Border dynamics in Tapachula, Chiapas (Mexico)

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This summer, I visited Tapachula, Chiapas in Southern Mexico in order to take part in a research team aimed at studying migration, particularly LGBT+ migration,between central america and mexico. As a city that lies 30 minutes from the border with Guatemala, Tapachula is often the first major stop for migrants aiming to cross into Mexico, and as such has fostered a dynamic central to migration studies in the region. Given my interest in migration studies, in particular migration between central america, mexico, and the united states and the narratives created in this context, helping out on a research team focusing on the subject in such a crucial border town seemed perfect. Before leaving, I was quite nervous about a few things, perhaps most prominenty the fact that the project I asked to take part in wasn’t one open to the public or to short-term participants such as myself. Put simply, i had emailed the research leader because i had heard of her work and asked if i could help out for a few weeks in whatever way was needed, and so when she agreed i went i blindly. I was therefore worried that, in not really having any idea past the superficial about what I was going to be doing I would find myself in a place where what I expected was very different from the reality of the situation and I wouldn’t know how to continue for a whole month if what was actually expected of me was that distant from what would take place. While it is true that my experience was quite different from what I expected- to begin with, I thought the project would be much more fieldwork intensive with not as many breaks between interviews and activities, breaks I was expected to fill with my own activities as the other researchers gave lectures and classes- I eventually learned to manage and to create my own experience while integrating the project I was working on rather than vice versa.This, then, forms a central part of what I learned while abroad: firstly, it is absolutely essential to take the time to establish contacts inside and outside the project you’re working on if possible, especially because in those moments when you’re trying to find activities in the surrounding area without having a good idea of what to do, most people are willing to let you in on their projects or to give you a tour. Branching out past the initial group of people you are working with, I quickly learned, is necessary in order to gain a good understanding of the community in which you are working and in order to gain as full of an experience as possible.had I not done so my experience of Tapachula would have mirrored the first few days there and would have rarely strayed past the academic. I was, however, lucky enough to have realized this a few weeks in, thus making the effort to extend my peripheries and so not only making sure that every minute was filled with activity, but with activities that ultimately allowed me to gain a more comprehensive grasp of migration dynamics and narratives in the area.

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