Guest Post: Jennifer Lucko on her Journey from Field Research to Article

In “Ten Years Later,” Jennifer Lucko narrates the winding journey from field research to her forthcoming JHCY article, “‘Here your ambitions are illusions’: Boundaries of Integration and Ethnicity among Ecuadorian Immigrant Teenagers in Madrid,” and reflects on the lives of the young people she encountered. Lucko received her PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley and is currently an assistant professor in the School of Education at Dominican University of California. She completed over sixteen months of ethnographic research in Madrid, Spain examining how colonial and post-colonial socio-economic hierarchies are reproduced in immigration scenarios. She is currently participating in a collaborative research project entitled, “Estrategias de Integración Social y Prevención del Racismo en Las Escuelas/ Social Participation Strategies and Racism Prevention in Schools” funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. This study was framed within the research project “Estrategias de Integración Social y Prevención del Racismo en Las Escuelas/ Social Participation Strategies and Racism Prevention in Schools” (FFI2009-08762), funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation in Spain.

Ten Years Later
“’Here your ambitions are illusions’: Boundaries of Integration and Ethnicity among Ecuadorian Immigrant Teenagers in Madrid” was a long time in the making. It has been almost ten years since I began preliminary fieldwork in Madrid during the summer of 2004 and first encountered the discourse of integration that is so pervasive in schools, churches, non-government organizations and after-school programs in Spain. At the time, I knew I wanted to analyze the implications of this discourse for the immigrant teenagers I had met who were struggling to find their way in Madrid, even though I didn’t quite understand why this discourse increasingly rubbed me the wrong way as I became friends with the people participating in my study. Yet after I returned to California this writing project kept being put aside while I began a tenure-track career, got married, and had two children. So when I finally carved out space during the summer of 2012 to devote myself to writing this article, my first task was to reread the field notes I had recorded daily to take me back to the academic year I had spent in Madrid. And it worked. As I read through each daily entry, I was overwhelmed with the same emotions I had felt so many years ago in Spain—a deep sadness intertwined with an overwhelming sense of helplessness, along with the same nagging self-doubt questioning the purpose of my research. Why do this work? Why write? What, ultimately, was I trying to achieve?

Maisha Winn (2014) introduces the volume she edited with Django Paris with a quote from her co-researcher, the teacher of a classroom in the Bronx, New York where she conducted fieldwork, who affirms that she has been a “worthy witness” in a collaborative project with his students. That is, Winn was not in his classroom solely to gather data for her own research project, but was a partner in his work as a teacher and mentor to the youth poets who were his students. This quote makes me wonder, even if I was a worthy witness during the months of my fieldwork, since distance and time have taken their toll on my relationships with the families I once knew so well, am I still a worthy witness? Is writing this article enough? I know that it will advance me one step further in my professional career, but what about the teenagers who told me their stories?

In a subsequent chapter of this edited volume, Kinloch and San Pedro (2014) propose “the idea of researchers moving beyond doing work for a purpose or for people to researchers doing work with and alongside others” (p. 24). During the study that I analyze in this article, my fieldwork was alongside others, but the research was not. So while I spent my days with the teenagers I discuss in this article and participated in their lives at school and home, my research was not their research. Again I am faced with the question, am I a worthy witness to these students now that my findings have been published in this article?

I do not know what has happened in the lives of the teenagers in this study over the last few years. When I think of their day-to-day struggles, I continue to feel helpless and depressed. And I still question my role as a researcher in Madrid. As I reread the stories of Ana and Cristina in this article I am left with the sense that writing is not enough. At the same time, I believe that the emotions that were with me when I completed my dissertation research and that motivated my writing so many years later can help me to become a better researcher. If I am able to return to Madrid, as I hope to do this fall, I can research with and alongside teachers and youth grappling with new processes of belonging and exclusion taking shape in Spain as recent, large-scale immigration dovetails with a widespread economic recession. In the meantime, why do I write? What am I trying to achieve? I hope to engage with others working for educational equity and social justice, even knowing that this article is not enough.

Sources:
Django Paris and Maisha T. Winn. “To Humanize Research.” In Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities, edited by Django Paris and Maisha Winn, xiii–xx. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, 2014.

Valerie Kinloch and Timothy San Pedro. “The Space Between Listening and Storying: Foundations for Projects in Humanization.” In Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities, edited by Django Paris and Maisha Winn, xiii–xx. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, 2014.