Maya in New Bedford: Politics, Community, Identities

Awarded Scholars:
Lisa Maya Knauer, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Project Date:
Jun 2008
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

Latin American indigenous populations are arriving not only to work in U.S. farm fields, but in small and medium-sized cities, where they are becoming a new source of labor in old manufacturing industries and in a growing service sector. Guatemalan Maya began arriving in the United States in the 1980s, fleeing a bloody civil war. But the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and the proliferation of restrictive anti-immigrant ordinances at the local level in recent years raise questions about the effects of these events on civic and political engagement, on the construction of identity, and the emergence of community. In 2007, the ICE raided a local factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which had a significant Guatemalan workforce. Ethnographer Lisa Knauer will examine how, in the wake of this raid, the Maya have developed new identities and a sense of place in the host community and how they see themselves in relation to other ethnic and racial groups in New Bedford. Knauer proposes that the ICE raid marked a key turning point in terms of the community’s visibility, self-awareness, and engagement in the public sphere. The investigation will examine if these shifts are temporary or have longer-lasting effects. Knauer’s research will consist of participant observation, interviews and small group discussions with Maya residents, and targeted field research in the Quiche region of Guatemala—the place of origin for many of New Bedford’s Maya.


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