About Urban Borderlands

Urban Borderlands is a community-based research seminar integrating academic and experiential learning in which students document the history and development of Cambridge and Somerville’s Latino communities. Since 2001, successive cohorts of Urban Borderlands students have designed and conducted ethnographic research documenting why and how various Latino communities—Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Salvadorans, Brazilians and other Central and South Americans—first arrived in the areas adjacent to Tufts; how, over time, they have organized themselves economically, socially, politically, and culturally; and the many ways they have contributed to the richness of their city’s rich and diverse social fabric.

Being newcomers to the area compared to earlier groups of immigrants, very little research on Latinos/as in Somerville/Cambridge has been done and even less has been published, so student research has necessarily been based on interviews with residents and community leaders. Research topics and methodologies have been selected and designed in collaboration with organizations working with immigrant communities. In 2002, Tufts students seeking to document the history of the Latino community in Cambridge worked alongside high school volunteers from the Cambridge-based Concilio Hispano’s youth program Ahora. Since 2003 student research has focused on Somerville’s Latino communities, designed in collaboration with Somerville agencies. In 2003 and 2004 the project partner was the Welcome Project’s youth program, whose high school student volunteers served as community guides and interpreters, and assisted in the interviews. In 2008 Urban Borderlands students focused their research on Latino arts and cultural production in Somerville, which brought them into contact with arts-oriented organizations such as East Somerville Main Streets and Centro Presente’s Pintamos Nuestro Mundo. In 2010 Urban Borderlands students partnered with the Somerville Community Corporation’s Community Corridor Project, assisting with the SCC’s efforts to preserve Somerville’s economic and cultural diversity by documenting immigrant use of space in Union Square and adjacent neighborhoods.

Urban Borderlands student reports, which are available to the public (see links below) have benefitted the public in multiple ways. For example, in 2004, the City of Cambridge dedicated a square to a Latino/a resident (the first time a Latino/a had been so honored): Columbia Road’s Doña Marta Morales Square; the report prepared in 2002 by Urban Borderlands students Andrew Hara, Ariana Flores, Galen Maze and Radhika Takkar was instrumental in documenting the history and importance of Columbia Road’s Puerto Rican community. In 2005 the Cambridge Health Alliance created an intralink to the Urban Borderlands reports so that their employees would have access to the reports. UB student Sebastian Chaskel’s 2005 project on the religious beliefs and traditions of Salvadoran immigrants from the town of Yuquaquín became the basis for Chaskel’s 2006 exhibit at the Somerville Museum; which in turn, paved the way for the 2007 Sister City agreement between the mayors of Somerville and Yuquaquín, El Salvador.

As of 2011, approximately 35 reports on various aspects of Latinos/as life in Somerville and Cambridge have been produced (see list below), and are available to the public at http://sites.tufts.edu/dca/community-history-reports/.

Urban Borderlands students have also experimented with different ways of making their work accessible to the community. In 2003 eight Tufts students produced digital stories articulating their experiences from personal perspectives; these can be viewed at:

http://ase.tufts.edu/anthropology/faculty/pacini/students/ds.htm

In 2004 Urban Borderlands students created websites summarizing their research reports; these websites can be viewed at: http://ase.tufts.edu/anthropology/faculty/pacini/students/welcome%20project%202004/index.htm

2010 students blogged about their work on the Somerville Community Corridor Project: http://sites.tufts.edu/urbanborderlands/ .

2011 students will be collaborating with the Welcome Project’s YUM project, interviewing the owners of Somerville’s many immigrant-owned restaurants and other food-related businesses.