region over time, the hill is a crucial aspect that remains to remind us of the interconnectedness of time and space in the Nahua world.

 Jessica Stair is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Art Department at UC Berkeley.  Stair_Picture
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Differing Perspectives

By Sara Green

Early in the morning, I rode my bike to Li Ka Shing auditorium to attend The Southern Border course that I am taking as part of the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship Program (FLAS). That day Professor Beatriz Manz was invited to lecture about her anthropological work in Guatemala during the civil war. The lecture shed light on the lives of Guatemalans who were forced to flee during the conflict and the U.S.’s role in supporting a government with a long list of human rights violations.

The Southern Border course has been invaluable to my understanding of Latin America because the professor builds a historical foundation through which we can analyze current issues. With this information I feel much more prepared to enter the field of migration and U.S. international policy relations.

After the lecture I found myself thinking about the unaccompanied minors from Central America who have migrated to the U.S. to escape to the structural violence that is still present in their home countries. What is our role in supporting Central Americans who are fleeing violence?

Especially taking into account the U.S. government’s devastating political actions in some of these countries.

This question lingered in my head as I trudged up the steep hill to the Goldman School of Public Policy. As a dual degree student (my other degree is in Social Welfare), I am used to the constant mobility and change of perspectives as I moved from building to building on Berkeley’s campus. That day in Economics for Public Policy, we were modeling government food stamps programs and learning about how people interact with these government benefits.

Although both my classes that morning were about two completely different topics, the themes merged that very afternoon. As part of my Spanish class, we are volunteering at local organizations where we practice Spanish through service learning. I biked down to Oakland International High School (OIHS) that afternoon to help students who recently won their asylum cases sign up for government benefits. That day I met Oscar, an 18 year old from Guatemala, and we were working on signing him up for Medi-Cal and CalFresh medical and food assistance programs.

Oscar told me that when he reached the United States a little over a year ago he did not speak English or Spanish. He was born in a rural area in Guatemala and had worked on a farm his whole life. Oscar is currently working on learning numbers both in Spanish and English, which is completely new for him since he did not have formal schooling in Guatemala.

I was struck by his determination and resiliency in navigating a new language, education and government system. I thought about the Guatemalan Civil War and had a better understanding of what brought Oscar to America. I also reflected on the structure of government programs and how hard it is to navigate the system of benefits as a newly arrived immigrant. The understanding I gained from my courses that day could not have been more aligned with the interactions I had with Oscar that afternoon. Having an understanding of issues from both a micro and macro level is exactly why I pursued a dual degree in the first place.

I am incredibly appreciative to be coupling a dual degree with the FLAS fellowship this year. Exploring the issues from many angles has deepened my knowledge of migration and international policy. I am eager for another semester of wrestling with these profound social issues and also getting to work alongside those like Oscar who have had to be brave enough to tackle them daily.

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Sara Green is a dual Masters Degree student in UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and the School of Social Welfare. 




Oakland International High School (OIHS) serves newly arrived immigrant students to the U.S. all of whom are English language learners.  Nearly 1/3 of OIHS’s current students are from Central America.

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Oakland International High School, Oakland, California. (Photo by Jacqueline Sullivan.)

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Oakland International High School students from Central America in a Basic Math Skills class.                                                                                             Photo: Jacqueline Sullivan

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A teacher at Oakland International High School waits for students in his Basic Math Skills class.                                                                   Photo: Jacqueline Sullivan

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A tenet of the Oakland International High School’s approach to English language acquisition is group work. Photo: Jacqueline Sullivan

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100% of Oakland International High School’s students are English language learners, nearly all of whom immigrated to the US during the last 4 years. Photo: Jacqueline Sullivan


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Student artwork in a literature classroom at Oakland International High School. Photo: Jacqueline Sullivan

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More than 1/3 of the current students at Oakland International High School are undocumented, unaccompanied minors from Central America. Photo: Jacqueline Sullivan

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