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Center for Human Rights - Celebrating 15 Years! Students • Partners • Research

Emily Willard Conducts Collaborative Research and Builds Relationships

Emily (4th seated person from the left) meeting with community leaders of Nuevo Amanecer, Guatemala.

January 17, 2019

I used the funds from the Benjamin Linder award to return to the town of Nuevo Amanecer, Guatemala to conduct follow-up interviews for my dissertation research and attend the community’s 20th anniversary celebration at the end of July. July 27th marks the anniversary of their return from 15 years of exile in Mexico, where they fled to escape genocidal violence of the early 1980s in Guatemala. Each year the community commemorates this return with a celebration, and uses the time as an opportunity to share stories of the past with the younger generations.

Returning to the community is an important part of my collaborative research methodology because it gave me the opportunity to share my preliminary results with my interviewees and other community members, and get their reactions, thoughts, and ideas. I explained during the follow-up interviews that, “while this is my thesis, it is your story, and I want to respect your ideas, thoughts, and wishes.” We had many fruitful conversations and I feel much more confident about accurately representing the perspectives and narratives of my interviewees when I write my dissertation this upcoming academic year. With these funds, I was also able to provide each interviewee with a CD of the audio file of her interview to keep for herself and her family. Due to literacy and technology challenges, the women agreed that this was the best way to give each woman a copy of her own interview.

Another important reason to return this summer was to celebrate with the community the 20th anniversary of the founding of their town. While my trip last year to conduct the first part of my dissertation research was very successful and I was able to build relationships with many community members, returning the following year had a big impact on my work and my friendships. I think that many passionate, kind people might come through Nuevo Amanecer, but only a few people return. I think the fact that I returned was very important in continuing to build the relationship, and avoid simply being a North American researcher who visits, extracts data, and leaves. The ability to return was key in allowing me to practice my methodology of collaborative research and relationship building, and conduct, what I believe to be, more ethical research.

The important of relationship building was exemplified in one moment while I was conducting a follow-up interview with one of the older women. She thanked me for coming to speak with her and she said, “you’re different than other people who come to visit.” I asked her how I was different. She said (paraphrasing), “other people come to visit and stay out there on the street talking, but you come into our homes to speak with us, you come inside to be with us and listen to our stories.” Later one day she invited me over for lunch, and she, her daughter and I ate caldo de pollo (chicken soup) and tortillas, talking about life, studies, and work. When she found out that I like rambutan, a tropical fruit, and that it is nearly impossible to get in the United States, she asked her daughter to go collect a bag-full for me to take with me. I was encouraged by the fact that showing genuine interest in her story, listening, and returning to listen again was so important to her, that it was mutually beneficial.

One result of my research this summer was that I wrote an article about the anniversary celebration for an international online magazine of Indigenous Peoples news, International Cry. I was able to share the story of Nuevo Amanecer with a wider audience and potentially help gain more support for their youth scholarship program, and their new international visitors (eco-toursim) project. I wrote the article in English as well as Spanish so that it would be more accessible to members of the community.

After this trip, I now feel fully prepared to begin writing my dissertation this academic year. The trip was highly successful academically, but I was also very grateful to be able to continue to grow my friendship with the people of Nuevo Amanecer and continue to support their work. This would not have been possible without the generous support from the Benjamin Linder Fund.