Engaged Learning: Maya Chang Matunis ’20 on helping farmworkers

On June 16, undergraduate student Maya Chang Makutis ’20, Development Sociology major, was one of eight interns with the Cornell Farmworker Program who assisted in the provision of a number of services for farmworkers in Lansing, New York. We talked about her experience and some of her takeaways. You can read more about the project on the Cornell Chronicle.

By Maya Chang Makutis

As a Development Sociology student, you learn a lot about the lived realities of others on paper. You can feel so small when you are in a classroom reading about a phenomenon – the terrible things that can happen through deportation proceedings as an example. Getting to work with Mary Jo is a very different experience – you are witnessing current events that are playing out in front of you and are deeply affecting the people you’re standing next to. I found that there are a lot of things you can do in helping people just figure out the little details that can make their lives a bit easier – and you don’t feel so small anymore.

Before this, I haven’t had any experiences where I was able to personally engage with people in such a vulnerable and turbulent situation. In the moment, you forget about the narrative of vulnerability that can get painted by the media; of immigrants being villains or law breakers. In person, these are people that could be your father, your brother – just people that are in different situations, dealing with problems in their lives in a similar way that I would, or someone I love would.

I also realized how we take for granted the freedom of movement – how to go into a space and feel welcome. I’ve never had to worry about what happens when my passport expires – as a default of being an extraordinarily privileged American citizen, things are organized in such a way that you don’t have to worry from moment to moment about your legal standing. It is important to recognize that others do have that anxiety, and that it’s important to help people feel more welcomed – they’re just looking for the same opportunities that all the rest of us are looking for.

At the Cornell Farmworker Program event, It felt empowering even to do just the photocopying or translation – just the little things can be important even if we can’t individually solve the crisis of immigration- because in practice, those little things can determine a family being separated or staying together. I have a renewed sense of motivation for those little things. There’s a lot of ways to do something about the issues we care about.

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