One bonus of conducting interviews over Zoom in the COVID-19 era is that Zoom will auto-generate a transcript of the interview. This is a huge timesaver because there are few things as tedious as manually transcribing an hour-plus long interview (multiplied by anywhere from 20 to 100--the typical number of interviews conducted for a single project). It's a lot. So when I found out about Zoom's free transcription service, I was very excited.
I have found that the quality of Zoom's transcripts is pretty good. Of course, they will still require some manual editing, depending on how much jargon is used, whether there is background noise, etc. One of the biggest drawbacks to the Zoom transcripts has been, in my experience, the atrocious formatting. The formatting produces extremely long documents that are hard to read. After downloading my first Zoom transcript, I began to manually reformat it and quickly realized that any time saved by the auto-transcription would be wasted by manual reformatting.
So I wrote a program to do the reformatting for me.
The program, which you can download here, is written for R. I have made it as user-friendly as possible. All you have to do is change a few lines of the code (to specify the working directory, the filename, and the participant name) and the rest you can leave untouched. You will find instructions within the file.
I hope this can save us interview researchers some collective time!
Last week I drove out to Milwaukee from Ann Arbor for a week-long archive expedition. I had already been in contact with archivists and librarians at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Archives and the archives at the Milwaukee Public Library. This wonderful, searchable database of Wisconsin finding aides was a tremendous help in putting together a precise list of collections, boxes, and specific folders I wanted to consult. Having sent these lists to the two archives ahead of time, they were able to have the boxes ready and waiting for me so I could maximize my reviewing time.
In preparation for my trip, I did a fair amount of research on the new technologies available to archive researchers since the last time I did archive research a decade ago. Back in 2010-2011 I did archive research at a handful of archives in Mexico City using a point-and-shoot camera digital camera. In the archives that did not allow photographs, I took notes on a laptop and even copied word-for-word entire documents.
Luckily, both the UW-M and the MPL archives allow non-flash photography. I'm sharing some tips of how I made the process work for me (and some lessons learned for next time) in hopes that this is helpful for other researchers.
Digitalization with Microsoft Lens app
To create digital scans of documents, I elected to use the Microsoft Lens app on my iPhone. I get free institutional access to the Microsoft Office suite, so I'm not sure if this app has a cost for non-affiliated users. Here's how I used the app:
Equipment to bring with you to the archive
In addition to bringing your phone (and water and snacks!), there are also a few pieces of equipment that I found essential or that wish I had brought with me.
My set-up at the Milwaukee Public Library archive. To the left, the list of individual collections, boxes, and folders that I planned to consult.
Mexico City's "megacorte" (mega shutoff) of water begins today. I haven't seen or heard much news coverage in English, but it is truly a mind-boggling event. One of the major water provision systems in Mexico City, which supplies water to around 8 million residents in the metropolitan area, was shut off this morning and won't be turned back on until November 4, or possibly as late as November 8. The shutoff will allow for critical repairs. Imagine 8 million people not having running water to bathe, wash dishes, flush toilets, etc. for a week. For those who are fortunate to have never lived without household running water (like me, until living in Mexico City), you really don't realize how much of daily life relies on easy access until you no longer have it.
Mexico City has a major water problem and residents are used to having to endure days or weeks without water. Obviously, some neighborhoods deal with this more frequently than others and, not surprisingly, this unequal access to water maps onto socio-economic class in the city. Even in my upper-middle class neighborhood in Mexico City, Narvarte, we would usually experience 2-3 shutoffs per year that could last a few days or even over a week. This shutoff, however, is the largest in Mexico City's history and is being described by residents in apocalyptic terms.
Interestingly, this megacorte has coincided with the escalation of a heated debate over infrastructure in the city that culminated with a national vote over whether or not to continue with plans for a new airport in Mexico City. The vote, which took place over the weekend, decided against the airport and the President-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced his plans yesterday to cancel the project once he enters office in December. The planned airport would have been constructed on the mostly drained bed of Lake Texcoco on the eastern edge of the metropolitan area (not far from the current airport). Activists opposing the airport framed their fight as one in defense of water/nature and indigenous rights. The hash tag #YoPrefieroElLago ("I prefer the lake") was widely used to mobilize the vote against the airport.
Sarah // Madison, WI
I awoke, drowsy from the dramamine, and for a moment I forgot where I was. Looking out of the window of the bus, as it wound along a narrow, curving road, I saw nothing. Soft white nothingness. From time to time images appeared out of the dense white fog: a tree, a storefront. The bus slowed to a stop: we had arrived in Chapulhuacán, Hidalgo.
Chapulhuacán is a small town in the northern, mountainous region of Hidalgo. While it is not far from other, larger cities in the region, it feels very removed. The winding, poorly kept road that leads in and out of the town makes travel slow, arduous, and nauseating. We had traveled over 8 hours from Mexico City.
Chapulhuacán is uniquely situated in the heart of a region that sends thousands of workers to the U.S. each year to work on temporary employment visas. That is why we were there--to meet with worker leaders in the region, organize a few workshops, and promote Contratados.
On our last day in Chapulhuacán, the fog cleared. Deep, rich green replaced the gray-white. The landscape took my breath away. Coffee is a major source of income in the region. Most residents grow coffee for themselves, and many maintain plots large enough to sell as well.
Sarah // Mexico City, Mexico
I admit it: I have been always been a little obsessed with public radio. My parents always had the local public radio station on in the car, but I first got hooked on This American Life my freshman year of high school. I also listened to other programs, including LatinoUSA with María Hinojosa. It became a dream of mine to be on a public radio show.
On January 9, 2014, my dream sort of came true: I was interviewed about Contratados for LatinoUSA. It feels a little anti-climatic, but it none the less happened. The segment was part of a show called "The More You Know."
Sarah // Mexico City, Mexico
A week ago, I was invited to speak on Entrecruzamientos, a program of Radio Educación, about access to information and labor recruitment. The interview was organized by Fundar and Gedisa, who coordinated and published Migrar en las Americas, as part of the book promotion campaign.
You can listen to the interview online here.
In the interview, I spoke about the vulnerability that labor recruitment imposes--not only on migrant workers, but also on families and entire communities. This is a perspective that I think deserves a much deeper examination.
I also spoke about solutions, and proposed that migrant workers have to create their own solutions and become their own advocates. Migrant workers cannot expect that governments, employers/recruiters or even advocates will effectively ensure the protection of their rights--they have to organize and become their own advocates. The more that I delve into the issue of labor recruitment, the more that I feel this is true. The interests of capital (which are opposed to those of migrant workers) will always be more important to the government than the interests of migrant workers. This means that any policy or program implemented by the government to supposedly improve protections for workers will never truly do so. No state-provided solution will ever undermine the interests of capital in any real way. This leaves workers to organize and create their own solutions--independent of the state. Contratados.org is a good start.
Also, here is a picture of me with Migrar en las Américas, where my co-authored chapter appears, for sale at the Fondo de Cultura Económica.
Sarah // Mexico City, Mexico
The hiring of Mexican workers for temporary employment in the United States is a transnational process with little transparency and accountability in which thousands of Mexicans have suffered from fraud and abuse. The program structure, controlled by employers, allows and encourages the use of agents and subcontractors and lacks the mechanisms to protect potential migrants. The nearly complete lack of public and accessible information encourages the violation of migrants’ rights.
This article (1) presents an analysis of how the H-2A and H-2B programs work, (2) explains the legal and regulatory frameworks of the programs, (3) explores current problems in access to public information about recruitment, (4) explains the work that CDM has done to access public information through the Federal Institute of Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI, the acronym in Spanish) in Mexico and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the United States, (5) argues that both governments must guarantee free and timely access to public information for migrants so they may protect themselves from fraud and abuse, and (6) proposes a series of changes to transparency laws so that they meet the needs of migrant workers.
Key words: Labor recruitment; temporary work; H-2A visa; H-2B visa; migrant workers; labor rights violations; right to access public information; Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos (IFAI)
The following is a summary of my remarks during the presentation of Migrar en las Américas on July 24, 2014, in the Museo de las Culturals Populares in Mexico City, Mexico.
I began my project intending to realize a micro-history of el Pedregal de Santo Domingo, a paracaidistaneighborhood in Mexico City, relying mostly on oral histories with residents, and supplemented by archival research. I wanted to understand how residents had constructed and organized their neighborhood from scratch, both by petitioning local governing authorities and by working autonomously in neighborhood associations. After involving myself in Santo Domingo and beginning my exploration of the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) and other archives, I realized that by limiting the project to study only the internal organization of a single community I would be missing much of what is interesting about the paracaidista phenomenon that engulfed the city during the 1960s and 1970s. I also realized that my knowledge of Santo Domingo’s history was far too limited to immediately begin oral histories with original residents.
The result is that my project has changed in two important ways. First, the scope of my project has broadened to include several questions about the paracaidismo of the city’s metropolitan area. How did citizens and urban governance (elected officials, organizations, programs) participate in the physical and social organization of Mexico City’s growth? How did economic and social policy (changes in government structure, creation of new laws and programs, etc.) reflect the vision held by urban governance for the city’s growth? How did these policies contribute to the demographic explosion and the organizational and social crisis of the city? By adding these questions, I will expand the results of my research to include conclusions about the nature of the urban process, namely the extent to which different actors control its direction, and with which mechanisms, tools, and tactics.
Second, archival research now makes up much more of my source material than I had originally planned. Oral histories are still indispensible for achieving the goals I originally outlined, but in order to understand the whole story of the organizational upheaval that the city underwent during this period, and in order to ask the right questions in my oral histories, other varieties of source material now constitute a much larger portion of my source base. Since my project aims to gauge the nature and influence of citizen participation, the histories and perspectives of individual residents are still an integral component of my research.
// SEF // Mexico City, Mexico
I am currently reading Urban Leviathan: Mexico City in the Twentieth Century by Diane Davis, and was impressed by the data table she developed to show the change in population of greater Mexico City during the twentieth century. Her table is especially interesting because it separates the census data into three geographical jurisdictions: Mexico City, the Federal District, and the Metropolitan area. This allows for a more thorough look at the demographic patterns of the region, since demographic change was not uniform. I simply plugged her data into an excel sheet and created this visual representation. (Click on the graph to more easily read the definitions for the three geographic jurisdictions.)
While the region’s population growth is generally impressive, the growth of the Metropolitan Area from 1960-1980 is staggering: during the 1960s and 1970s, the Metropolitan Area grew from 5.4 million to 14.4 million. The four centraldelegaciones that comprise Mexico City proper (the original city center) actually saw a slight decrease in population during the period in question, which means all of the 9 million new residents settled in the greater Federal District and in the urban periphery. Less than half (around 4 million) settled in the 12 great greater delegaciones of the Federal District, and around 5 million arrived in the surrounding municipalities, mostly in the state of Mexico. Also note that the populations for the Federal District and the Metropolitan area are nearly identical until the 1960s, meaning that the population spilling beyond the borders of the Federal District before this period was negligible.
This means that the city’s urban footprint grew enormously during this period. New residents, mostly coming from Mexico’s rural and economically depressed regions, were forced to the city’s periphery. The explosive demographic growth meant that urban government was unable to supply basic services (utilities, housing, transport, etc.) to these new, often poor, populations located far from the city center. With government unable to meet their basic needs, residents took matters into their own hands. The 1960s and 1970s saw an explosion of colonias paracaidistas and other forms of irregular settlements, which were often hotbeds for political activity and engagement, usually around questions of urban services.
// SEF // Mexico City, Mexico
A friend of mine recently shared this with me and I thought it was a very fascinating way to reflect on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Mexican Revolution. On November 20th, 1910, prominent Mexican anti-reelectionist politician Francisco I. Madero escaped from prison where he had been imprisoned by ruling dictator Porfirio Díaz and called for national revolution. Fighting broke out first in the city of Puebla and then spread throughout the country.
The NYT had this take on those events and the possibility of revolution in the Republic of Mexico. Published November 21, 1910.
Over the next 10 to 20 years (depending on how you define the end of the Revolution), Mexico freed itself from dictatorship, went through a staggering number of rulers, and found itself with a new constitution guaranteeing, among other things, all Mexicans new labor and land rights. Francisco Villa led an army in the north and Emiliano Zapata organized the campesinado in the country’s central region.
The revolution was anything but organized–some say it is better described as a civil war–but it was also anything but “a petty political uprising.” Perhaps the “more potent, hidden influence” that was “working behind the movement” was the discontent of the millions of Mexicans for whom the (so-called) progress of Díaz’s regime had never arrived.
The views expressed in this blog and on this website are my own.