Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Andean Adios

Clean cut in Miami, pre-departure (June)

Ragged and research-weary in El Alto, Bolivia (July)

All gussied up in Quito, Ecuador (August)

Tomorrow we fly home via Miami, so this is our last post from the Andes, and probably our last post for some weeks, but though our 2008 summer field research prompted our creation of this blog, our collaboration (and thus the blog) hardly ends with tomorrow's jet travel. Looking ahead, we will be writing a conference paper in September, presenting the paper at the North Central Council of Latin Americanists at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater in October, preparing an article manuscript for Latin American Perspectives in November, and drafting text for a bi-lingual online photo essay in December. In 2009, we anticipate publishing two articles in Bolivian and Ecuadorian periodicals, submitting a pedagogy article about faculty-student collaboration to PS: Politics and Political Science, presenting our pedagogical reflections on our "Complementary Collaboration" model via Macalester's Center for Scholarship and Teaching, and presenting our final research findings and photographs at the International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

So we're not quite done yet.

Reflecting back on the past nine weeks with Nicole, I recall an interview on June 13, our second day of fieldwork. Toward the end of that interview, I was explaining to our interview subject how Nicole and I knew each other, and without thinking about what I was saying, I said "Nicole era mi estudiante" ("Nicole was my student"). Nicole and I looked at each other across the table and both burst out laughing.

Some months before our fieldwork began, Nicole concluded that she was unlikely to take any more classes of mine. It came up in the context of discussing my Latin American Politics class—the logical "sequel" to the first-year seminar she took with me, Latin America through Women's Eyes. During her first year at Macalester, Nicole and I had both assumed she would eventually take the second course, and probably others with me as well. But, she told me (this past March), it would be too awkward, especially on the heels of an entire summer of research in the Andes together.

At the time, my reaction was one of understanding, but not really agreement. Basically, I felt that if she was uncomfortable with it, she shouldn't take the course, but that it was up to her. It definitely contradicted my expectations. Up until Nicole, many of the students with whom I worked/mentored took 3 to 7 courses with me, and I figured she would likely follow this pattern. But after her first semester at Macalester, I went on sabbatical and didn't offer any courses for over a year.

Up until we got to Bolivia, I still thought it possible that she would change her mind, but by our second day of Bolivia, I was surprised that I started to feel the same way: that it just wouldn't work. She had become one of my principle colleagues, and my classes, at least as they are currently designed, don't really offer a logical space in which she would fit. Instead, we are talking about co-teaching Latin America through Women's Eyes (Fall 2009), which would flow smoothly from our research on gender dynamics among Andean social movements.

I have learned a lot about collaboration with a research partner (Nicole) and about collaboration with a research team (Nicole, James, Jesús, and César). The two are very different. Working with Nicole, in Minnesota and in the Andes, I very much felt like I was working with a peer and an equal. Working with a team, it was obvious to everyone that I was in charge, which was difficult for me after getting used to such a level playing field with Nicole. It was also awkward for me to get used to Nicole switching roles. As research partners, she and I usually felt comfortable "giving orders" to each other, but in the team setting, Nicole wasn't in a position of authority to direct the other team members, which somewhat re-shaped how she related to me. In our final week, however, when it was just the two of us back on the interview trail, I was pleased at how easily we reverted to our status as research partners, which we prefer.

This research experience has definitely been like none other. There were many intense challenges, some of which pushed me to (and past) the breaking point like no previous trip had. We have a lot more reflection ahead of us, but one satisfying reflection I have already is this: looking at the scope, depth, and quality of what we accomplished in terms of our research project, I could not possibly have done it alone. I will sleep well tonight.


Nine weeks later, and we're on the eve of departure. From this crazy Andean adventure, we move onto the next stages of our academic work: articles, conferences, who knows what else. But to me, sitting in Quito after having been away from home for 63 days--my longest time away yet--it seems as though perhaps the most momentous challenges will not be spoken of at conference presentations or discussed within academic papers. The real challenge, for me, lies in incorporating all that I've learned from this voyage (which extends far beyond gender dynamics) into the rest of my life, making these 63 days not solely about studying someone else's struggle, but in fortifying my own sense of community, values, and justice. What that means in practice, I have not yet decided--but I sure hope it involves lots of friendship and ice cream.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mild-mannered Patricio Endara

Today Nicole and I had our final day of field interviews. Our 60th and final interview was with a prominent member of Quito's metropolitan council who will likely compete in the next mayoral election. His high profile and status was confirmed by the fact that our 3:00 appointment got bumped to 3:30, 3:45, 4:15, and finally 4:35. And our 30 minute slot was sliced down to 20 minutes. While we were waiting, we did electronic chores, charmed the office staff (yielded full access to the archives we needed), and ran into our friend Patricio Endara.
Patricio appears to be a mild-mannered Clark Kent type. He speaks in a quiet voice, doesn't emote much, and seems harmless. He says the following phrases all in the same tone: "I had coffee for breakfast," "I'm mobilizing 100,000 people to occupy central Quito next Saturday," and "Please pass the butter."

I met Patricio in 2002 when he was in charge of the Coordinadora Popular de Quito (Popular Coordinating Committee of Quito) which, when it (kind of) absorbed several other organizations (the most horizontal, consensual takeover you've ever heard of), morphed into the Foro Urbano (Urban Forum).

Patricio showed up to see the city councilman we were waiting to interview. It was clear from the office staff's reactions that Patricio would not need an appointment in order to cut in front of the entire line of well-dressed petitioners waiting their turn.

Patricio has no plans to run for office, but I predict a Paul Wellstone-like trajectory for him. He'll try to stick to movement politics, but in another decade he'll be dragooned into electoral politics by his allies and supporters who decide he's just too good to not put him in charge. His current project is to lead a massive groundswell of support for the "Sí" ("Yes") vote in the upcoming September Constitutional referendum (that's what the 100,000 people are for).

I once asked him to describe his greatest defeat. He was quiet for a long time, then shrugged, his only answer a faint smile that betrayed just a trace of ego, as if to say "I'll let you know if that happens. But don't hold your breath."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Foro Urbano

The Foro Urbano (Urban Forum), one of the case studies for our research project, in an articulation of the needs for a new direction for Ecuador, focuses specifically on creating connections between grassroots groups in urban zones. It is a network of people and groups working together at the grassroots to improve their poor communities and to create public policy to push Ecuador into becoming a more progressive country to meet the needs of all of its citizens. The current networks within the Foro Urbano are the women's movements (which is the most active), a network of poor neighborhoods, and land invasion communities. Last weekend, Mujeres por la Vida (Women Struggling for Life) and Foro Urbano held a two-day long workshop for activists from throughout the country to discuss the new constitution, why they should vote in favor of it in the referendum on September 27, and how to organize nationally in support of the constitution. Four of the 130 assembly members in the 8-month long constitutional assembly process came from Foro Urbano/Mujeres por la Vida's ranks (and answered specific questions about the constitution during the workshop), but all of the members of this grassroots movement are inspirational, intelligent, and articulate people fighting for change. Here, we give you a snapshot of some of those leaders.

A press conference after the workshop. Here (from left to right) you can see assembly member Ximena Orosco, president of the land invasion network Luis Esparza, Mujeres por la Vida president and Quito sub-councilwoman Maria Hernandez, and assembly member Betty Tola. Behind them, standing strong, are other activists from the national movements of Mujeres por la Vida and Foro Urbano who are organizing in support of the new constitution.

I met María Hernández in 2002, when I was studying the neighborhood of Itchimbía in downtown Quito. Itchimbía was founded by an illegal land invasion and María was the president of the group from 1996 to 2006. In 2002, she was organizing 150-200 meetings and events a year, both in her neighborhood and around Quito, plus parenting her son, plus earning income, plus aspiring to a political career. In 2004, she elected as one of the 30 City Council members that, with the mayor, govern metropolitan Quito. She's now President of Mujeres por la Vida and one of the most visible representatives of the Foro Urbano. She is incredibly smart and knowledgeable, and our latest interview with her nearly reach two hours because she can talk/teach effectively about most of the topics that interest us. She has an older brother named Virgilio...

Virgilio Hernández has been a prominent social movement leader for 25 years (he's now 42; do the math). A key Foro Urbano leader he was elected to the Constituent Assembly and has spent the last eight months co-drafting Ecuador's new Constitution. During our interview with him, we were repeatedly interrupted by fans, who came up to pat him on the back, shake his hand, and one abuela pretty much did jumping jacks for joy she was so excited and proud to see him in person and rave to me and Nicole about how he is the best Asambleista ever elected. His celebrity was lost, however, on the manager of the café where we were interviewing him, and she kicked all three of us out for taking too long to finish our drinks. Maybe she just doesn't like the new Constitution?

Until recently, Sara Proaño says, she was self-absorbed and held "neoliberal ideas." Focused only on making more money and improving her social status as the only wealthy doctor in her poor neighborhood in Quito, Sara understood life to be about buying new cars and protecting herself from the ruckus of the outside world. She thought the Itchimbia land invasion (ironically led by her future colleague Maria Hernandez) was accomplished by a group of hooligans with no respect for the law. A neighborhood meeting about increasing crime on the street changed this; Sara transformed into a community leader and then eventually the president of her neighborhood. After attending a transformative political leadership school for women, where Sara learned from illiterate indigenous women about globalization, neoliberalism, and the need for true community solidarity, she became a key leader in the national movement Mujeres por la Vida. Now, Sara remarks, she has completely changed her lifestyle and understanding of herself. Instead of driving two cars and continually buying new goods, she sold her cars, makes very little money, and works 365 days a year fighting for women's rights in Ecuador. Despite having renounced her wealthy former lifestyle, she says she's the happiest she's ever been.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Cell Phone Use 101

If, you have the personal numbers of several of Ecuador's highest-ranking elected officials in your cell phone's directory,

And if, you have a curious two-year-old in the house who likes to push buttons,

Then, you should keep the cell phone key-locked,

To avoid embarrassment.

Interviews with social movements and the Constitutional Assembly

It's hard to believe it's already August and we only have one week of fieldwork left! In 10 days, we'll be flying away from the Andes, getting ready for Fall semester at Macalester (and the Republican National Convention!) and squeezing the last drops out of summer. But before then--there's still so much work left to be done! I'm confident about getting all our fieldwork done. The challenge for me is all the other professional work I need done before we return.

For the past week and a half, we've been hard at work on our case studies, learning about (attempted and sometimes de facto) privatization of natural resources in Ecuador, and running around the city during interviews with some really incredible people. We are pretty sure our case studies will be two different organizations that were both active in the Coalición por la Defensa del Agua (the Coalition in the Defense of Water), which was a coalition of organizations from 2004 to 2007 successfully fought against the attempted privatization of water in Quito. One organization, the Foro Urbano (Urban Forum), connects different networks of social movements (particularly focusing on womens' movements, land invasions, poor neighborhoods, and student groups) in order to shape public policy. The other organization is Ecuarunari, the sierra branch of the CONAIE, a highly political indigenous organization that is probably has been the most powerful social movement in Ecuador for the past three decades. We finalized the decision to focus our Quito fieldwork on these three organizations some time ago; the remaining uncertainty is over which two of these three groups will best fit into the comparative framework of our project.

We've also been interviewing some people who were members of the Constitutional Assembly that spent the past 8 months writing a new constitution for Ecuador. It's extremely progressive, outlawing the privatization of natural resources, giving fathers the right to paternity leave, recognizing that housework is a job that deserves rights such as social security and retirement, and declaring Ecuador to be a peaceful territory and kicking "all" foreign military bases (i.e. the U.S. military base in Manta, which is the only one) out of the country (U.S. military forces will likely relocate to Colombia). There were 130 assembly members, and we've interviewed several very, very powerful ones and have interviews lined up with more. And, in one of the most exciting moments of my technological life, I sent a text message to the president of the Constitutional assembly! It would be hard to overstate Nicole's excitement over this text message...

It hasn't been all fun and games, however. In order to be able to interview leaders of Ecuarunari, we needed to get the authorization of the president of the organization, who was out of Quito's province until Wednesday. I was very nervous for our meeting with him, because just two weeks ago he went on CNN to say "enough with the foreign academics who come and steal our information to use against us." It's a very valid critique of academia and Western involvement in Latin America-- and made me terrified to talk to him! I agree with Nicole that this critique is incredibly valid and important, but I was always confident we'd win him/them over. It's a similar story everywhere, but once we get to talk to leaders face to face, we have a fairly endless stream of references (movement organizations in Ecuador and neighboring countries) and examples of our social justice projects that show that we are "not just academics."

This morning, Andrea, Araminta, James and I went to the museum of Oswaldo Guayasamin, the most famous Ecuadorian painter who was named the official painter of Ibero America. There are two museums, one of which displays some of his art as well as his massive collection of pre- Columbian art, as well as the "Chapel of Man" which is too incredible to describe. Really, it's worth coming to Quito just to see these museums. To give you a sense, I've pasted here some of Guayasamin's work. My favorite set of Guayasamin paintings is a series of five massive portraits of evil, leering, conspiratorial, hideous, terrifying men. When I first saw it, I just loved it. I told Andrea so, and she couldn't imagine why I liked it so much. I wasn't really sure either, but then I saw the title, and it all made sense: "Meeting at the Pentagon."