“Art Against the Wall”

Reading Group Discussion with Stephanie Elizondo Griest

by Samia Noor
Nov. 18, 2019

Stephanie Elizondo Griest recently came to Duke for a reading group to discuss her book, All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the US Borderlands. At the discussion, she shared her unique life story. She grew up in the borderlands of Texas. Her family has roots in the King Ranch tracing all the way back to 1853. Her family spent over 130 years living here. Everyone on the Ranch lived together, they had free housing, medical care, and monthly rations. They worked from sun up to sun down, but Griest recalls these memories fondly– saying that she was able to observe her family’s traditions and cultures in this setting. However, in the 1980s with the introduction of rapid industrialization, the owners of the Ranch realized that machines could do maximize production on the ranch. 70-80 people lost their jobs on the Ranch and had to find jobs elsewhere, many of her relatives took up working in the suburbs in places like Walmart. From there, Griest was apart of the first generation of her family to pursue a life off the Ranch, and chose to go to college.

Griest explored different cultures across the globe, moving around the Community Bloc and eventually writing her first book about these very travels. While traveling, she began to gain an interest in native cultures and geography. Griest then turned the conversation about migration into a modern context, discussing the concept of borders. She wanted to learn more about her own people’s migration to the United States, and decided to journey along the border wall. She said, “What separates us is a twist of geographical faith, with me on one side of the border and them on the other.”

Griest challenges the norm discourse of migration by relating the border art stories to the human condition. She discusses how border art is more prevalent on the Mexican side of the border, since any art on the U.S. side is quickly taken down. Border art is a physical manifestation of the pain and struggles migrants face in order to make better lives for themselves, and in many cases border art commemorates their lives because they have died trying to cross.

Crown Lecture in Ethics, Jason DeParle: The Human Story of Global Migration

The Case for Humanizing the Story of Global Migration

by Samia Noor
Nov. 11, 2019

“One third of the world lives in poverty. I think I was in the process of discernment. What should be my response to the problem of global poverty?”

Jason DeParle, a reporter for the New York Times with a focus on migration and poverty, recently came to Duke for the Crown Lecture Series. The Crown Lecture Series focuses on discussing ethical issues in society. DeParle’s conversation with Philip Bennet revolved around how his recent book “A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century” explores the connection between poverty and migration. After DeParle graduated from Duke, he moved to the Philippines to do a one year fellowship focused on global poverty. He came with the intention of exploring the causes of poverty, and left with a larger understanding of global migration and how poverty is in fact the root cause of migration.

In DeParle’s time in the Philippines, he closely connected with a family that represents the modern struggles of migration. The father in the family he connected with worked in Saudi Arabia as a construction worker and sent home remittances. This was not uncommon for Filipino families, most had the head of their household living overseas and sending back money for them to sustain themselves off. Families pushed for their children to grow up and go abroad, to leave their home country that didn’t have any economic mobility opportunities for them. While migrating and adapting to new cultures was hard, DeParle points out that these migrants are proud. They are proud of their home nation and bringing their cultures and traditions abroad. They are proud of the struggles and challenges they faced to come to another nation. Rosalie, a woman DeParle befriended in the Philippines, waited 20 years to get her visa to the United States.

The narrative of migration is largely told with connotations of tragedy and sadness. While modern migrants do face extreme challenges leaving their home country and having to embrace a new identity abroad, it is time to change the narrative of migration. In DeParle’s novel, he was able to come to terms with his own developed perception of migration. Modern migrant stories should be told proudly and respected for the grit and endurance they have. It’s time to humanize the story of migration and look beyond the tragedies, and start looking for the proud stories migrants have to tell.