June 9, 2009

Talking about deportees at the Hot Pot with Evelyn

June 9, 2009

I called Evelyn just after 9am, as promised. She asked me to call her back at 10am. At that time, we agreed we would have lunch to discuss my project. Evelyn runs an NGO that helps deportees transition back into society.

You can read her story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/21/world/americas/21kingston.html

I wanted to meet with Evelyn to see if she might introduce me to some people who have been deported. I had called Evelyn while I was in the States to ask if I could meet with her. I also had asked her if I could bring her anything, and she asked for a digital camera for her NGO. I brought that with me to lunch to give to her.

Evelyn picked me up at my place, and we went to a nearby restaurant, Hot Pot, which is supposed to have authentic Jamaican food. We both ordered lemon chicken, which turned out to be barbecue chicken. We had to fight with the chicken to get the meat off of the bone, the soup was watery, and the rice bland. The meal was not as delicious as I had hoped, but the meeting went well.

When I told Evelyn about my research, the first thing she asked me is how it will benefit deportees. I told her that I am trying to understand how deportees are re-incorporating into Jamaican society, and to what extent they can use the resources they have gained in the US to help them in their transition. My study will not directly benefit the people I interview, but the broader aim of the project is to understand the challenges deportees face, with the hope of affecting policy. Evelyn told me that reporters consistently come and ask to meet her and the deportees she knows, but that they never give anything in return. They don't even send a copy of the article to the interviewees.

This is another dilemma of qualitative research – we rely on people to give us their time and information, but don't have much to offer in return. I told Evelyn I would give the deportees US $10 for their time. She said they would appreciate that, as the journalists don't give them anything at all.

I had told Evelyn that I was looking for a research assistant. She asked me about this at lunch, and I explained that I was looking for someone who could find deportees for me, introduce me to them, and then talk with me after the interview to answer any questions I might have about the interviewee or the responses they gave. Evelyn said she was interested in that job, and that she could introduce me to deportees. We agreed that we can start next week, when I get back from Rio.

Evelyn told me that we might have to go into some rough areas, and asked me if I was scared. I told her I wasn't, so long as she went with me. Then, I pointed out that people don't usually bother visitors to neighborhoods, they usually have issues with people they know. She agreed, and said I should be fine. She also said that some deportees may not want to talk to me, especially since I am white. She said she'd tell them I was cool, and then pointed out that I look like I am cool. I am not sure exactly what she means, but will keep trying to look cool so that people feel comfortable talking to me.

I mentioned to Evelyn that we could do the interviews at the interviewees' homes, if they didn't mind, as I would like to see where they live. She said that some of them wouldn't mind. But, others either don't want people to see where they live, or they live with others, and don't want people to know that they are a deportee.

There is a stigma associated with being a deportee, and some people try to hide that status. To the extent that is possible, they hide the fact that they are a deportee from employers, neighbors, and friends. Some employers won't hire people if they know they have been deported. I asked Evelyn how they know they have been deported, and Evelyn said it is because of gaps in their work history. They ask what you have been doing for the past few years, and if you say you were abroad, the suspicion that you are a deportee arises.

Obviously, some people come back voluntarily from the US or England. And, voluntary returnees may not face the same set of stigmas. There is likely some sort of class bias, where returnees tend to be better off financially and do not seek the same sorts of jobs as deportees do. And, perhaps middle-class deportees can pass as voluntary returnees in order to avoid the stigma associated with being a deportee. We shall see, as I have not yet met any professional deportees.


  1. I don't know if this matters to you, but this is a better link because it's a dedicated .html location:


    Good to read your post as always.

  2. Oh also, I'm stoked you got your research assistant thing sorted out. Earlier you wrote that you weren't sure how it work, and Evelyn sounds cool.

    Lastly, I'm glad you keep coming back to the transaction in qualitative research between the interviewer and interviewee. I too have felt that it's biased towards the interests of the interviewer, but I have heard it defended as such to protect the quality of truthfulness in response.

  3. Thanks, Emily! I changed the link. And, Evelyn is not about to let me forget about the "transaction"!