Giving a Voice to Those on the Margins
By Angela Farren ’13
Courtney Weintraub ’13 has always had a strong interest in international affairs and travels, but it was not until applying to study abroad programs that she fully realized the potential for independent study in a foreign country.
“As a freshman, I had a very nebulous concept of what ‘study abroad’ was, and I certainly was not aware that I could pursue original research anywhere, let alone in South America,” says Weintraub.
Weintraub studied abroad in Argentina during the spring of 2012, where she began her research on the motives of news editors representing impoverished ghettos outside Buenos Aires. She attended the School of International Training (SIT), an academically rigorous, immersive program in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“I wanted a more ‘secluded’ study abroad experience. I wanted a program that would force me to be immersed in another language and cultures,” she explains.
During the four months Weintraub spent in Argentina, she traveled for three weeks to villas, impoverished ghettos or slums in communities outside of Buenos Aires, and lived in home stays with rural families. This cultural immersion makes the SIT program different from traditional study abroad programs.
“Living in a homestay with an Argentina family was very important to me because it really forced me to cultivate my language skills. And now I have a ‘family’ in the Southern Hemisphere, so I can pretend to be Argentine whenever I’d like,” says Weintraub.
Weintraub lived in a village home to only 22 families, who enjoyed none of the simple luxuries we often take for granted. These homes suffer from infrastructural problems and limited service provision and have no access to plumming, electricity, or running water.
Experiences like this can be quite jarring, but this is where most of the learning occurs.
“Staying with people and learning about their daily lives opened my eyes. I was truly engrossed in their culture, which made my study abroad experience that much more meaningful,” says Weintraub.
While living in the villas, Weintraub worked with and interviewed youth beneficiaries of a social assistance program intended to promote inclusion among the villero youth.
She watched as the villeros produced a documentary film to give an alternative perspective to the overwhelmingly negative one created by the mass media.
These individuals are often portrayed as vagabonds and delinquents. This stigma prevents them from getting legitimate employment and forces them to participate in the informal economy, or the black market, in turn producing more stigma.
“In actuality, they are a highly communal society and share very rich, familial, personal relationships and yet this positive attribute is disregarded by outside forces,” says Weintraub.
“During my final days, I found these magazines that are essentially independent news articles written by individuals in the villas,” she adds. “They feature famous sports players, artists and people in the entertainment industry that share some personal connection to the villa communities. Their ultimate goal is to raise awareness and refute the stigma that continues to inhibit these people.”
This experience inspired Weintraub to embark on a research project to analyze the validity of mass media in Argentina and the motives of editors of independent news outlets in Buenos Aires.
“I wanted to know who these editors were writing for and why,” she explains. “Are they producing villero stories for the villero community? Are they doing it for the middle class? Why is it so important to them? How have they managed to resist hegemonic interpretations of these communities.”
Though Weintraub is still doing research, her most important arguments center on the fact that this is the first time these people have been able to reclaim their voice.
“It’s amazing that today, villero publication of such a high quality is considered legitimate by a greater section of society,” says Weintraub. “Imagine if America’s poorest subcultures were being heard by mainstream society. We haven’t attained these levels of empowerment by the impoverished in America.”
March 4, 2013