SEDGWICK, Maine — Former Bangor Daily News columnist Levi Bridges of Sedgwick received a Fulbright grant to Mexico in creative writing, the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board announced recently. Bridges, who in in 2009 chronicled his eight-month cycling adventure across Siberia and Europe in the BDN’s Outdoors pages, is one of more than 1,700 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2012-2013 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
With the support of the Fulbright grant, Bridges will spend nine months researching and writing about Mexican nationals who have worked in the United States on a temporary basis then returned home. His goal is to interview and forge relationships with at least 10 migrant workers who have traveled to work in the United States legally on H-2A and H-2B temporary work visas.
It is a topic that has interested Bridges since he was a student Alfred University, in Alfred, N.Y. During his senior year of college, Bridges studied abroad for a semester at a small university just north of Mexico City.
“I was blown away by just how many people I met who had worked in the United States, both legally and illegally,” said Bridges. “I didn’t have to search these people out; normally they just recognized me as a foreigner and wanted to talk about their time in America.”
Bridges marveled at the degree of cultural integration that occurs between the U.S. and Mexico, even if it is not always recognized. “In America, we often aren’t taught in school that most of the American West belonged to Mexico until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. Mexicans still talk about this fact. As well, many Mexicans have lived or worked in the U.S. and they know the geography and culture of America well.”
By interviewing and forging relationships with Mexican workers, Bridges hopes to draw attention to this relationship.
“I hope to document their transition back to life in Mexico after working in the U.S.,” Bridges said, “as well as understand how they make sense of their experience as active and important participants in the global economy. Through my writing, I want to explore their motivations for seeking legal means of working abroad, as well as their opinions about how the current U.S. guest worker program could be improved.”
After graduating from college in 2007, Bridges spent a winter hitchhiking around the U.S.-Mexico border and writing about immigration issues for alternative news organizations.
In addition to his research and work, Bridges will write a weekly story about his Fulbright project at www.bridgesandborders.com.
Since writing for the BDN, Bridges has worked as a social worker in Portland, and as an English teacher in the Southeast Asian island nation of Indonesia.
He has also written a book about his 9,500 mile bicycle trip across Eurasia.
“The book still hasn’t found its way to a publisher,” said Bridges. “But I’m still optimistic.”
“I think that writing it was even harder than riding a bicycle across Siberia,” he said “And I couldn’t have done it without the discipline that writing for the BDN taught me, or the early encouragement from editors Mark Woodward, Mike Dowd and Joe McLaughlin.”
Read more at www.bridgesandborders.com. Levi Bridges can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.