August 14, 2009

Setting up research in Guatemala

I arrived in Guatemala City today, Thursday, August 13. After a long flight and not having seen my family for a week, I don't expect to get much work done today. However, I hope to get down to business soon after arriving. On Friday, I have some article revisions to tackle, and some other writing tasks over the weekend. On Monday, I hope to meet with my contact person in Guatemala as well as my potential research assistant.

Miguel Ugalde, a university professor in Guatemala has been immensely helpful as I plan my trip to Guatemala. He has recommended a young man named Oliver to be my research assistant. We will meet on Monday to see if this will work out. I am hoping that Oliver will work for me about ten hours a week doing various research-related tasks, in addition to helping me secure interviews.

In Kingston, paying my research assistants Evelyn and Charlie per interviewee they scheduled worked out very well. The only issue with that is that there was at least one person Evelyn introduced me to who was not suitable for an interview, due to his mental illness. That may or may not be a result of the financial incentive. Nevertheless, this is a strategy I will continue to implement as a means of quickly securing interviewees. I also pay my interviewees a small compensation for their participation. That seemed to work well in Jamaica, as many deportees greatly appreciated the cash.

Hopefully Oliver will be willing to start work right away. If so, I will ask him to translate my interview guide as well as my project information sheet. Oliver is Australian, yet has lived for several years in Guatemala. I also will ask him to help me with some research on migration and deportation in Guatemala. If all works out, we can get this project off the ground as early as next week.

It has been relatively straightforward to plan my research in Guatemala. However, I imagine the implementation will be less so. Guatemala as a country is very distinct from Jamaica. Most obviously, Guatemala has a strong indigenous influence, whereas Jamaica has a much stronger African influence. Guatemala was colonized by the Spanish; Jamaica was colonized primarily by the English. The food, music, and climate are all quite distinct. This means that the tools I used in Jamaica to gain the trust of interviewees will be different from those I will draw from in Guatemala.

In Jamaica, I relied on my experience growing up in Washington, DC to create bonds of trust with the Jamaicans I interviewed. Most of them had also lived in primarily black communities in the US and my familiarity with those types of urban environments allowed me to engage interviewees in meaningful conversations. In some ways, my experience in Nigeria was also useful, insofar as respect, trust, and family bonds are very important for Jamaicans in ways similar to that for Nigerians.

In Guatemala, I likely will have to draw from a different cultural toolkit. I have spent a total of nearly two years living in Latin America, and about the same amount of time living and working in Latino communities in the US. Although most of my experience has been with Mexicans, Peruvians, and Salvadorans, some of the cultural knowledge should be transferable. Clearly, as in Jamaica, I will be an outsider. Hopefully, however, I can be a trusted outsider with whom deportees are willing to share their experiences.

In all places I have conducted interviews for research – Peru, Chicago, and Jamaica – I have found that respect, humility, and a willingness to listen have taken me very far. Hopefully this will prove true in Guatemala as well.


  1. I'm taking Qualitative Research Methods this coming semester with Shirley Hill, and I'm so glad I have your blog to read. It's a part of my whole education on this topic.

  2. Emily, I am glad to hear that. Just this morning, I was thinking of how I could have benefited from a discussion about establishing trust and even just the normalization of asking for an interview. My first trip to Peru, I did not feel comfortable asking ppl if I could interview them. Now, it's very easy for me to ask anyone.