I am currently working as a postdoctoral fellow in Latin American and Latino Studies at Lehigh University. I received my Ph.D. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University in New Orleans. My research is ethnographic and community-engaged, but I also dabble in the archives. Much of my time is spent writing, thinking, and reading about the role of food, immigration, and labor within the context of the Gulf South. I have conducted two summers of field work in Honduras, which has allowed me to see firsthand the violence, corruption, and poverty as well as the rich culture, natural beauty, and wonderful people of that region. Some of the questions I consider in my research and teaching include: How do policies--beyond just immigration legislation--impact the integration of immigrant communities? What's the relationship between neoliberalism and immigration? How have the transnational links between the Gulf South and Central America shifted since the early twentieth century?
As a postdoctoral fellow, I am working on a book manuscript which builds on my dissertation entitled, Tacos, Gumbo, and Work: The Politics of Food and the Valorization of Labor. In my work, I analyze the transnational stories of undocumented restaurant owners and food industry workers in New Orleans to understand the ways these individuals navigate bureaucratic systems and exclusionary policies to forge their own political, cultural, and economic spaces. Situating the experiences of food vendors within the larger political economy of immigration legislation and food policy, I argue that the regulation of Latinx food vendors and service workers maps onto the criminalization of immigrant communities through an emphasis on licensing and documentation.
Born, raised, and college-educated in Kentucky, I left in 2005 to put my Spanish language major to practice in Paraguay. Little did I know that they mostly speak the Guarani language in the northeastern region where I was placed as a Peace Corps volunteer. As an urban youth development volunteer, I worked with a youth group to implement the national 1X100 Program to educate youth on HIV/STI prevention. As a coordinator, I traveled across Paraguay--from the Chaco to the Brazilian border--to develop placement sites for new volunteers. My almost four years in Paraguay piqued my initial interests in migration, considering the high rates of Paraguayans that emigrate to Argentina and Spain as well as the families (like my host family) that rely on remittances.
Upon my return to the United States, I took a job in Kentucky with a small non-profit where I worked with H-2A guestworkers, day laborers, and Latinx families. We partnered with the Kentucky Folk Life office to put on Latinx Food Festivals and I often frequented local taquerias to spread word about upcoming events. These actions led me to think about the role of foodways for immigrant communities. After almost two years with the non-profit, I moved to New Orleans to begin a master's program in the Department of Urban Planning and Urban Studies at the University of New Orleans, with the intention that I would go back to Kentucky and take on a bigger role working with Latinx communities in my home state. That was not the case.
My ethnographic research on Latinx food and identity in New Orleans consumed me and I wanted to continue pursuing some unanswered questions. I also worked as a volunteer with a group called the Congress of Day Laborers, a member-led community organization that fights for labor, immigration, and civil rights. That work with the Congreso helped reframe my research and worldview, from an uncomplicated field of inquiry in my master’s thesis that questioned the role of fusioned foods on Latino identity politics to using cultural production theory to understand the broader political economy as it relates to immigration, labor, food, and transnationalism.
As a PhD candidate, I spent two summers in Honduras conducting fieldwork for my dissertation, staying with families of New Orleans food vendors to get a better grasp on country conditions—violence, corruption, extreme poverty—that forced people to leave. New Orleans’ large Honduran population stems back to the banana trade, particularly United Fruit and Standard Fruit during the early twentieth century. Pairing the ethnographic field work in Honduras with my research in New Orleans provided me with a more holistic analysis of these transnational processes and the longstanding ties between New Orleans and Central America. Seven Mardi Gras later, I completed my dissertation in February 2017, earning a PhD through the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University.