Student Researcher Walks Across the U.S.-Mexico Border
Roanoke College student Kevin Beck '08 crossed the border on foot with just his backpack from Cuidad Juarez, Mexico to El Paso, Texas on March 6, 2008. The difference between Beck and the thousands of immigrants who make the trek is that he is a U.S. citizen. Beck's independent study on the effects of globalization on Cuidad Juarez inspired him to make this trip.
"I was talking to my advisor, Dr. Bañuelos-Montes, and realized that a lot of the literature I was reading was recycled information," Beck says. "I wasn't seeing anything new, so I thought it would be good if I could go down there and see it for myself."
The student-researcher traveled to Mexico during his spring break and talked to civil groups that represented workers' rights in Mexico, especially the laborers in factories, more commonly known as the maquiladoras. Because labor unions aren't permitted, the organizations that Beck spoke to served mainly to advise the workers. He also researched government relations between the United States and Mexico and how they have been affected by the North American Free Trade Agreement and globalization.
"More specifically, I look at how all of globalization in the border of Mexico has changed Cuidad Juarez into something new - how it has changed the city socially and culturally," Beck says.
To do this, Beck hopped on the border jumper, a type of trolley system, to Cuidad Juarez and spent three days interviewing activist groups, including the city's largest human rights organization, Casa Amiga. Through research and contacts, Beck was able to interview the group's founder and director, Esther Chavez Cano.
"We read other people's ideas and create our own based on that, but this was an opportunity for me to do my own research and create my own ideas," says Beck. "I've always thought that if I go to grad school, this is what I'd like to do." He returned to the United States and began writing a paper in Spanish, using notes and his interviews to present his findings to a panel of professors.
Beck says that he received financial and moral support from the College's Latin American concentration department. "The perk of going to Roanoke is that the College can take students interested in doing things like this and support them individually," he says.
After Beck's successful endeavor, he says that professors mentioned creating a travel research grant, which would provide students with the opportunity and funds to do research abroad.
"Learning by experience and doing things firsthand is the best way to learn and study something," says the student researcher. "You can always read something in books, but to go and do it on your own - there's nothing like it. I don't think I would've been able to really understand the situation without going to Cuidad Juarez."