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From Student to Professor: Robyn Rodriguez Shares her Story

Written by Robyn Magalit Rodriguez

rodriguez_robyn 2006 ts by n.romanenkoRobyn Magalit Rodriguez, assistant professor of Sociology, championed the vital mission of public research universities, which includes serving and mentoring students who represent a diversity of publics when describing the education and inspiration that led to her first book, Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), at the Libraries Celebration of Recently Published Faculty Authors.  Rodriguez is currently doing research for her second book, on the immigration debate in New Jersey, by working with a student through the Aresty Research Center for Undergraduates. Their work is featured in this Rutgers Research Highlights: Race, Immigration, and Belonging in New Jersey: Aresty Researchers Look at Politics Surrounding Immigration Debate.


The Promise and Possibility of Education in Public Research Universities

I’d like to thank the libraries for organizing this exhibition. Special thanks go to Harry Glazer for giving me a chance to talk briefly about my work. Indeed, I have to thank the libraries for helping me toward the completion of this book; in particular, I wish to thank Triveni Kuchi and Kayo Denda. Not only have they been tremendously supportive in assembling a collection that supports research like mine, they have also reminded me (and this is something that we as faculty may sometimes take for granted) that the library is so vitally important not simply as a source of knowledge, but indeed in the process of knowledge production as it is through the texts that comprise a libraries collection that students craft new lines of scholarly inquiry. Thank you.

As the title of my book, Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World (University of Minnesota Press, 2010) indicates, this is a book about migration from the Philippines. The Philippines is the largest exporter of workers in the world. The global scope and scale of Philippine labor migration is unmatched. Thousands of Filipinos leave the Philippines to work in hundreds of countries around the world. They certainly make their way to the United States, as we well know, but they also find themselves in Israel, Libya, Hong Kong, Bahrain, South Africa, and South Korea. The key question that drives my book is: why and how does the Philippines export labor. To answer this question, I went back and forth to the Philippines over the course of nearly a decade to conduct an ethnography of the Philippine state.

I was asked, however, to address amongst other things what it is that inspired this book, not to provide you with an overview. That’s why I donated a book to the libraries—so you can read it! It is actually quite a difficult question, to identify what it is that inspired this book, one I’m not sure I can answer in 3-5 minutes. How far back does one go? I suppose, I can go back to my childhood in Union City (California not New Jersey). I lived in a predominantly Filipino immigrant community where the pungent smell of chicken adobo wafting from our neighbors’ homes and hearing the sounds of Tagalog was an everyday part of my life. I think, however, that the beginnings of this book can best be traced to my experiences as an undergraduate in the University of California, when the very idea of being a university professor—initially unfathomable in my young, second-generation immigrant mind—occurred to me as a possibility. It was there where I encountered amazing women of color faculty, Asian American and Latina, who I wanted to emulate, and there too, where a white, male sociology professor committed to mentoring students of color like me took me under his wing and helped me to complete the undergraduate thesis that got me into the graduate program at UC Berkeley.

If I mark my experience as an undergraduate as the true inspiration and beginning of my book, it is because it serves as a testament to the promise and possibility of education in public research universities. In this present moment, when public institutions of all sorts, but particularly public education, are being questioned and undermined, I think this is a crucially important point to be made. I am a product and beneficiary of public education, and this book was possible because of the public research university system.

Public research universities like Rutgers have a vital mission, which includes serving and mentoring students who represent a diversity of publics who can in turn, serve as the next generation of knowledge producers. Diversities of all kinds: sexualized, gendered, racialized, classed, and diversity of ability, are important to cultivate because it is how we move through this world, and the unique experiences we have as a result, that is important in shaping the sorts of questions we ask and the kinds of scholarship we can produce. 

It is a wonderful honor for me, therefore, to be able to celebrate this book, my book, with you today, here at Rutgers, in the libraries. It is my hope that the genealogy of this book serves as an inspiration for the students who peruse this library’s catalogs as well as a reminder of the legacies of scholarship we, as faculty, have the good fortune of being able to produce not simply as researchers, but as teachers and mentors in a university like this one. Thank you.



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