New series of discussions, performances and podcasts will focus on the migrant experience

A Sawyer Seminar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will fund a series of Brown University-based events and community partnerships focused on migration from and within Latin America and the Caribbean.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will kickstart a new series of initiatives and discussions at Brown University focused on migration to and from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The $225,000 grant, awarded to the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) and the Department of Africana Studies at Brown, will fund a Sawyer Seminar — in effect, a temporary, Mellon Foundation-funded research center. The seminar will explore why people migrate to, from and within Latin America and the Caribbean, how attitudes about race and ethnicity influence and intersect with migration, and what kinds of policy and other political roadblocks migrants encounter. The grant will fund a series of public discussions, arts performances and exhibitions, community-driven podcasts and more, held this fall through Spring 2022.

Patsy Lewis, director of CLACS and a visiting professor at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, said the Sawyer Seminar aims to reframe the conversation on migration within higher education and beyond, enabling scholars and community members to better understand and respond to persistent inequalities.

“Migration is often classed as something that is problematic — a drain on national resources, a contributor to community unrest, a blow to natural-born citizens’ job prospects,” Lewis said. “But migration has enriched societies in meaningful ways. This series will give scholars and the diverse Providence community a chance to engage in more nuanced conversations about migration, whether it’s migration within Latin America and the Caribbean or migration between those regions and North America.”

Engagement with the community in and around Providence, where approximately one-third of residents are immigrants and 43% identify as Hispanic or Latinx, is at the heart of the seminar series, Lewis said. A steering committee made up of leaders and faculty from CLACS, CSSJ and Africana studies will work closely with Rhode Island nonprofits that advocate for immigrants and residents of color to ensure that Sawyer Seminar programming aligns with community priorities.

The perspective of migrants themselves is so often silenced in conversations about immigration ...We will center migrants’ experiences and expand the ways in which we all think, talk and make art about migration.

Patsy Lewis Director, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Several of the planned grant-funded initiatives will involve partners in the local community. For example, CLACS will develop a podcast series focused on Latinx migration with Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, a clinical associate professor emeritus at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School and the founder of Latino Public Radio; podcast episodes, Lewis said, will feature Brown scholars, local activists and immigrants in the surrounding community.

The arts will be another point of focus. CLACS and the Watson Institute plan to screen several migration-focused films over the next year and a half. Humanities scholars will work with the Brown Arts Initiative to bring Caribbean and Latin American artists to the University for performances and discussions that demonstrate the effects of migration through cultural expression. Upcoming art exhibitions at the Watson Institute, CSSJ and the John Carter Brown Library will focus on Latinx and Caribbean immigration. And the Rites and Reason Theatre, housed within Africana studies, will produce a play that explores the dilemmas of family separation and immigration for communities of color in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The grant will also enable the University to host academic conferences, scholarly workshops and reading groups made up of students and faculty, all focused on the topic of migration.

“The perspective of migrants themselves is so often silenced in conversations about immigration,” Lewis said. “With the Sawyer Seminar grant, we will center migrants’ experiences and expand the ways in which we all think, talk and make art about migration — leading, ideally, to a greater appreciation of their value and a celebration of their diversity.”