A copy of my project proposal
Adriana E. Ramirez
My manuscript project is an immigration ethnography of my family. I wish to add to the discussion of why people migrate, and what motivates them to do so. I also hope to illustrate the middle-class migration of Latin Americans to the United States, a socio-economic population that has been neglected by traditional immigration narratives. By accessing public archives, researching public record, and contacting members of my family, I will reconstruct a history (both oral and “empirical”) for the period between 1847, when the Rueda family emigrated from Spain to Colombia and founded two rural, mountain towns, and 1981 when my mother married my father and moved to Mexico City and later Houston.
My main sources for information for the manuscript will be public records, interviews with family members, newspaper articles, and local museums. I am also employing the following research techniques: direct, first-hand observation of geography, interviews (different levels of formality), genealogical methods, detailed work with key consultants about particular notions of community life in San Gil and Fundación, discovery of local beliefs and perceptions, and case studies of other families in the community who migrated in similar time periods.
Project Goals and Expected Outcomes
The goal is to assemble from all research three cohesive personal storylines regarding the migration from Spain to Colombia, the move from rural Colombia to urban, and finally my mother’s story. Of course, we’ll see how the story develops depending on what I find.
When one considers the bulk of immigrant narratives that fill bookshelves, it’s possible to find several recurring themes. A family or people move to a new country typically due to a great financial or political motivation–one thinks of persecuted pilgrims or migrant workers. Gone are the days of explorers and adventurers, replaced instead by movement rooted in the notion of “seeking a better life.” Yet, my mother’s family moved from continent to continent, not to escape a paradigm of oppression or improve their wealth, but to found cities, companies, universities, and (in some senses) countries. They moved as a way to find themselves, a search for identity that is entrenched in our last name, “Rueda,” meaning “wheel.”
I firmly believe that my project, while being an entertaining and engaging read, will find a niche as both a work of social anthropology and a memoir of a family and a nation that is still moving and trying to find itself. In a lot of ways my family’s history is the history of Colombia.
Mediterranean families, some of great wealth, settled the nation and established the agricultural oligarchy that still rules the rural sector. Jose Rueda was one such oligarch. He traveled from Barcelona and founded the town of San Gil, laying the cobblestone himself. His four brothers traveled with him and populated the town with their wives, friends, and offspring. In a lot of ways, it’s the real One Hundred Years of Solitude, with plenty of myth but possibly without all of the magic (then again, who knows?), and a more anthropological/lyrical approach.
My great-uncle, Tito Rueda, moved from San Gil to Bucaramanga in 1957. During this time, cities in Colombia started to become more and more populated. In 1986, Tito Rueda became Vice-President of Colombia, after serving in the Senate representing Bucaramanga. He served during the time that the guerilla formed and workers revolts began to shake the nation.
And in 1981, Alba Rueda, my mother, left Colombia when she met and married my Mexican father. With my father, she then moved to Houston, TX, where in the 1980s, she and my father started a small diesel engine parts company. Texas has a population of 100,000 Colombians, Miami has over half a million people of Colombian decent, most immigrating in the early 1980s. Clearly this is a cultural phenomenon. And while my story isn’t emblematic of anyone else’s experience, I feel that highlighting stories like this will richly contribute to both the history of the United States and understandings of countries like Colombia who are losing their middle class more than people realize.
So… to recap, my project entails the following:
My project is an ethnography of immigration, a two-hundred page manuscript that contains three sections. Each section is to tell the story of a time period. Section one will be 1850-1900, section two is 1900-1957, and the third is 1957-1981. Each section will follow a unique family member as they migrate from one space to another and settle it. The narrative will be interwoven with more journalistic and anthropological subsections.
a. Long term- The long term objective is to use this research to inform my manuscript, populating the chapters with contradicting family narratives (which I am hoping to find), copies of public records, and cultural research on what life was like at every step of the way.
b. Intermediate- The intermediate objective is to have about fifty pages (or a quarter) of the manuscript written by the end of the summer, August 2007.
c. Immediate- The immediate objective is find out everything I can about the circumstances that allowed Jose Rueda to establish his own mini-colony in San Gil, Colombia and later Fundación, as well as archival research and interviews on the life of Tito Rueda.
a. Pages written- The clearest way to establish and evaluate progress on my research and manuscript are by crafting narrative from data gathered. By establishing a goal of fifty pages by the end of the summer, it will be easy to establish whether or not I can and have accomplished my goal.
b. Rough data- Transcripts of interviews, copies of public records, and all other data I can gather, sorted by relevance and coded.
c. A project guide- As I receive information, it is not only coded and sorted by relevance, but it is also being put into a master project guide or outline, that will serve as the map to writing the manuscript. It’s hard to predict right now what story I will actually find.
4. Time Table-
a. August 2006-April 2007
o Conduct interviews with family members via telephone and transcribe
o Outline project
o Fundraise for summer research
o Establish contact with hosts and institutions
b. April 2007-June 2, 2007
o Research in Latin American library in Pittsburgh and Houston
o Establish American side of narrative
o Interview Colombian families (non-relatives) in Miami via telephone
o Interview Colombian Consul in New Orleans and Houston
o Secure documentation, visa, and letter of intent (for government/travel purposes)
o Prepare for research abroad
c. June 2, 2007-July 20, 2007
o Travel to San Gil, Fundación, and Barranquilla, Colombia
o Interview oldest surviving family member (97)
o Interview migrant family members (reunion and locals)
o Meet with local historians, anthropologists, and curators
o Archival research in host institutions
o Visit museums and “Culture Houses” (local historical institutes)
o Produce pages for manuscript
d. July 20, 2007-August 2007
o Compile research data
o Finalize project guide and manuscript outline
o Produce 50 pages of manuscript
e. August 2007-March 2008
o Research in Latin American Library
o Turn in completed first draft of manuscript to manuscript committee
f. March 2008-April 2009
o More research
o Rewrite manuscript
o Finalize manuscript
o Do whatever else it is that happens here.
o Graduate with finished manuscript
o Throw a party.
One of my biggest challenges in putting together this project has been contacting family members. My family, in particular the part that still lives in San Gil and Fundación, has dwindled substantially. So many of them have gone abroad, yet no matter where they live, they are all fiercely Rueda. The family bond is strong, despite the distances imposed by migration. Overall, I have a lot at stake in this manuscript. I am hoping to reconstruct through it, a family history that has been lacking. So many immigrants lose touch with the “homeland” or establish a monetary line back home, but not necessarily a cultural one.
Most importantly, the goal of this project is to explore the concept of a homeland. Am I, a naturalized American citizen born in Mexico City, allowed to call myself Colombian? Will my children be allowed to call themselves Colombian or Mexican? How does family stay together across continents? Why do people move to America? What about the migration from Old World to New is echoed in the move from Third World to First? My manuscript is an attempt to answer these questions and a bit more. It’s also an attempt to reclaim my personal history, this history of Colombia, and in a way, the history of the new American immigrant.
Hopefully, I’ll spend the next two years producing a manuscript that balances the personal, the political, and the public questions of the Rueda Migration.
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