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In this special interview, TAL’s Ryan Collins talks with scholar, activist and artist Jason de Leon about the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border. In addition to these roles, de Leon is a MacArthur Fellow and National Geographic Explorer. He uses his platforms to create public dialogue, exhibitions, and media about undocumented migration, the human costs of the US immigration policy known as ‘deterrence through force.’ This very human conversation reveals the emotional toll, and sometimes trauma, that comes with precarious work on the border with undocumented migrants, smugglers, shady legality and deadly terrain as well as deep questions and reflections about privilege, position, and power. Episode 127

Transcript for the episode below

Adam:                          00:02                Hey Everybody welcome to This Anthro Life, as always, this is Adam Gamwell,

Ryan:                            00:07                And I’m Ryan Collins.

Ryan:                            00:16                We’re joined by MacArthur Genius Award winner in National Geographic Explorer, Jason Dalian. Now, I talked with Jason a few months ago trying to wrap my head around this question of who are the migrants in our country these days? Because so much news, attention has been given to different sort of myths that have come up about what’s happening on the border, what’s happening with the migration crisis and which migration crisis is any pundant actually talking about. So Jason’s joining us to help us get through these questions and they’re not always easy to get through and they often carry a lot more complexity as a, as an educator, Jason also adds extra weight to what it’s like to be doing ethnography on the border and to be training students to conduct that same ethnography.

Jason de Leon:              01:21                I feel like as an anthropologist I’m a very bad policy maker because right. We are response to everything as well as complicated. You know, simple, simple problems require complicated solutions. I think for me the goal is, is just to put stuff, I guess I’ve got, I have very modest goals with all of the work. I think I want to be able to set an example to folks who are interested in the discipline that you know, there’s other ways of doing anthropology. There are multiple ways of doing it and mine is just one version. So I want to set an example that you can, maybe you can be the other policies that you want to be without having to follow. Um you know, these, these supposedly rules about what, what constitutes anthropology. So I think maybe my contribution to the discipline that I imagine is, is to just put that out there and just say, hey, anthropology should be able to be as flexible and dynamic as it can’t, as we imagined it to be. So here is me constantly reinventing myself, constantly trying to transgress borders, stealing methods. Combining things that maybe aren’t supposed to play together. So, you know, I do that partly because I, that’s what inspires me to push my own kind of thinking. But also I’m hoping that that then it’ll, it’ll then show students that, hey, there’s, maybe I could do the things that I want to do too, because there’s other examples of people who have done that.

Jason de Leon:              03:01                My name is Jason Deleon. I’m a professor of anthropology and Chicano studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. And I direct the undocumented migration project a longterm and the biological analysis of clandestine migration between Latin America and the United States. The undocumented migration project is a holistic attempt to understand the very violent social process of undocumented migration through a variety of different lenses. So it’s part ethnographic, part forensic science, part archeology, the contemporary heavy now visual anthropology and the, the projects that we’ve been involved in over the years. The first kind of major one was trying to understand what border crossings look like from the perspective of migrants crossing between northern Sonora, Mexico and the Sonora desert of Arizona. I’m currently working on a book project focused on the daily lives of Honduran smugglers, moving migrants across Mexico, especially the last three and a half years working with smugglers, photographing their daily lives. And I’m trying to understand kind of what that occupation looks like, how it responds to the larger kind of global forces. And then I would say the kind of third big project that the UNP has been involved in is a global pop-up exhibition that we are planning for the fall of 2020. That’s called hostile terrain 94. And this is a pop up exhibition that creates a giant wall of, of Arizona that’s populated with handwritten toe tags for the 3000 plus people who have died while crossing. Uthis exhibition will be realized at 94 locations around the globe in a one week period in the fall of 2020. And so that’s kind of our attempt to bridge the forensic science, the archeology, the ethnographic work with this kind of public facing,upolitically, politically charged participatory art project. It’s really incredible. Uwhat prompted the,uthis art project? I’ve been working on exhibitions since about 2013 we had a show that ran for 2013 to 2017 called state of exception that was shown in multiple places around the, around the country. And I kinda got a taste for exhibition work during that particular project. Uthis past year,uI sorta went solo. I, the Collaboration with that. I was, that I had been a part of for that exhibition sort of ended and I started a new one in the fall of 2018 with a show called hostile terrain That’s what’s up at Portland Museum, of the Portland Maine Gallery of contemporary art in Portland, Maine. Umnd then the show is currently up now and like Castro, Pennsylvania, that Phillips Art Museum at Franklin and Marshall College. Uhut those, those two exhibitions were kind of me seeing what it would look if I curated my own show with my collaborators, Michael Wells and Lucy Cahil. Uhnd then through that show we basically then came up with the idea for this global pop up or 2020.

Ryan:                            06:10                Excellent. So what kind of art is being showcased in these exhibitions?

Jason de Leon:              06:14                Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call it art. I mean it’s, it’s art in that it’s in an art space, but it’s really just, it’s a sort of translation of anthropological data into kind of more publicly accessible, you know, potentially interpreted as, as art. But I mean it’s basically, you know, in the previous show, state of exception, probably the most famous piece from that was a giant wall of about a thousand migrant backpacks that had speakers embedded inside of them that you get close to the, to the backpacks, you could hear the voices of migrants telling stories about their experiences in the desert. So that’s all that, you know, it’s art in that we have manipulated it in this kind of art space. But at the same time, you know, it’s all the anthropological data that we’ve been collecting, collecting, we’ve just sort of transformed into something else.

Ryan:                            07:06                Right. And in this sense, it’s material culture that’s really speaking towards that experience of crossing the [inaudible].

Jason de Leon:              07:12                Yeah. And then it goes back into the boxes and it’s goes back to being kind of the, the artifacts that they, they always are. But you know, I sorta think about the art space as a, as a place to temporarily transform these materials to temporarily translate them for a different type of audience.

Ryan:                            07:28                Right. So when you’re reflecting on these materials, what is most important to you in showcasing these materials to broader public audiences? What do you hope that public audiences gain from seeing these?

Jason de Leon:              07:43                No, I think it’s, it’s in many ways I think it, I’m hoping to reach a different audience that would maybe not, not want to read and read a book or definitely don’t want it, doesn’t want to read a journal article. So part of it is just, it’s just to get to expand into a different, into a different demographic. But the other thing too about, I think about the art itself, the exhibitions themselves is to expose people to a thing that they think they maybe already know quite a bit about and to help them see it in perhaps in a different way. But also to really challenge the viewer you know, the art, the art that we do, the exhibitions that we do are not intended to be didactic. They’re not intended to be very digestible. I think, I think that’s an easy thing to, that’s an easy route.

Jason de Leon:              08:27                I can make an exhibition of the kind of heroic or tragic migrants that’s a very easy narrative, not the narrative that everybody kind of already, hopefully some people already know. The idea for, for this work is to, to put out a multiple multitude of, of narratives out in this public space and then to see what people think about it. But I think with the current, with the current work I crossed out terrain, the intent really is to, to highlight the brutality of this process and to can show people that, look, if we’re going to talk about a crisis at the US, Mexico border is this humanitarian crisis that has cost the lives of thousands of people. Hmm.

Ryan:                            09:04                I think that’s incredibly important right now considering our political context. So when you talk about the border as representing or being a tangled with these humanitarian crises, can you explain to you what you understand the humanitarian crisis to be?

Jason de Leon:              09:21                You know, much of my work over the years has focused on the border policy known as prevention through deterrence prevention through deterrence as a policy that developed in the mid 1990s. And the idea was to funnel people away from urban zones. So it’s impossible to hop the fence in downtown El Paso and sneak into town because of the heavy infrastructure there. So the idea is that we can push them away from this urban zones and out into the wilderness. People will then have to engage with nature. You know, they’ll have to have to walk for dozens of miles over depopulated extreme kinds of environments. And the idea is it has been that we can use the desert or the mountains to, to slow people down to, to beat them back physically. It was long recognized that if we funnel people to these areas and we forced them to walk great distances and we’ll put them at high risk of death.

Jason de Leon:              10:11                The idea it had been imagined that this risk of death when they have slow people down we knew it was going to happen, but we thought it would at least happen for a little bit and then stop. But what has happened is it is not, it’s continued to kill people for over two decades now. And so for me, and this is still our, our current security paradigm that’s in place when people talk about, you know, walls and that kind of stuff, I mean, the Border Patrol, homeland security, they all know that our current strategy doesn’t require a wall because we’ve got these enormous swaths of land that can be used to to literally kill people as a form of deterrence. So for me, that is a humanitarian crisis that we have a federally sanctioned border policy that’s been in place for a long time, that knowingly puts people in harm’s way that knowingly kills them.

Jason de Leon:              10:58                And yet we continue to let this kind of thing carry on. So, but to the point where we don’t even talk about it, I mean, no one has ever heard Donald Trump utter the phrase prevention through deterrence. You don’t find it anymore in border patrol documents has been totally erased despite the fact that this is still what we’ve been doing. And even the Democrats who’ve come out this week and last couple of weeks and saying, well, we’re not going to pay for this stupid you know, game of Thrones ice wall that Trump is imagining we’re gonna pay for a smart wall. We’re going to use it, we’re going to use other kinds of security measures to secure this border. Well, they’re talking about when they say the smart wall or the things that we’ve been doing for a long time via provision through deterrence. But nobody wants to say that out loud and nobody wants to cop to the fact that this policy literally is killing people. So for me, that’s a, that is the most important crisis at the border right now is the fact that we’re doing this knowingly. And then also nobody wants to talk about it.

Ryan:                            11:48                Can you speculate at all as to why people wouldn’t be talking about you? Prevention through deterrence when this has been a known function of the border for say the last two decades? Ocular mentioned

Jason de Leon:              12:00                It’s an unpopular thing. Once you start to question the numbers. You know, the border patrol is very good at sanitizing what they do, all the stuff about, you know, the best interest of migrants. All, you know, you, you’ll hear them say bullshit. Like when a migrant dies in the Arizona desert, they will immediately blame the smuggler and they will say, well, it’s the smugglers who are taking people out into the wilderness and putting them in harm’s way. Nobody wants to cop to the fact that smugglers are using those routes because we’ve created a structure that forces their hand to do that. And people would be doing that with or without a smuggler trying to cross to these areas. But but nobody wants to admit that, that there’s policies in place to kind of do this thing. They know that it’s working, but it’s politically unpopular to, to come out and say we have a policy that kills people. No, look at our metrics.

Ryan:                            12:50                Yeah. I can’t imagine that the American public would take well to that type of presentation,

Jason de Leon:              12:55                Although, you know, I mean, they’re not up in arms about, you know, kids in cages and other kinds of stuff. I mean, I I think there’s a certain, a certain population of folks that maybe thinks it’s a bad idea, but maybe there’s other folks at this current moment that are either indifference or think it’s okay. I mean, we’re at work, we’re kind of living in, in a moment where the anti-immigrant sentiment is the highest that I’ve ever known it in my, in my lifetime. And I don’t know if, you know, with some of those people, if it would change their mind if you were to show them these things. I mean, I’m still working on them and that’s part of what this popup exhibition is about. You know, the goal of the hostile Tori 94 is you put this in this installation and 94 locations, but the people who organize it, they have to bring together between 50 and 500 people to fill out 3000 plus toe tags with all the information of the dead for every single location.

Jason de Leon:              13:49                And so the idea is in that you put these exhibitions though, not just the people can come and look at a wall of toe tags from, from Arizona, but they themselves have to commit to taking the time, energy, and care to spend 20 minutes filling out five toe tags and then adding them to this wall. So part of me is, you know, is that a way to get people to think more deeply about this human catastrophe? You know, maybe, I don’t know, but you know, I feel like people aren’t necessarily swayed these days by just a compelling narrative or a sad story,

Ryan:                            14:23                Right? But there’s something deeply experiential about what you’re doing. I mean, you’re you’re blending these different methodologies and anthropology of different types of analysis and data collection. And from an archeological perspective, a lot of the data that people would look at tends to be far removed from human experience. But the things that you’re looking at, the materials that are left behind by migrants crossing the are much more recent. Are you able to capture or understand the experience of people crossing the border through those materials much more clearly?

Jason de Leon:              15:01                You know, I think the materials do a certain thing. I mean, they, they sort of provide a physical evidence of a thing. They maybe speak obliquely about some people’s experiences or generically about some experiences. But for me it’s always about leading with the voices of migrants. And so I think it could be very easy for me to tell stories about migration just through objects. And you know, the object, people say, well, the objects, you know, speak for themselves. I don’t agree with that. I think the objects tell certain types of stories, but we miss a lot of other things. And for me, the worst part about the objects is that they can be manipulated in all kinds of ways with no accountability. You don’t have a person who is speaking back at you saying, Hey, what are you doing with this stuff?

Jason de Leon:              15:44                Or you know, I don’t agree with the way in which you’re, you’re interpreting these things or you’ve got the story totally wrong. So for me, the objects are, they really, I mean, they’re important, but they tend to to supplement or complement the direct work I do with, with, with migrants themselves. Because I mean, you know, and I’ve seen folks work with these objects and you can go down to Arizona and go out in the desert and make your own collection and do kind of whatever you want with it. And I’ve seen artists and other folks talk about these objects and say things like, well, the use of these objects, I’m giving a voice to the voiceless kind of thing. And I’d say, well, you don’t necessarily agree with that. I think that you are using objects that tell a story. But the voice that we’re really hearing is the voice of the artists are the voice of the person who is manipulating these objects. But we, but without the migrants themselves, I think they really fall flat. So, you know, in the beginning I thought that they were gonna be able to tell more stories and they quickly realized that that I, I had to really foreground the, the, the, the direct voices of, of migrants themselves.

Ryan:                            16:48                Interesting. And that’s so compelling. It do. So let’s go back in time because you said that there’s this sort of, it was there a moment, let’s say that you may have started understand that people are going to be much more informative than the materials in this project.

Jason de Leon:              17:05                I don’t know if there was necessarily any one moment, but when I started the project, it had always been with this, with this idea of half of the work would be archaeological and the other half would be ethnographic and, and, and I would sort of go back and forth between the two spaces. And one would inform the other and vice versa. And I, I think though, but, but early, early on when I started to, to do the United spent, the first field field season the first half of it I’d spent in Arizona in the deserts and I would occasionally encounter people and that kind of stuff. But it, it was more during the, the second half of that film where I went into Mexico for two months and was working where I realized then that there was no way that I could spend that much time with folks learning about their experiences, hearing about what had happened to them and then try to privilege objects over that

Jason de Leon:              18:01                But what’s happened is, I mean, people really picked up on the objects themselves. I mean, I think mostly the attention that the project got in the beginning was about my use of archeology. And I think if I had just been doing ethnographic work on border crossers, it wouldn’t, the project wouldn’t have gotten the attention that it did. Something about the archeology, about the materiality connected with folks in perhaps a more meaningful way than they would have with just hearing the stories from, from folks. But it’s funny because I had the kind of the, the complete opposite effect for the objects. They spoke to me kind of, you know, strongly early on and then I sort of moved away from them as I became more and more connected to these folks that I wanted to learn from.

Ryan:                            18:42                Right. so you know, I know a little bit about you and your background cause I, I know that you started off as an archeological researcher. So what got you to transition into this more ethnographic research?

Jason de Leon:              18:59                I think I’d always been interested in that. Phonography and you know, I was, my undergraduate degree is from UCLA where I was trained in all four sub fields. And early on I really bought into this idea that anthropology could be holistic. It wasn’t until I went to graduate school that I realized that everybody had been lying to me about holism. You know, we, we talk a big talk as a discipline, but we don’t do it. It’s, it’s, we become so specialized in our open our fields and we, we kind of move away from these other disciplines which has to be a lot of gatekeepers who, people who don’t like transgressors who will move across sub disciplinary boundaries. But I never, you know, I always bought into this idea that I could do archeology that I could do at Nagaffi that could do all this stuff and it would all count as, as anthropology.

Jason de Leon:              19:47                I think I, I had become frustrated with my dissertation work because it had become hyper specialized in a certain subject matter. And I really had gotten kind of waist deep in, in, in stone tool analysis to the point where I feel like I was writing a dissertation about the stone tools and not about people. And from the eyes I felt like I, you know, I had signed up for this occupation because I had been deeply interested in people. But by the end of my dissertation field work, I had become really disillusioned with what, what work I had been doing. And at that point I had decided to jump ship completely instead of thinking about holes in the saying, okay, no more archeology. Now I just want to do ethnography. And I had been toying around with ethnographic projects as a graduate student and even as an Undergrad.

Jason de Leon:              20:30                But I sort of made it, made a shift right after I completed my dissertation and you know, one of the job market in 2007 right when the market right before the market crashed. But there were still jobs out there, but you know, I applied for 65 plus jobs. I got one interview where the University of Washington where I was hired to teach you know, in, in socio-cultural as well as in archeology. And I kind of used the, I used that time, there was a two with a three year lectureship, but I was only there for two, but I kind of used those two years. I was there to just take a crash course in cultural anthropology. I taught 11 new preps in two years in all new subjects that I had known that I had never studied. And then along the way I was starting to think about about immigration stuff. And part of it had come from the fact that doing all this archeological work in Mexico, you can’t dig a ditch in Mexico without encountering a working class person who had been hired to dig ditches with archeologists who doesn’t have a migration story to tell. And so it was through the different experiences of dealing with folk and learning about, about their lives while in these excavation units. But I became very interested in, in border crossing as this thing, as a potential field of study.

Ryan:                            21:44                Excellent. And I can totally identify with working with folks in Mexico, I on archeological excavations and listening to their stories about border crossings, about somebody who may live in the u s and so forth and so on. So I think that’s a really good story that a lot of people who have shared similar experiences can identify with.

Jason de Leon:              22:05                Well, and I think it’s funny though, you know, but you know, you have archeologists who work in Latin America. I mean, you know, some of my colleagues who, they work with folks who are deeply impacted by immigration issues. And yet there’s a lot of archeologists who are really, I think, just kind of clueless about some of this stuff. You know, I’ve found over the years that despite the fact that many of my archeological colleagues get tenure on the backs of these women and men who, you know, who are doing dishes and providing them with all this data they know very little about, about what life is like about what their immigration experiences are like. And I feel like I’m the only time for some folks that immigration becomes an issue in the field for somethings archeologists is when there’s nobody around to dig these ditches because they have gone, you know, but it’s an interesting, I mean, I’ve always, I feel like archeological work in Mexico, our Kelda should be probably the most like well informed people about immigration issues because of their deep connection to these communities. But a lot of times you know, you don’t ever hear people at least writing about that kind of stuff. I, I feel like there should be more kind of recognition of this connection between, between archeological work and this ethnographic work that’s happening in these excavation units.

Ryan:                            23:22                Absolutely. So when you started up the ethnographic project to what extent did some of the informants you had met through archaeology play a role into the research design that you ended up first beginning with?

Jason de Leon:              23:39                You know, those folks were mostly just kind of my first, my first kind of introduction to the subject, you know, so everything that we, that, that I learned from them was totally informal. And none of those guys that, you know, I, I ended up not writing about any of those folks because you know, they were no longer migrating where they were. They were already in the United States after long after the fact. But they were just kind of the ones who kind of opened my eyes to this issue. But at the same time I had connected with those folks, I think on a, on a personal level because, you know, we had come from slightly similar backgrounds. So working class you know, Latino men about the same age you know, love to drink beer kind of talk shit kind of stuff.

Jason de Leon:              24:27                You know, I just spent all this time with, I was with these guys hearing these stories and recording your stories. They’re not even recording this thinking about these things and be influenced by them. And then I kind of took that, those experiences and then trying to turn it into a research project after the fact where I said, okay, I did this for three years in Mexico, kind of informally. What would it look like? Then try to formalize this as a, as a some type of a puzzle. So I think for a lot of those experiences with those folks, it was almost like I was on some kind of pre doctoral training program about learning how to do ethnographic field work and realizing that for much of my life, you know, I was an army brat as in I’ve been in bands or are pushing three decades now that required a lot of travel into new kinds of places, meeting people.

Jason de Leon:              25:13                I realized that all these things I really love, you know, meeting folks from, from different backgrounds, learning about their lives, connecting with them on a kind of personal level. All these things that I have been doing, whether it was through playing music or digging ditches in Mexico was really me doing ethnography and it was, it was these guys that kind of opened my eyes up to the fact that, hey, this is anthropology too and this is much more fulfilling than what I’ve been doing previously. So why not then just make this the next, the next project.

Ryan:                            25:42                [Inaudible] I really liked the, you bring this, this idea of being in a band playing music and getting people together as a part of know ethnographic practice. When did you start to realize that, or let me put this in a different way. Has playing in a band helps you out? Have you ever been playing with music with your informants? Has that helped you?

Jason de Leon:              26:07                You answered the music, I think. Well, we did a Mexico tour and the band that I was in graduate school kind of still am and he toured Mexico in 2007 to mixed reviews. I mean, I don’t think most working rural Mexicans want to hear, you know, Americana music. So but I would say, but I will say that, you know, playing in bands, traveling, meeting folks and also, you know, being an an artist interested in different kinds of things. I’m interested in music, I’m interested in lyrics. I’m interested in writing, I’m interested in photography. These were all things that were kind of part of my, my identity that I never connected to an anthropological practice. I was always told that anthropology and whatever else I did on the side was a distraction. Was a hobby and those things didn’t really connect.

Jason de Leon:              26:57                And it wasn’t until I really started working on my book that I realized that my love of writing my love of fiction of lyrics and music, those things deeply informed the way in which I both practice anthropology and the way in which I produce it. You know, re write things, make things. No one ever told me that I should embrace those things and have those things inform my anthropological side of me. But obviously they have been the only within the last probably five years. Have I really understood the connection between those things. And you know, I think like my archeological background informs the type of researcher that I am, whether it’s doing ethnographic work or forensic work or photographic work. Archeology is kind of always with me much in the same way that that music and writing is with me and all those other things as well. I think we just don’t, we don’t do a very good job of talking to graduate students about how to combine their interests and, and feel like like they don’t have to compartmentalize these parts of their lives.

Ryan:                            27:58                Exactly. And I think all of these different skill sets and passions that you’re talking about really show in your writing. And this is why, you know, your book has been such a staple in my classes, especially in my Latin American ethnic graphic ones because you really capture this broad notion of the human experience in a way that a lot of anthropologists don’t tend to do. You use a creative fiction as well as a anthropological documentation through ethnography. You use archeological data and it just builds this really compelling narrative that gets at the heart of, you know, the human condition and human experience. So it made, speaking about the human experience side of what you do and where you’re working on the border right now how do you help your students who are working with you in the field understand the more human aspects of the research that you all do together?

Jason de Leon:              28:59                You know, I just, I tried to expose them to as many things as possible and to constantly ask them to reflect on their own position in this whole thing and to think about what they’re doing and, and how it influences the lives of other people. You know, it’s a, it’s a very serious endeavor and it’s one that I think I tried to instill in my students that if you’re going to do it, then do it with, with, with all of your, you know, all of your heart and to take it seriously. The fact that if people trust you enough with their stories and trusts you enough to share information about their lives, then and you’ve got to really do, do right by them. And so, you know, I, and that’s kind of an overall vibe that I think I tried to with all of my students, whether it’s through teaching or through doing fieldwork, so that you know, they, they don’t see it as a, as a nine to five kind of thing, but rather as more as a commitment to to people and to each other stories.

Speaker 5:                    29:56                Hmm.

Ryan:                            30:00                So I want to start asking more questions about the field work specifically, but trying to get it more of the human experience level. Perhaps maybe some of the experiences that you’ve maybe internalized or started understand about border crossing since doing the work. So I guess a way of framing that is, are there stories or experiences that you’ve that you’ve had that stand out to you w which really brought home the issues with the border or perhaps prompting you why you need to continue to do this research?

Jason de Leon:              30:36                I think the things that stick with me the most are the things that are probably most traumatized me as a witness. You know, whether it’s finding a deceased person in the deserts and then talking to their families or working with a family if someone has disappeared. Or with my more recent work on smugglers, working with someone who is in subsequently murdered while carrying out his occupation. You know, those are the things that, that are really,

Speaker 5:                    31:10                Yeah,

Jason de Leon:              31:11                Hard to deal with. I think on a personal and kind of emotional level. And then even harder to kind of imagine. How would one begin to theorize this prophet from this write about someone else’s experiences for your own kind of benefits? You know, they’re, they’re complicated kinds of experiences that I struggle with constantly. But at the same time,

Speaker 5:                    31:32                Okay.

Jason de Leon:              31:33                I know that those stories as troubling and as devastating as they are, they’re not unique and that there are thousands of people who these things are happening too. And I try to use that better, that understanding then to say, okay, if you’re going to expose yourself to these things and then both take it seriously as, as, as a commitment to these folks to do right by them, but then also try to use it as a, as a motivator than to carry it, to carry on with this work. Cause I think it’s really easy to get a commode to other people’s trauma and to become completely disillusioned or depressed about this, about the entire endeavor. And you know, I obviously struggle at times with the kind of emotional toll of this kind of stuff takes, takes on the person. But I tell myself like, look, this is my job.

Jason de Leon:              32:22                I get paid to do this and you know, I could do something else. But more importantly I chose to do this. And so if I’m going to, I’m going to choose to do this, then and I got to find a way to, to not let these horrible things undermine work would rather than fact motivate, inspire, and, and, and encouraged me on a daily basis to get back up and do it again in hopes that, that if we keep pointing these things out and yelling at the top of our lungs about these injustices, that, that eventually something will, will change. But I have found it, you know, that’s Kinda what I think about this current political moment. You know, I think many people came out of the 2016 elections in a deep, dark place and I made the decision kind of early on, well, I can either, I can either just mope and, and, and just accept that the way that the world is this way.

Jason de Leon:              33:15                Or I can say, you know what? It’s always been this way. Always been like this just now more out in the open, but also now, maybe he’s now is the time to really be motivated to work against this stuff kind of stuff. So, I mean, I have to give myself a pep talk constantly with you, with the immigration stuff. But I think that for me, that’s, that tells me that I’m on a maybe doing the right thing. If, if I’m constantly questioning my own motivations, I tried to find, you know, the best way to do it. You know, I never want to be over overconfident about someone, someone else’s experiences, especially someone else’s is kind of misery. So I, I tried to find a silver lining with this stuff to help motivate the work, you know, and, and keep it going.

Ryan:                            34:00                [Inaudible] I can imagine that you have to do that very often. And I think, you know, as an outside observer thinking about the challenges that you must be going through in the field, not only personally but with your students, have you developed strategies with your students to help them stay motivated and also see those silver lines?

Jason de Leon:              34:22                Well, I think I’ve been really lucky to have been surrounded for the last 10 years by just a really amazing students very inspiring students from all walks of life. And I think one of the things that happens is people come to this topic, they don’t come to it lightly. So the students who gravitate towards the work that we do, they already are predisposed to these kind of difficult social issues. And so I think that they already come kind of partly equipped to deal with this stuff. They might not have the all the tools yet on how to deal with it, but they definitely come with the energy to to work on it. And, you know, so it is in some ways a kind of self selecting group. I also, when I’m recruiting students for work, I really try to discourage them from working with me.

Jason de Leon:              35:07                So they were like, look, this is not, this is not an easy thing. It’s not a light thing. We enjoy, we all enjoy the work and it’s a good community of folks who are working on this stuff. But you know, it’s hard and the reason that it’s a good community is because we need each other to to help each other out in this and this whole kind of process. So I sort of, you know, if they make it past kind of those declarations you know, they, they tend to do really well. But then along the way we just spend a lot of time talking about how we’re feeling. You know, I looked at my students as, as my peers, people who I collaborate with and not boss around. And I think for me, having them in the room involved in these conversations keeps, keeps me on my toes.

Jason de Leon:              35:52                I think also helps them to feel like they have some ownership on this, on this kind of research that there are more heavily invested in it personally. Which then I think forces them to figure out strategies and things to keep it kind of going as well. So it’s a kind of a, a mix of things. And over the years, I mean, I’ve, I’ve trained hundreds of students with this project and so many of them are still around working on these issues, either directly with me or they’ve gone on to other stuff. That’s, that’s, that’s related. But I learned, I think I learned as much from them about how to deal with stuff as they do for me, if not more so

Ryan:                            36:36                Many thanks to Jason for joining us today. W w many thanks to Jason for joining us today. This was a difficult conversation to have and it seems a different one called a interview to get through and just because the subject matter is so important, but it’s also so taxing emotionally. Yeah. It’s both a very human subject and also dehumanizing at times. Right. And like it’s very cool to see the way that he’s mixing art and you know, ethnography in archeology and materials studies in different ways and like think about how that can be inspiring to people. With such a tough topic that is like both migration and, you know, deterrence, you know, policies that we’ve seen in the U s exactly. Now this won’t be the last time that we talk about the subject of migration. We at least have another episode coming up in the ether where we’re going to be revisiting this subject again.

Ryan:                            37:27                And I suspect that ta is going to be touching on this subject again and again over the next couple of years. Yeah, and in over folks as we know. But in the meantime, if you want to stick around, you know, ta l of course is now coming out once every other week and so you can catch us in two weeks from now as well as we have a weekly newsletter now that we we’re excited to let you know about so you can check it out on our website, this anthro life.com. Scroll down a little bit and you can see we have a newsletter there. And that’s going to bring you go weekly, things that we are reading, watching, listening to that give us inspiration that helped us think about anthropology, think about humanity and different, better ways as well as, it’s a great way to get in touch with, with y’all and see what you’re listening to, what you’re reading, what’s inspiring you. So definitely come over subscribe. Yeah. Subscribe, and as always, share your story with us. We want to be able to put your stories out there and to kind of carry on the conversation. Yeah. So until next time, this is then again. Well, and I’m Ryan Collins. See you soon.