The Transnational Experience: Neither from here, nor from there

March 21, 2018

By Catherine Angst

Mellon Visiting Professor Jill Anderson teaches Duke students about the complexities of the migration story in the Americas.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

It’s mid-morning on East Campus and Professor Anderson’s Immigrants in Exile course is a flurry of activity. Students’ hands shoot up as they engage their classmates on their recent reading assignment by Chicana cultural theorist, Gloria Anzaldúa.

“Our immigration system is broken,” Anderson explains to the class. “We haven’t been able to resolve it because it’s this deep conflict that goes back generations. It goes back to the creation of this country and the notion of nation states around the globe. It’s not that simple at all. You cannot reduce it to a tweet.” Anderson explains to the class. Anderson is teaching two special topics courses this semester, Immigrants in Exile (LATAMER 390) and Education and Deportation (LATAMER 590S).

Anderson has always had one foot in the academy and one foot in social justice. She began investigating transnationalism during her graduate studies at the University of Texas in Austin. She holds a Ph.D. in English with a focus on U.S. and Mexican-American literature. She moved to Mexico City ten years ago while working on her dissertation.

In Mexico City, Anderson volunteered at a Quaker guesthouse, the Casa de los Amigos, on community programs for social justice, environmental, and economic justice, and migration. Her community activist work led her to a post-doctoral project at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). “I wanted to do a project bridging the theoretical transnationalism work I had done in my doctorate with my activist-oriented ethnographic work, on the lived reality of being transnational,” said Anderson. The UNAM project resulted in a book project, Los Otros Dreamers, which Anderson co-authored with Nin Solis.

During her research for Los Otros Dreamers, Anderson connected with a community of young Mexicans who had been raised in the United States yet had been deported or forced to return to Mexico. The group expressed conflict with their duel-identities and spoke of the feeling of “ni de aquí, ni de allí” which translates to “neither from here, nor from there.”

This fracture of identities highlights the human costs of migration management that Anderson talks about in her courses. “One of my goals for these courses,” she said, “is that students hear, respond, and listen to people that are a part of this new diaspora that has been created post-deportation and return in this current moment in our history.”

Jill Anderson is visiting Duke University this semester through the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies Mellon Visiting Professor program. After this semester, she’ll return to Mexico City to work with Otros Dreams en Acción, a binational grassroots organization that advocates for Mexicans affected by deportation, the threat of deportation, or the deportation of a family member.