Congratulations to Phi Beta Kappa Initiate, Simone Duval!

198906_10150098050116710_698046709_6753906_2476709_nWe would like to offer congratulations to Simone Duval, a 2014 Journalism and Latin American Studies double-major from Shaker Heights, Ohio, who will be initiated into Alpha of North Carolina Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Duval will be initiated at the Spring initiation ceremony, which will be held on April 14, 2014.

Simone is fluent in Spanish, and has had various experiences working with research, the media and with Spanish-speaking populations. Simone is also the DJ for Radio Latijam for summer 2013; Radio Latijam is a community Spanish language radio program based in Carrboro and sponsored by the UNC School of Journalism. The program’s goal is to cater to Latino youth in the community.

Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and most honored college honorary society. Membership is open to undergraduates in the college and professional degree programs who meet stringent eligibility requirements. A student who has completed 75 hours of course work with a GPA of 3.85 or better (on a 4-point scale) is eligible for membership. Also eligible is any student who has completed 105 hours of course work in the liberal arts and sciences with a 3.75 GPA. Grades earned at other universities are not considered. Less than 1 percent of all college students qualify.

Past and present Phi Beta Kappa members from across the country have included 17 American presidents and numerous artistic, intellectual and political leaders. Seven of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices are members. Phi Beta Kappa has 280 chapters nationwide. UNC’s chapter, Alpha of North Carolina, was founded in 1904 and is the oldest of seven chapters in the state.

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Interview with Liz Willis, Global Course Guanajuato TA

Liz Willis is a senior at UNC Chapel Hill and a APPLES Global Course Guanajuato alumni. She now serves as the TA for the course.

We had a chance to sit down with Liz Willis, the Teaching Assistant for the upcoming spring break trip (just a few days away!) to Guanajuato, Mexico for APPLES Global Course Guanajuato.  Despite the bustle of finishing off school work and making final preparations for the trip –  Liz  (now a Senior at UNC) took time to reflect on how she became interested in migration in the first place.

Liz’s first engagement with immigrant rights came through a fairly ubiquitous source: Spanish language class.  Rather than restricting her participation in the classroom, Liz wanted to take her newly found Spanish skills and apply them, an opportunity that presented itself through study abroad experiences in Puebla, Mexico and Quito, Ecuador.

After getting back Liz was “looking to use newly acquired Spanish skills to contribute to [her] community.” Already drawn to community-based projects, she quickly connected with groups such as Alianza, LINC, and the Know Your Rights committee, getting involved in ESL tutoring and advocacy, in particular by raising awareness about the legal avenues available to immigrants and recruiting lawyers to speak communities in North Carolina.

With her background in community development, it was no surprise that Liz was drawn to the APPLES Global Course Guanajuato.

“I saw the application and thought it would be a good fit because it lets you work with a community here and also go and visit a community in Mexico…it gives you a deeper education, a community-based education.”

“[the trip] was incredible…I learned so much and really felt connected to the communities there.”

Liz cited the longstanding relationship between Dr. Hannah Gill, the Guanajuato course instructor, and the communities in the Bajío region as one of the most positive aspects of the trip. “I felt I was contributing to continuing the relationship and building a relationship between communities.”

Upon returning to the US, Liz continued seek opportunities to broaden and develop her understanding of US migration. Using oral histories, she partnered with the Human Rights Center to investigate topics deeply relevant to her community of Chapel Hill-Carrboro, such as day laborers and immigrant rights.

When the opportunity to join APPLES Global Course Guanajuato again as a Teaching Assistant presented itself, Liz applied right away.  As teaching assistant, she is helping plan the logistics of the trip as well as helping students in the course develop their projects.  Empowering students to learn more about the issue of immigration is something Liz has gotten more and more involved with the years, working across campus to raise student awareness about immigration issues and help them gain “a global perspective.”

In her words, this perspective allows students to “understand that migration story doesn’t start in the United States, that it starts in Mexico and it starts in these communities.”

This global perspective has a profound impact on how Liz views her work and future. After graduation, Liz is planning on returning to Quito, Ecuador to work with Columbian refugees and continue to develop a global perspective on immigration, asylum, and policy issues. Upon returning to the U.S., she plans to attend law school to pursue advocacy work with local immigrant communities.

We wish Liz all the best on her future work and look forward to meeting the next cohort of APPLES Global Guanajuato Course alumni!

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Harvesting Dignity: Remembering the Lives of Farmworkers

By: María J. Obando

As we receive and share the gift of food with others this holiday season, let us remember the people who put food on our tables. 

With the holiday season underway, it is easy to get “wrapped up” in gifts. We give presents to friends and loved ones, some of us spending hours online or at the mall carefully choosing that perfect something for someone. Ironically, we spend almost no time unwrapping the presents we receive. In a similar fashion, many labor tirelessly for hours to prepare incredible meals for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other holiday gatherings. In the end, the meals quickly disappear from plates, leaving stomachs full and satisfied. The gift of food is rarely ever wrapped in pretty paper and bows, but it is nonetheless wrapped in bags and put in cardboard boxes. The gift of food is not only carefully prepared for cooking; it is first carefully prepared for market or storage. The gift of food is handpicked in the harvest, cultivated, and, first and foremost, planted. Most importantly, the gift of food comes from those who are a big part of our lives, but who unfortunately remain anonymous and forgotten, if they are ever remembered at all.

One day after Thanksgiving in 1960, Edward R. Murrow, a prominent American journalist, presented Harvest of Shame on CBS prime time. The documentary treated the plight of a “forgotten people”: migrant farmworkers. Harvest of Shame revealed migrant workers’ terrible living and working conditions, including the health, social and labor injustices plaguing the United States’ agricultural system. It spawned a lot of public attention, which ultimately resulted in some changes to farmworker regulation rights and policies. Over fifty years later, Harvest of Dignity, a documentary made possible by Minnow Media in partnership with Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), demonstrates that little has actually changed; migrant farmworkers are facing many of the same conditions today as those documented in 1960.[i]  As signified by the re-appropriated and revised title, where there was shame, now there is dignity, but not because there is anything dignified about working conditions of agricultural labor. Rather, it is a harvest of dignity because migrant farmworkers unflaggingly labor to bestow upon us the gift of food, even in spite of their day-to-day plight. The mission of both of these documentaries is to make farmworkers more visible to the general public. Sadly, these individuals still remain relatively invisible, especially in the state of North Carolina.

Farmworkers in North Carolina

While Harvest of Shame’s showcase of migrant farmworkers was national in scope, it did feature North Carolina, possibly because it was Murrow’s home state. Similarly, North Carolina becomes the centerpiece of Harvest of Dignity. Commissioned by SAF (Student Action for Farmworkers), the recent documentary includes interviews with local advocates and farmworkers in North Carolina. With 22% of the state’s income deriving from farm labor, agriculture makes a significant contribution to the economy (about $10 billion a year). Unfortunately, workers in the state earn 35% less than the national average, a disparity that may be due to the migrant farmworker demographic. The North Carolina agricultural workforce is now largely comprised of Latinos (95-98%) from Mexico and Central America, in contrast to 50 years ago when African Americans were the predominant group. While some hold an H-2A classification work permit, many are not legally authorized to work.[ii] As the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, “undocumented immigrants exist in a shadow economy,”[iii] as they are subject to harsh living and working conditions and rarely speak up out of fear of possible deportation. Even those who do have legal working permits rarely speak up because they are dependent on their employer for their visa. Violations of human and worker’s rights include lack of provision of proper safety equipment, sub-standard housing, unfair compensation, and even sexual abuse, but these experiences largely remain in the shadows.

Farm labor is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, with the fatality rate for workers seven times higher than for workers in private industries, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Farm labor is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, with the fatality rate for workers seven times higher than for workers in private industries, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The quality of life for farmworkers diminishes in the midst of adverse weather conditions, pesticides, dust, fungi, etc. The fact that many North Carolina crops like sweet potatoes, apples, bell peppers, cucumbers, and other fruits and vegetables require hand labor means that workers have greater risk of exposure. With the holiday season in full swing, Christmas trees can be added to the list. Wilmer, a farmworker in the state interviewed Harvest of Dignity, has planted, fertilized, cultivated, sprayed and picked—all at the cost of immigrants’ health. “I think the chemicals have harmed me some,” says Wilmer, “but my brothers, I have brought them to the emergency room because of the tobacco, because of the chemicals they use.” Wilmer’s brothers may very well have experienced green tobacco poisoning, or nicotine poisoning, through the skin. Elaine Bartlett, from the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, reports that 24% of workers in tobacco fields are poisoned at least once in the growing season and that they can absorb the same amount of nicotine in 36 cigarettes daily.[iv]  There continues to be a great need for education for farmworkers insofar as the prevention and/or treatment of the health hazards in agricultural work. What complicates matters even further is the lack of medical treatment; in North Carolina, only 20% of farmworkers receive health care. It is no surprise, then, that the fatality rate for farmworkers in the state is higher than the national average.

“Asleep on the hay”: Farmworkers deserve better living conditions

 In Harvest of Shame, Murrow notes the extent of “bad” housing: “Flies, mosquitoes, dirty beds and mattresses, unsanitary toilets, and lack of hot water for bathing.” Before 2007, housing laws in North Carolina did not even require farmers to provide workers beds with mattresses. Accordingly, huge amendments were passed to the Migrant Housing Act in 2007 with the successful campaign efforts of the NC Farmworker Advocacy Network that started in 2003. While the North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) sets standards for migrant housing, the state still suffers from inadequate housing, which creates additional health and safety risks for farmworkers who already face hazardous working conditions. A recent study by the Center for Worker Health at Wake Forest University School of Medicine reveals that the “bad” housing Murrow characterizes troubles today’s North Carolina migrant workers; the study is ostensibly the most extensive investigation in the Southeastern U.S. pertaining to farmworker housing.[v] Of the 183 camps inspected, there were multiple violations of the North Carolina Migrant Housing Act found in each camp, which included roach, mice and rat infestation; non-working toilets and showers; contaminating drinking water; and problems related to fire safety[vi].

Child labor: farmwork robs children of their youth

In North Carolina, nearly 5 out of 10 farmworkers disclosed that they could not afford the cost of food for their families, sometimes themselves. Unfortunately, financial desperation leads children to work alongside their parents in the fields. In 2010, Human Rights Watch, an international organization focused on human rights, conducted research in a handful of states, including North Carolina, to evaluate farmworking conditions for children.[vii] Based on more than 140 interviews with current and former child farmworkers, the study revealed that working conditions have serious consequences for children in regards to health and education. Like adult farmworkers, children, face extreme temperatures and pesticide exposure, the latter of which is very problematic because their bodies are still in development. Further, many children work with sharp tools and heavy machinery without sufficient safety measures. Research also disclosed that employers do not protect children by giving them basic health needs on the job: “Many children said that their employers did not provide drinking water, handwashing facilities or toilets” (Human Rights Watch). Shockingly, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not protect children in agricultural occupations the way it does children working in other industries,[viii] and even the feeble protection it does provide rarely receives enforcement. Because the FLSA also does not cap how many hours children can work outside of school hours, child agricultural workers often struggle with their education. They have difficulties concentrating on both school and work, and thus education becomes secondary to meeting financial needs for themselves or their families. It is no surprise that farmworker youth often drop out of school and fail to continue their education. Sadly, this hazardous line of work forces children to grow up too quickly and jeopardizes future educational opportunities.

The Gift of Dignity: Effecting change for farmworkers

Hazardous working conditions, putrid housing, and child labor—these are all injustices that the people who work for our food face on a daily basis. Far more research has been conducted in regards to migrant farmworkers and the problems of the agricultural system in the United States that could not be related in this blog. There are a vast number of minor troublesome issues that create larger problems. Agriculture, however, largely suffers from a structural problem that cannot and will not be fixed in the short term. Indeed, Harvest of Shame brought national awareness for the plight of migrant farmworkers and facilitated advocacy, but over fifty years have passed and not enough has been done to ensure human rights and protection for them.

“The migrants have no lobby. Only an enlightened, aroused and perhaps angered public opinion can do anything about the migrants. The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation.” Speaking directly to the American nation, these were Edward Murrow’s closing words for the documentary in 1960. Murrow clearly points to the need and power of “enlightened,” “aroused,” and “angered,” voices to effect change on behalf of migrant farmworkers. Migrant farmworkers are the often-silenced voices we do not hear and the marginalized individuals we do not see. They are mistreated, exploited, injured, and unrecognized. It is vital that we promulgate the respect and acknowledgement migrant farmworkers deserve by making them visible through awareness efforts, educational means, and advocacy work.

As we receive and share the gift of food with others this holiday season, let us remember the people who put food on our tables.


About the author:

María J. Obando is an intern with the Latino Migration Project. She is a graduate student in English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is interested in 20th century multi-ethnic literature, particularly how Latinos are represented in drama. Her focus on dramatic texts includes their historical, cultural and literary contexts as well as their performative aspects.

[i] Both documentaries and other short videos are available on the North Carolina Farmer Advocacy Network’s site,

[ii] The federal H-2A agricultural guest worker program provides farmers with a legal workforce in the absence of domestic labor. The state of North Carolina has more H-2A guest workers than any other state, with a certified 9,387 guest workers. In 2011, Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, released a report that exposed the ways in which the program is fraught with violations and worker abuse, leaving thousands of migrant farmworkers without adequate protection. The report strongly recommends legal enforcement and details short-term as well as long-term solutions. The report is available at

[iii] The Southern Poverty Law Center’s full article, “Under Seige: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South” can be read in its entirety at

[iv] Bartlett’s “The Dangers of Agricultural Work” is part of the NC Farmworker Advocacy Network’s blog, available at

[v] “Migrant farmworker housing regulation violations in north Carolina” was published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in March of 2012.

[vi] A migrant farm camp can be an old farm house, a trailer, or a trailer park. Camps remain invisible due their isolated geographical location.

[vii] The report, “Fields of Peril: Child Labor in U.S. Agriculture” can be accessed at

[viii] The FLSA, which regulates child labor, upholds a no-minimum-working-age for children on small farms, outside of school hours, as long as there is parental permission. Also with parental permission, children who are 12-13 years of age can work for any size farm outside of school hours. Once children are 14-15 years of age, they can work on any farm without parent permission. In contrast, children under 14 years of age cannot be legally employed in nonagricultural industries; those who are 14-15 years old can only work for limited hours outside of school and in designated jobs by the secretary of labor (i.e. grocery stores). Children who are 12 years old (in some cases as young as 10 years old) are allowed to work under the North Carolina child labor laws, although children as young as six have been found working in the fields.



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Latinos Reach New Highs in College Enrollment

By: María J. Obando

For the first time, Latinos are the largest minority group enrolled in four-year colleges and universities, according to the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center Report released in August 2012. With the enrollment number surpassing two million in 2011, Latino students account for 16.5% of the 18- to 24-year-old students nationwide. In two-year colleges, Latino students also reached a record share of 25.2% of the total student enrollment. The rise in Hispanic population is one significant factor that contributes to these numbers. According to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, more than 12.4 million Latinos attended public schools pre-K through 12th grade in October 2011, making up 23.9% of total public school students enrolled across the country. The demographic trends suggest that these students will make up a large share of public high school enrollment as they progress through kindergarten and elementary school in years to come.


SLI tutors latino high school students and helps them prepare for college.

In addition to the increase in the Hispanic population overall, the report finds that the increase in high school graduation rates among Latino students warrants equal attention. Today, more Hispanic youth are eligible to attend college than ever, due increased high school and General Education Development (GED) degree rates. In 2011, Latinos ages 18 to 24 who graduated from high school achieved a milestone for Hispanic high school completion at 76%. In short, the rise in Hispanic population growth, coupled with greater eligibility for Latino students to attend college, has resulted in the noteworthy minority on college campuses. The growing community of educators working towards improving graduation rates and college access here in North Carolina, a state with one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the nation, has enthusiastically welcomed the findings of the Pew Report. Innovative programs like the student-led Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) at UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, mobilize 100 volunteers annually to provide more than 8,000 hours of service in order to help Latino high school students realize their dream of college attendance.
The Pew Hispanic Center Report certainly presents a momentous milestone for Latino students, and it provides a positive forecast for higher education among the Latino youth population. But, there is still much work to be done in order to maintain this strong Latino presence. Although the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (Snyder and Dillow, 2012) shows new highs for Hispanic students who receive associate and bachelor’s degrees, the number of degrees conferred still falls short of their non-Hispanic student counterparts. Sung praises aside, the recent report seems to gesture at the concern for college retention and completion. Indeed, there are many considerations regarding the increase of Latino student enrollment in colleges and universities that directly affect whether students will successfully finish their studies. These under-represented students, many of who are the first in their family to attend college, have particular needs that often extend beyond the educational domain.

Latino voices are nuanced and multiplicitous–they speak about migration, family, and culture, among other things. Generally, Latino youth’s narratives intersect with daily educational pursuits. Both individual and collective narratives serve to remind our education system about the need to consider Latino students’ personal backgrounds and how they may impede academic potential and success. A profitable plan of action that acknowledges and well serves the Latino presence in higher education will accommodate students’ needs. Before productive changes in universities can be implemented, however, educators, faculty and staff alike have a responsibility to learn about Latino students’ narratives, many of which center on the migration experience.

In North Carolina, there are several endeavors that make these narratives more easily accessible. Directed by Associate Professor Mimi Chapman, PhD, in UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Social Work, and developed with Robert Colby, Ph.D., the “Yo Veo” project wonderfully tackles the need to inform North Carolina educators about Latino youth’s personal stories. Of particular interest to this project is how these stories, especially those concerning the migration experience, impact academic performance and students’ mental wellness. In fact, the project’s inception came as a response to the question, what do we do and how do we allow for productive change when a large number of Hispanic youth unexpectedly enter our classrooms? Although “Yo Veo” and its corresponding training for teachers using photojournalism is happening at the grade-school level, this is precisely the same question college educators and administrators need to ask.

In the same vein, The Latino Migration Project (LMP), a program of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Center for Global Initiatives at UNC-Chapel Hill, creates and advances knowledge about the Latin American experience. In January 2010, LMP and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Oral History Program launched a collection of oral histories on issues concerning (im)migration to North Carolina and Latino communities. UNC-Chapel Hill students in courses relevant to this line of research continue to conduct interviews for the collection, which include the voices of immigrants, professionals who work with immigrants, educators, students (first and U.S.-born second generations), policy-makers, and community leaders. Although this project tackles the Latin American community more broadly, many of the archived oral histories provide a cogent context for which to better understand the Latino college student. These interviews certainly showcase migration experiences as well as the subsequent effects of migration–many of which may manifest as cultural barriers that impede Hispanic academic success. These oral histories are but a starting point as far as strategizing how to better serve the rising population of Latinos on college campuses nationwide.

Unfortunately, quantitative data often provides a limited and two-dimensional portrayal of Latino students. Productive change will only unfold if we learn about these students through their individual and collective narratives. We cannot guarantee that every student will succeed in higher education, but we can make sure that their narratives influence the development of educational policies and practices that will best serve their collegiate academic pursuits.

The full Pew Hispanic Center Report can be accessed at
For more information about SLI, visit
For more information about Dr. Chapman’s project, visit
Collection of oral histories in North Carolina on the issue of migration can be found at


About the author:

María J. Obando is an intern with the Latino Migration Project. She is a graduate student in English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is interested in 20th century multi-ethnic literature, particularly how Latinos are represented in drama. Her focus on dramatic texts includes their historical, cultural and literary contexts as well as their performative aspects.



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Cake Fights and Teaching Accomplishments

By Matt Austin

June 25, 2012

Everything is still going well here in Trancas!  Last night, we returned from a 1 ½ day trip to San Miguel.  Alejandro, a college student from Mexico City who is teaching math in Trancas, was kind enough to let us stay in his condo in San Miguel.

It was awesome to see the city, and on Sunday, we got to meet up with the El Gusano group.  We also went to a market and bought gifts for friends and family.  Since we had been deprived from greasy, American fast food for so long, one of the highlights of the trip for Tim and I was getting a McDonalds Big Mac, French fries, Coke, and a McFlurry.  It was delicious, but I don’t think McDonalds is quite as good as the tortas that my housemother makes.  Tortas are definitely one of my favorite foods now.

At the beginning of last week, Tim and I were invited to go to his housemother’s cousin’s birthday party.  The party was at a restaurant that is about thirty minutes away between Trancas and Guanajuato.  It is located off the side of a mountain road, and the restaurant owner told us that you can see the lights of Trancas from the back porch of the restaurant at night.  We got to meet Luis (the cousin who had just turned 20), and all of his friends who attend the university in Guanajuato.  It was great to hang out with all of them and they were extremely welcoming to Tim and I.  After, eating a delicious meal, they brought out a cake.  Everyone kept telling Luis to put his face in the cake and take a bite (I am pretty sure this is a Mexican tradition for birthdays).  He did it once, but I guess they didn’t think his face was covered enough with icing, so his girlfriend smashed cake in his face.  Everyone in the restaurant was cracking up and then a cake fight began with 4 or 5 people.  After the fight was over, everyone sat down to talk more, and then we headed back to Trancas.

Teaching is still going really well!  Michelle and I are still teaching the “intermediate” group in the Secundaria.  Many of the students in this group knew less than half of the answers on the initial English evaluations that we gave.  However, last week we tested our students, and no one scored less than a 7 out of 10.  A lot of the material on the test was the same as the material that was on the evaluation, so we were very happy to see improvement.  I have loved seeing the kids’ excitement about learning and all the improvements they have made.  For example, Daniel, one of my house brother’s friends, comes to take care of the sheep with us everyday.  There have been a few days that he has brought his Spanish/English dictionary and notebook with him to study.  I hope that we can encourage him and others to continue studying on their own even after we have returned to the United States.

One of my favorite classes to teach is the 1st and 2nd grade class.  They are always really excited to have us there, but sometimes it’s very hard to keep their attention.  We usually use the first half of the class to teach new material, and then the second part of the class for an activity to keep them interested.  For example, the day we taught colors, we played a game outside where we would say a color, and they had to run to something that was that color.  When we said blue, they all jumped on Michelle because she was wearing a blue shirt, which was hilarious.

I am still having a great experience here in Mexico.  I feel like my Spanish has improved greatly and I am much more confident with my speaking.  The other night, my house brother, Juan, and I were laughing about the first day I spent in Trancas and how I could hardly understand anything he said.  Now, he and I can converse with a few misunderstandings here and there.  I am looking forward to the last two weeks we have in Trancas, but I am already dreading saying goodbye to all the awesome people I have met here!

About the author:

Matt Austin is a senior Economics and Global Studies major at UNC Chapel Hill from Charlotte, NC. This summer he is working with Project Guanajuato, an internship program of the Latino Migration Project and the Fundacion Comunitaria del Bajio in Guanajuato, Mexico. This is his first time in Guanajuato and he is looking forward to sharpening his Spanish skills, teaching English classes in local schools, and building relationships with the people of Trancas, a rural community near the city of Dolores Hidalgo.



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Teaching in El Gusano: Creative Approaches

By: Jennifer Ibarra

Last week Gilly wrote about some of the issues that have made it difficult to teach classes, such as not being able to teach in the primaria, various community events that interfere with our after-school classes, like the political party candidates who come to make speeches, or students simply not showing up to classes. Fortunately, we’re starting to make some progress. Not being able to teach in school was turning out to be quite difficult, so we had the idea to check out the secundaria in the nearby rancho. All of our youth who continue onto middle school (because going to or finishing middle school isn’t always a given here) attend the middle school in Capulín, the neighboring rancho, because El Gusano doesn’t have a middle school of its own. On Monday, we took the twenty minute walk down the road into El Gusano with Irma, one of the promotoras, to speak with the head teacher at Capulín to see if we could teach English classes there a few times a week. He spoke with other teachers, and five out of six of the teachers decided they wanted us to teach English. Originally, we were going to come in twice a week to teach each class once a week, but we soon added on more classes.

Now, we come in a total of four times a week. We teach one first grade, two second grade, and two third grade classes (there are two classes for each grade). I teach both of my classes, a second grade and third grade by myself, and Gilly and Elizabeth teach one class by themselves and one class together. It’s definitely been fun to be in front of the classroom with desks, a whiteboard, students who pay attention and take notes, and students who whisper or chat when they shouldn’t be chatting. I’ve had to bring down a “strong fist” and call students out for chatting or misbehaving. Teaching in the secundaria has been a great way to get to know the male youth (muchachos) better. They usually don’t come to our English or art classes in the Centro (and by “usually” I mean never), but we see them around a lot because they come to play soccer or hang out. Before teaching classes in Capulín, we would always make jokes at each other in passing, but at Capulín we get a little more time to talk to them. This is because they’re often coming or going somewhere at the Centro, whereas Gilly, Elizabeth and I are at the secundaria for a whole forty-five minutes before classes for break and lunch-time and we chat with them during another break after class while waiting for someone else to finish teaching. When we talk to the guys before or after class, it’s almost always joking, too, but this helps us grow friendships with them no matter how insignificant it sounds. Just showing face helps. Instead of being the funny gringos in the center every Monday through Saturday night that they see around, we’re teachers or even friends…okay, maybe we haven’t gotten to friendship level yet with any of these rowdy middle school boys, but simply seeing them more often has helped out a lot.

What I have noticed more than anything is that a lot of the students are very shy about being called on, or speaking in English. We had an English class for adults and adolescents this week in the Centro where everyone hid behind their notebooks at one point and giggled because I told them to speak up. I’ve had to learn how best to be the head of the classroom, how to work with kids. Of course, everyone has their own personality. It’s not like they all act the same, but there is this sort of unexpected shyness or timidity.As Elizabeth says, it’s like pulling teeth. Sometimes kids are more reluctant to participate because they don’t want to, but often kids are just shy.

You have to seek them out and be gentle, even with some of the rambunctious ones. I had to be firm but kind in order to encourage some o the energetic and sassy boys in primaria to participate in the photo project. I could see that they wanted to. If I just asked them, “Hey, want to take some photos?” they would think about it for a few seconds and decide not to. One boy was fine with taking photos but was uncomfortable saying that he wanted photos taken of himself. I had to ask him gently a couple of times, and both times he only responded with very slight nods. After the first time, he changed his mind. He was happy about getting to take the photos home with him a few days later.

All of the kids were happy about taking photos home with them. For the past few weeks, we have been having a lot of success with our art activities. Our first popular art event was Music Week. Gilly, Elizabeth and I had collected a variety of bottles and cardboard. Tuesday, we made musical instruments out of the bottles and cardboard, and throughout the week kids and I played on the centro’s guitarra and Gilly’s guitarrita, or mini-guitar.

On Saturday, we played the instruments while putting music on that the locals like over a speaker. It was a lot of fun to jam with the kids, and they really liked it.

This week, we had a photo project. We bought disposable cameras and let kids use our digital cameras. In total, the kids took about 200 photos! The photography project was a really good way to get girls who are shier or more distant to participate, and Music Week was a really good way to get rowdier boys to come out and participate. The art activities continue to be a hit, and our after-school English classes at the Centro are still going pretty well, too.

About the Author: Jenny Ibarra is a Spanish Major at UNC on the Hispanic Literature and Culture track. Born and raised outside of Washington, D.C., she has always been exposed to the migrant experience and is excited to see it from another perspective. This is her first time participating in Project Guanajuato. She is teaching English and Art classes in El Gusano.

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“¿Y qué hacen ustedes?”

 By: Jennifer Ibarra

This first week in El Gusano has been full of interesting and exciting experiences.


As you may know, our mission in these ranchos, or extremely small towns, is to promote education. We do this by teaching English classes and establishing relationships with students so that we have the opportunity to encourage them to further their studies. So, it came as a big surprise when we were told that we could no longer teach English classes like we had in past summers.


In our training and preparation meetings for the trip, we were told that we should be flexible. “Be ready to change your lesson plans…or completely scratch your lesson plans.” Last summer, the culprit was faulty computers which caused UNC students to re-write their lesson plans. This way they could better accommodate three kids on a machine instead of one. This year in El Gusano, it’s not faulty computers as much as a change in zona, or zone, supervisors, that has prevented us from going forward with what we originally prepared.


Friday was our first full day in the rancho. We met in the morning to start planning for the six to seven weeks we would be in the town. An evaluation was drawn up, and we happily took it to the head maestra, teacher, when we went to the school to set our hours. However, we never got to the evaluation in the meeting. Before we could mention it, the maestra began saying something that sounded like we couldn’t teach classes. “Did I hear her right, or did I just misunderstand because my Spanish isn’t fluent?” I thought.  “Wait, no she said it again!” Apparently, there was a new supervisor who no longer wanted us to teach because what would the hired teachers do in the meantime? “¿Y qué hacen ustedes mientras ellos enseñan?” Alas, lesson-planning and grading papers wasn’t a good enough response. Unless we received permission from the supervisor, we could no longer teach classes at the primaria.

Thus began our after-school lessons, our English classes for primaria, secundaria, and adults, and our art classes for primaria and secundaria. Initially we were thinking about scratching English classes and having other after-school activities where we could incorporate English. None of the kids would want to come to English classes after their already mandatory classes. It would just be prolonged school. But despite our concerns, Irma, a community member who works for the Fundación Comunitaria del Bajío, told us that there was enough interest in El Gusano that people would set aside a part of their day just to come out.


It’s been a bit of a struggle. Most students come late, which we expected, since we heard a lot of people come late to things in the community. Tardiness isn’t the main issue, though. Merely getting people to show up has been the brunt of the problem. We have classes with 8-13 students coming and classes where no one shows up. Despite our inconsistent attendance, we have been having a lot of fun with the kids. So far we’ve covered basic conversation, the alphabet, numbers, and family vocabulary. On Monday, none of the younger students showed up to English class, but because a lot came to Art on Tuesday, we made a sort of hybrid class and had the students draw a picture of their house and family. This way, we incorporated a lot of words like “father” and “sister” (trust me, we had a lot to work with—one girl is one of FIFTEEN children!). We also made a fortune teller in English, which the girls loved. They practiced counting numbers and vocabulary like “Yes,” “No,” and funnier responses to their queries like, “Never!” We wrote the colors in English, so they also had an opportunity to practice color vocabulary and spelling.


It has been a lot of fun getting to know the students. We have also started going around the community and formally introducing ourselves to the families, so we’ve also met a fair share of parents and community members (though we have a lot more to go! There are about 76 families living in El Gusano.). The best time we visited families was probably a week ago. El Gusano is mainly a one-road town surrounded by some decent-sized lomas, or hills. Earlier that day, Elizabeth and I were commenting how we wanted to hike up one of these lomas one day. We got our wish sooner than we expected when we hiked up some lomas to visit the houses on the outer-reaches of the town! Some of the families thought this was funny, but I would say it was one of parts of teaching and living in El Gusano that is the most unique and something that I liked the most.


Do you have any ideas or suggestions for art activities, particularly for pre-teens and young teenagers? We’re planning on collaging with them and doing some musical activities, but we can’t do that until 1) we go into town and buy magazines, and 2) we get a fully-functional guitar. Some of the girls saw my iTouch today and want to look at it tomorrow, so that’s a good way to get them to bring in their own music so we can all share. We’d love to hear your feedback! Feel free to post comments or questions.

Hasta luego,


Jennifer Ibarra

About the author:

Jenny Ibarra is a Spanish Major at UNC on the Hispanic Literature and Culture track. Born and raised outside of Washington, D.C., she has always been exposed to the migrant experience and is excited to see it from another perspective. This is her first time participating in Project Guanajuato. She is teaching English and Art classes in El Gusano.


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Our first week: Reflections on Mexico City and El Gusano

By Guile Contreras

Hey, my name is Guile Contreras and I’m the group leader for El Gusano this year. Last summer, I was in Trancas, so I’m more or less familiar with the area. My experience will be a little different from the rest of group since I have better idea what to expect. Less culture shock and other surprises. I would say that last year’s trip was amazing and enriching. Hopefully, I will have the same or even better experience here in El Gusano. Right now I find myself constantly comparing this current trip with the one from last summer, even including el DF.

One of the most interesting parts of the trip is arriving to Mexico City. Previously, my image of Mexico was that it was a giant rural country filled with cacti and livestock. I guess I based it on the stereotyped Mexican culture and as well my experience with Mexicans. Most Mexicans I knew, friends and migrant workers, were from small ranchos in rural parts of Mexico. They spoke of farm work, a slow-paced lifestyle, and cowboy boots and rancheras. Mexico City is the opposite of that image. It’s vibrant, urban, progressive, and diverse like any other big city. This year, like last year, I was awed at the size and vastness of Mexico City. From the plane, it looks like it goes on and on and there is no end. Once you travel through the city, it still feels the same way. Building after building, street and street, and the sea of cars that make up the excruciating traffic.  It’s not just the size of the city that makes this an interesting part of trip, rather the transition from a Latin metropolis filled with 25 million people to rural ranchito of only 70 families. There are parts in the US that are the same, but most people don’t experience such a drastic change of location in a small amount of time.  It’s not just a change of landscape and population size, but also of people and values.

From what I have seen so far, the people of El Gusano are not so different from Trancas. It’s definitely a slower pace lifestyle compared to what I’m used to at UNC. There is no rushing to lectures or juggling between meetings and intramural sports. People wake up, eat breakfast, either go to work, school, or stay and clean the house, then have lunch and later work some more and finally rest and socialize before heading to sleep. This is a regular day for most citizens, but for some that isn’t enough. They wanted more than just a simple life filled with financial struggle. I’ve never met them and only know them by name only. They are the ones that chose to migrate to the US. Most of the people I’ve spoken with so far have at least one family member in the US; a husband, son, daughter, brother, or sister. You mostly hear Tejas, Fort Worth, Austin, and Dallas. I don’t know too much about these people because it’s just been a week. They have similarities, but each individual case is different. Maybe like last year, by the end of my time here I will have a better understanding of why these people chose to leave their families behind and go to the US.

I’ve mostly been conversing with the adults and the not the kids and teenagers because they tend to be more shy at first. Hopefully once we begin working with the primaria next week, the kids will stop giggling and then running away from me and the rest of the group. Well, nos vemos al rato.

About the author:

Guile Contreras is a junior education major at UNC Chapel Hill from Siler City, NC. He is co-trip leader of Project Guanajuato, an internship program of the Latino Migration Project in collaboration with the Fundacion Comunitaria del Bajio in Guanajuato, Mexico.  He is returning for his second year to Guanajuato with a UNC team to teach classes in local middle schools.  El Gusano is a rural community located in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato with high out-migration to the United States.

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Feeling at Home in Trancas

By: Tim McEachran

It is crazy to think that we have been in Mexico for three weeks and in Trancas for a little over two! The time seems to have flown by, but it also feels like I know this place so well. This Monday we finally were able to start giving classes at both the Primaria and the Secundaria! After giving evaluations last week, we have split the groups up into advanced and non-advanced and are now teaching three times to each class per week. So far things have been going extremely well! Cora and I are teaching the advanced group in each grade level and have been working on simple phrases and conversational sayings. We’ve also been working on the sounds of vowels in English, something that can be very hard and unnatural for Spanish-speakers. On the last class of the week we even did a sort of mock “date” in English for the oldest students at the secundaria. It was really fun and they seemed to enjoy that a lot. It has been really enjoyable to teach classes at the primaria because the younger kids are so eager and excited to learn! They love it when we come in and we have been working on very basic things like numbers and the English alphabet with them.  There are certain days where a particular class is out of session for some reason so we have to work around that, but overall the teaching aspect of the project is going really well!


As well as just the everyday activities of going to take care of the borregas (sheep) with Juan and playing soccer almost every night, we have also been able to go on some pretty fun adventures! Last Sunday night Matt and I were hanging out with some of the men in town after their soccer game earlier in the day (which Trancas won), when they asked Matt if he would start playing the guitar for them. They loved hearing Matt play and would request different songs that they knew, many of by Creedence or Guns & Roses. After listening and singing along for about half an hour, one of the men, who actually lived in Dolores, asked if we could go with him to his apartment and serenade his wife with a few songs. Matt had never really had this request before but we decided that we may as well go; I mean not many people can say that they went on a special trip to serenade a Mexican woman with a little Guns and Roses! Seven of us (plus Matt’s guitar) then piled into a car and went off to serenade Raul’s wife. We ended up staying for about 3 hours, singing and playing together as well as listening to Mexican Banda music in between songs. It was certainly an adventure!


After being here for three weeks, I can say that the best part of the experience thus far is the homestay. I love the family that I am staying with and have started to become very close with them. My family consists of a ten year old boy, Luis, a two year old girl, Natalie, my mom Maria, and her parents.  They are some of the most welcoming and hospitable people and it never fails that every time I walk into the kitchen my host-grandmother greets me with the words “Quieres algo de comer?”—Would you like something to eat? They do everything that they can to make me comfortable and always, always make sure I have had enough to eat. Meal time is very important at my house and there are always relatives and friends coming in and out of the house to eat. This has also been nice because it has given me the opportunity to get to know more people in the community and gives me even more practice speaking in Spanish! The homestay experience and the relationships I formed from that is something I will never forget.


Things have been going very well and it is sad to think that we only have about four weeks left in Mexico!

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Second First Impressions

By Cora Lavin


Our first week in Mexico has involved a lot of traveling and has allowed us to see several different landscapes. I was an intern with Project Guanajuato last summer, so it was nice not to be overwhelmed by the “newness” of everything, but instead to be able to enjoy some of the little things I hadn’t noticed about Mexico City and Irapuato during my trips to the cities last summer…

In Mexico City, we went to an outdoor “food fair” that had over 30 booths from all over the world. Each booth represented a country and shared information about the country; some even had food, jewelry, clothes and other accessories typical of the country for sale. At the United States table they were selling BBQ, sweet tea, and hot dogs. I found this interesting because we thought that the other booths were very good representations of the other countries, but then when we saw the US table we realized it really only shows a very small part of the country. In order to get a feeling for what a place is really like, you have to spend time there. It made me realize how much my perception of Mexico has changed since last year, before I participated in Project Guanajuato. I now have a much better understanding of why people migrate to the US and why some people have to do it illegally, as well as the importance of building communities in Mexico.

We spent the night in the plaza of Irapuato, which is much smaller than Mexico City but significantly larger than Trancas and El Gusano. A highlight was enjoying pizza in the plaza while people-watching. There were these three boys playing drums in the plaza so we watched them for about an hour before they came over to us with their father and started talking. The triplets know how to play everything from cumbia to reggaeton, but their favorites are African rhythms. They have a teacher from Africa that comes every few months to teach them new music and that’s how they started learning. I was struck by their open-mindedness on some issues—they attributed this to their music, as it has allowed them to meet so many people and experience so many things!

On Thursday morning we separated into our two groups and headed off to the communities. It was hard to say goodbye because we had such a great time traveling together in Mexico City and Irapuato, but we’ve already set up two weekends to meet up! Matt and I are staying with Doña Celia’s family– they are the most generous family I know! Matt gets along great with the two youngest boys—they’ve been trying to learn to play guitar but they have no one to teach them and Matt plays really well. They ask him to play for them at least three times a day. Maybe he’ll teach them!

On Friday morning, we went to the secundaria and talked to the directora to set up times to teach. First, we will give evaluations and split each grade into a “regular” and an “advanced” group—that means we’ll be teaching six classes in total. Next week, we are unsure when we’ll actually be able to teach as people from Trancas are going to be here giving exams. We’re learning that it’s going to be incredibly important to be patient and flexible during our time in Trancas! We’ll also be starting at the primaria—three groups in total. We’ll start classes there on Wednesday, but, again, we’re unsure if we’ll be able to teach them next week.

We’ve also gotten a chance to play volleyball and basketball with the kids during class and soccer with the kids and older boys in Trancas in the evenings. It’s a great way to get to know the kids outside of the classroom and meet other members of the community who we otherwise wouldn’t have contact with. Tim and Matt have loved the sports and the kids love how tall they are! I’m hoping to play soccer again for the team this summer—I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that!

It’s been great being back in the community and getting to see everyone again. The people here are so friendly and have already invited us over for lunch or dinner whenever we’re able!  Most of the folks know why we’re here, but not for how long, and some don’t know how we’re associated with La Fundación. We’re doing our best to explain why we are here and what our jobs are. So far, we’re all having a great time with our families, just hanging out and getting to know each other. I can’t believe it’s already been a week since we left the US and it certainly doesn’t feel like a year has passed since the last time I was here.

About the Author:

            Cora Lavin is a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill in Communication Studies and Spanish from Durham, NC. She is co-trip leader of Project Guanajuato, an internship program of the Latino Migration Project in collaboration with the Fundación Comunitaria del Bajío in Guanajuato, Mexico. She is returning for her second year to Guanajuato with a UNC team to teach classes in a local middle and lower school. Trancas is a rural community located in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato with high out-migration to the United States. After Project Guanajuato, Cora will stay in Trancas to continue her work with the Fundación.


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