As the largest center for education and research at Montana State University, the College of Letters and Science knows diversity is our strength. We are proud to enact our land-grant mandate to welcome all students, staff, and faculty, with a commitment to support people of color and others who have been historically underserved. Montana State University is located on the original homelands of Native peoples. We commit to acknowledging this rich history, learning from the past, and being good stewards for the future. We commit to caring for and nurturing the human, economic, physical, and environmental resources entrusted to us.We respect and celebrate the diverse dimensions of people’s identities in order to best achieve an inclusive environment of excellence in learning, teaching, and research.
This month we spotlight Bridget Kevane.
Bridget Kevane is the Director of Liberal Studies and a Professor in Modern Languages and Literature. This summer, Bridget and Latrelle Sherffius (PhD student in History and instructor in MLL) traveled with a group of students from GH 353: The US-Mexican Border to Arizona. The trip was the culmination of Bridget’s active work to give students a rich understanding of the importance of the borderlands and its importance to US history. During their trip, the group focused on learning about the history of the border, from when it was no more than a line in the sand to the thickening of the border, with incredible technology, deportation centers, border control and more.” Bridget took time to tell us a little bit more about herself, her work, and the border trip:
I’m from Puerto Rico, studied in New York and then Los Angeles, focusing on Latin American literature, history, and culture as well as Chicano studies. Here at MSU, I started the Latin American and Latino Studies program with a colleague who has since left. Ever since then I’ve taught Latin American literature and Latino Studies program in the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures.
Several years back, I realized that the U.S. Mexican border, the borderlands, deserved its own course as a part of Latino Studies and the history of the American West. I had been teaching it as a unit in my course on the history of Latinos in the United States, but it felt very, very inadequate. We were just skimming an incredibly complex topic that, in many ways, defines our nation. The border is a kind of symbolic vessel that represents our immigration policies which define us as a nation. I thought, we need a whole course on this. LaTrelle was teaching in the MLL department and working on her Ph.D. in History; I asked her if she’d be interested, and she was! She’s done an amazing job immersing students in the intricacies of border policies, the push and pull of immigration and our policies in Latin America, how the border has become more and more militarized and how it is a failed endeavor despite the billions of dollars spent and a whole lot of failed policies, like remain in Mexico. But even the class needed more, so we decided that it made sense to take students to the border. We chose Arizona because we already knew someone who worked at a non-profit there; it was easier to make contact. And from that a trip was born!
The first summer, we actually were able to meet and talk with migrants. We spent a day at the Kino Border Initiative serving food to migrants that were waiting to be allowed into the U.S. for asylum purposes. Their stories are very moving, and you feel the impossible choices these families or individuals have to make. Then walking deep into the desert to make water and food drops and finding the detritus of human clothes, food, shoes, toothbrushes, water bottles - that is always very powerful. It makes it very real to imagine who left what behind or why.
There are so many things that make this trip really transformative and, at the same time, challenging. The border is a site of sheer desperation and also wild hope. It is a complex site, close to 2,000 miles long, of migration, drug trafficking, gang violence, families, children, arms flowing south, drugs flowing north. The militarization of the border makes it feel like a war zone. But we also focused on learning about the history of the border, from when it was no more than a line in the sand to the thickening of the border, with incredible technology, deportation centers, border control and more.
It’s a schizophrenic site, I think, and for students it’s so complex that it is hard to wrap your head around it. But at the very least they leave this trip understanding that it is so very complex that there is no fair or just way to sum it up in the political sound bites that get broadcast across the country. And that those soundbites are simply hackneyed lines that are quite meaningless and even cruel. We had students from all walks of campus, ROTC students, cell biology, Modern Languages, history, business, community health, environmental studies. They all wanted to know know more, and I think they will all always understand more about the border and migrants.
It’s important because learning about this community because it shows how Montana, like all states, has depended and continues to depend on immigrant labor. Since I’ve lived in Montana, and even to this day, I hear people say they didn’t know we had or have a Latino community. But we had Spanish fur traders like Manuel Lisa and vaqueros like Andrew Garcia and then betabeleros, sugar beet workers, for Great Western and today, of course, construction workers, roof workers, service industry workers. Like most states we are also seeing a dramatic increase in the population, and we are just building or improving or acknowledging the need for better infrastructure and resources for the community like ESL resources in the school district, access to health care, mental health, and more.
I think most people that work with this community agree that it’s about choices. Montana, as a state, and Bozeman as part of Gallatin County, can improve resources so that those seeking asylum can become contributing citizens of the state. I know immigration is a hot button topic and that there are all these myths out there about the economics of immigration, getting to the back of the line, anchor babies, drugs and more. It’s hard to dispel all that, but that is where immersive trips for our students helps. They can experience it firsthand and make their own decisions about how to fix our immigration policies.
Thank you, Bridget, for making visible the rich history of immigrant labor and the borderlands to our State.
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College of Letters and Science
Montana State University
P.O. Box 172360
Bozeman, MT 59717-2360
Tel: (406) 994-4288
Fax: (406) 994-7580
E-mail: [email protected]
Location: 2-205 Wilson Hall
Dean: Yves Idzerda
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