June 6, 2009

There might be deportees at the gas station

Saturday, June 6 2009

Friday was the last day of the Caribbean Studies Association conference. I skipped out on the business meeting and spent the afternoon by the hotel pool with my daughters. I wanted to take advantage of our last day of access to the hotel pool. My husband, Nando, went to Trenchtown to see the rastas he made friends with last week.

I thought I would get some reading done by the pool, but there was a young man seated at the table next to me who went on an on about his experiences as a first generation college student, and then a graduate student. I wasn't eavesdropping; that wasn't necessary as his voice carried clear across the pool deck. I found him quite annoying. It was a combination of his loud voice and the fact that he was telling his life story as if he did not have any gender or race privilege. As a working class white male in the US, he may not have had class privilege, but he can't attribute all of his life successes to hard work and good luck.

After spending the afternoon poolside, I took the girls home and got ready for the closing party for the conference. As we walked home, I wasn't sure if I was going to have the energy to go to the party. Nevertheless, I decided I should go. I am glad I did because it was a lot of fun. There was an open bar, free food, and good music. And, those Caribbean Studies folks know how to have a good time. Nearly everyone danced the evening away to soca, reggae and some old school tunes. Watching academics dance is not always enjoyable, but this group knew how to get their groove on.

On Saturday, we decided to go to the beach. I called the taxi driver who had dropped me off the other day, and he agreed to take us to Fort Clarence Beach. Nando thought he might be able to sell some of his jewelry as he did last time, but he didn't have the same luck this time around. The girls had a blast playing in the water with the other children. And, this time I was able to get some reading done as I lay on the beach, listening to the waves roll in.

On the way back home from the beach, I told the taxi driver I was studying deportees. He said I wouldn't have any trouble finding deportees, as there are a lot in Jamaica. He told me that they are not all bad; some are criminals, but others are not. I am beginning to notice a class bias – where working class people are not as likely to think that deportees are all criminals. So far, most people who think deportees are all criminals have been middle class folks.

The taxi driver told me that I should be able to find deportees at the gas station near the conference hotel. He said most of the guys who wash cars there are deportees, and are homeless. Many of them are crack addicts. He also told me that one of the cab drivers he knows is a deportee, but that he might want to be paid in order to talk to me. I told the taxi driver that I pay a small compensation – about US $10, but that I don't want to pay too much. He said the homeless guys would talk to me for that amount, but that some of the better off people won't.

I explained that I don't want to provide a large financial incentive, because if people don't want to tell their story, I don't want them to do it just for the money. I am writing a book that might help to dispel some myths about deportees, and some people might want to play a role in that effort.

As I was saying that, I realized that I will benefit, at least professionally, if not financially, from the book I am writing, and there is no direct benefit for the deportees. This is a perennial problem for qualitative research. We depend on people to give us their stories, but don't have much to compensate them with. In my experience, it seems that people enjoy telling their story and having someone listen to them. For now, I am going to count on that happening again. If it doesn't, I might have to develop new strategies.

Nando offered to go down to the gas station to talk to some of the guys to find out if there are any deportees there. If they are willing, it could be a good idea to interview a couple of them. I am pretty sure most deportees are not homeless, but it would be useful to hear what happens to those that end up on the streets.

The taxi driver also told me that it costs about US $5000 to get false papers to re-enter the US illegally. We have no idea how many people actually do that. To travel on a fake passport, you obviously need access to a lot of cash. And, once you get back in the US, you would have to assume a new identity – the one on the false documents. Many people may be unwilling to do that. Others may see that route as their best option, especially if their family is in the United States. If I were separated from my children, I would do whatever it took to be together again.

No comments:

Post a Comment