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Student’s Work Leads to Insights on Immigrants — and a Documentary Film

Giving News

By Lauren Edwards

It is an unlikely story: A young man works in the kitchen of a restaurant, where his experiences inspire him to pursue a PhD — the highest degree academia offers — in pursuit of deeper insights into one of society’s most challenging problems. His dissertation research leads to a documentary film and eventually the creation of a nonprofit organization.

Political science doctoral candidate Roy Germano

For Roy Germano, a political science doctoral candidate in the Department of Government, the many undocumented Mexican workers he met at age 23, working at that restaurant, were the catalyst for what has since become his life’s work: understanding and aiding Mexican immigrants to the United States and the families they leave behind.

Germano, this year’s recipient of the prestigious Michael H. Granof Outstanding Graduate Student Award, says his experiences led directly to his dissertation, “The Political Economy of Remittances.”

He argues that Mexican migrants’ remittances — the money they send back home — have been an important factor in preventing backlash by Mexican citizens to their nation’s market-oriented reforms. To conduct his dissertation research, Germano, with support from a David Bruton, Jr. Endowed Graduate Fellowship and one of the C.B. Smith, Sr. Centennial Chairs in United States–Mexico Relations, traveled to Mexico to survey people in the countryside who have been touched by migration. Once there, he quickly realized there was much more to collect than mere numbers.

“I brought a camera with me to do my statistical work,” Germano says. “But what the people were saying was extremely insightful, and I thought that something needed to be done with the footage.” Returning to the States, he turned the interviews into an hourlong film he called The Other Side of Immigration. It has been screened at film festivals and garnered praise nationwide. “The main questions of the film are Why do people leave? and What happens to those left behind?” he says. “Families are divided for decades, and that’s really sad to me. They don’t return to Mexico because it’s so hard to get to the U.S. the first time. There are people who miss their parents’ funerals.”

Germano adds that a big part of The Other Side of Immigration is an attempt to propose solutions to the issues surrounding this divisive subject. “One thing people talk about is temporary work visas for Mexicans who don’t want to be here permanently,” says Germano. “People don’t do this for the pleasure of working somewhere else. They work seven days a week, 10 hours a day; they’re lonely and they miss home.”

Now 30 and having recently finished his dissertation, Germano is taking his knowledge into the classroom as a teacher at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He plans to start a nonprofit organization that will help rural Mexicans get funding for new technologies.

Excited about the next chapter of his life, Germano credits the University with making much of his success possible. “UT has played a huge role,” he says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this work if not for a supportive department and advisers who supported me. I’m so thankful for my department and UT’s support over the years.”

Want to know more about Roy Germano and his work? Read this Q&A in the College of Liberal Arts’ Life & Letters magazine.

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