Tag Archives: international studies

Student Witnesses Ironic Food Injustices of Central California

The people of the Central Valley can’t get enough fresh food, even though they live in the nation’s produce basket 

Imagine working in one of the vastest agricultural lands in the world; farming and cultivating mass amounts of produce for others, while having little to no food available for you and your own family.

Would you believe that a place that provides a quarter of America’s sustenance has little access to fresh food for its own residents? And that this place is only five hours from San Francisco?

While California’s Central Valley is home to the nation’s largest suppliers of fruit and vegetables, it’s also considered a food desert. Those who live there have to resort to cheap and unhealthy food options because grocery stores are few and far between. Senior Allison Littlefield experienced these harsh realities firsthand of a nearby locale.

From Jan. 7–12, the international studies student visited the cities of Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, Delano, and Merced as part of a University Ministry immersion trip. She traveled with three fellow USFers and Luis E. Bazan, who works with the UM and the Center for Global Education to coordinate these programs. The group learned about the current socio-economic issues affecting these communities.

In the case of Central Valley, what the residents need most is access to healthy and affordable food. “This is ironic considering the Central Valley is a huge agricultural land— the food they cultivate feeds the entire world, but they don’t have food to feed themselves.” Littlefield said she walked away from the immersion asking herself, “How does that make sense?”

Having participated in immersions through USF in Peru, El Salvador, and Ecuador, exposure to poor living conditions was nothing new for Littlefield; the fact that people are living like this so close to home astonished her. Experiencing these third world conditions in the first world was nothing short of an eye-opener.

“The most shocking image from the Central Valley immersion were the huge oil fields,” said Littlefield, referring to the polluted vast land in Bakersfield, which is home to acres of oil rigs. “For how environmentally conscious we think Californians are, it’s shocking that just five hours from San Francisco there is so much oil pollution. I didn’t know what was going on in my backyard.”

In Modesto and Bakersfield, dirty air exceeds federal health standards each day, according to The Huffington Post’s “California’s Central Valley Slammed By Record Air Pollution.” The American Lung Association reported that the areas from Stockton to Bakersfield, home to four million people, has the highest level of ozone pollution in the U.S. and asthma rates are three times the national average.

Talking to workers in Central Valley about the immigrant experience and injustices they face was premise of the immersion. The students learned about the Cesar Chavez United Farm Workers movement, which is in place to provide better working conditions and higher wages to farmers and their families. Visiting the families of farmers brought Littlefield an unexpected comparison: “I walked into a couple houses and thought, ‘Wow I’m back in El Salvador.’”

Making sense of it all is one of the goals of immersion trips like this one. “The term ‘service learning’ is misleading,” Littlefield said. “The focus is not going to ‘serve’ people. USF emphasizes solidarity and accompaniment.” USF distances itself from dividing, power structures of education and wealth by focusing more on the learning aspect, she said. Immersion trips to places like Central Valley aim to expose students to the issues inside a community so that they can learn about what people need before deciding how to take action.

“Going in and seeing what a community needs is the first step. You have to know what a community needs first in order to help them,” said Littlefield. She emphasized the importance of talking to organizations that are already in place to help people living in places like central valley, where people are dealing with social and economic issues.

After visiting the Central Valley, Littlefield called for two changes: a more just and sustainable means of producing foods, and spending money on education reform, instead of housing prisoners, to better adjust to children’s diverse learning styles. The immersion trip also brought to Littlefield’s attention the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. “The current immigration system violates human rights and we need to reform the system to allow the people that are here to have rights and establish legal and feasible means of getting citizenship.”

While the image of poverty, pollution, and shortage of food, does not usually bring to mind somewhere only a car ride away, Littlefield’s story is a reminder that these injustices are indeed happening in the United States. The shock of this trip however, gave Littlefield the motivation to create change in not only the Central Valley community, but her own as well: “Looking back I feel very motivated by the organizations that we met there. We spoke with them about how they are creating change within their communities, and I feel that I have people to connect with about making changes in my own.”

To get involved with USF immersion programs, contact Luis E. Bazan at lebazan@usfca.edu or go to www.usfca.edu/University_Ministry/Immersion_Programs.

Professor’s Research Highlights Nurturing of Families through Facebook and Skype

Over four thousand Filipino migrant workers leave the Philippines every day, of which 60% are women, according to the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns. Yet popular social networking services, primarily Skype and Facebook, have bridged relationships between Filipina migrants and their families left behind in the Philippines.

These unique dynamics have driven sociology professor Valerie Francisco’s research on Filipino transnational families. “The Philippine state actually encourages, manages, and regulates migration from its shores. It ensures that there is this historic and institutionalized way the people are leaving the country,” she said.
Last Tuesday Francisco presented her dissertation, “Skype Mothers and Facebook Daughters: How Technology is Transforming Care Work in Transnational Families,” which examined how family roles are renegotiated with new technology as a result of globalization.

While transnational families create bonds through Skype and Facebook, globalization releases rapid advancements in technology while producing massive, international migration, Francisco said.

In the past, migrant workers would only communicate with their families through phone calls, but Skype allows families to be visually present with one another. Skype also serves as a surveillance tool that enables mothers to supervise the household.

Vicki, a migrant worker Francisco interviewed in New York, used Skype to teach her husband, Maurice, who lives in the Philippines, how to get their kids ready for school and how to do chores.

“He could choose not to turn on Skype,” Francisco said, “but he turns it on because it gives Vicki an enormous amount of relief to be able to communicate with him in that way.”

While video chatting may ease the distance, junior student Jade Batstone said, “It’s not [Filipino women] becoming the patriarch. As a mother, they also have to provide money but they have to do all the traditional roles like nurturing and care.”
Although Filipina migrants are mothers, sisters and daughters who often work as caregivers for other families, Francisco discovered that buying a web camera is a popular purchase made by many of these women’s first paychecks.

The sociology professor’s research shows Facebook provides opportunities to build on friendships and intimacy with migrants and their children. Francisco referred to 16 year-old Maya from the Philippines, who taught her mother residing in Brooklyn how to play Facebook games. “The teaching becomes a form of care work that Maya internalizes, that she’s doing for her mom,” Francisco said.

Mothers can also use Facebook as surveillance on their families. Althea, the daughter of a migrant, told Francisco that she enables privacy settings with her posts to avoid her mom’s comments. While Facebook may provide a form of building relationships across distances, the popular social networking site can also create invisible boundaries between mothers and daughters.

Francisco conducted her research between Queens, New York and the Philippines from 2008 to 2011 as a doctoral candidate at City University of New York. She gained deep insight to the experiences from migrants and non-migrants, many of which required using pseudonyms to disguise the families she researched.
The professor clarified she was not promoting the commercialization of either social networking site through her study.

“This isn’t an advertisement for Facebook or Skype. These are impressive and innovative strategies that these families are creating, but they have to be apart to do them,” Francisco said.

Freshman student Angie Miramontes paralleled the case of Filipino transnational families with Mexican mothers she knows from her hometown of Riverside, California. Similarly, mothers leave Mexico to work in the United States and send money back to their families.

“The whole technology part of it is a point all of us need to start thinking about. It was really interesting to see how transnational families, people who are so far away from each other, can still maintain a relationship and still feel that intimacy without even being there,” said Miramontes.

This event was co-sponsored by the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program, Asian American Studies, and the International Studies department.

Ten Year War Causes Mayhem in Afghanistan

10.20.11 Foghorn 2

The undergraduate International Studies program, partnered with the American Friends Service Committee and the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, is offering a series of events exploring how the world has changed since the infamous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Last week, the series entitled 9/11+10 in recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the conflict in Afghanistan, offered a discussion panel exploring of exit strategies for the war in Afghanistan. This panel is in conjunction with the art exhibit “Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan”, part of which is on display in Kalmanovitz Hall until October 28, 2011.

The panel consisted of Professor Kelly McBride, director of the Peace and Justice Studies Program and co-chair of the International Studies program at USF, and Matt Southworth, a former solider deployed to northern Iraq in 2004 and current anti-war activist who is currently working as a legislative associate of foreign policy specializing in Afghanistan and Greater Middle East policy.

Professor McBride offered a series of statistics intended to shed some light on both the human and fiscal cost of the war. She said “Although the state department reports they’ve only spent $500 billion on the war on Afghanistan, The Watson Institute at Brown University launched an independent investigation and discovered that number is actually somewhere between $3-4 trillion.

McBride also said 236,000 people have died in the Afghanistan conflict since President Obama deployed more troops in 2008. McBride added, “The number of U.S. casualties has also increased… this is the longest military conflict the United States has been involved in and 51% of veterans returning home report their actions abroad increase the likelihood of extremism.”

Southworth shared stories about his time in Iraq, where he served as an Intelligence Analyst. He described numerous instances in which he and his fellow soldiers were required to “raid houses at 3am, picking up every man of fighting age, the youngest person we took was 10, the oldest was 71.” He added “We’d go into their houses and cover their heads in bags and put them in our vehicles… later they’d be place in a containment room that had four glass walls… machine guns were always pointed at the people inside and we’d interrogate whoever we snagged for twelve to twenty-four hours. Southworth said, “We never stopped to question why, we just determined their intelligence value but never their human value… We picked up people who were both neutral and pro-U.S. and radicalized them by treating them this way, it felt un-American to me but I didn’t speak up. There was no trial; in Afghanistan everyone was guilty until proven innocent… We were exercising absolute oppression. ”

Sophomore International Studies major and Peer Advisor Nicole Jones, who moderated the panel said, “The discussion…comes at a good time. The United States has been involved in Afghanistan for 10 years as of this month and people are asking ‘What are we doing here? Are we scrounging for resources or improving infrastructure?’”
Although neither party gave a direct plan of action regarding how the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan or the Middle East at large, Professor McBride said, “Military strategy, either by ‘taking out the bad guys’ or ‘winning over the hearts and minds’, isn’t working; the conflict is just too layered with internal ethnic and religious tensions… and international interference.”

Southworth added “I think there are parts of Afghanistan where a western democracy could work but in most places it would not be advantageous partially because of their historical and cultural traditions… we should be working on creating a civil society. Ninety-seven percent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product is from international donors and that’s just not sustainable.”