Research Interests

What drives my different research projects is the question of how people became culturally integrated into nations, and how such integration has had an impact on their lives and their interactions with the people and environments around them. I am currently completing a book titled "Crafters of Nationhood: How Intellectuals, Artisans and the State created an Ethnicized Mexican National Identity." During the late-nineteenth century, Mexico was a culturally fragmented country united only by a politically and economically powerful dictatorship tied to international capital. The elite claimed a White, European-based national identity, and overtly excluded the indigenous and racially and culturally mixed (or mestizo) majority from inclusion within the Mexican cultural nation. This is in strong contrast to how we think about Mexico today, as an indigenous and mestizo nation with a powerful sense of national identity. In my research, I ask how this transition from a European-based to an "ethnicized" national identity came about, and how the masses became central to, rather than excluded from, Mexican nationality. I trace this change by focusing on the sudden esteem enjoyed by popular arts after the Revolution of 1910-1920, asking what this change indicates about broader transitions within society, and about how the creation of a nationalist visual aesthetic rooted in popular production changed both the elite, and rural groups, above all, the artisans of Olinalá, Guerrero.

Through smaller projects, I have explored other aspects of Mexican cultural national integration. My 2004 article "Forging a Mexican National Identity in Chicago: Mexican Migrants and Hull-House: 1920-1937," for instance, considers how a nationalist aesthetic was promoted beyond Mexico's political borders among the Mexican migrant community of Chicago. It argues that aesthetics (such as popular art, folk dances, music, and visual styles) played a crucial role in the consolidation of Chicago's migrants into a Mexican-American community, and that these migrants came to identify with a nationalist vision emanating out of Mexico City, rather than one born out of their own experiences as migrants. This past summer, I explored yet another aspect of the issue of nation formation in Mexico. At a conference at Yale, I presented my research on the changing ways cartographic representations have presented the nation as culturally and physically integrated. I argue that far from representing grounded, or even physically observable realities, these maps acted as blueprints for nationalists' aspirations. As elites' aspirations changed, and as the definition of the cultural national transformed after the Revolution, so too did the mode of representing this cartographically and the ideals that these representations embodied.

Most recently, I have begun work on two new book projects. The first traces the changing ways Mexicans have constructed their understanding of nature within their political space. It considers the ways cultural and political identities have been affected (and have helped change) the ways Mexicans' have perceived, interacted with, and acted upon their natural environment. The other book project traces the activities and ideas of Anita Brenner and Gerardo Murillo to consider how the Jewish diaspora and fascism, two historical forces generally ignored by the existing scholarship on modern Mexico, shaped the nation's postrevolutionary culture. Whether I am researching Mexican Americans in Chicago, Mexican environmental history, or post-revolutionary Mexican cultural integration, my research always brings together my interests in the lives of individuals, relationships of power, visual production, and cultural theory.