politician, anthropologist, development worker?

The more I do research the more I get confused with my role as a worker. I think that through anthropology I can do development work and through development work I can inform public policy. I just don’t know if that’s possible.

Yesterday I accompanied a “Diputada” from Puebla as she was out campaigning for her party – PAN (Partido Accion Nacional). Even with all my concerns about politicians in Mexico I decided to be open and meet the people in these pueblos we were going to go. We ended up in Santa Lucia. A tiny village. The population depends on rain (not too much, not too little) to make any money since they plant corn. It has been a year that it hasn’t rain, therefore hunger and unemployment have risen dramatically.

As a politician I would have loved to have the “power” that this Diputada has. Legislate, allocate money, solve problems. We went to a family’s house – about 14 people living in a house that had no doors, only sheets hanging from the ceiling and mattresses on the floor. Basically older women and kids. (Let’s not forget about the 6 dogs that each family here keeps). Here is the situation: the father of (let’s call him) Temo lives in the US. He has been there for 8 years. Temo is 7. His dad left when he was 1 year-old. The dad sent money to Temo’s mom for the first two years. Then he forgot about his child. He stopped calling and sending money. Temo’s mother got engaged in January of this year and just had a baby with her husband to be 2 weeks ago. As we gather in this house the grandmother of Temo is in panic. She is holding a piece of paper and gives it to the Diputada and to her lawyer assistant. The paper says that the family was sued in January (when the mother got engaged) by Temo’s father. The father was asking for his mother (Temo’s paternal grandmother) to have full custody of the kid. He argued that Temo wasn’t being taken care of and that the mother would abandon him now that she has a new husband.

Nobody in the house could read. They had no idea this process was happening for the last 6 months. As an anthropologist I could translate and explain, but what else can I do? As a development worker I can help them learn how to read? I can take them to the court and judge? I can explain the rights they have – if I’m familiar with Mexican family law? But as a politician with a lawyer I can go talk to the judge, explain, figure out what is going on and try to give this kid some peace.  What bothered me though was the thought of how honest was that action by the Diputada? For me it looked honest. She told me millions of times – we as politicians get paid really well so why not do our jobs really well?

As an anthropologist I asked Temo if he would like to see his grandmother. His answer was – “no, because she left me”. I asked him if he remembered when she left him, and he said “mmmm, no”. It was clear that the message had been repeated to him over and over and the truth is we don’t know how the story really went down. As an anthropologist I was concerned about finding the “truth”. Listening to all sides of the story. The Diputada was concerned about solving the problem, regardless of what happened in the past, and my guess is that the development worker would be from something like the UNICEF and would be concerned with the well-being of the child and his… education?

So, what is it that I need to do? I’ve always been a believer of interdisciplinary studies and actions. To be fair the Diputada wanted to know about my observations. But in the end what can I do? Temo was surrounded by adults discussing his future. Every now and then he would cry a little bit and then wipe his face. His mom didn’t even join the conversation, it was his 88-year-old grandmother that went to seek the help of the Diputada. We later found out that his mom knew the process was going on for months, but decided to ignore it.

I still don’t know about the motives of the father to do all this. But to be honest the mother didn’t seem interested in where her son would live. Stories like this happen all the time around here. Families are completely disintegrated due to immigration and the people that suffer the most are these children. They are absolutely confused.

More soon.

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