Professor Spotlight: Dr. Leo Chavez, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine

For the third part of our professor series, we contacted professor of anthropology, Dr. Leo Chavez.

1) Who is Dr. Chavez, and how would he describe his academic career in general?

“I am a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine.  I earned my Ph.D. in anthropology from Stanford University.  My research focuses on Latin America and Latin Americans in the United States.

“My research examines various issues related to transnational migration, immigrants and medical care, cultural models of cancer risk factors, and media constructions of the “immigrant” and the “nation.”

“I am the author of Shadowed Lives:  Undocumented Immigrants in American Society (3rd Edition, Wadsworth/Cengage Learning 2013), which provides an ethnographic account of Mexican and Central American undocumented immigrants in San Diego County, California.

“My book Covering Immigration:  Popular Images and the Politics of the Nation (University of California Press 2001) examines the ways immigrants are represented in the media and popular discourse in the United States between 1965 and 2000.

“My recent book, The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation (Stanford University Press, 2008; 2nd edition 2013), examines the role of media spectacles in helping shape how Latinos are constructed as a threat to the nation and for undermining claims of citizenship.

“I recently published “Undocumented Immigrants and Medical Care: Popular Perceptions and Empirical Realities” in Social Science & Medicine 74 (6): 887-893, 2012, and “’Awakening to a Nightmare’: Abjectivity and Illegality in the Lives of Undocumented 1.5 Generation Latino Immigrants in the United States,” with Roberto G. Gonzales in Current Anthropology 53(3):255-281, 2012.

“I received the Margaret Meade Award in 1993, the Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists’ Book Award for The Latino Threat  in 2009, and the Society for the Anthropology of North America’s award for Distinguished Achievement in the Critical Study of North America in 2009.”

2) What first inspired you to pursue a career in academia?

“As with many people, I was inspired by a great professor I had at college, at UC Santa Cruz.  I thought it would be a great life to examine important issues that affected peoples lives. I have been fortunate to be able to use my research on immigration in ways that can provide insight into the struggles and obstacles immigrants encounter as they try to make a better life for themselves and their children.”

3) What are you currently working on?

“I am always working on some aspect of the immigrant experience.  At present, I spend a lot of time examining how immigrants and their children are represented in the media.”

4) What kind of change would you like to see in the culture of academia?

“I think a greater willingness to use research to understand problems in the wider society.”

5) What advice would you offer to aspiring academics?

“Work on issues that are important to you.  Take chances.  And try to think beyond the halls of academia to influence the society you live in.”


Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.