‘Migration Matters’ series to examine complex border issues


January 24, 2012

DALLAS (SMU) — U.S.-Mexico border issue discussions stir powerful emotions often fueled by stereotypes and misinformation. SMU’s “Migration Matters: An Interdisciplinary Program on Immigration at the U.S.-Mexico Border” aims to change that.

The seven-part series, running Jan. 26–April 26, will feature compelling and knowledgeable artists, educators, faith leaders and law enforcement insiders to share the latest information on border-related migration trends, crime, politics, humanitarian efforts, art and literature. All events will be free and open to the community.

'Sacred Jump' by artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood
“Sacred Jump”
By Consuelo Jimenez Underwood
(click image for hi-res version)
Author Luis Urrea, Pulitzer-prize winning finalist for The Devil’s Highway, kicked off the series Thursday with a discussion of his border-related writing and reportage. Four years ago, The Devil’s Highway — the true, gut-wrenching account of the deadly journey of 26 men attempting to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona — was the Common Reading experience for SMU students, most of whom will be graduating this year.

“We want this to be a sustained discussion for our students, not just for these next four months, but one that will continue to influence their intellectual identities beyond their SMU years,” says Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue, an SMU English professor who specializes in Chicano/a literature and “Migration Matters” coordinator. Literature can be a powerful conduit to discussing current events, Sae-Saue says.

“This subject isn’t about so-called ‘foreigners’ and making distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them,’” he says. “It’s about understanding how we imagine complex social relationships that implicate everyone. It’s a community issue, one that will allow our students to learn to understand the broad scope of migration-related topics in this election year, and as they move into leadership positions after graduation.”

Urrea’s work in particular, Sae-Saue notes, “helps us make sense of the complicated social, cultural and economic dynamics at the U.S.-Mexico border, including the chaos and confusion regarding the dangerous journey people face when crossing it — and the hostility faced once they arrive here, if they arrive here.”

Sae-Saue calls the series an “innovative and comprehensive” approach to helping both students and the community see migration issues from cultural, legal, economic, theological and humanitarian angles. This emphasis is underscored by SMU’s commitment to engaged learning, “which helps students approach complex subjects from many different lenses of expertise,” says Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program (EHRP) within Dedman College, co-sponsors of the “Migration Matters” program.

EHRP Associate Director Pat Davis has been working closely with Sae-Saue and SMU Distinguished Professor and anthropologist Caroline Brettell over the past year to help coordinate the series. “Even when migrants cross the border, they don’t leave behind their human rights behind,” Davis says. “Many migrants don’t intend to stay here, but because of current dangers crossing back and forth across the border, they’re forced to,” she adds. “Shelter directors south of the border tell us that the migrants they see are mostly going south, and won’t risk coming north again because the routes are controlled by cartels, which exposes women especially to rape and everyone to violence and the possibility of death.”

“It’s time to start looking at immigrant policy and not immigration policy,” Brettell adds.

Program support comes from the SMU Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences, the Geurin-Pettus Program, Scott-Hawkins Fund, the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program, the SMU Department of English, the George and Mary Foster Distinguished Lecture in Cultural Anthropology, and the Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity at SMU Perkins School of Theology, with funding from the Henry Luce Foundation.

For more details, contact Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue at jsaesaue@smu.edu.

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