Western Washington University Professor in the Department of Health and Community Studies Sondra Cuban was awarded a Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in August to research her project, “The Mobilities of Immigrant Women.”
Cuban taught at the Universidad de la Frontera and she conducted her research, which began in August and just ended in December, in Temuco, Chile where she studied the lives of immigrant women. While there, she observed the supports and barriers to the 60 participants in her study who lived and worked in Temuco.
“There were barriers, such as cultural discrimination, but also supports like their resilience in facing difficult situations, the networks they formed to help them navigate public life, their ingenious uses of social media to inform themselves, and the bus networks that helped them move from place to place when things didn’t work out somewhere,” said Cuban.
Cuban said she noticed that violence towards the immigrants in Chile was growing, and that closed doors and cold shoulders — symptoms of cultural discrimination — were some of the toughest barriers immigrant women continued to deal with.
“This kind of discrimination has harmful effects not just in terms of achieving a sense of belonging but also in terms of work, health, and safety,” said Cuban.
Before her Fulbright, Cuban researched immigrant women’s lives in Washington state, especially their uses of new technologies to contact their families with evidence featured in her book, “Transnational Family Communication: Immigrants and ICTs” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Before that, she lived in England, and worked at Lancaster University, where she focused on highly skilled immigrant women who were caregivers to the elderly.
“I studied the risks that these pioneer immigrants took in gambling on low-level jobs as stepping stones towards a better livelihood for themselves and their families,” she said.
These risks included possible dead-end jobs and being unable to secure professional positions or pathways to careers in England, as well as possibly having to return to their home countries. Cuban’s research offers a glimpse into immigrant women’s lives including their change in aspiration, and the situations and paths they took to adapting to their new lives in their adopted countries.
In support of her research, Cuban has published three books and produced a documentary focused on the topic of immigration. Committed to her research and driven to spread the message, Cuban leaves many bystanders curious about her underlying ambition: Why focus on women and immigration?
“Women immigrants are often an invisible force in many societies, yet they drive the economies of these societies and take jobs like cleaning and caring that are key to maintaining the lives of all citizens. They suffer the consequences of working in jobs that have low pay and poor conditions, but are nevertheless supporting their families and themselves to survive and they are very resilient,” she said. “They also contribute greatly to social, cultural, civic, and political spheres in the countries where they reside. I want to know their stories, experiences, and aspirations to make them visible and address unequal global and national policies.”
Closer to home and focused more on teaching, Cuban also recently completed a Seattle-based project focused on the ways underrepresented community college students mentored immigrants and refugees transitioning out of homelessness.
The Fulbright Scholar Program offers U.S. faculty, administrators and professionals grants to lecture, conduct research in wide variety of academic and professional fields, or to participate in seminars. Its purpose is to develop mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Cuban, who specializes in community development, directs the Adult and Higher Education program in the Department of Health and Community Studies at the Woodring College of Education.