1st Place in Ethnographic Poetry

Society for Humanistic Anthropology 2018 writing awards. Link to poems here

My contribution to the Journal of Anthropology and Humanism is a collection of three poems written over a period of twenty-five years across the Americas and Europe – “Memorial (San Salvador 1991),” “Ruta de la Malintzín,” and “Is It More Ordinary to Forget or to Remember?” The poems explore themes of migration, violence, exile, and ambiguous belonging. As an adoptee of uncertain ethnicity, the figure of the Malintzín has been life-affirming and generative for me in how I understand my spectral relationship to kin and the complexities and (im)possibilities of belonging across languages, places, and communities. Following is the ethnographic statement for the poems that provides a brief contextualization:

“Before coming to anthropology, I worked as an interpreter and organizer for human and environmental rights organizations in El Salvador (1989–1998) and as an adult educator in the Mexico–U.S. borderlands (1998–2007). Witnessing war, the trauma of family separation, and the increasing militarization of the border created debilitating silences within me. As I confronted these silences, poetry provided a means of compassionate engagement with violence and loss. For example, my poem “Memorial” reveals a haunting experience while walking the Sonoran border. This “land of open graves” (to reference Jason De León’s 2015 book) is simultaneously a scene of crimes against humanity, a site of “ambiguous loss,” and the sacred homeland of the Tohono O’odham people; here, I encountered the memory of Martín Ayala Ramírez’s assassination. Documenting through poetry the reverberation of terror allowed me to address the trauma on my own terms. The poem provides both an act of recognition and a strategy to represent violence in a way that “shelters” the experience of the storyteller (as John Berger wrote in his 1984 book, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos).

Following Berger’s lead, I envision poetry as a form of accompaniment. In my ethnographic audiovisual research with newcomer communities in Ireland, poetry played a pivotal role. Emergent media producers created short videos animated by letters home, still and moving images, ambient sound, and text. The process of crafting the multimodal artifact, and the artifact itself, provided research partners with generative pathways for inquiry and dialogue. From this work, I have written about the politics of voice and listening, co‐creative ethnographic knowledge production, and the emotional toll of state‐sanctioned liminality for political asylum seekers.  Currently, I’m writing about the productive synergies between poetry and moving image in arts‐based, ethnographic research” (Alexandra 2019).