Human Rights

2021 CLLAS Notes Part 2

Graduate Research Reports

Lola Loustaunau and Polet Campos-Melchor each received a 2020 CLLAS Summer Research Grant.

From Disposability to Collective Care: Experiences of Migrant Essential Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Lola Loustaunau, PhD candidate, Department of Sociology

Fruit packing workers organized in the independent union Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia pose with researcher Lola Loustaunau after holding a vaccination event at their new union local, Yakima, WA, April 2021.

At the time I was about to begin the field work for my dissertation, COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic. The workers whose experiences are the focus of my research—migrant women employed in the industrial processing of food including fruit, vegetables, meat, and baked goods—suddenly made national headlines as their workplaces became sites of some of the biggest virus outbreaks. As their situation rapidly changed, so did my own work: the research questions, the data collection methods, and my goals as an activist-scholar.

Working conditions in the food processing industry have historically been poor: long and physically demanding workdays, unpredictable schedules, low wages, and the highest accident rate in manufacturing. As outbreaks led to spikes in the number of infected workers (Dyal 2020; Lakhani 2020; Taylor, Boulos, and Almond 2020), industry and government responded by attempting to maintain the status quo, further deregulating the sector and failing to mandate any protections against outbreaks or infections (Commissioner of Food and Drugs – 2020; Memorandum United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2020; Executive Order 13917 2020).   

Food processing workers soon realized that while their work was essential, they were not. Expected to continue working with little or no protective gear, they faced increased workplace risks, new caregiving responsibilities at home, and limited access to public support or healthcare.

It was at this time that workers started organizing. Conversations on the processing line soon turned into Facebook groups and Whatsapp chats as a platform to share information about the virus, about who was getting sick, what the plant managers were doing or saying, about how to navigate a fragmented benefit system that was ill prepared to aid workers during this crisis. Workers reached out to organizations, advocates, and journalists.

Family members got involved: wives and husbands worried about their partners, young teens worried about their non-English speaking parents, neighbors worried about each other. I soon found myself joining these conversations, going to Zoom meetings with other advocates and organizers, and trying to figure out what my role as a researcher could be. While hesitant at first, I quickly understood that registering the workers’ experiences and their organizing efforts was important not only as part of a broader discussion on the U.S. food supply chain, but because helping workers to get their stories out could have immediate impacts on their situation.

Vegetable processing workers rally outside Twin City Foods, in Pasco, WA, demanding protections and hazard pay, October 2020.

Certainly, doing research during the COVID-19 outbreak had great challenges. For safety reasons I couldn’t do in-person actions with the workers until October; yet in the months prior, I spent most of my time trying to get in touch with workers and organizers, doing phone interviews, and collecting online data. Unlike my previous experiences doing qualitative research, this time around things were put together remotely.

By the time I was able to travel to the sites where most of the organizing was happening, I had established closer relations with some workers and organizations, so my work focused on expanding those connections. I participated in rallies and community forums, went to workers’ homes and met their families, attended testing events, and volunteered at vaccination clinics. I loaned my translation skills and transferred resources from the university to these communities by compensating workers for their time spent collaborating on my research. Instead of focusing on writing an academic article or a chapter, I prioritized putting together a public policy oriented report, which became the basis of my testimony at the Washington State Legislature when the food industry’s pandemic response was under discussion, and which I later presented alongside many of the workers over Zoom.

I found that discourses about essential work did not necessarily translate into making workers feel like heroes, but actually quite the opposite, with many expressing that they felt “disposable.” However, I also found that workers translated this feeling of disposability into an opportunity to struggle for better working conditions and to build new and expansive communities of care.

Workers at Allan Bros in Yakima create an altar for a co-worker who died due to COVID-19, November 2020.

Through my research I captured how workers at different plants experimented with different forms of resistance and organizing: from creating online groups to help each other apply for benefits, to massively walking out of their jobs, to striking for several weeks, to starting their own unions or joining existing ones. Workers built spaces for mourning their co-workers and processing the loss they were collectively experiencing. They helped each other by making and sharing masks and hand sanitizer, preparing food, and coordinating pop-up vaccination clinics and know-your-rights’ trainings. They expanded their networks and built alliances with farmworkers, grocery workers, and multiple community organizations. In so doing, food processing migrant workers reverted the feelings of disposability, fear, and anger brought by the employer’s response during the pandemic and created spaces of collective care. These actions also brought new emotions, this time allowing workers to feel strong, beautiful, energized, and excited.  

Based on this insight, in my dissertation I argue that unpacking the affective dimension of their working conditions and their collective organizing allows for seeing how these workers turned fear and anger into courage, and how they defied the structural oppression that had rendered them disposable. By highlighting the emotional dimension both of disposability and the struggle against it, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of what the past year has been for these workers in the front lines and how they have struggled, and continue to struggle, for their survival and the survival of their communities.

Lola Loustaunau is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on precarity, low-wage migrant workers, emotions, and collective organizing. She has received several awards for her dissertation work and will be a Wayne Morse Graduate Fellow for AY 2021-2022. She has recently co-authored: ‘No choice but to be essential: expanding dimensions of precarity during the COVID-19’ (Sociological Perspectives, 2021) and ‘Impossible choices: how workers manage unpredictable scheduling practices’ (Labor Studies Journal 2019). For a longer report on her work, “Essential Work, Disposable Workers.


Reciprocity in Conducting Fieldwork in Ciudad Juárez

by Polet Campos-Melchor, PhD Student, Department of Anthropology

After my 2019 summer fieldwork at Respetttrans, a trans asylum seeker shelter in Ciudad Juárez, I was inspired to return in summer 2020 to create a lotería with the community and a transfronteriza artist. The pandemic made the return impossible. While my summer 2019 fieldwork examined trans asylum seekers’ practices of care and mutual aid during their experience with the Remain in Mexico Policy in Ciudad Juarez, my 2020 summer fieldwork was set to document the lives of trans asylum seekers being celebrated in Juárez. With the support of the Center for Latino/a & Latin American Studies, I was able to finalize transcription from my 2019 research and conduct ten follow-up interviews with my interlocutors. This resulted in my master’s paper, submitted to the Department of Anthropology and approved in December 2020. In this newsletter post, I share an introduction to my 2019 summer fieldwork and how the lessons moved across borders and relations.

About a week into my fieldwork in Juárez, I met Grecia, a mother and nurse and the Rarámuri and Mennonite “mother” of Respetttrans. I had walked through Calle Hospital’s streets with Dr. Yolanda Leyva and Gabriela Muñoz, arriving at a bright pink house with a rainbow and trans flag hanging from the roof. This was Respetttrans, where Grecia had been awaiting our arrival. A tall, pale woman with nineties-style rolled bangs and warm brown eyes, Grecia welcomed us into the space. An active member of the LGBT community in Ciudad Juárez, Grecia told us that her goal is to keep LGBTQ+ migrants off the streets and get them into homes where they feel safe and welcome.

Two shelter members shape each others’ eyebrows. Next to them are the photos of Joha and Fiorela (captioned “No más muertes en el ICE (No moredeaths in ICE). Respetttrans-Ciudad Juárez, 2019.

By working towards building a reciprocal relationship with the LGBT+ community in Ciudad Juárez, I set my intentions on working closely with Respetttrans. Along with this feeling of caring for the house members came the responsibility of returning. After my first visit, I was tasked with bringing back items for the house members. Grecia asked for a new set of clothes for Leslie, a recent deportee, as well as a change of clothes for the two young boys of the house. Wily, a gay boy, also asked for a soccer ball. Two days later, I returned with all the items. One of the women was surprised that I had returned; she said reporters and other visitors do not.

Respetttrans is and continues to be a site that is frequented by nonprofits and government agencies who ask the residents about their struggles and repay them with a meal for their stories. There was a case when representatives from three different organizations arrived at the house on the same day. Community members said they felt like the house was a zoo and they were the animals. Although the girls joked, the sincerity in their eyes showed that they were hurt.

In another case in mid-August, I witnessed first-hand how rare it was for the autonomy or consent of migrants to be acknowledged. I was sitting in the living room with Courtney, Michele, Leslie, Minerva, Aneliz, and Andrés talking about foods we missed from home. Courtney was lying on one of the couches, closely watching Pose on my phone. Andrés continued to bring up chicken gizzards. When three guests entered with Grecia, we suddenly found ourselves in a group interview. The visitors were from an organization in the United States and were looking to fund spaces in Ciudad Juárez. I noted that consent for an interview had not been sought but presumed.

After that particular witnessing of the lack of consent or care given to the house members, I began to take photos of them on my polaroid to provide them with immediate copies. The women would pose, take pictures of each other with my camera, and then use the photos to decorate their living spaces. As I continued to visit them, I learned that collaborative relationships in the field require care and mutual support that center celebrating queer lives in the present.

Polet Campos-Melchor is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology and Graduate Certificate student in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Oregon. Her research explores how trans and lesbian migrants and scholars articulate and narrate strategies of love and care, expanding beyond only the imaginary into tangible strategies of survival. Polet is also a UO Promising Scholar. Her research has been funded by the Tinker Foundation, the UO Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies, and the UO Center for the Study of Women in Society.

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Spring 2021 CLLAS Notes Part 1

Spring 2021 CLLAS Notes Part 3

Black Lives Matter! CLLAS Rejects Racism

CLLAS categorically rejects racism and all forms of social injustice.

We at CLLAS condemn the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and that of many other African-American brothers and sisters who historically have suffered systemic police brutality throughout the United States. The ongoing structural and racial violence against Black America and other peoples of color must be rejected at all costs. This nation has been built on the backs of Black people, and on the backs of millions of immigrants of color, yet, these populations continue to be marginalized, abused, and exploited while a distorted hegemony sells the notion that there is progress. We cannot be complacent ever. We must fight racism in all of its forms. We must not be afraid of challenging the unfair status quo imposed by white supremacist ideology. We are at a crossroads, and this is a pivotal moment to change the page of history.

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Friday, June 5th, 2020 Human Rights No Comments

Latinx & Undocumented Student Support Group

Mondays, 2:00pm –3:00pm, starting Week 4

Location: Counseling Center

This support group is offered to create a safe, affirming, and confidential space for Latinx-identified students who would like to explore their multiple identities, discuss ways of balancing multiple roles on and off campus, address subtle and overt forms of discrimination, and connect with one another for mutual support and sense of community. Drop-ins are welcome, no sign-up required. 

For more details, contact Dr. Eric Garcia: egarcia3@uoregon.edu

Grupo de Apoyo para Estudiantes Latinx e Indocumentados

Día y hora: Los lunes 2:00 – 3:00pm, empezando la semana 4

Ubicación: Counseling Center

Este grupo de apoyo esta ofrecido para crear un espacio seguro, de afirmación, y confidencial para estudiantes que se identifican como Latinx o indocumentado quienes quieren explorar sus multiples identidades, discutir maneras de equilibrar sus roles multiples dentro y fuera del campus, abordar diferentes formas de discriminación, y conectar uno con el otro para apoyo mutual y un sentido de comunidad. No hay que registrar. 

Por más detalles, contactar al Dr. Eric Garcia: egarcia3@uoregon.edu

See also: https://cllas.uoregon.edu/lets-talk-from-the-uo-counseling-center/

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Monday, November 4th, 2019 Academics, Human Rights, Immigration, Students No Comments

Award winning documentary filmmaker Almudena Carracedo coming to UO Jan 13-14

January 13, 2020
6:00 pm
January 14, 2020
6:00 pm

Emmy and Goya-award winning documentary filmmaker Almudena Carracedo is coming to campus for two special screenings of her critically acclaimed films. Carracedo will present the films and hold a Q and A.

Made in LA

Screening: 156 Straub Hall Jan 13 @ 6pm

Made in L.A. is an Emmy award-winning feature documentary that follows the remarkable story of three Latina immigrants working in Los Angeles garment sweatshops as they embark on a three-year odyssey to win basic labor protections from a trendy clothing retailer. In intimate verite style, Made in L.A. reveals the impact of the struggle on each woman’s life as they are gradually transformed by the experience. Compelling, humorous, deeply human, Made in L.A. is a story about immigration, the power of unity, and the courage it takes to find your voice.

The Silence of Others

Screening: 156 Straub Jan 14 @ 6 pm

The Silence of Others reveals the epic struggle of victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship under General Franco, who continue to seek justice to this day. Filmed over six years, the film follows victims and survivors as they organize the groundbreaking “Argentine Lawsuit” and fight a state-imposed amnesia of crimes against humanity, in a country still divided four decades into democracy.

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Saturday, September 7th, 2019 Film, Human Rights No Comments

Dreamers Working Group: 2019 Impact Report

2019 Impact Report: Dreamers Working Group

From the report:

“Thanks to the generosity of donors, the support of the UO Advancement team, and the determination of DWG staff, UO Dreamer Scholarships are now available to undocumented & Dreamer Ducks! The Opportunity Through Excellence, or Fund the Dream Scholarship as it is known through our outreach efforts, aims to bridge the gap for those undocumented, DACA, and Dreamer students who are not able to complete a FAFSA and obtain federally-funded financial aid.  These students are not able to access scholarships such as Pathway Oregon and grants such as the Pell Grant.  Thanks to the generosity of our donors we have been able to offer, for the first time, scholarships to students beginning in spring 2019.” 

 Feather J. Crawford, CLLAS event planner & project manager, is also a staff member of the Dreamers Working Group.

The UO Dreamers Working Group is supported by the Office of the President, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Division of Equity and Inclusion, Undergraduate Education and Student Success, and the Division of Global Engagement. EO/AA/ADA Institution; Committed to Cultural Diversity.

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