Preparing yourself to center the voices of those impacted by issues

Apr 23, 2021

My research project, supported by the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation HealthConnect Fellowship, explored the strength, resilience, or regenerative power of Latinx families in the context of legal violence (Menjivar & Abrego, 2012). Legal violence is a framework that recognizes the negative consequences to the health and well-being of children and families due to restrictive immigration enforcement policies and racist community environments. This research interest was driven by my own personal experience as a former undocumented immigrant, community organizer, and direct service provider learning directly from immigrant survivors of intimate partner violence.

Here is a brief reflection on my experience with research and the strategies that helped me center the voices of those directly impacted by legal violence. These are strategies, I believe, could be applicable outside of the research process as well.

Acknowledge your assumptions and stay true to your role.

Conducting research in any capacity is difficult; a lot of planning and energy goes into thinking through the details of a research project and, more importantly,  the protection and confidentiality of the participants in the study. There is also an added layer of complexity when the researcher belongs and is closely connected to the identities of the participants, community, and topics that will be explored during the research interviews.

As a former undocumented Latinx immigrant woman, I found that doing research in my own community was very hard and emotionally exhausting. As a qualitative researcher, you must be forthright about assumptions and the lens from which you see the world, and must express your positionality with the research topic and process in general. It is good practice to document in writing the assumptions you carry forward into research projects. Wouldn’t this also be important for us to consider as we work in the direct service field? Consider this process before diving into your work.

As a researcher, I found it hard to hear firsthand from my community about the struggles, pain, experiences of their everyday life. Yet, I felt fulfilled to learn and identify their strengths, resourcefulness, and agency that they carry with them daily. It was bitter sweet and as I reflect back into the rigorous Ph.D. program and dissertation process, I must say all of it was worth it, because I was able to listen to and lift up the voices of my people, my community, mi gente. I heard their struggles, but mainly, I witnessed their power. Latinx in Iowa are a powerful community! We are strong! We are resilient in the face of adversity!

Take breaks when you need them.

In many instances, I needed to take breaks. This is also a valuable and underutilized strategy in the research field and beyond. For example, I was reading academic research about the detrimental impacts of immgiration policy, while also dealing with my own family members being separated, family and friends navigating DACA-related policy uncertainties, and Latinx fathers and mothers being snatched away at gas stations, parking lots, and worksites all across Iowa. I also knew the literature review process was going to be hard, but I didn’t anticipate the weight that I would carry. I was reading about research that had taken place a decade ago and the many policies, practical implications, and suggested solutions, and yet, I was witnessing these draconian laws still affecting my family and community in the present time. I had to pause and distract myself with music, comedy shows, and mindfulness practices (this is still a work in progress) in order to refocus and energize myself to continue with the research.

I would highly recommend that all of us take time off or disconnect from “the work,” especially when you are doing research or working with an issue that is related to your own personal experience. Work and success is also about sustainability, so taking a break is actively seeking ways to improve your capacity and efficiency. It is health. It is resistance. It is love for you and for the people you serve.

As you consider your own connections to your work, I hope you take some time to consider:

  • How are you reflecting on your identity and the assumptions you hold of those you work with?
  • What are you doing to take care of yourself and ensure you maintain your energy for the difficult work we must do to create change?
  • What are you doing to take care of your Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) co-workers, staff, or employees to support their well-being as well?
  • How are you actively lifting up the voices and power of people you are working with, celebrating their strengths, and fighting against the policies and systems that cause harm?

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