Study and Photo Exhibition of Guatemalan Refugees Available Through Online Resource

by Jill Dixon

Photo of the family of Guatemalan Refugees

Above: Picture of Luz, her partner Raul and their son in the of their home in La Gloria, Mexico. © Manuel Gil 2008

Óscar F. Gil-García, assistant professor of human development at Binghamton University, conducted a study in 2016 across three communities in Chiapas, Mexico, involving portraits of 26 refugee and stateless indigenous Mayans who fled Guatemala in the 1980s and filed a grievance to obtain legal status in Mexico.

His brother, Manuel Gil, a professional photographer, took the portraits to help show the paradox of familial ties and citizenship as some family members are Mexican-born citizens, while others endure an ongoing denial of legal status in their host nation.

The study and a virtual photographic exhibition, “Guatemalan forced migration: the politics of care in representing refugees,” are available through The Open Repository @ Binghamton (ORB), an open online platform for faculty, students and researchers affiliated with Binghamton University to promote, share and archive scholarly and creative works.

“These portraits provide an opportunity to examine how an indigenous forced migrant community shapes its identity,” said Gil-García. “Thanks to our efforts to support their grievances, all the people in Manuel’s photos received legal status.”

Collectively, the use of these portraits in Gil-García’s scholarship is part of an ongoing effort to identify the limits of humanitarian care, and a call to obtain legalization of up to 27,000 of Guatemalan refugees who remain without legal status throughout Mexico and the United States.

Gil-García’s 2016 study, informed by a 2006-07 research project exploring the representation of refugee identities, examined mechanisms used to justify the need for humanitarian care.

Working with his brother, Gil-García conducted a project using an innovative participant photovoice ethnographic method that allowed participants to choose how they would like to be depicted in a photograph – often with family and in places meaningful to them. An additional portrait photo was taken in a staged humanitarian or mainstream media manner depicting the subjects in stereotypical poses such as a woman nurturing a child. When shown both photographs, the migrants had an overall aversion to the stereotyped image – countering the dominant representation of them in media.

The ORB contains more than 2,600 papers, dissertations and creative works, with readership from around the globe. To view the selected works of Gil-García as well as other Binghamton faculty and students, visit the ORB.

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Last Updated: 1/29/19