Associate Professor, American Studies
College at Old Westbury (SUNY)
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
My first book, Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000, explored the history of Dominican and Puerto Rican experiences with urban crisis in Lawrence, MA, and Latinx activism to transform the city. When it was published last year, I thought that would mark the end of the project. Instead, it has brought me the opportunity to travel widely to discuss my research, and these conversations continually push my ideas to evolve. So, although I am no longer in the archives in Lawrence, I remain engaged in this research.
My new project, however, is quite different. I am researching the incarceration, interdiction, repatriation, and deportation of Haitian migrants from the 1970s to 1990s. I argue that this militarized migrant exclusion was central to the formation of the U.S. as a nativist state. While this project does not have a distinctly urban focus, there are surprising methodological overlaps. Being an urban historian has made me particularly attentive to the fact that dramatic inequality can be created and maintained by restricting human mobility across space, and that force, law, and discourse have long been used in concert to contain marginalized populations. My work applies these urban history insights to the study of national borders and American empire.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
The College at Old Westbury (SUNY) is a small, public, liberal arts college with a longstanding social-justice mission and a student body that is diverse by nearly every metric. My scholarship weaves together several different fields, and I am fortunate that I get to teach in all of them: immigration history, urban history, Latinx history, and the history of U.S. imperialism. My students often have strong opinions and immense curiosity about the past. Their outrage over injustice and their enthusiasm for social movements keep these histories vivid and new for me, so being in the classroom consistently reignites my drive to excavate the past. My students never let me lose sight of the “so what?” in my scholarship; we feed in each other a faith that understanding systems of oppression will help us dismantle them.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
I loved Julio Capó’s Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940! His work shows the rich results of applying queer theory and transnational methodologies to urban history. Also, I thought Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965 broke important ground in uncovering the relationship between the carceral state and the nativist state.
What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?
As obsessed as I am with systems, spaces, and structures, history is about people. If your work is missing people’s voices, it is missing the point.
Your undergraduate degree is in dance! What historical event or episode would you want to be commissioned to choreograph a dance about, and where would you stage the performance?
Great question! Yes, my undergraduate degree is indeed in dance, but I was always more interested in the cultural context (who danced and where? who watched and why?), than the content. So, if I may indulge my fancy here: rather than choreograph a dance performance about a specific historic event, I would rather take people out dancing. Popular dance cultures still thrive, and their transformations over time create an embodied record of the past. Similar to oral histories, dance cultures need to be interpreted carefully as historical sources, but there is a lot to be learned about a city’s past on its dancefloors!