Feathered roots and migratory routes: Latin American immigrants and birds
Pizarro Pinochet, Jose Cristobal
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In our current age, which some call the Anthropocene, humans experience the combined effects of accelerated human mobility and ecological changes. These changes may affect people’s well-being, including their emotional and psychological connections to place and biodiversity. Birds are outstanding among organisms for the degree to which they emotionally evoke associations with places, and for immigrants birds can represent proxies of connection to several places. In this work, immigrants’ sense-of-place is considered to have attachments to birds in both roots-and-routes, where “roots” symbolize places of origin and “routes” represent new places where immigrants settle. By conceptualizing place and nature together, therefore, this work adds complex social dimensions, such as place attachment and identity, to the study of human-biodiversity relationships in the Anthropocene. The overall purpose of this work is to understand the intersection between human mobility, place and biodiversity in the Anthropocene, and how birds can help people adapt to change. To examine the role birds play in sense-of-place, I interviewed 26 recent immigrants with their roots in eight countries in Latin America and their routes in Canada and the United States of America. Using ethnographic interviews and different analytical tools (e.g., mindmaps and culturegram-timelines), I collated information about bird species that were significant to the participants, along with their meanings, including social and ecological factors that participants associated with these relationships. To deepen my understanding of social factors, I investigated the dynamic trajectory of participants’ relationships with birds through their life-stages, considering immigration as an integrated stage alongside childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Finally, to communicate my positionality in this work, I conducted an autoethnography to document memories where birds evoked events, places and identities, and how these memories comprise units of a researchable personal biocultural memory. Within personal people-biodiversity-place connections, biocultural memory is proposed to bridge the gap between self, culture and nature. A bird constellation of some 150 species in Latin America and 70 species in Canada and the U.S.A. represented for participants a roadmap between roots-and-routes, together with another 19 “accompanying” or shared birds. Additionally, several “key” birds were critical in helping participants adapt to their new place. These key and accompanying species, indeed, signified points of reference in the process of “recalibration” of participants’ sense-of-place. This recalibration process was based upon a degree of bird familiarity ranging from the recognition of birds participants knew from their roots to the admiration of completely “new” species in their routes. Key species represented either taxonomic equivalents (birds similar in appearance) or ecological equivalents (birds with similar habitat or behaviour). Within this range of familiarity, people relocate the geographical place experience of where they are. By recognizing species, whether familiar or unfamiliar, people recalibrate their geographical experiences. When participants recognized species that were particularly meaningful to their cultural background or professional achievements, they gained self-realization and continuity of their identity. Importantly for the achievement of place- and identity-recalibration, the communication and sharing of stories and experiences was paramount. Specifically, this “socialization” with birds was reported as the most important factor fostering adaptation in the new place. Although it took varied forms, socialization was the main engine generating meaningful relationships with birds through all participants’ life-stages. During childhood, for example, socialization was achieved via childhood play in nature, whereas in early adulthood it was achieved through social networks with peers and friends. These people-bird-place interactions create living memories that drive a dynamic biocultural memory and identity. This study of immigrant-bird relationships provides several important insights for thinking about and engaging with novelty in the Anthropocene. These insights reveal the necessity to reconceptualize ecosystems together with societies as novel socio-ecosystems and to rethink humans’ place within them. Analyzing this scenario, I direct responsibility to scientists communicating and applying research to confront ecological and social sustainability challenges. Confronting these challenges demands the creation of effective politics of conviviality between humans and nonhumans from different places. More specifically, considering the capacity of people to connect with birds, I provide recommendations to increase newcomers’ participation in bird-related activities and to help foster integration of immigrants and nature in our increasingly multicultural societies.