Robert McKee Irwin, editor

Migrant Feelings, Migrant Knowledge: Building a Community Archive

University of Texas Press, 2022

209 pages


Reviewed by Ali Gunnells

The edited collection Migrant Feelings, Migrant Knowledge: Building a Community Archive centers on Humanizing Deportation, a digital storytelling project that preserves personal accounts of migration and repatriation. The collection features essays from scholars and team members who are involved with the Humanizing Deportation project. The first section of the book, titled “PART I: Problems, Approaches, Methods,” traces the history and methodological grounding of the project. In “The Humanizing Deportation Project: Building a Community Archive of Migrant Feelings, Migrant Knowledge,” project coordinator Robert McKee Irwin provides a historical overview of Humanizing Deportation. Originally launched in Tijuana as a collaboration between UC-Davis and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), the Humanizing Deportation project documents “migrant knowledge,” or “migrants’ expressions of their feelings and articulations of the wisdom they’ve acquired as migrants.” Irwin notes that the project, which now boasts several field sites across Mexico, primarily documents the stories of Mexican immigrants to the United States who have been deported back to Mexico. In “Approaches and Methods: Migrant Epistemologies Through Digital Storytelling,” Irwin et al. unpack the methodology of the Humanizing Deportation project. In particular, Irwin et al. highlight the choice of digital storytelling for communicating migrant narratives, articulating the importance of collaboration with migrant participants and the necessity of constructing the project according to “community-driven priorities.” The first section closes with a discussion of the ongoing challenges that the project continues to grapple with, including the balance between sharing these narratives and maintaining anonymity for certain participants.

The second section of the collection, titled “PART II: Issues,” features essays that center on three common themes present in the migrant narratives recorded: “the trauma of family separation brought about by deportation, the particular plight of deported childhood arrivals, and the special case of deported US military veterans.” In “Motherhood, Spaces, and Care in the Digital Narratives of Humanizing Deportation,” Maricruz Castro Ricalde, the project’s site coordinator for Mexico City, examines migrant stories of “distance motherhood,” or stories told by deported mothers of young children. Ricalde examines how concepts of maternity are complicated by deportation, analyzing how deported mothers often enact a “global chain of care.” The following chapter, Lizbeth de la Cruz Santana’s “Deported Childhood Arrivals ‘From the Famous Estados Unidos’ Dreaming in Tijuana,” focuses on stories told by deported migrants who arrived in the United States as children. Santana highlights how childhood arrivals develop a “deep-rooted membership in the United States,” leading them to experience a sense of exile due to the lack of cultural and/or emotional bonds with their country of origin. This section concludes with Kyle Proehl and Guillermo Alonso Meneses’s “Deportation and Military Discipline on the Last Battlefield of Tijuana,” which analyzes the stories of childhood arrivals to the United States who became permanent residents and, eventually, members of the military. In particular, Proehl and Meneses argue that the emotional ties to the United States experienced by childhood arrivals are especially heightened for these military veterans due to deep-seated feelings of patriotism.

Along with the key themes identified in the second section, Irwin and his team members draw attention to the ways that certain migrant stories challenge our assumptions about the migrant experience. The third section of the collection, titled “PART III: Migrant Epistemologies,” features essays that demonstrate how “migrant experiences, knowledge, and politics might help us to think differently, to approach life differently, to seek alternative solutions to [ . . . ] mainstream ideological paradigms.” The second opens with María José Gutiérrez’s “Family Unity and Practices of Care: Deportation’s Effects on the Soul,” which analyzes the story of Jessica Nalbach, a U.S. citizen who chose to move herself and her children to Mexico when her husband was deported. For Gutiérrez, Nalbach’s story highlights the crucial need to acknowledge “practices of care in discussions about force mobility.” Next, Ana Luisa Calvillo Vázquez’s chapter “Infrapolitics and Deportation: Everyday Resistance from Digital Storytelling” traces the stories of three migrants who entered the U.S. without legal authorization and made a living until their (sometimes multiple) deportations. Using the concept of “infrapolitics,” or the “discrete realm where the struggle of oppressed peoples takes place,” Vázquez analyzes the discursive practices within each of the migrants’ stories that signals a daily resistance to dominant forces. In “Beyond Social Death: New Migrant Ontologies,” Brooke Kipling analyzes the story of Manuel Ecardo Mallorquín Aguilar, a “doubly deportable” Central American migrant who faces deportation from both Mexico and the United States. Through Aguilar’s story, Kipling reveals the ways that migrants “create life and new possibilities of being in places of ‘un-survival.’” To conclude the section, Irwin’s “The Migrant Knowledge of a Caravanero” highlights the story of Douglas Oviedo to examine the “moments of improvisation” that become a key facet of the migrant experience.

The collection concludes with an epilogue written by Nancy Landa, titled “Reclaiming Our Voices, Stories, and Knowledge.” Landa reveals her own experience as a deportee, reflecting on being a childhood arrival to the United States and being deported to Mexico roughly two decades later. For Landa, the most important aspects of the Humanizing Deportation project are that “it seeks to be guided by the autonomy and perspective of displaced migrants” and its format as a digital archive “leaves a footprint for those stories to be accessible to its contributors.” Landa’s observations reflect several of the key strengths of Migrant Feelings, Migrant Knowledge, namely, how the text demonstrates the ways in which digital archives can be leveraged to address pressing political concerns while centering the agency of the community members who contribute to the archive. In short, this collection is an important one for any scholars working within the field of archival studies. Rather than treat the archive as a static object, Migrant Feelings, Migrant Knowledge offers a crucial portrait of an archive as a fluid, ever-changing constellation. However, this collection also speaks to scholars beyond the field of archival studies. Scholars working in narrative studies and Mexican American and Latinx studies will also find a great deal of illuminating content within the collection.