No dust on this thesis

CSB graduate examines Mexican immigrants in Green Bay

By Mike Killeen

Kathryn Ebben didn't want her honors thesis to end up on some dusty shelf in a library.

"I wanted to do something that would have an impact on the wider community," said Kathryn, a recent graduate of the College of Saint Benedict, St. Joseph. "I didn't want my thesis to consist of nothing more than an essay that would end up in the archives."

It turns out there's no need for a dust mop. Kathryn's printed book of her honors thesis on Mexican immigration in the Green Bay, Wis., area, Through Their Eyes, is in the process of being distributed to non-profit organizations in Green Bay for discussion.

"Kathryn's very readable and well-researched book helps us to better understand the lives of Mexican immigrants and is a shining example of the combination of scholarship and civic engagement," said Ron Pagnucco, associate professor of peace studies and chair of the department at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. Ron served as Kathryn's advisor on the project.

It started with an internship

To understand how this all came about, flash back a year. Kathryn needed to complete an internship for her peace studies major. She had just gotten back from a study abroad trip in Spain, and wanted to keep up with her Spanish.

Kathryn came upon St. Willebrord Parish in Green Bay, about a half-hour north of her hometown of Kaukauna, Wis., which "plays a large role in helping the Hispanic immigrant population," she said. The parish created an internship for her in 2009, and she helped with Vacation Bible School, doing outreach work, translating for pro-bono legal work and other duties.

"I really had a minimal understanding of immigration and the problems with it before my internship, but that experience provided me with a first-hand immersion into many of the things that this issue entails," Kathryn said. "I saw a lot of the happiness as well as the sadness, frustration and disappointment that these immigrants experienced."

When she returned to CSB in the fall, she was looking for an idea for her honors thesis. She couldn't think of anything specifically, but was looking for a paper that would have an "impact in the wider community."

And then, during one sleepless night...

During one sleepless night, however, an idea popped into her head that became the basis for Through Their Eyes.

"I knew that this project would work well because, as a book, it could help people understand the experiences immigrants have," Kathryn said. "I wanted people to come to know immigrants as people, as human beings, rather than just the 'other' - this was my motivation for doing the book."

One of the highlights of the book - which is printed in both English and Spanish - are interviews with six Hispanic immigrants in Green Bay (there are currently over 8,800 people of Mexican descent in Green Bay).

"Each story has something different to offer, and I was continually amazed at the diversity and yet similarities of each person's story," Kathryn said. "I was surprised to hear that every single person interviewed said they had come to the United States because they wanted a better life for their families."

Grant helps project become reality

In December 2009, she received a $350 Undergraduate Research Grant from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University to print 100 copies of the 120-page book at Rupp Printers, St. Cloud, Minn. The book will be distributed to the groups in Green Bay this summer.

"I am interested in having the discussion groups because I want to hear people's reactions to the book and I'm interested in how people will process the material," Kathryn said. "I've seen a lot of interest so far from the people who have seen it. Some people say it's something that's needed, and others are interested in the topic and would like to read more about it.

"I hope people learn a little bit about these immigrants. I hope they get to know their stories. I want them to see these people as human beings, to put a face to someone behind the immigration debate or to get to know their neighbor next door. I just want them to take the time to listen to someone whose life is a little different than their own," Kathryn said.

June 16, 2010