Workers Without Borders: Negotiating Family & Identity


INSTRUCTOR: Jeanette Smith


SCHEDULE: Thursday, 11:00AM – 12:15PM

Course Description

Although the migration of workers from country to country has been an inexorable part of our world for centuries, we rarely hear the stories of the workers themselves. Instead, we frequently hear the term immigration used derisively as part of the political rhetoric without acknowledgement of the essential role that many of these workers serve in the United States nor of the physical and emotional toll that their presence here has taken on both their families and the workers themselves. Often, these workers have been driven to the U.S. by outdated concepts about the “American Dream,” believing that if they can just make it here, they will be able to easily find work and provide for their families through remittances. Some come expecting to stay for a season and then to return home and others expect to be here longer. Few initially expect to spend a lifetime.

Usually portrayed as young, single men, the face of labor migration has gradually expanded in the last few decades to include both young women and nuclear families who do not want to be separated by difficult border crossings. Little effort is made to understand the lives of these immigrant workers, the binational families of which they are part, or the tremendous pressure upon them to support those families, all while surviving in a foreign environment with little to no support. While anti-immigrant and other pressures in the United States may be difficult, these workers must also cope with the familial, societal, and personal expectations of being the one to have migrated.

In this course, we will examine the conditions that drive migrant workers to the United States as well as their experience in the country and how it informs their concepts of identity and self. The course is intentionally interdisciplinary and will incorporate debates from history, sociology, anthropology, public policy, and more. We will not be limiting our explorations to the United States as this class will incorporate a collaborative online international learning (COIL) component. Students will work directly with their peers at a university in another country on a project related to the class content.