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On the Move to Study Migration

Leanne Tory-Murphy has a special tie to Sicily, where she’ll spend an ambitious, well-timed Fulbright year. Her father, who died during her childhood, was from a Sicilian family. So for this young woman who grew up on Long Island, traveling to Sicily always held the promise of a deeper connection with treasured paternal roots.

In 2010, she finally spent three happy months there. “I was welcomed with open arms,” she says. But she was also struck by the tensions between native Italians and the refugees beginning to arrive from conflict-ridden regions of the Mideast and Africa. That piqued her interest in Sicily as a hub of migration: for earlier generations, an impoverished homeland they had to leave, and for today’s refugees, a destination – if only a temporary one – as they flee to Europe and rebuild their lives.

Sometime before that trip to Sicily, Tory-Murphy had traveled by bus to rural Oaxaca, Mexico, where she took Spanish classes, worked with a human rights organization, and met local retirees who’d supported their families by working in the U.S. and sending money home. Later, attending Hunter’s Macaulay Honors College as a Thomas Hunter Honors Scholar majoring in interdisciplinary studies, she was drawn to classes in sociology, migration, poverty, gender and Latin American politics, because, she says, they “helped provide the theoretical framing and vocabulary I needed to understand what I had witnessed.”

Tory-Murphy’s more recent stint at the Worker Justice Center of New York – providing legal and organizing assistance to low-wage employees in farming, industry, restaurants and private homes –further sharpened her focus on what she calls “migration dynamics.”

As she prepares to return to Sicily on the Fulbright grant, she looks forward to working with a sociology professor at the University of Palermo and interviewing scores of the city’s new arrivals. Her plan is to collect photos and recordings for a crowning multi-media presentation to local academics, aid workers, journalists and project participants. She also plans to file regular stories from Palermo to the Huffington Post, where she is already an established contributor.

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