Bridge Builder

Just weeks after his graduation from Temple, Alexander Voisine, CLA ’18, found himself in an entirely different space than he’d ever been in before. Embedded with an organization helping migrants in Mexico City under a prestigious Fulbright scholarship, Voisine spent eight months assisting and interviewing people from Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, West African nations and beyond as they fled persecution or desperately sought a better life.

Alexander Voisine
Photo credit: Edward Kemper

Learned in translation

For his Fulbright, Voisine’s official objective was to study and earn his master’s degree at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Mexico is among a group of countries around the globe where migrant and refugee populations are swiftly growing as they fail to reach countries in the global north: Canada, Europe and the U.S. He wanted to know: Was Mexico treating this diverse array of migrants with dignity?

“The short of it was no; it is not the case that Mexico has a better approach than many other places,” Voisine said.

Like most around the world, migrants in Mexico are subject to discrimination. Those with some means and money are able to secure stable housing and otherwise weather the arduous process. But others, particularly LGBTQ+ migrants, do not share that experience.

“Mexican authorities have been the perpetrators of crimes against LGBTQ+ migrants and refugees. Many stories were told to me about police officers who were harassing or incarcerating folks who weren’t doing anything. It was a pretty grim situation,” Voisine said.

But, he learned something else. The people subjected to those experiences are finding a sense of support. But rather than from Mexican authorities, it comes from within themselves and each other.

“There are often important moments of resilience and resistance,” Voisine said. “There is a solidarity between those experiencing the same things. And that kind of charts a path forward.”

Alexander at a Glance

A personal journey

In some ways, Voisine could understand the road his interviewees traveled. Growing up gay in a small New England town, Voisine felt a certain sense of alienation. There was little in his surroundings that celebrated or even recognized his identity.

That changed when he came to Temple. The vibrant urban landscape and diverse student body offered safety and opened his eyes to a wider world. Yet, he still saw gaps: About 15% of Temple’s student body is international, but he saw they had limited opportunities to interact with U.S. citizens.

So, Voisine helped found Freely, an online journal dedicated to the international student experience, as well as Temple Refugee Outreach, a student organization dedicated to supporting refugees living in Philadelphia.

My migration to Temple is what pushed me to think about what migrating and moving means for others,” Voisine said. “We all experience movement.”

The road ahead

After publishing his Mexico City research in a 175-page paper written entirely in Spanish, though English is his native language, Voisine stayed in Mexico for an additional year, consulting for the United Nations Development Program. He aimed to replicate at a government level the success that nonprofit migrant support groups have in protecting the safety of LGBTQ+ migrants—by developing best practices in protecting their data and gaining trust.

For his demonstrated academic excellence, commitment to improving the lives of others and capacity for leadership, Voisine was named a finalist for Stanford’s Knight-Hennessy award and a recipient of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship—Temple’s first.

He ultimately declined the Gates Cambridge award to pursue his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where he’s studying the experience of refugees in Mexico throughout the 20th century.

Particularly interested in the voices of LGBTQ+ writers and filmmakers, he seeks to flip the script. “What can we learn from the critiques they offer of Mexican society?” Voisine’s inquiry prompts us to ask.