I am a historian of Latinos living in the 20th century United States, labor and immigration, the American working class, the U.S. West, and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.
My first book Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement (Yale, 2016) examined the working and social relationships between Mexican Americans and Mexican migrants (bracero, undocumented, and other type of guest worker) in the agricultural empire of California’s Salinas Valley, and told the story of how a diverse farmworker community fought for its labor rights against powerful agribusiness interests. While the farmworker movement is often tied in American’s memory to the union work of Cesar Chavez, I demonstrate that long before the seminal strikes led by the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the 1960s and 1970s, farmworkers were writing to newspapers, wearing zoot suits, forming civil rights organizations, exercising their vote, and filing landmark lawsuits against their employers. Grounds for Dreaming illuminates how the politicization of Latinos in rural or agriculture-centered communities looked vastly different from that of Latinos living in cities, and delves as deeply into intra-ethnic conflict as interethnic conflict when examining the obstacles and hindrances to Latino political mobilization and other moments of community-building. Grounds for Dreaming was named Best First Book by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS) and Best History Book by the International Latino Book Awards.
My new book project is a natural outgrowth of my previous research interests but makes a major geographical move from the U.S. West to Northeast, and possesses a more ambitious scope in its analysis of Latino food workers including and beyond farmworkers. Despite the nationwide popularity of Latin American/Latino food, Latino food workers of all kinds—from farmworkers to restaurant workers to street vendors—continue to experience high levels of discrimination, criminalization, invisibility, and xenophobic violence in the United States. This treatment is only compounded by many of these workers’ vulnerabilities as racial minorities, immigrants (sometimes undocumented), and “back of the house” workers or laborers in the informal economy. Additionally, I would argue, the devaluation of the Latino laborer in the food industry is tightly bound up with American consumers’ devaluation of Latin American/Latino cuisine on the whole as a cuisine that should be “cheap”, fast, and easily obtainable. The United States has come to appreciate and demand Latino food and foodways, but has a much more fraught relationship with Latinos’ visible presence and labor in the world of food. This new book project will examine the history of Latino workers (particularly of Mexican origin, but not exclusively) in different segments of the U.S. Northeast’s food industry, and this population’s sociocultural impact upon the region’s foodscapes from 1940 to the present day.
I care deeply about engaging with the public. I have given talks at middle schools, museums, and community colleges; written pieces for online publications such as The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Journal of Feminist Scholarship, ColorLines/RaceForward, PopMatters, and The Detroit Free Press; have appeared on C-SPAN; and am one of the podcast hosts for the New Books in Latino Studies channel on the New Books Network.