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SAPIENS: Why Aid Remains Out of Reach for Some Rohingya Refugees

Even with the right to health care secured, medical assistance is elusive for urban refugees in India.

The anthropology publication SAPIENS has published an article by SMU doctoral candidate Ashvina Patel.

SAPIENS is an editorially independent publication of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Inc., which is dedicated to popularizing anthropology to a broad audience.

The article, “Why Aid Remains Out of Reach for Some Rohingya Refugees,” published May 17, 2018.

The article resulted from Patel’s 11-month stay in New Delhi, India, in which she interviewed residents of three urban refugee settlements. The purpose was to understand how issues of geopolitics and domestic policy inform various types of human insecurity for refugees.

Patel is currently a visiting student fellow at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre, where she is developing further publications on Rohingya refugee displacement.

She is a doctoral candidate in SMU’s Department of Anthropology. Patel holds an M.A. degree in Cultural Anthropology from SMU and an M.A. in Religion from University of Hawaii, Manoa. As a doctoral student, her research focuses on issues of human insecurity among Rohingya refugees in the context of American resettlement as well as within New Delhi, India as urban refugees. Her research work focuses specifically on defining the subjective experience of human insecurity and how various forms of insecurity are informed by statelessness.

Patel is a student of SMU anthropology professor Caroline Brettell, an internationally recognized immigration expert and Ruth Collins Altshuler Professor and Director of the Interdisciplinary Institute. Brettell is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A private operating foundation, Wenner-Gren is dedicated to the advancement of anthropology throughout the world. Located in New York City, it is one of the major funding sources for international anthropological research and is actively engaged with the anthropological community through its varied grant, fellowship, networking, conference and symposia programs.

It founded and continues to publish the international journal Current Anthropology, and disseminates the results of its symposia through open-access supplementary issues of this journal. The Foundation works to support all branches of anthropology and closely related disciplines concerned with human biological and cultural origins, development, and variation.

Read the full article.


From the field notes
of SMU PhD candidate Ashvina Patel

Ameena (a pseudonym) is a 25-year-old Rohingya refugee in New Delhi, India, who is seven months pregnant with twins. Her face is gaunt. Often there isn’t enough food at home for her family of five. Nestled among other shanty houses, her home is made of bamboo with scrap boards as paneling; a tattered piece of cloth serves as the front door. Recently, the monsoon rains caused her to slip and fall. Now one of the babies in her womb is not moving. She knows she needs to see a doctor, but she cannot afford one.

When Ameena fled acts of genocide perpetrated by her own government of Myanmar in 2012, she and her husband came to New Delhi. They both suffer from debilitating deformities due to polio, and they heard that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in New Delhi was helping Rohingya refugees. The UNHCR partners with the Indian government to provide free aid to help people obtain an education, a livelihood, and health care.

But as Ameena and others would learn, being offered access to aid isn’t always enough. Barriers to procuring those free resources often leave urban refugees to fend for themselves; many find they have to negotiate a system that inadvertently creates obstacles to reaching that aid.

Having spent 11 months with the Rohingya community in India from 2015 to 2017, I repeatedly saw how aid missed its intended target. As the UNHCR creates solutions to challenges that refugees face, these solutions can also serve as a catalyst for new obstacles or deepen already existing insecurities by creating additional barriers that are financial, linguistic, cultural, or exploitative. The UNHCR does a lot of good, but the organization could do a better job addressing challenges refugees face in accessing the services to which they are permitted.

Read the full article.

Culture, Society & Family Researcher news

SMU Anthropologist Caroline Brettell Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Brettell is one of 228 leaders in sciences, humanities and the arts in the class of 2017

Noted SMU anthropologist Caroline Brettell joins actress Carol Burnett, musician John Legend, playwright Lynn Nottage, immunologist James Allison and other renowned leaders in various fields as a newly elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The class of 2017 will be inducted at a ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 7 at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Brettell joins 228 new fellows and foreign honorary members — representing the sciences, the humanities and the arts, business, public affairs and the nonprofit sector — as a member of one of the world’s most prestigious honorary societies.

“Caroline Brettell is an internationally recognized leader in the field of migration, and one of Dedman College’s most productive scholars,” said Thomas DiPiero, dean of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. “I couldn’t be happier to see her win this well-deserved accolade.”

“I am surprised and deeply honored to receive such a recognition,” said Brettell, Ruth Collins Altshuler Professor in the Department of Anthropology and director of the Interdisciplinary Institute in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. “It is overwhelming to be in the company of Winston Churchill, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jonas Salk and the ‘mother’ of my own discipline, Margaret Mead. And I am thrilled to have my favorite pianist, André Watts, as a member of my class. I am truly grateful to join such a distinguished and remarkable group of members, past and present.”

Brettell’s research centers on ethnicity, migration and the immigrant experience. Much of her work has focused on the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex as a new immigration gateway city, especially on how immigrants practice citizenship and civic engagement as they meld into existing economic, social and political structures. She has special expertise in cross-cultural perspectives on gender, the challenges specific to women immigrants, how the technology boom affects immigration, and how the U.S.-born children of immigrants construct their identities and a sense of belonging. An immigrant herself, Brettell was born in Canada and became a U.S. citizen in 1993.

She is the author or editor of nearly 20 books, most recently Gender and Migration (2016, Polity Press UK) and Identity and the Second Generation: How Children of Immigrants Find Their Space, co-edited with Faith G. Nibbs, Ph.D. ’11 (2016, Vanderbilt University Press). Her research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Wenner Gren Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation, among many others.

An SMU faculty member since 1988, Brettell has held the Dedman Family Distinguished Professorship and served as chair in the Department of Anthropology and as director of Women’s Studies in Dedman College. She served as president of the Faculty Senate and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees in 2001-02, and was dean ad interim of Dedman College from 2006-08. Brettell is a member of the American Anthropological Association, the American Ethnological Society, the Society for Applied Anthropology, the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, and the Society for Urban, National and Transnational Anthropology, among others. She is the fourth SMU faculty member elected to the Academy, joining David Meltzer, Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in Dedman College (class of 2013); Scurlock University Professor of Human Values Charles Curran (class of 2010); and the late David Weber, formerly Robert and Nancy Dedman Chair in History in Dedman College, (class of 2007).

“It is an honor to welcome this new class of exceptional women and men as part of our distinguished membership,” said Don Randel, chair of the Academy’s Board of Directors. “Their talents and expertise will enrich the life of the Academy and strengthen our capacity to spread knowledge and understanding in service to the nation.”

“In a tradition reaching back to the earliest days of our nation, the honor of election to the American Academy is also a call to service,” said Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. “Through our projects, publications, and events, the Academy provides members with opportunities to make common cause and produce the useful knowledge for which the Academy’s 1780 charter calls.”

Since its founding in 1780, the Academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th. The current membership of about 4,900 fellows and 600 foreign honorary members includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners. The Academy’s work is advanced by these elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.

Members of the Academy’s 2017 class include winners of the Pulitzer Prize and the Wolf Prize; MacArthur Fellows; Fields Medalists; Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Medal of Arts recipients; and Academy Award, Grammy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award winners.

Culture, Society & Family Researcher news

Polity Immigration and Society Series: Gender and Migration

“Gender and Migration” is encyclopedic in nature and an essential resource for anyone interested in immigration, gender or both. — Nancy Foner, Hunter College

Gender roles, relations, and ideologies are major aspects of migration. In a timely book on the subject, SMU anthropologist Caroline B. Brettell argues that understanding gender relations is vital to a full and more nuanced explanation of both the causes and the consequences of migration, in the past and at present.

Gender and Migration (Polity, 2016) explores gendered labor markets, laws and policies, and the transnational model of migration. With that, Brettell tackles a variety of issues such as how gender shapes the roles that men and women play in the construction of immigrant family and community life, debates concerning transnational motherhood, and how gender structures the immigrant experience for men and women more broadly.

“I have been working on the intersections of gender and migration since graduate school days and beginning with my dissertation research on Portuguese migrant women in France,” Brettell said. “Turning the lens of gender on population mobility reveals dimensions that might not otherwise be visible.”

Brettell is Ruth Collins Altshuler Professor of Anthropology and director of the Interdisciplinary Institute at Southern Methodist University.

The book will appeal to students and scholars of immigration, race and ethnicity, and gender studies and offers a definitive guide to the key conceptual issues surrounding gender and migration.

Anthropologist Brettell is an internationally recognized immigration expert on how the technology boom affects immigration, trends of new immigration gateway cities such as Dallas, Atlanta and Minneapolis and the challenges of women immigrants. Her research focus includes anthropology of Europe; migration and ethnicity; folk religion; and cross-cultural perspectives on gender.

An immigrant herself, Brettell was born in Canada and became a U.S. citizen in 1993.

Culture, Society & Family Researcher news SMU In The News

Observatório da Emigração: Interview with SMU’s Caroline Brettell

Observatório da Emigração carried out an in-depth interview with SMU anthropologist Caroline Brettell about her research on Portuguese immigration.

Brettell is University Distinguished Professor and Ruth Collins Altshuler Professor, and Director of SMU’s Interdisciplinary Institute. The Observatório da Emigração was established in 2008, based on a protocol between the General Director of Consular and Portuguese Community Affairs, and various research entities in Lisbon. Its principal objectives are to produce and disseminate information on the development and characteristics of emigration and of Portuguese communities; and to contribute to public policy in this arena.

An internationally recognized immigration expert, Brettell’s research includes “Portugal’s First Post-Colonials: Citizenship, Identity, and the Repatriation of Goans,” published in 2009 in the scientific journal Portuguese Studies Review. In the article, Brettell drew on archival research and field interviews to explore debates about nation, citizenship and identity and their implications for the repatriation of Goan people to Portugal after 1961.

Brettell’s most recent book, “Civic Engagements: The Citizenship Practices of Indian & Vietnamese Immigrants” (Stanford University Press, 2012), which reported that immigrants in North Texas develop their American identity by participating in ethnic community activities, then branching out to broader civic and political life.

She and co-author Deborah Reed-Danahay found that American Indians and Vietnamese Americans in North Texas develop and embrace their American identity over time — without shedding their culture of origin, as some say they should.

The research found that, for these groups, becoming a U.S. citizen is distinctly different from becoming American.

Read the full interview.


Observatório da Emigração (OEm) – Maybe you could start by saying how the Portuguese emigration came into your life…

Caroline Brettell (CB) – There is absolutely no connection to my personal life. I remember that in 1976, at a Conference in Toronto – where there is a large Portuguese community -, people from the community came up to me afterwards and asked me “a senhora é portuguesa”? And I said “no, not at all”. And they replied, “but you understand us so well”…

OEm – So, you spoke Portuguese at that time?

CB – When I was an undergraduate at Yale University, I was majoring Latin-American studies and one requirement for the major was to learn both Spanish and Portuguese. In my senior year in College I took intensive Portuguese. Then when I was applying to graduate school in Anthropolog – the field I decided to pursue for my Ph.D. I noticed that the Brown University had a new Program in Urban Anthropology. My senior essay at Yale had been on rural-urban migration, the migration from the countryside to cities, in Latin America. So, I was really interested in Urban Anthropology. I applied to that Program and when I was admitted, I had the chance in the summer, before I started graduate school, to work on a big project they had on immigration in the Rhode-Island area, in the city of Providence in particular.

OEm – Where a lot of Portuguese people live?

CB – Absolutely! So, that summer, because I had just learned the language, I started working with some of the Portuguese immigrant populations in the Rhode-Island area. So, it was really through the language that I got in to studying Portuguese immigrants. Then, the following summer we had to do a summer field research project, and then write a publishable paper. And I discovered that Toronto had a big Portuguese immigrant community. I went off to the city of Toronto, and I actually lived in what is called the Kensington market area, which is a downtown outdoor market in an old neighborhood of immigration, and the most recent arrivals in that neighborhood were Portuguese, mostly families from the Azores. So, I lived in a house with two Azorean families; I had the room in the attic. I spent two months in that neighborhood and my first published paper, on “ethnic entrepreneurs” was based on that summer of research. In that house, one of the men had spent time in France, before he had come to Canada. I had a conversation with him about the migration of the Portuguese to France. I was looking around for a project for my Ph.D. dissertation in Anthropology. What intrigued me about the migration to France was that it was obviously much more possible for the Portuguese to move back and forth between Portugal and France. There wasn’t a big Atlantic Ocean in the middle. At that time, there was no concept of transnationalism. We didn’t have such easy ways for people to travel back and forth and to communicate as they are communicating right now. So, I thought that the ocean was a divider, separating people from their sending society; I was really interested in the possibility of more back and forth movement that the migration to France might represent.

OEm – When was that study?

CB – I was in Toronto in the summer of 1972.

OEm – Forty years ago…

CB – Oh my God! So, the other thing that happened to me was that I was a student of Louise Lamphere and she was one of the founders of the so-called Anthropology of Gender. It occurred to me that everybody thought that migration was characteristic of men and I thought “well, nobody has worked with women immigrants”. I developed a research proposal to study Portuguese immigrant women in France and started the research in the summer of 1974 with funding from the Social Science Research Council in the US as well as the equivalent in Canada. I arrived in France in July of 1974, where I met Colette Callier Boisvert, a French anthropologist who had worked in Portugal in the 1960s and I think also Maria Beatriz Rocha-Trindade, who had done a study of the Portuguese in France. The Revolution had happened in Portugal, but immigrants in France were not the broad subject of study that they are today.

Read the full interview.

Culture, Society & Family Researcher news SMU In The News

Careers360: Learning the origins and evolution of mankind

The India-based career planning site Careers360 interviewed SMU professor Caroline Brettell for an article about a professional career as an anthropologist.

An anthropologist, Brettell most recently reported that Indian and Vietnamese immigrants in North Texas develop their American identity by participating in ethnic community activities, then branching out to broader civic and political life.

She and co-author Deborah Reed-Danahay in their book, “Civic Engagements: The Citizenship Practices of Indian & Vietnamese Immigrants” (Stanford University Press, 2012) found that American Indians and Vietnamese Americans in North Texas develop and embrace their American identity over time — without shedding their culture of origin, as some say they should.

The research found that, for these groups, becoming a U.S. citizen is distinctly different from becoming American, say the immigration experts.

For new Vietnamese and Indian immigrants, whether naturalized citizens or not, American identity deepens as they participate in activities, festivals and banquets at their churches, schools, temples, business and civic associations, and their social and cultural organizations, say Brettell and Reed-Danahay.

From their research, Brettell and Reed-Danahay conclude that policymakers should be cautious with any attempts to integrate, assimilate or incorporate immigrants. They recommend against imposing top-down standards on how citizenship should be expressed — such as requiring full English proficiency or focusing exclusively on formal political participation.

Read the full article.

By Urmila Rao

If you think dark-skinned people are dusky because they live near equatorial or hot tropical regions, reflect again. Tasmania, an island, 240 km south of Australia, far away from the equator, had natives with dark complexions. Prior to colonial invasion, they had inhabited the island for 10,000 years, but despite the gargantuan time period, their skin colors didn’t change.

At one glance, all Chinese may appear similar to you, but the fact is, a Chinese of northern China is physically and genetically different from a southern Chinese. The former is taller, heavier with paler complexion and a pointed nose and share similarity to a Tibetan or a Nepalese, whereas Southern Chinese people look more like Vietnamese and Filipinos with their smaller and slanted eyes.

Interesting facts, aren’t they? Do biological variations of “others” baffle you? Evolution and variation of humans intrigue you as much as cultural changes stump you? If they do, then chuck your drab financial management course and head for an anthropology class. [ … ]

[ … ] So what is Anthropology?
Anthropology is science of man. Some institutions slot it under social sciences, some under science stream. According to Caroline B. Brettell, Professor, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, “It is a study of humans — both past and present.” The past is studied through anthropology sub-fields of archaeology and physical (or biological) anthropology. The present is studied through its socio-cultural branch.

Read the full article.

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