Tag Archives: Seline Szkupinski Quiroga

Community-Based Research: Reporting Back

October 1, 2012


By Seline Szkupinski Quiroga, Ph.D.

In September 2012, I and my research partners from Arizona State University hosted a Community Forum in South Phoenix to report back to this community the preliminary results of our research. The room at the community center was almost full. A few people were still serving themselves dinner from the taco bar set up by a local restaurant. No one complained that in deference to providing a healthier dining option we had not put out flour tortillas, cheese or sour cream. I looked out over the audience, trying to see if any of the faces were familiar, if I had seen them across a kitchen table while conducting an interview. I saw a few colleagues from the University, students who had worked on the project, employees of local health agencies, and community members in workout clothes who had perhaps been lured into the room after their aerobics class with our promise of discussing community health and well-being. I took a deep breath and gave an announcement in English and Spanish that the Forum would be starting in just a few minutes.

After completing data collection for a multi-year study, I had organized the Forum to fulfill the promise made to study participants during multiple visits to their households to inform them of our findings.  We were limited in the topics we could cover in the allotted 2 hours as I had required that all proceedings be presented in a bilingual format, and I wanted to make sure we had sufficient time for discussion. We briefly covered how recent changes in immigration policy, specifically SB1070, had affected families; how households were dealing with the economic downturn; and the current health issues of community members. The results were not encouraging and so I tried to also communicate the assets of the community: the resilient social networks, tested as they were by the years of hardship and deprivation, and the strong sense of community that persisted despite incidents of discrimination. The presentation ended, and we invited questions. There was a silence and then the first question: could not the findings of high rates of psychological distress be linked to the high rates of unemployment? And we were off!

The time of discussion was not so much a question and answer period as I had feared, but rather a time of commentary and people responding to each other. A woman commented eloquently in Spanish about the need for recognizing the dignity of all in this time of anti-immigrant sentiment. An African American woman spoke up about how she was willing to volunteer her time to teach a Junior Chefs class, but that no one seemed interested in her offer. Another man noted that the most important things needed to make change were present in the room already. We had successfully initiated a dialogue about community concerns! The local community college stepped up and offered to host the next forum so the dialogue could continue.

In the glow of accomplishment, the challenges I had confronted in the weeks leading up to the Forum were pushed to the back of my mind. Many of the most salient challenges had to do with the academic-community divide, a few of which I will note here.
For example, in gathering research findings to present at the Forum from my colleagues, there were differing ideas of significance and what was appropriate to share. From the perspective of many an academic researcher, if proposed hypotheses are unproven or if findings are similar to what is already reported in the literature, then they are deemed non-significant. However, purely descriptive findings can be important and useful to community members and stakeholders.

Another major challenge was translating the descriptive findings into a language accessible to a lay audience by avoiding academic jargon. The subsequent Spanish translation also had to be assessed for accessibility and appropriateness for the study participants. I usually use narrative accounts as a bridge between statistics and significance but there wasn’t time at the Forum and room for only a few carefully selected quotes in the bilingual newsletter that was handed out.

I also spent time trying to define “community.” Before the Forum started, I wasn’t sure exactly who was going to show up. We had mailed out invitations to all study participants and local government officials, placed an advertisement in a local paper, been interviewed on a local Spanish language radio show, and flyered the study neighborhoods extensively. I tried to be strategic in extending invitations, balancing the diversity of the attendees with real life practicalities: Should I invite a representative of the police? They would benefit from hearing about the concerns over increased discrimination, and the confusion people had between policies of the police and the sheriff but their presence might frighten away people from participating in the Forum. (I didn’t invite them to the Forum but met with a prosecutor to discuss giving a special presentation to a police officer committed to community policing).

I was encouraged to see African Americans in the audience. While study participants were overwhelmingly Latino, the study area has the highest percentage of African American residents in the state. Although much of the discrimination experienced was triggered by the passage of SB1070, African American study participants decried the changing tenor of their community, and the health issue of unequal chronic diseases burden also affected them. The findings of this study were not just relevant to Latinos.

I was able to successfully engage this South Phoenix community, but I am unsure as to who is going to support the efforts to continue the dialogue now that the grant funding has been exhausted.  However, I do know that I will continue to work with this community as I am committed to support them through my research in working to improve quality of life and honor the dignity, wisdom, and experience of these Arizona residents.

A copy of the newsletter with descriptive findings handed out to Forum attendees can be found at http://www.asu.edu/clas/ssfd/cepod/SMVnews092012.pdf

Seline Szkupinski Quiroga is a child of immigrants and a medical anthropologist living in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a member of the Mujeres Talk Colectiva.


Theresa Blight  November 19, 2012 at 5:49 PM

These community outlook and endeavor restores my faith in humanity each time. I commend the people who take a proactive role in advocating change for the good of their communities. I feel more attached with my community since joining live in care, a nutritional program for the elderly.

Juan Crow: Alive and Kicking in Arizona

July 2, 2012

By Seline Szkupinski Quiroga

Last week, the US Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of Arizona’s notorious SB 1070.  I was profoundly interested in the outcome not only because I am an Arizona resident and aware of the human rights implications if this law was allowed to stand, but also because I have been doing ethnographic research with a Phoenix Latino community over the past 5 years and I have witnessed first-hand how the lead-up to, passage and aftermath of SB 1070 has negatively affected the community and its members.

The Court upheld the most egregious provision of SB1070: the “show me your papers“ provision which requires law enforcement to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop in the course of routine policing if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that person is undocumented. The ability of authorities to treat others differently based on appearance was not declared unconstitutional, as were three other provisions of the bill.

At the time the Arizona v. United States decision was handed down, I was not in Arizona but in North Carolina for a family emergency. I was monitoring the progress of the proceedings via Facebook, live blogs, CNN and texting with a colleague who had been attending the vigils held in Phoenix. Given that North Carolina has a significant Latino population (more than 800,000 people) and is considered to be the hub of Latino migration to the South, I was surprised that so many around me didn’t seem to grasp the importance of what was happening – even though South Carolina, the state next door, passed similar anti-immigrant legislation last summer and it too included a “show me your papers“ provision.

Being in the South at the time of the ruling highlighted the parallels with Jim Crow, the de jure institutionalized racism that prevailed one hundred years ago. (I was not the only one who made this connection as this powerful poster by artists Favianna Rodriguez, Roberto Lovato and Gan Golan began circulating the next day).

Juan Crow

Listening to the media responses to the ruling was like listening to someone from another reality. I heard conservative commentators pooh pooh the idea that racial profiling would flourish under the allowed provision. I live in Maricopa County where, under Sheriff Arpaio’s guidance, racial profiling thrives.  He and his office are being sued by the Department of Justice for, among other things, targeting Latinos for traffic stops. In my own work, I have heard multiple stories from men and women of being targets of hostility and suspicion for speaking Spanish in public, for having the Mexican eagle on their truck, for waiting at a bus stop late at night.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, acknowledged that police offers may resort to racial profiling, but that would raise constitutional concerns. In other words, eyes will be on Arizona; if you don’t behave, you will face more court challenges about civil rights violations. Really? We have to go through MORE instances of discrimination and differential treatment before the injustices are addressed in the courts?

Other commentators have pointed out that the provision upheld already exists in federal law as if that is sufficient justification to roll over and play dead. What about working to change the law at the federal level? What about recognizing the immorality of the law itself? The commodification and dehumanization of people so that they are no more than “aliens”?  Where pundits claim the moral high ground of preserving rule of law, I see violation of human rights. The appeals to “protect our communities from illegals” as if immigrants are not part of our communities angers and saddens me.

At the same time, I look forward to the next steps. I have been a witness to the changes in Arizona, to the slow and steady encroachment of hate and hostility towards Latinos in general, and immigrants in particular. But alongside this, I have also witnessed the conscientización of a new generation of community-based activists. The chilly climate created by the passage of SB1070, the ban of ethnic studies, the expansion of the 287(g) program, etc. has been a catalyst for a Phoenix-based Latino grassroots protest to mature. In a future essay, I’ll write about the multiple ways resistance manifests here in the desert.

For now, quiero decir algo: 

MALCS participated in the Arizona boycott called two summers ago when Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law. The politically correct thing to do then was to boycott Arizona, to refuse to spend money here and thus economically undermine the state, since tourism is one of Arizona’s major source of tax revenue. MALCS has always been dear to my heart – I credit MALCistas with getting me through graduate school – but to be honest, I felt abandoned when the national Summer Institute was cancelled. We were on the frontlines, and where was our support? How hard was it to refuse to come to a state where the thermometer hits 115? But I had no time to explore those feelings as we here in Arizona quickly re-organized the Institute into a State Conference, bringing together local activists and scholars, and growing in the process. This year, the theme of the Summer Institute in Santa Barbara is Todos somos Arizona. As we prepare to juntarnos once again, I ask you to reflect on what that means for your scholarship, your activism, and your corazón.

As new co-moderator of Mujeres Talk, this essay was written not as an intellectual exercise, but as a rumination entre hermanas. Responses welcome.

Seline Szkupinski Quiroga is a child of immigrants and a medical anthropologist living in Phoenix, Arizona.


  1. Theresa (Mujeres Talk Co-Moderator)  July 3, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    I appreciate your reflections at this moment because there has been little written about the decision that addresses the racial profiling it leaves in place — and in a way that reminds us that our communities are now all across the U.S. Thank you, too, for asking us to reflect on what we can and might do to further support our compañeras in Arizona.

  2. Marivel Danielson  July 11, 2012 at 12:38 AM

    Yes! Thank you Seline for vocalizing what many of us in Arizona feel on a daily basis–abandoned. The focus of the 2012 MALCS Summer Institute is a wonderful place to begin to discuss how each of us might transform our outrage and indignation into action and change in Arizona and other places around the country and the globe in dire need of intervention. As we head into Santa Barbara and this precious time of gathering, nurturing, personal and professional growth, I echo Seline’s prompt to all Institute attendees and MALCS members broadly to think about the ways your resistance to the hate and ignorance in Arizona can become and visible part of the powerful wave of activism, art, and scholarship we continue to engage with every day here in Arizona. Our presence and voice in Arizona are so much more valuable than absence or silence will ever be.