Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

Hector Gutierrez (2011)

Oral Histories of Permanent Workers in the Temporary Economy

Day labor is a nationwide phenomenon. Each morning, at hundreds of open-air hiring sites in cities throughout the United States, workers and employers meet to arrange employment for the day. These sites are labor markets where workers (often undocumented) gather, eagerly awaiting for prospective employers to hire them to complete short-term clean-up, gardening, painting, demolition and other manual labor projects. For his Stronach Baccalaureate Prize project, Hector will create an oral history anthology and photography exhibit that seeks to illuminate the lived experiences of day laborers in California. The project will examine the ways day laborers navigate the different geopolitical, social, and economic barriers that deny them the opportunities to achieve upward social mobility. The project will draw on Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ concept of “engaged and enraged ethnographies” as a means to document the exploitation and denigration faced by day laborers living and working in California. In addition, the project will create a virtual space where day laborers can record memories and preserve their stories, registering their testimonios of existence. Hector hopes that through his project, the silenced and marginalized body of the immigrant day laborer will made more visible and their stories serve as tools to inform, politicize, and deconstruct antagonistic notions often associated with this population. As Hector states, “Given that over the past several decades the U.S. has been marked by an increase in the enforcement, arrest, and incarceration of immigration related offenses, it is now more important than ever to offer a counter narrative of the day laborer experience.”

Letters Home


Hector grew up in Bakersfield in the Central Valley of California, the state’s agricultural heartland. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, he majored in Ethnic Studies and took many courses in City and Regional Planning. As a McNair and Haas Scholar, Hector spent over two years working with day laborers in the East Bay as a way to study the relationships and contradictions that emerge at the local political level as municipalities both exclude and integrate day laborers into city imaginaries. His honors thesis focused on the coping strategies that emerge around the surveillance and domination of immigrant bodies in urban spaces, exploring in addition the altered residential practices and patterns that resulted from the 2008 subprime mortgage crash. He explores how day laborers and other immigrants continue to negotiate their existence in the face of negative experiences, such as inter-ethnic antagonism, returned migration, and the increased criminalization of immigrant communities. Hector’s passion lies in helping communities pursue social, political, and economic access, and to ultimately inform policy through advocacy.

Profile image of Hector Gutierrez (2011)
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