Gabrielle Oliveira’s nuanced and complex look at Mexican families, Motherhood Across Borders: Immigrants and Their Children in Mexico and New York, was awarded the inaugural Ethnography in Education Book Award.
The book award was a new feature at the Ethnography in Education Research Forum, which has been a student and faculty collaboration at Penn GSE for more than 40 years. This year’s Forum was convened by Vivian Gadsden and Gerald Campano, and coordinated by Mary Yee. Special thanks were also given to graduate students Gordon Divine Assah, OreOluwa Badaki, Nana Konadu Cann, Wintre Foxworth Johnson, Ankhi Thakurta for their work, and for administrative support from Suzanne Oh.
The Forum is the largest academic conference dedicated to qualitative inquiry in the U.S., including ethnographic and practitioner inquiry.
In her book, Oliveira presents a multi-sited, ethnographic work that examines how Mexican mothers sustain meaningful relationships with children they have left behind. How do notions parenting change in the face of such distance? How do people demonstrate care for loved ones who live on the other sides of borders? How do the youth themselves make sense of migration and family?
“I hope readers understand the ways in which families care across borders and how no one actually wants to leave their babies behind. Or their homes. But once that is part of their trajectory making sure children have a strong education becomes paramount for women in the United States. It almost serves as a way to justify their leaving,” Oliveira said.
“Children also have a central role in these narratives. I hope readers get from this book how important it is to center children and storytellers. To stand with children and listen to their narratives. Ultimately all of us will be (im)migrants at one point on our lives. But the desire to exist as a family transcends borders and people in this book show us exactly how.”
Oliveira received her bachelor’s degree in her native Brazil and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University, where she was also a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation.
“Ethnography, as a methodological approach, is about meaningful and immersive connection with communities, and reveals deeply nuanced insights about the world,” said Alex Posecznick, who chaired the award committee, “The award was established as a way to highlight and extend the reach of this work – to showcase the creative use of these approaches to the field of education. Dr. Oliveira’s work is outstanding, in this regard.”
As part of the award, Oliveira has been invited to deliver an address at the Ethnography in Education Research Forum.
The book was selected from among ten very strong submissions, on the basis of: rigor and innovative use of ethnographic methods; contribution and depth of scholarship; and potential for transformative impact on future educational research or practice. The committee members included: Drs. Nancy Hornberger, Susan Lytle, Kathy Hall, Annette Lareau, Rand Quinn, Nelson Flores, and Alex Posecznick.