Member of the Week: Michael Innis-Jiménez

Michael Innis-Jiménez


Department of American Studies

University of Alabama

Please describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

My current research examines the centrality of culturally distinct Mexican food, restaurants, grocery stores, and other marketplaces in the early development of Mexican Chicago after World War I. I’m looking to demonstrate how public shops, foodways, and restaurants were evolving sites of culinary and cultural tourism, community building, and cultural production by and for ethnic Mexicans. Migrant Mexicans’ demand for food and experiences from home drove these urban marketplaces that, in turn, influenced the eating habits of outsiders who entered the area as tourists. I became interested in urban Mexican food history after chatting with Daniel Bender from the University of Toronto. He was the series editor for my first book, Steel Barrioand encouraged me to examine the role of food and restaurants in early Mexican Chicago. I was selected to participate in a seminar at the University of Toronto, where I fell head over heels for my new research. It was hard not to, when I got feedback and encouragement from Bender, Jeffrey Pilcher, Donna Gabaccia, Jo Sharma, and the other seminar participants.

What are you are currently teaching? How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

This spring I’ll be teaching a couple of my favorite classes, an intro to Latinx studies and a graduate course on American protest movements. I enjoy bringing parts of my current research or recent urban history scholarship into both classes. Teaching Latinx studies in an area of the US South with a relatively small Latinx community that is comparatively recent brings challenges and opportunities. My university’s increase in out-of-state undergraduate students has improved the dynamics of this class over the last few years. More students identify as Latinx and are from states with larger Latinx communities. The students in this class bring such a diversity of experiences. That is something that I love. I am also passionate about teaching my protest course to our MA students. We get to review and discuss the latest on twentieth- and twenty-first-century protests. I find leading an intro-level undergrad course and a grad course during the same semester electrifying. 

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars? 

I love and am currently reading two recent books: Natalia Molina’s A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community and Mike Amezcua’s Making Mexican Chicago: From Postwar Settlement to the Age of GentrificationThese books are both excellent urban histories, and they are both must-read books. If you have not read A Place at the Nayarit or Making Mexican Chicago, get a copy today!

What advice would you give to students, both undergraduate and graduate, who are interested in urban studies and just starting out their careers?

Take the widest variety of urban-related classes as you can. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Speak up in class. Ensure you understand the written and verbal critiques you get from colleagues and faculty. Getting the most out of instructive critique is probably the most challenging skill to master, but it was one of the most meaningful long-term skills I learned in school.

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