Mia Albano is an undergraduate in Geography conducting research on migrant workers and surrounding policy in the Pacific. She recounts the details of her research, what she finds special about Berkeley Geography, and her experience presenting at Renaissance Weekend.
Why Geography? What does this department do that’s different? What’s memorable?
Can I rant about how much I love the department? Okay first of all, Berkeley is a big school, so it’s easy to get super lost. It’s easy to feel like you don’t have any meaningful relationships with professors in other departments. It’s not like that in Geography. You’re able to make meaningful connections with professors very quickly if you put in the effort, with one of Berkeley’s most tight-knit communities in this department. There are so many whose research is justice-oriented, which is incredibly inspiring and motivating in so many ways. Most people in the department have an overarching goal of helping other people, knowing how things came to be, imagining possibilities, and forming a community.
What are your plans for your remaining time in the department? What about after Geography?
After I graduate, I hope to spend time traveling and sharpening my language skills. I’m hoping to go to the Philippines and see my family and understand the development scene - what does it look like, who are the major actors, what are the major issues? I speak, read, and write Tagalog, and believe that my language skills could be well-utilized there. After that, I hope to do a language school in Mexico or Latin America because I want to hone my Spanish. Concurrently, I want to work in development, and having two languages under my belt would be fantastic. I’d also like to spend time in Africa, again learning key actors, what are people doing to enhance people’s lives, and what are people missing. I hope to take what I learn here at Berkeley and use that to help other people elsewhere. I want to be a lifelong learner, always keeping my mind open to new things.
How is Geography helping you to showcase your unique identity?
My research on migrant labor is tied to something very unique and personally important to me. My dad lived in the Pacific Islands as a migrant laborer for seven years before coming to the US. He was a contracted worker from the Philippines. He was a chef’s apprentice in Saipan, so he learned how to be a professional chef. I want to look at the greater scheme of things. He was just one of millions of Filipino migrant workers. Many went to the healthcare, service, tourism, and construction industries. My dad was lucky to go to the Pacific. 40% of Filipino workers go to the Middle East (Peninsula states). It’s interesting to see how the Filipino state is exporting labor to develop other countries at the detriment and cost of their own economy. How does being an overseas worker affect a person, a family, and the larger global economy? This is personal to me because my father, aunts, and uncles are migrant workers, but is something that I know other people will want to know and understand.
What are you working on? An area of interest? Research?
I’m studying migration policy in the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands, close to Guam. It has a very complicated history. Historically, it’s been colonized by Germany, Japan, and eventually the US, which granted it semi-independence in the 1960s. Everyone born there is a US citizen; technically it’s US soil, leading to loopholes. Chinese citizens didn’t need a visa to go there, so there was a high level of birth tourism. The Republican Party wanted to tamp down on that because these American babies would get privileges and rights and the federal government took over powers of migration and tourism policies. I’m studying how the developments in those policies affected economic development and tourism critical to the islands.
Tell me about Renaissance Weekend.
I met venture capitalists, startup founders, CEOs, academics, and professors from different universities. I met other students who are working on unique research, like a philosopher working on the ethics of AI, a biomedical engineer working on malarial vaccines, and people working at US AID. I met philanthropists and the CEO of Fiji Water, so all walks of life. It’s a conference, but everybody is a participant. With Forbes and the World Economic Forum, you see the speaker and sit and watch. At this conference, even college students can contribute and talk on panels. I talked on a panel about overseas Filipino workers and migrant labor. I also spoke on a panel about Gen Z and Millennial perspectives. I talked about how younger people need to be more involved in events like Renaissance Weekend, and how there needs to be more intergenerational dialogue to prevent a stark, generational divide. Older people should mentor the younger on careers, relationships, interpersonal interactions, and things of that nature. I spoke about how events like Renaissance Weekend could benefit society-at-large if younger people could see the diverse pathways available to them. To be treated as a peer next to CEOs and US AID heads and non-profit leaders was inspiring, motivating, and empowering. In school, you don’t always get that; you’re lectured to. But when you get the opportunity to go to something where people decades older will treat you like an equal, it completely shifts your agency.