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Monday, March 20, 2023

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Students research food and farming practices in Oaxaca, Mexico. Students research food and farming practices in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Migrants, Memorials and Mass Incarceration: More Summer Research Abroad

Faculty are conducting critical fieldwork in Mexico, Spain, Vietnam and elsewhere.
By Kellie Woodhouse

Dozens of San Diego State University professors are abroad this summer, conducting fieldwork for critical research in five of the seven continents. 

This is the second installment in a series that highlights faculty research abroad this summer.

Looking for Reconciliation in Spain

An SDSU professor is taking age-old guidance to heart—that mankind should learn from our history—and investigating whether the civil wars of foreign nations hold lessons for the United States as it grapples with the aftermath of mass incarceration. 

Public affairs professor Alan Mobley has traveled to Rwanda, Bosnia and most recently Spain, to study how these countries memorialize and remember their civil wars. 

The number of people incarcerated in the U.S. ballooned in the late 1900s and early 2000s, and now sits at nearly two million. As the philosophy behind our criminal justice system shifts, scholars predict the largest-ever demographic shift of people—many of them traumatized by their penal experiences—from prisons to communities.

They key to making the transition a successful one might lie in recorded history—quite literally.

“No other country has experienced mass incarceration like the U.S. In the absence of accurate models, we can look at analogies like civil wars,” explained Mobley, who serves as director of Project Rebound, SDSU's support program for formerly incarcerated students. “Better understanding the processes of trauma, displacement, return and reconciliation may provide insights to aid in the healing of justice system-impacted communities.”

Mobley found Rwanda and Bosnia pay homage to the victims of government abuses and military carnage in war memorials and other recorded history. Yet during a visit to Spain this June, Mobley found this is not always the case, and that the absence of proper remembrance leads to resentment.

In the 1930s, military-backed nationalists overthrew Spain’s democratically elected government and annexed the independent region of Catalonia, leading to the rise of the Francisco Franco dictatorship that ruled for decades. 

Mobley visited civil war memorials throughout Catalonia, and found the memorials overwhelmingly praised the victors of the war for patriotism and bravery. Yet very few honored the killed civilians or the Catalans whose territory was taken in the conflict. 

“A big takeaway from Spain is what not to do, and how suppressing the memories and stories of the people who lived through trauma is damaging,” Mobley said, adding that Spain’s lack of reconciliation has contributed to the modern day movement to gain Catalan independence from Spain.

Mobley received funding for his fieldwork from SDSU’s University Grants Program.

Migration Shifting Diet in Mexico

Migration has a tremendous impact on culture, a fact that is perhaps most evident in the diet of migrants themselves and the communities where they settle.

Anthropology professor Ramona Pérez and a group of students are spending a month in southern Mexico, investigating how migration has altered the food landscape in rural communities.

“What we eat, where we eat and with whom we eat are integral parts of our culture as well as avenues into our health and wellness,” said Pérez, director of SDSU’s Center for Latin American Studies. “One of the great challenges to maintaining a healthy diet is travel and adapting to new places with differing food practices.”

Migrant families experience these difficulties in the extreme, as their journeys can often take years and have unknown twists and turns.

RELATED: SDSU Anthropologist Elected to National Leadership Role

Pérez and student researchers live and eat alongside residents of the rural highlands of Oaxaca for four weeks, interviewing migrants about their food choices, evaluating food availability, pricing and trends; collecting family recipes; studying how agriculture shapes food access; and learning how wild foods are used for both medicinal care and flavoring basic staples like corn and beans. 

Pérez and colleagues are also shepherding another group of students in Oaxaca, studying the ancient milpa crop-growing system of farming corn, beans and squash. Students work alongside indigenous Miztec farmers and learn how their traditional farming differs from modern agriculture. 

“We hope to demonstrate to these students the value of indigenous knowledge, and how it too is scientific,” said Pérez, adding that milpa farming techniques can inform sustainable agriculture in the United States.

SDSU professors Changqi Liu, John Love and David Larom are accompanying Perez. The Department of Agriculture helps fund their work in Oaxaca.

Understanding Language Disorders in Vietnam

When identifying a language disorder in children, clinicians take careful notice of how a child works within the nuances of a language. Are they obeying the laws of grammar? Are they using vocabulary appropriately? 

While many studies have identified how to diagnose English-speaking children with developmental language disorder (DLD), very few tools exist for children who speak other languages. 

Giang Pham is working to fix this problem for Vietnamese children. 

The Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences professor is spending much of the summer in Hanoi, Vietnam, conducting the first-ever targeted study of DLD in Vietnamese children. 

“On a practical level, Vietnamese is the fifth-most commonly spoken language in the U.S., but it’s highly underrepresented in the literature on language development and disorders,” said Pham. “That is a major challenge in trying to identify language disorders in Vietnamese children.”

By developing a firm understanding of how DLD manifests in monolingual Vietnamese speakers, Pham and her team can better identify and treat DLD in bilingual Vietnamese children in the United States, where Pham estimates there are as many as 28,000 Vietnamese-American children with DLD.

DLD occurs when children exhibit low language performance despite otherwise normal development. Identifying the disorder earlier and with more accuracy will allow practitioners to develop interventions for DLD symptoms, such as trouble with social relationships and difficulty reading. 

Pham receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and, while in Vietnam, works alongside researchers from the Hanoi National University of Education. 

Read Part I in the Summer Research Abroad Series: Earthquakes, Ecosystems and Endangered Monkeys

Migrants, Memorials and Mass Incarceration: More Summer Research Abroad
Faculty are conducting critical fieldwork in Mexico, Spain, Vietnam and elsewhere.