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"Migration in the Américas"

Maria Lorena Cook, an ILR professor of international and comparative labor, is part of a faculty team that has received a Global Cornell grant for internationalizing the university’s curriculum.

“Migration in the Américas” is an interdisciplinary course sequence focusing on Mexican and Guatemalan migration to Upstate New York.

The project’s principal investigator is Debra Castillo, the Emerson Hinchliff Chair of Hispanic Studies and professor of comparative literature.

Cook and Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworker Program, are co-principal investigators.

Internationalizing the Cornell Curriculum Grants “support faculty in the development of rigorous, innovative approaches in teaching, learning and research,” says Wendy W. Wolford, vice provost for international affairs.

“The results strengthen the integration of international content within the curriculum and directly benefit our students,” she said.

“Migration in the Américas” was first taught in 2017-18 after receiving support through grants from Internationalizing the Cornell Curriculum and Engaged Cornell.

The course sequence includes:

  • Fall: “Migration in the Américas: Engaged Research Methods and Practice”
  • January: winter intersession practicum
  • Spring: “Advanced Research in Migration Studies”

Cook said, “We are very excited to be offering these courses. Students not only learn about international migration through reading and discussion, they apply their learning to address problems that immigrant farmworkers themselves identify as priorities.”

In the fall semester, students learn qualitative methodologies for field research and work in collaboration with the Cornell Farmworker Program, engaging in research projects that address needs identified by farmworkers.

“Migration in the Américas” can be taken as a stand-alone course, but is also a prerequisite for the optional winter intersession practicum that places students in the field with farmworkers in surrounding communities, as well as sites in New York City and the U.S.-Mexico and Mexico-Guatemala border areas.

The intersession work links to the Advanced Research in Migration Studies course offered in the spring, in which students develop and complete their winter intersession projects.

The sequence introduces students to basic concepts and developments related to international migration while focusing on migrant experiences in Central America, Mexico and the United States.

Through deep study of the entire migrant circuit, faculty said, students gain an understanding of the histories and experiences of individuals from migrant-sending countries.

Students learn about the reasons for emigrating and the challenges on the migrant journey, the experiences of living and working in the United States and the problems of re-integration upon the return, whether forced or voluntary, to home countries.

Cornell's setting in upstate New York, a region of significant agricultural production dependent on immigrant labor from Mexico and Central America, is a benefit to the sequence, along with the Cornell Farmworker Program, which has a long trajectory of work with area farmworkers, Cook said.

Students have a unique opportunity to apply classroom learning —focusing on the contexts and causes of migration, migration journeys, immigration policy, and labor and integration challenges for migrants— in the field, she said. Students interact directly with migrant workers, their families and employers to gain a more nuanced understanding of the migration experience. In this way, students engage deeply with a global issue of great significance and complexity.

A student who participated last year wrote, “This class not only educated me about the political struggles, influences and cultural considerations that are intertwined within the immigration conversation across the Americas, but also allowed me to witness firsthand how these factors come together in a complex fashion in the real world.”

Another wrote, “[I remember] how I felt the very moment my eyes met those of the migrant workers … Immediately, all the articles I had read about migrant workers ceased being mere articles: they became a unique window into the existential realities of embodied beings full of vitality and desirous of a better life for themselves and their families.”

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