Central America

At the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Tuesday evening, Yalli Rodriguez, Latin American studies doctoral student, discusses the struggles of migrant women along the Mexico and Central America border.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

A UT graduate student, at a lecture Tuesday at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discussed violence against women along the Central America and Mexico border.

Yalli Rodriguez, a doctoral student in the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, has concentrated her research on immigration issues with particular attention to Central American women. Her work was done with a focus on Tapachula, Mexico, a city that receives immigrants from Central America.

According to Rodriguez, women who reach the Mexican border are often raped, forced into sex labor and subject to discrimination from Mexican citizens. The incentive of economic security in Mexico, however, is a strong motive for them to endure such daily hardships. She said these women are more susceptible to this violence because of their level of security, perception of human rights and problems with law enforcement. 

Rodriguez said she spent seven months in Tapachula, where she collected a number of stories from immigrants and conducted interviews with institutional figures. During the lecture Tuesday, she shared experiences from her trip, including how she was able to build relationships with the immigrants and encourage them to share their stories.  

“The best way for them to trust you is to be completely honest, and you have to spend time with them before they can begin to tell you their life stories,” Rodriguez said.

According to Rodriguez, one of her main objectives in conducting research with Central American migrants was to familiarize herself with how immigrant women perceive issues of security and human rights. She also said that not many women in Tapachula know the concept of human rights exists, even though some are working for immigration institutions. 

“When what is supposed to be universal definitions, such as human rights, are often unknown amongst these women, a problem is created,” Rodriguez said.

In order to increase the familiarity of such concepts with the immigrant women, according to Rodriguez, it is important to familiarize the social workers first.

“It’s not just the work of the women to know about their rights but also those who are working with them,” Rodriguez said. 

Prisca Gayles, Latin American studies doctoral student, said she would like to learn more about children in similar situations. 

“I was really interested from the moment she said some women have been there for 10-20 years, but I started thinking about the peculiarities of children who are also affected by this situation,” Gayles said.

Rebecca Jackson, Latin American studies graduate student, said, although this is a problem in Central America, it is something that relates to the United States. 

“In the U.S., we’re used to talking about immigration — but only at our own border — and we don’t realize that a lot of the population that makes it to the U.S. have had this really long trip of being marginalized from country to country,” Jackson said.

Cornyn-Cuellar bill brings forth practical solution to border crisis

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, center, defends legislation he has authored with fellow Texan Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, to speed the removal of tens of thousands of Central American kids flowing over the U.S.-Mexico Border as Washington searches for a solution to the growing crisis.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, center, defends legislation he has authored with fellow Texan Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, to speed the removal of tens of thousands of Central American kids flowing over the U.S.-Mexico Border as Washington searches for a solution to the growing crisis.

As politicians scramble to find a solution to the border crisis — at least one that voters will favor in November — the most recent legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, and U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar, D-TX, has been called a ploy to expedite the deportation process. The Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act has been oversimplified as anti-immigrant, and while it certainly needs to be revised to include provisions for pro bono legal counsel, for example, the overall intent of the bill would undoubtedly ease the crisis. Because of its requirement that all undocumented immigrants be treated equally regardless of country of origin, undocumented minors from Central America would receive a quick screening and probable deportation just as those from Mexico do. The HUMANE Act would send thousands of children back into the arms of poverty and gang violence, but it also fixes inefficiencies in the current immigration system, which is not pragmatic for circumstances at the border.

Current immigration law treats undocumented children from Mexico and Central America differently. When undocumented minors come from Mexico, their fate is determined within a week by an immigration judge. But undocumented minors from non-contiguous countries are transferred into the custody of Health and Human Services. Then, they could be given a court date that may not come for months or even years. The legislation proffered by Cornyn and Cuellar would absolutely expedite the deportation process, but the alternative — having undocumented minors wait for an indefinite amount of time before any action is taken — not only leaves these children unsure about their future, but it also undermines the law. Although the border crisis has been regarded as a humanitarian issue, the government has the responsibility to uphold the law in order to send the message, both domestically and internationally, that our immigration laws are not applied on a case-by-case basis.

Davis is an associate editor.


Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

With a $5,000 grant from the Office of the Vice President of Research, assistant professor of architecture Benjamin Ibarra Sevilla will write a book that explores the influence European colonists and indigenous cultures in Central America through architecture.

Ibarra Sevilla said his book will investigate how Spanish colonists used the native people to create European Gothic structures, such as churches.

“I am aiming to reveal some of the important aspects of the buildings in the context of history of construction [and] in the context of building systems and transference of technology,” Ibarra Sevilla said.

Associate architecture professor Michael Holleran said the buildings provide insight into the merging of European and indigenous cultures.

“What [Ibarra Sevilla] is able to do through the specifics of the architecture, through the durable, built record of what’s there, is to look very specifically at what was interaction of the cultures,” Holleran said. 

Ibarra Sevilla said he hopes readers appreciate and understand the significance of the people of that era and what the two different cultures were capable of doing together.      

“It’s important people recognize that those buildings used European technology that were built by indigenous people, who learned really, really quickly how to build these types of structures, which are similar to the Gothic appearance in Europe,” Ibarra Sevilla said.

Assistant architecture professor Sarah Lopez said the subject of Ibarra Sevilla’s book is one that has not previously been given much attention by researchers. 

“There’s very little primary research that’s been done on the architecture of Central America,” Lopez said. “…[The book will] fill in a lot of questions and gaps we have in our knowledge about architectural history at large”

Ibarra Sevilla said he wants readers to appreciate what the people of that time accomplished, specifically the native people of Central America.

“I want people to learn and value the work of the indigenous people in that period of time,” Ibarra Sevilla said. 

Two species of mice found in the mountains of Central America sing to mark their territory, according to a new study by UT researchers.

This finding came after postdoctoral student Bret Pasch researched two species of mice — the Alston singing mice and their cousins, the Chiriqui — and wrote his dissertation under associate biology professor Steven Phelps.

Pasch first became interested in the mice in 1999 while taking a tropical biology course in Costa Rica.

“I listened for the mice in the forest and caught a few,” Pasch said. “I have been returning on-and-off to study them ever since.”

Pasch worked with Phelps, who began to study the singing mice 10 years ago when he first came upon them in a field guide of mammals in Central America. 

“I was looking for a species that I could study that showed interesting variation in their social behavior… [so] I could use neurobiological and genetic methods with to understand the evolution of that behavior in detail,” Phelps said.

According to Pasch, the results of this study suggest a wider understanding of the geographical boundaries the mice inhabit.

“Our findings provide new insight into the role of vocal communication in shaping the geographic distributions of animals,” Pasch said. “Because closely related species often share similar ecological requirements — eating similar foods and living in similar places — as well as similar means of communication, the researchers suggest interspecific communication will be a common contributor to natural range boundaries.” 

The Alston and Chiriqui mice sound like small birds during their song, according to Phelps.

“Songs consist of a set of rapidly repeated notes, called trills,” Pasch said in a statement. “Notes are produced each time an animal opens and closes its tiny mouth, roughly 15 times per second.”

Pasch conducted a significant amount of independent field work before coming to a conclusion for his dissertation. Phelps said the combined field work is an impressive look at how animals behave in their natural environments.

The relationship Pasch found between the mice’s singing and the geographical boundaries are not the end of the Phelps’ lab studies on singing mice.

 “The next step for us is to understand whether the behaviors responses the mice show are learned or whether they’re evolution adaptations,” said Phelps. “And on top of that, I would like to know how the brain is processing those different signals.”