Associate Professor of Anthropology
I am a sociocultural and critical medical anthropologist with specializations in transnational and gendered migration, migrant health, food and food systems, and biopolitics. My research consists of fieldwork in the western United States with Latin@, Mexican, and Central American communities and in Italy with a particular focus on migration in the Mediterranean.
I situate my research within several subfields of anthropology and the critical social sciences. My projects are framed by a shared set of general, theoretical and ethnographic questions: For what particular reasons do people migrate across borders? What variables and circumstances shape migrants’ experiences of resettlement? In what ways do differences in race, class, gender, immigration status as well as conceptions of “deservingness” held by health providers and other key social service providers affect migrant health status, access to, and utilization of social services? What are the broader effects of restrictive immigration policies (i.e., surveillance of immigrant communities, immigrant detention, deportation) for im/migrant psychosocial health and health behaviors, as well as social relations within households, communities, and the wider political-economic context? In what ways does the state attempt to prevent, manage, or control particular health problems among migrants and other structurally vulnerable populations? In answering these or similar questions, I draw from feminist epistemologies for designing reflexive and participatory research methodologies.
My first book The Unending Hunger: Tracing Women and Food Insecurity Across Borders (University of California, 2015) is based on ethnographic research that I conducted from 2009 to 2011 on the lived experiences of migration and food insecurity among Mexican and Central American women in the United States. I situated my fieldwork in Santa Barbara County, California, a region with a deep history of seasonal labor migration and some of the highest rates of food insecurity and poverty in the nation. Examining how constraints on eating and feeding translate to the uneven distribution of life chances across borders, how neoliberal economic policies translate to hunger and displacement, and how “food security” continues to dominate national policy in the United States, I argued for understanding women’s relations to these processes as inherently biopolitical. I approached these issues from the lens of gender – in addition to race, class, and citizenship – arguing that “food security” as a biopolitical project rests primarily on the shoulders of low-income women whose caring labor in the realm of social reproduction is generally devalued by society. I concluded that women find scarce opportunities to escape these biopolitical modes, as they also struggle to reconcile with the pervasive conditions of food insecurity. Methods of data collection included key informant interviews, life history interviews, focus groups, dietary surveys, and participant observation. Several granting agencies supported this research, including the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States, the Chicano Studies Institute, and the Institute for Labor and Employment. The book received the 2015 CHOICE award for Outstanding Academic Title.
My second book (in progress), Island of Hope: Migration and Solidarity in the Mediterranean is an ethnography of local responses to the "migration crisis" in Sicily and solidarity initiatives and networks formed through alliances of citizens and noncitizens. I am coordinating with Palermo-based organizations and scholars to develop an ethnographic field school for undergraduate students that will center on participation and engagement with local solidarity initiatives in Sicily.
I am also currently investigating the effects of heightened fears and anxieties about U.S. immigration enforcement for mental health and care-seeking behaviors in migrant communities. I examine the lived experience of heightened mental distress and malnutrition among migrant women in particular, as well as the social life of mental health practice along the immigration spectrum, including at community clinics, social service agencies, hospitals, and detention centers. Since early 2013 I have been conducting semi-structured interviews with immigrant women through community-based mental health organizations in Seattle, WA. I have also been doing participant observation with social services and immigrant rights activists, and informal interviews with attorneys, clinicians, and other service providers working in the field of migrant mental and behavioral health.