Delving Into the Digital Humanities to Help Migrants

August 3, 2022

By Bonnie Eissner

A Colombian immigrant pursues a master’s in digital humanities to aid migrants and her career.

Maria Buitrago - Incoming Student 2022 Digital Humanities
Maria Buitrago, who has a degree in anthropology and literature, will join the M.A. in digital humanities program in late August. (Photo credit: Alex Irklievski)

Maria Buitrago first tasted the hardships of migration when she was 14 and moved from Colombia to New York City with her mom, a nurse, who spoke no English. Buitrago attended high school while her mom struggled to find work.

“The jobs that she could apply for not knowing the language were not paid decently,” Buitrago says. “I was very into my studies,” she adds. “And I was young, so it was fine. But then I saw it on my mom, and it was like, this is very tough.”

Buitrago returned to Colombia for college, majoring in anthropology and literature at Universidad de Los Andes. While there, she grew curious about how data and digital technologies affected people living at the margins of society, namely kids and youth in Colombia’s Indigenous communities. A course in the digital humanities whetted her appetite to learn more about the intersection of data, technology, and people’s lives.

Now back in New York, working as a public programs coordinator at the Museum of the City of New York, Buitrago is about to embark on a master’s degree in digital humanities at the Graduate Center. She hopes to use her newfound knowledge to help fellow migrants and to advance her own career.

For her job, Buitrago plans events, such as movies, book talks, parties, and community projects that complement the museum’s exhibitions. She relies on data and databases and is intrigued by how data impacts organizations and individuals — topics that she plans to explore at the Graduate Center.

Learn More About the M.A. in Digital Humanities

She also sees a digital humanities degree strengthening her résumé. “I feel like the job market is very competitive,” she says. “As a humanities bachelor’s degree person, I wanted to do something that enhances what I already know in a different way.”

Outside of work, Buitrago volunteers for the Undocumented Women's Fund, a fundraising and advocacy initiative started during the COVID-19 pandemic to support migrant women, often mothers, who have suffered massive job and income loss during the pandemic. She envisions that the digital and analytical skills she gains at the Graduate Center will benefit the fund and the women who need it.

While the fund collects data on migrant women who need resources, Buitrago says, “they don't have anyone who can analyze this data.” She’s interested in questions like, “How do we use this data to help us make better decisions about how these funds can be distributed?”

Buitrago first heard about the Graduate Center when she was in high school and contemplated going to CUNY for college. Back in Colombia, she got to know the Graduate Center even better. The digital humanities course she took referenced work by Graduate Center scholars including Professor Matthew K. Gold (English; Digital Humanities; Data Analysis and Visualization; Liberal Studies), executive director of the digital humanities master’s program. “I feel like you guys are pioneers in the field,” she says.

Buitrago, too, is a trailblazer. “Not a lot of Latin American women or migrant Latin women” are in the digital humanities field, she says. That’s one more reason for her mom, who was the first one in the family to go to college, to feel proud that her daughter is pursuing a master's degree. “She is very happy for me,” Buitrago says, “because she knows I've been wanting to do it for a long time.”