Last Work Journal

My last full week of digging in deep for the WDP was quite the hectic one, both regarding the research project and my other commitments as well. Thus, my notes are a bit scattered, but quite valuable. The big highlights rounding out my research were a meeting last Wednesday with Helen, a recurring J-1 participant and now a permanent resident of Williamsburg, a conversation with Bob Hershberger of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, two visits to Work and Travel affiliated housing centers, Busch’s International Housing Village and the Pineapple Inn, and various textual sources to flesh out my report, such as numerous city council meeting minutes and copies of presentations given to local businesses by various institutions of power in Williamsburg, like the Williamsburg Police Department.

To start with the least exciting information, I was able just to do some busy work recopying articles from the controversial period of January to February 2007 when housing debates raged around the J-1 students. I was able to buttress these with actual notes from the city council when they were resolving this issue. My meeting with Bob Hershberger was invaluable in this light as well. Although I was a bit disappointed as I thought this meeting would turn into an oral history interview when it really became quite journalistic, I am almost happy it worked out this way. As the public face of business in Williamsburg to sponsors, it was almost nice to get treated as such by Mr. Hershberger. He gave me just the facts, and the official rhetoric, which will be nice to deconstruct. He also gave me some valuable primary sources in the form of copies of presentations that had been offered to local business leaders at various conferences. These are fascinating: they are the perfect document in order to establish the conception of J-1 students in economic terms and what official narrative is being presented by them. Taking these constructions and throwing them in opposition to the performance offered by Helen really inspired me later in the week.

By far and away the highlight not just of my week but of the entire Documentary process for me was my interview with Helen. The biggest mistake that I made regarding meeting with her was that I could not convince her to go on-tape, unfortunately, but the conversation was so essential and moving otherwise that it almost didn’t even matter. Not only was Helen incredibly articulate and astute in her analysis of the power dynamics and exploitation that have been undergirding my entire foray into this world, but she offered some intensely emotional and human narratives that for the first time pushed me from conceiving as myself as researcher to envisioning myself as an active participant in the structure she was describing. I think Helen’s story helped me make a cognitive leap. I have been involved in labor organizing both in my college career and even worked for a union, but never saw J-1 as an organizing issue—rather, it was something to be researched. Helen’s proposal that the city actually join forces with employers to present some basic information to J-1 residents arriving in the city through some form of bilingual information office made me realize the actual broad and sweeping scope of the J-1 program, and the incredible impact it will have on Williamsburg within the next ten years. Her suggestions would help to organize J-1 students, which would be nearly impossible otherwise, and really analyze the implications of low-skilled foreign workers in the tourist industry. It really is this insane form of reverse outsourcing. I mean, she basically gave me my thesis and I could never thank her enough. Fortunately she also agreed to a written interview, similar to the one I got from Kat earlier this week, so I will be able to put her words on the record, even though they will be in an altered frame.

As for the rest of the research in the final stretch, the visits to the Pineapple Inn and the IHV earlier Thursday were revealing in both the structure of the buildings, their geographical locations as margins and borders of consumption in Williamsburg, and the amazing rhetoric and diction used by their advertisements. One really huge issue was the idea of “safety” and mobility, which I feel will help develop the conception of J-1 students as laborers in Williamsburg in my final analysis. They are also just really neat buildings.

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All in all, it was a productive and transformative week. I feel like I let myself down a bit, as I have been trying to go to IHOP for about two weeks now and just never get the motivation or the opportunity to go, and I feel like that ship might have sailed given my present timeline. I was also a bit upset with my difficulties contacting Jorge from Moonlight Entertainment. I know I will be able to meet with him eventually; I just have the feeling as he is so busy with getting this welcoming party off the ground for J-1 students that it will be after the deadline. I think my best resolution and compromise is to ask if I can glean quotes off his website to establish the alternate “welcome” offered to J-1 students through the construction of a specific nightlife.

Well, on to transcription!

1 Response to “Last Work Journal”

  1. 1 iaknig April 26, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Sounds like it was a really productive week, Bobby, and like your final report will provide great info on this important topic. I’m looking forward to it.

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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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