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  • On the Move: Mapping Migration

    <em>On the Move</em> volunteers help visitors map out three points on a map: birth place, home, and current residence. Photo by J.B. Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
    On the Move volunteers help visitors map out three points on a map: birth place, home, and current residence. Photo by J.B. Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

    Where do you call home? How many times have you moved? What languages do you use in your household? What languages do you use outside of home?

    At the 2016 Folklife Festival’s On the Move: Migration and Immigration Today tent, volunteers asked visitors these questions and more. It was part of our “Mapping on the Move” activity, combining a digital survey and a physical map exercise. Visitors were able to map their places of birth, residence, and “home” with pushpins and lengths of yarn, while answering the survey questions.

    Naming places of birth and residence was fairly straightforward. “Where is home?” however, begged the question, “What defines home?” Many of us think of home not only as a geographic place but hubs of personal memories and relationships.

    Over the ten days of the Festival, we collected 785 responses, generating a data set and ethnographic snapshot of how visitors experience elements of human mobility through the proxy of their daily lives.

    Our results suggest that home is as much an idea as a place. It can be tied to where you were born, where you live, or another place entirely. But sometimes it’s determined by an activity or a relationship with a parent, child, or spouse.
    Our results suggest that home is as much an idea as a place. It can be tied to where you were born, where you live, or another place entirely. Sometimes it’s determined by an activity or a relationship with a parent, child, or spouse.
    Folklife Festival visitors have averaged five moves in their lives. But this statistic raises even more questions: what was the purpose for moving? How did the move affect friends and family? Do people move more today than they did thirty years ago?
    Folklife Festival visitors have averaged five moves in their lives. But this statistic raises even more questions: what was the purpose for moving? How did the move affect friends and family? Do people move more today than they did thirty years ago?

    Today, complex economic, political, and climatic forces push and pull communities, compelling many to move away from the only home they have ever known. Whether to find a path out of a volatile agricultural industry, seek refuge from a natural disaster, or flee the violence of civil war and terrorism, those forced to move often face dire circumstances in a context of few options.

    But human mobility includes a wide array of experience that we may not always recognize as immigration. We go away to college, pursue new jobs in a different city, or seek more affordable costs of living. Much of our contemporary experience consists of constant motion, and we do not necessarily have to cross an international border to participate in migration.

    All 785 survey participants visualized as individual lines connecting their places of birth, home, and residence to Washington, D.C. Participants have traveled over 2,123,910 miles totaled between their places of birth, home, and residence, averaging 2,705 miles each.
    All 785 survey participants visualized as individual lines connecting their places of birth, home, and residence to Washington, D.C. Participants have traveled over 2,123,910 miles totaled between their places of birth, home, and residence, averaging 2,705 miles each.

    The 785 visitors who participated in the activity collectively traveled over 376,554 miles from their places of residence to attend the Folklife Festival. Together they averaged 480 miles each, although the majority live within 50 miles of Washington, D.C. Extending this average onto the total estimated attendance of nearly 500,000 visitors, the Festival drew people over 240 million miles, a combined length that would wrap around the earth 9,639 times. That massive distance captures a fundamental characteristic of the Folklife Festival: bringing people together from across the planet, who otherwise may have never met, to share their life experiences.

    This collaborative mapping activity offered a personalized lens to examine migration and immigration while projecting the cultural democracy of the Folklife Festival into a digital space. Most of us are familiar with mapping and data visualizations, but today data is often proprietary. Most maps are generated by experts, and the value attributed to statistics tends to eclipse qualitative, ethnographic perspectives.

    We collected both data and conversation, generating knowledge collaboratively through community mapping. It stresses the importance of making data collected from visitors open data, freely available and publicly accessible. It demonstrates that numbers and experiences go hand in hand, and that digital data can also be ethnographic, human data. In a globalized era characterized by both intense interconnectedness and anxiety, “Mapping on the Move” and the Folklife Festival provide a forum to promote community, openness, and shared humanity.

    Greyson Harris was the Basque program community engagement coordinator for the 2016 Folklife Festival. He also developed and managed the database, workflow, and graphs for the “Mapping on the Move” activity.

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