November 12, 2012

Maine Fulbright scholar views immigration up close

His interest in the work began six years ago, following a yearlong study abroad in Granada, Spain, and Mexico City.

By Deborah Sayer dsayer@pressherald.com
News Assistant

Levi Bridges is drawing from personal experience as he makes use of a Fulbright Scholarship grant in creative writing.

click image to enlarge

Levi Bridges, 29, poses during a trip to Europe.

Photo courtesy Levi Bridges

Bridges, a Sedgwick native, is two months into a one-year immersion study in Mexico City, documenting the lives of Central American migrant workers who daily cross the U.S. Mexican border in hopes of finding better paying jobs.

His interest in the work began six years ago, following a yearlong study abroad in Granada, Spain, and Mexico City.

Back then, Bridges, 29. capped his course of study with a monthlong journey along a 500-mile section of the U.S.-Mexican border to experience the challenges migrant workers face.

Equipped with only a passport and a backpack filled with basic essentials, Bridges hitch-hiked from San Diego to Yuma, writing a weekly blog about the varied cast of characters he met along the way and those he hoped to avoid -- such as when he tented out in desert border locales known to be frequented by drug cartel members and others seeking illegal entry into the U.S.

Bridges, a double major in Spanish and English literature at Alfred University, has worked as a social worker at the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland. His interest in detailing the lives of Mexican guest workers in the U.S. grew during his preliminary research for the Fulbright application, he said.

"Writing about Central American migrants is kind of a side note to my work here," said Bridges. "I applied for a Fulbright Arts Grant to spend nine months interviewing Mexican nationals who have worked in the U.S. on H-2A and H-2B temporary work visas (together known as the U.S. guest worker program)."

Bridges' goal, while in Mexico, is to establish a personal connection with those workers to document their experiences transitioning from the U.S. back to Mexico as participants in the global economy.

"I want to explore their motivations for seeking legal means of working abroad and their opinions about how the current U.S. guest worker program could be improved," said Bridges, who cited numerous reports by Human Rights Watch and The Southern Poverty Law Center documenting instances of guest workers being paid below the minimum wage, not paid for overtime and denied compensation rights.

Often guest workers arrive in the states indebted to the recruiters who process their work visas and are unable to change jobs if they are unhappy in their work assignments.

As part of the project, Bridges created a multimedia website at www.bridgesandborders.com, where he posts weekly stories detailing his interactions.

"The website (attempts) to tell the story of migration in North America," said Bridges.

"So in addition to guest workers, I am writing stories about Central American migrants, refugees, people who have been deported, issues along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexican migrant shelters, urban migration in Mexico and the forces which drive people from Latin America to leave their home countries."

The Fulbright program provides Bridges with round trip airfare and a modest living stipend. When he is not studying at the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico City, Bridges often volunteers at a homeless shelter.

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: dsayer@pressherald.com

 

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