People may not like my politics but I do try to represent what goes onto this blog honestly. I think it is only fair to share this post from Debra Shutika’s blog with the contributors on our blog. It explains a great deal about the study that they did. Apparently, the News and Messenger also set the stage for some very bad press.
These women worked hard and deserve to have their point of view heard without the filter of those with not-so-hidden agendas. If residents of the greater Manassas area truly want to have their community problems solved, it makes sense, at least to me, to talk with people who at least will listen to you, such as these to researchers. Please read the entire post before commenting:
From Debra Shutika:
To my readers:
Yesterday a local Virginia newspaper ran a story in response to a a press release regarding research that I and my colleague, Carol Cleaveland, had conducted in Manassas in 2008 and 2009. We are ethnographers, which means we utilize ethnography as our primary research method. Ethnography is a research method often used in the social sciences, particularly anthropology, folklore and sociology, but also in a variety of other fields. The goal of ethnography is to gather data that is in-depth and from a small group of people. Usually this would be a local community, a neighborhood, or even a small town. Data collection is done a number of ways: participant observation (where the researcher lives alongside his or her informants and documents day-to-day life and activities), but also interviews and questionnaires. The purpose of an ethnographic account is to describe those who are studies (i.e., the people or ethnos) and to document this through writing, thus the term, ethnography.
We began our work in Manassas in the Weems neighborhood and Sumner Lakes in March 2008. During that period, we interviewed 100 household that were randomly selected. These households were non-immigrant households. The householder had to be able to speak English fluently to participate. The summary of that research is highlighted this statement that I made earlier this year:
“Our research suggests that the changes that have taken place in Manassas in the last 20 years have been unsettling for some residents,” says Debra Lattanzi Shutika, assistant professor of English at Mason. “Many of these residents seemed to be experiencing what I have identified as a type of ‘localized displacement’—they feel out of place in their home community. In some cases, residents told us that they found it difficult to adapt to the changes taking place around them, and that these changes that made their ‘home’ seem unfamiliar.”
Throughout this phase of the research, we asked residents about a number of changes in their community. What we found is that Manassas had changed significantly over the last 20 years, and many residents viewed those changes as unsettling. We also discovered that a majority of the people we talked to had strong negative feelings about immigrants. We interviewed 103 households and then went back and did an additional 30 in-depth interviews. These ranged from 1-3 hours in length, depending on the informant.
In the second phase of this study, we went into two predominantly Latino neighborhoods and interviewed a non-random sample of residents. There we interviewed 60 people. These residents reported feeling alienated from the community, and in some cases, extreme fear. What I told Ms. Chumley when I spoke to her on Monday was, although it was not surprising that an undocumented person would feel frightened by the law, we were not expecting DOCUMENTED LATINOS, of which there are many in the area, to feel this way. In fact, the responses of the documented indicated that they were just as likely to fear leaving their homes or sending their children out to play as others. [Note: for reasons of confidentiality, we did not directly ask people about their documentation status. However, those who were documented were forthcoming about their residency status.]
When I read Ms. Chumley’s article, I was disappointed with her report because she clearly misrepresented our work. For instance, both Prof. Cleaveland and I told her that we understood the frustrations of Manassas residents who were distressed with changes in their neighborhoods, such as having neighbors who did not cut their grass, had too many cars parked around their homes, and left trash unattended around their homes and on their laws. For my part, most of the work that I have done in the last 15 years with immigration has focused equally on American-born residents in new destinations of Mexican migration. I recently published an essay on this, which is linked here.
In short, I may disagree with some of my informants about their perspectives on immigration, but that is not to say that I don’t think their perspectives should be ignored. I honestly think that one of the major reasons why immigration has become such a volatile topic is because for too long residents complaints about the changes to their communities and the legitimate problems that come with a rapid increase in an immigrant population have been ignored by their local government.