Date: Tuesday, 22 August, 2023

Time 05:00 p.m.

Venue: HSS Seminar Hall

Title: Undocumented Migrants: Border-Crossing, Illness, and Labor

Speaker: Dr Debarchana Baruah, University of Tübingen


 In my talk I will look at undocumented labor, focusing on migrant bodies. I hope to deconstruct how the experiences on the migrant trail and at the border select and prepare workers, who are fit. alert, and willing to endure great physical and emotional duress. I zoom in on the moment of the border crossing, analyzing the immediate consequences of illegality on the migrant bodies. Migrants from Mexico and Central America regularly cross the US southern border through the Sonoran desert, experiencing hyperthermia, dehydration, and intense surveillance. Many are lost to the desert. The few who make it across carry deep physical and emotional scars of the crossing, much beyond the border and into their lives as illegals within the US territory. These workers arrive in the US, fully aware that they are undocumented and without rights and still negotiate their severe limitations to work and earn money. My talk will also highlight reconstructive efforts in migration literature that acknowledge the physical and emotional costs of life as an undocumented worker. Migrants suffer from posttraumatic stress disorders, metabolic disorders, sleep disorders, depression from working in exploitative conditions, and living a life bereft of opportunities and in constant fear of incarceration and deportation. Juxtaposing the two approaches—of deconstructing their labor as forged by the violence of immigration and global inequality and then recognizing their labor despite their bodily limitations and disabilities—can contribute to a more complex representation of undocumented migrants and their labor. Drawing from migration narratives (memoirs, novels, and journalistic accounts) and works undertaken in the academic fields of sociology, anthropology, health and medicine, migration and border studies, the essay discusses the exploitative systems and policies that affect migrants’ bodies, their health, and their labor.

Bio Note:

Debarchana Baruah is a postdoctoral associate and lecturer at the American Studies Department, University of Tübingen. She is interested in US popular cultures, memory cultures, food cultures, and immigration histories. Her first book, 21st Century Retro: Mad Men and 1960s America in Film and Television (transcript 2021) sits at the interstices of history, memory, and film and television studies. It offers a vocabulary to discuss contemporary televisual productions that revisit recent pasts in self-conscious and non-nostalgic ways. Baruah is currently working on her second book on food and mobility, examining how access to food affects migration into and within US territories. Baruah has a doctoral degree in American Studies from the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Heidelberg University and has received her B.A., M.A., and M.Phil. degrees in English Literature from the University of Delhi.