Anthropology Afflicting the Comfortable: A Review of Seth Holmes’s “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies” – Rachel Stonecipher
Having cut my teeth in anthropology while living in the state of Texas, I am accustomed to trying to explain what, exactly, this discipline is. At Thanksgiving, distant family members ask me whether I have anything interesting to tell them about the dinosaurs. When I correct them and confess that I neither dig up artifacts (certainly not T-Rex) nor analyze crime scenes, but rather practice “cultural” anthropology, I watch their shoulders sink and eyes wander away.
Seth Holmes’ book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies is here to change that, and in the best of directions. In a tight 200 pages, Holmes lays out a call to action for social scientists, practicing physicians, and average readers to identify and combat the structural violence perpetrated against migrant farmworkers. By accompanying his companions as they migrate, work, and seek health care, Holmes sheds light on the “ethnicity-citizenship hierarchy” that shapes the health outcomes of indigenous Triqui migrant workers on a farm in the Skagit Valley of Washington state. His goal is to perform a “critical and reflexively embodied anthropology” that will “confront the ways in which certain classes of people come to be written off or deemed less human” (40-44). The idea of reflexive embodiment is to think about one’s own ways of sensing the world – such as feeling pain, love, or success – in critical comparison to how others sensorially experience. Holmes is on a trail parallel to the recent ethnographic movement, led by Sarah Willen, to interrogate the social inequality (re)produced when undocumented migrants come to embody their abject status. However, as I argue below, his approach is more akin to discourse analysis than Willen’s “critical phenomenology,” though it would be strengthened by more of the latter. Read more…
Saturday night was something no one in Israel had ever seen before. It was supposed to be a small demonstration – a quiet march of several hundred Israeli activists and African asylum seekers, coming on the heels of two Marches for Freedom earlier in the week, to protest a new amendment to Israel’s Anti-Infiltration Act. Legislated after the High Court scrapped an earlier amendment, the new version authorizes the automatic detention of asylum seekers for up to one year in an ostensibly “open” detention facility, including asylum seekers already living freely in the country. Since the earlier marches were intercepted and suppressed by immigration authorities, initially it didn’t seem that Saturday’s march would get much (if any) media attention. But from the second it began, it was clear to all present that this time was different.
More than 2,000 asylum seekers, all in danger of immediate and permanent imprisonment following the passage of the new amendment, marched in the streets of south and central Tel Aviv. The asylum seekers, who had likely seen pictures or heard stories of their friends’ desert marches, were in high gear and bursting with energy. They started running through the streets, chanting just two slogans over and over again: “No more prison!” and “we want freedom!” Read more…
In a previous AccessDenied post, I considered how the institutional culture of the U.S. Border Patrol often neglects the medical needs of migrants. Despite policies calling for “humane treatment,” agents regularly destroy humanitarian water bottles in the desert, allow overcrowding in detention, deny medications, and commit acts of physical violence. Moreover, as Seth Holmes writes in a recent post, the Border Patrol’s stated policy of “prevention through deterrence,” which aims to deter future migration by making the journey north as difficult as possible, is inhumane.
As the agency predicted, and as Holmes notes, the increase in Border Patrol personnel and surveillance since 1994 has forced migration routes into the remote desert, increasing suffering. Read more…
Seth M. Holmes
University of California, Berkeley
The U.S. Senate’s recent agreement – to increase the size of the Border Patrol by 20,000 agents, add 700 miles of fence, and deploy $3.2 billion in military equipment – may lead to an increase in deaths in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands if current policies continue. Most media coverage, however, has failed to mention that Border Patrol policies and actions directly contribute to these fatalities.
One recent example is an article titled, “In 30 days, Border Patrol rescues 177 people from Arizona desert,” published last month in the Los Angeles Times. The article noted that although fewer people are crossing the border overall, death rates are at an all-time high in the southern Arizona desert. It blamed the spike in fatalities on the fact that migrants are increasingly crossing the border at its most treacherous and remote points. Yet the article failed to point out that Border Patrol policies have contributed to these deaths by deliberately re-routing migrants to cross in regions so perilous that Border Patrol officials themselves have referred to them as “the corridor of death” (Doty 2011). Read more…