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Alumnus earns Creative Writing Fulbright
4/10/12

Levi Bridges

Levi Bridges

Levi Bridges, a 2007 alumnus of Alfred University, received a Fulbright Grant in Creative Writing to undertake nine months of research and writing about Mexican nationals who have worked in the United States on a temporary basis then returned home.

Bridges, who honed his skills as a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines, will use the Fulbright to fund research and writing of a "creative non-fiction book about Mexican migrant workers." His goal is to "interview and forge relationships with at least 10 migrants who have traveled to work in the United States legally on H-2A and H-2B temporary work visas."

It is a topic that has interested Bridges since his time at Alfred University. "At AU I double-majored in English and Spanish and developed a keen interest in both Latin America and in becoming a writer," Bridges said. During his senior year, he studied abroad at a small university just north of Mexico City. "I was blown away by just how many people I met who had worked in the United States, both legally and illegally. I didn’t have to search these people out; normally they just recognized me as a foreigner and wanted to talk about their time in America."

He marveled at the degree of "cultural integration" that occurs between the two countries, even if it is not always recognized. "It is a phenomenon that at times doesn’t seem clear" in the United States, but is "widely recognized in Mexico."

When he returns to Mexico, Bridges said his "goal is to seek out at least 10 migrants who have travelled to work in the U.S." on temporary work visas. "I hope to explore their motivations for seeking legal means of working abroad, as well as their opinions about how the current guest worker program could be improved."

He also wants to learn about "their daily lives, hopes and dreams," and how they transition back to life in Mexico after working in the U.S. He wants to get a sense of "how they make sense of their experience as active and important participants in the global economy."

After graduating from AU, he spent a winter "hitchhiking around the U.S.-Mexico border and writing about immigration issues for alternative, web-based news organizations. The people, both Mexican and American, who I met on the border showed me just how much American immigration policy affects people on both sides of the border. I decided that I wanted to write a book about the experiences of the migrants who take great personal risks to fill labor shortages in the U.S., but it was some time before I decided that I wanted to focus specifically on guestworkers.

"During my preliminary research for the Fulbright application, I discovered several reports by Human Rights Watch and The Southern Poverty Law Center documenting numerous instances in which unscrupulous U.S. employers paid guestworkers below the minimum wage, didn't give them overtime, and denied workers compensation rights.

"The reports noted that guestworkers often don't enjoy the same sort of mobility as U.S. workers because they arrive in the U.S. in debt to recruiters who process their visas and their H-2 visas do not allow them to change jobs. Given that many American policy makers have often proposed to expand the guestworker program as part of comprehensive immigration reform, without studying the potentially negative impacts of the current program on foreign workers, I decided that this would be an intriguing part of the global story on migration to write a book about."

While in Mexico, he will also be volunteering with several non-governmental organizations that aid migrant workers, as well as auditing graduate-level courses at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City, and creating a multimedia website with information and weekly stories "dedicated to raising awareness among guestworkers and their families."

Once his sojourn in Mexico is completed, Bridges wants to spend the next year "exploring the experiences of migrant workers here in the United States. I hope to meet up with groups of migrants that I'll get to know in Mexico, and work together with them in the sorts of low-level jobs--fruit-picking, seafood processing, construction--that they often do here in the States as a means of understanding and writing about experiences on both sides of the border. The migrant story is a binational one and the book that I hope to produce will very much be a Mexican and American story. "
Bridges, who has traveled extensively in the years since he left Alfred, most recently has been in Indonesia, where he had intended to begin a month-long internship with the National Public Radio's Southeast Asia Bureau in Jakarta, but those plans have been delayed a bit by his need to return to the States to complete the requirements for the Fulbright.

As part of the internship, which he now hopes to complete this summer, he will "be learning the basics of audio reporting/storytelling, a medium that I hope to explore in Mexico when I create my multimedia website. In addition to traveling a bit around the Indonesian archipelago, in my spare time, I've been revising the rough draft of a book I've written about a year long bicycle trip across Asia and Europe that I completed in 2009 with Ellery Althaus, a friend who I originally met during my first semester at AU. The book has still not found its way to a publisher."

Prior to going to Indonesia, Bridges spent two years working as a social worker at a homeless shelter in Portland, ME , working with homeless adults and teens as well as recent immigrants and refugees. He also wrote frequently for the Bangor Daily News.