ASU PhD student examines the trans experience in Spain through photos, research work

February 1, 2023

An anthropology PhD student is working to honor and highlight the experiences and life stories of transgender and other LGBTQ community members in Valencia, Spain, using their own photos and words.

“Spain ended their Franco dictatorship not too long ago,” says Mirtha Garcia Reyes. “So for people going from a dictatorship to a democracy in such a quick time with so many changes in place, I wanted to see what were the effects on the day-to-day lives of individuals of the trans community and see if things were actually changing for them.” Mirtha Garcia Reyes taking a selfie in Spain, with the sky and buildings in the background. Mirtha Garcia Reyes conducting fieldwork in Valencia, Spain. Photo courtesy Mirtha Garcia Reyes Download Full Image

Garcia Reyes is a sociocultural and visual anthropology PhD student at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. She is researching the experience of migrant and nonmigrant trans individuals living in Valencia with a goal of helping create policies and academic work that will help the trans community globally.  

She becomes emotional talking about the people she met, the people who welcomed her into their lives, shared their stories, their triumphs and also the stereotypes and violence they still face daily. 

“The reason I love what I do is because I get to interact with people in a way where I can give people the time and space to make them feel heard," Garcia Reyes says. 

Unlike traditional anthropological interviews, Garcia Reyes takes a more collaborative approach and is using something called photovoice to do her research. She asks participants questions and they provide images that help answer those questions.  

“For example, on the first day, I said, 'Please take an image of something in the public setting that shows social or emotional support of your gender identity,'” Garcia Reyes says. “So they take a picture and they write what that means for them. For me, this is a way of getting a more individualized personal understanding of their experience without me invading their space whilst still asking questions.”

Her hope is to return to Valencia in the spring 2023 semester to hold a public and educational gallery exhibit integrating the images that volunteers submitted for the photovoice component. With these images, the participants will be able to visually share their personal experiences with the public.

Garcia Reyes' master’s degree research, which she completed in the field of visual anthropology at the University of Southern California, focused on understanding the experience of trans Latina-immigrant women’s femininity and their perspectives while living in the southwest region of the United States. When she started her PhD research, she refocused her work on Spain to include more experiences and participants from the LGBTQ community that included trans women, trans men and nonbinary individuals.  

Garcia Reyes is also working to tell the stories and bring awareness to migrant trans individuals' experiences in Spain, answering questions like “Are they getting the same treatment, the same access to resources and is it different for migrants?"

During her three months in Spain, Garcia Reyes was able to work in the offices of Lambda Valencia to conduct her pilot interviews and was allowed to access historical LGBTQ archives. 

So far in her research she sees that there has been some positive changes for the trans community in Spain since the end of the dictatorship. However, access to certain services can take years and there are still microaggressions and violence towards the LGBTQ community.  

“I feel that in order for you to understand others you need to understand more about their day-to-day lives. And if you don’t understand that and you don’t hear those stories, or their phrases or their voice, you can’t really understand what’s going on sometimes. 

“I have the privilege of being in a field where I can go in and spend time talking to individuals and get their perspective and try to share it in the best way that I can in a respectable, ethical way that is going to show them, but also educate others on what it’s like to be a human being in this world in very different shoes. We all come from very different backgrounds and I think it’s important to understand what that entails,” Garcia Reyes saus. 

Garcia Reyes has bachelor degrees in anthropology and Spanish. She was also the recipient of the ASU Tripke Travel Grant, where she received $2,000 to assist with her archival work.

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


History professor wins book award for work on the history of Mexico

February 1, 2023

The Conference on Latin American History awards the Maria Elena Martinez Prize in Mexican History each year for a book judged to be the most significant work on the history of Mexico published that year.

This year’s award was given to Assistant Professor A.S. Dillingham, who teaches history at Arizona State University's School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, for his book "Oaxaca Resurgent: Indigeneity, Development, and Inequality in Twentieth-Century Mexico." Black and white photo of A.S. Dillingham who has shoulder-length dark hair, a short-brimmed hat, and is wearing a white button-down shirt. Associate Professor A.S. Dillingham. Photo courtesy A.S. Dillingham Download Full Image

This is the second significant prize Dillingham has won for his book. Late last year, he won the Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Book Award, which is awarded in recognition of the best book-length contribution to ethnohistory. 

His book narrates the history of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca over the course of the 20th century. It pays particular attention to how government policies aimed at alleviating poverty and integrating Oaxaca’s many Indigenous communities were received in the state, and how those policies were often transformed by grassroots actors.

“As a writer, one never knows how your book will be received,” Dillingham said. “It is a long project, and it really is hard to anticipate the reactions to the final project, in this case the published book. The María Elena Martínez Prize is particularly meaningful as it carries the name of a scholar who I had the privilege to meet before she passed. Dr. Martínez was a brilliant historian and a kind human being.”

The book was a long time in the making. Dillingham’s interest in Indigenous people’s involvement with the Mexican government began during his first year of graduate school in 2006 while enrolled in a seminar on Mexican history. The seminar was held in Oaxaca City and happened to coincide with an annual teachers’ strike. 

“The strike involved public school teachers from across the state and since the 1980s had become a kind of ritualized affair, in which teachers would strike on May 1, International Workers’ Day, for better pay and classroom support and then enter negotiations with the government and ultimately reach a settlement,” Dillingham said.

But that summer, the strike did not go as planned. Instead of negotiating, the governor chose to send riot police to the striking teachers’ encampment, where they were tear gassed and injured. This sparked an even bigger strike and a subsequent social movement that ended with the teachers demanding everything from the governor’s resignation to the re-writing of the state constitution.

“I wanted to understand that social movement and so I turned to history to answer my questions,” Dillingham sai. “Oaxacan activists and intellectuals counseled me to follow the history of Indigenous education and development in the state, as Indigenous bilingual teachers were at the head of that movement. I began to examine how the government had contracted Indigenous people to be teachers, health workers or other agents of development.”

He continued to research these movements and specifically started the research that would turn into "Oaxaca Resurgence" during his doctoral dissertation ten years ago.

“My goal was for the book to be as accessible as possible and to reflect the beauty of Oaxaca, which had so inspired me, so I spent a good deal of time rewriting and expanding the book,” Dillingham said.

Dillingham hopes his book accomplishes two things. One, that it contextualizes the Indigenous history in Oaxaca within the view of the whole western hemisphere in order to discuss related patterns across nations. And two, that it brings Indigenous youth into the student and youth-led movements of the 1960s, since they are often overlooked when discussing the social change of that era.

“On the most fundamental level, I hope people see that Indigenous peoples have never been mere passive victims of the Mexican state,” Dillingham said. “Just like Native peoples across the hemisphere, Oaxacans resisted, negotiated and transformed government policy aimed at their subordinated incorporation into the state. If we understand that about the past, it should inform our understanding of Indigenous politics today.”

With this book completed, but his passion for the topic still burning, Dillingham plans to answer the questions "Oaxaca Resurgent" left him with. 

“In my research for 'Oaxaca Resurgent,' I came across a government program that sought to resettle highland Mixtec communities to the Pacific coast of Oaxaca,” Dillingham said. “In the mid-20th century, governments throughout the hemisphere — including the U.S. government — promoted programs of Indigenous resettlement with the idea that this would improve Native peoples’ conditions. 

“But in this case, the Mexican government resettled Mixtec families on land that belonged to Afro-Mexican communities. This state-sponsored project ultimately sparked a violent conflict between Black and Indigenous communities, and I’d like to research that history in the future in order to think more about that relationship.”

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies