the GriffinHarte Foundation
My Feminist Thinking

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

- Rebecca West, 1913.

2013 Grant: Citizenship 2.0

Citizenship 2.0:
Undocumented Mothers Using Social Media for Immigration Reform


Jillian M. Báez, PhD
College of Staten Island-City University of New York
Department of Media Culture
2800 Victory Boulevard, 1P-226
Staten Island, NY 10314
Telephone: (718) 982-2143
jillian.baez@csi.cuny.edu

Biography

Dr. Jillian M. Báez

Dr. Jillian Báez is currently an Assistant Professor of Media Culture at the City University of New York-College of Staten Island and an Affiliate Professor at the Mexican Studies Institute, also at the City University of New York. Her expertise lies in Latino media, audience studies, media literacy, and globalization. She is currently writing a book on Latina audiences' engagement with images of the Latina body in film, television and advertising. Dr. Baez is also conducting research on the use of social media in the current immigration reform movement. Her research has been published in the Journal of Popular Communication, CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, and several anthologies. She has presented her research at numerous conferences including the annual meetings of the International Communication Association, National Communication Association, Latin American Studies Association, and American Studies Association. Dr. Báez’s research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, Social Science Research Council, Tinker Foundation, and the Organization for Research on Women and Communication among others.

Prior to working at the College of Staten Island, Dr. Baez was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan and a Visiting Assistant Professor of Latina/o Studies at Williams College. She received her Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her B.A. in Media Studies and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies from the City University of New York-Hunter College.

Abstract

Immigration continues to generate heated debates in U.S. politics and mass media. On the one hand, there is an anti-immigration rhetoric present that is particularly aimed at the undocumented and continuously present in mainstream media and politics. For example, consider when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney refused to shake hands with an undocumented college student at a New York fundraiser in January 2012. At the same time, there are activists challenging popular discourses that construct immigrants as both physical and symbolic threats to the nation. These counter-narratives are especially present in social media where immigrants and their supporters organize for comprehensive immigration reform. While the immigration reform movement utilizes traditional forms of protest such as rallies, boycotts, and marches, it is also increasingly present online in social media. Indeed, many of the traditional forms of protest are mobilized and sustained through interactive online media such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and Word Press. What is particularly salient is that it is the undocumented—usually depicted as invisible, passive, and technologically illiterate in the popular imaginary—that have utilized social media the most heavily and strategically for immigration reform. Even more significant, some of the most visible advocates of immigrants’ rights over the last decade are undocumented mothers.

This project will explore how undocumented immigrant mothers make use of social media as a counter-narrative to anti-immigration rhetoric and to mobilize support for immigration reform. To examine these dynamic processes my main research questions are: (1) How do social media enable undocumented immigrant mothers to develop a political identity through storytelling? and (2) What kinds of civic discourses (or ways in which civility is discussed) are produced through this process? In particular, this project will focus on three undocumented mothers, Elvira Arellano, Flor Crisóstomo, and Liliana (who is only known by her first name), who were highly visible in the press in the mid to late 2000s before and after taking sanctuary in churches in the U.S. After 2010, these women also developed a strong online presence to further mobilize for legal citizenship. In order to document these discourses, I will perform a textual analysis of these activists’ blogs, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, and Tweets on Twitter. Overall, these case studies shed light on how social media might be harnessed for civic engagement and broaden our notions of citizenship as more than legal status. More specifically, these public figures serve as excellent examples for understanding how digital media, particularly social networking platforms, are used to engage in civic discourses and perform substantive citizenship. Ultimately, this is a study of digital cultural citizenship; a form of citizenship that is enacted through the cultural space of the internet.