The daughter of immi­grants, human ser­vices stu­dent Scar­lett Trillia was thrilled to com­bine her aca­d­emic interest in worker coop­er­a­tives with a co-​​op in her father’s home­land, Argentina.

During a self-​​directed, inde­pen­dent learning expe­ri­ence from Jan­uary to July 2009, Trillia trav­eled exten­sively in Argentina, even paying a visit to her father’s old family farm, as she sought to under­stand the after-​​effects of the 2001 eco­nomic col­lapse of the country, and the reac­tion of Argentina’s people.

She studied the phe­nom­enon that occurred after banks closed and fac­tory doors were shut­tered that saw workers band together to return to work and con­tinue pro­duc­tion, even though their super­vi­sors were gone.

It wasn’t a normal unem­ploy­ment expe­ri­ence in Buenos Aires,” she says. “Whole fac­to­ries were shut­ting down, and it was not uncommon for a group of 200 female tex­tile workers to sud­denly become unem­ployed together.

With unem­ploy­ment reaching 40 per­cent at one point, people began to orga­nize them­selves. Groups of workers would realize they all knew each other, and how to run the whole fac­tory. They wanted to work.”
With nobody to rehire them, workers rehired them­selves, she says.

An honors stu­dent who received grants from arts and sci­ences and the honors pro­gram to pursue her studies, begin­ning with Mex­ican women’s coop­er­a­tives in 2007, Trillia sought to study sim­ilar women’s groups in Argentina.

Trav­eling the country, she con­tacted a string of dis­tant rel­a­tives of her father’s, and stayed with family friends, as she fer­reted out people to inter­view, and sto­ries to tell. “I talked to someone con­nected with a cement com­pany, and I stayed with two women so I could study how they got edu­cated and how they went about trying to open a small busi­ness” during that tur­bu­lent time, she says.

Even­tu­ally, she focused her studies on large teams of trash-​​pickers, who orga­nized into coop­er­a­tives, and built a recy­cling busi­ness from found mate­rial. “People would go out for six hours in the evening—some had staked claims on dif­ferent parts of the city—and they would gather up recy­clables, like card­board, and sell it to a processor,” she says. “A couple of groups formed a coop­er­a­tive so they could increase their volume of card­board and fetch a better price.”

Her interest in work coop­er­a­tives sprang from her human ser­vices studies, and will pos­sibly lead her to pursue grad­uate school, either in Cal­i­fornia, New Mexico or Van­couver, British Columbia.

Given her family back­ground, Argentina had always been a future des­ti­na­tion for Trillia.

My father has a very close-​​knit family. While I was there, I spent a lot of time speaking Spanish and Eng­lish with them, and enjoying Argen­tine food. It was won­derful,” she adds. “I really wanted to go where my family was from, and North­eastern allowed me to con­nect with my roots, and pursue my studies.”