Anthropology PhD graduate works to highlight range of cultures and backgrounds


Mirtha Garcia Reyes 3

Mirtha Garcia Reyes travels in Spain while conducting her dissertation research. Courtesy photo

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Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Her academic career has come full circle: Once an undergraduate first-generation student at Arizona State University, Mirtha Garcia Reyes is now completing her PhD in sociocultural anthropology. 

Garcia Reyes earned dual bachelor's degrees in Spanish and anthropology while an undergraduate student at ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College. She then received a Master of Arts in visual anthropology from the University of Southern California, before going on to earn her PhD in anthropology from ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change this spring.

ASU News spoke with Garcia Reyes about her PhD journey. 

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Mirtha Garcia Reyes
Mirtha Garcia Reyes

Question: What brought you to ASU for your PhD?

Answer: I selected Arizona State University for my PhD because I really appreciated and wanted to work alongside the amazing faculty I met as an undergraduate student. Professor Takeyuki (Gaku) Tsuda’s engaging immigration course and President’s Professor Amber Wutich’s informative global health course enthralled me into solidifying that I wanted to pursue anthropology as one of my degrees as I learned so much in their courses.

I also selected ASU because of the welcoming faculty I met during the grad student welcome event, such as Emir Estrada, associate professor, whose passion for helping students made me feel welcomed.

Lastly, I really wanted to attend ASU for my PhD because I appreciated the flexibility and interdisciplinary approach to the classes I could take to complete my program, which would help me be a well-rounded ethnographic researcher by integrating different perspectives from a plethora of fields such as Indigenous studies, political science, gender studies, etc. I also appreciated that in this sociocultural anthropology program, I could incorporate my previous visual anthropology graduate degree expertise into my research. 

Q: How did you decide to major in anthropology? What was your “aha” moment?

A: My "aha" moment was my first anthropology course, an introduction to cultural and social anthropology. I did not learn what anthropology was until I took this course in my first semester as a first-generation freshman at ASU. I always wanted to learn more about others in all capacities and find ways to help people understand and appreciate each other’s cultures and backgrounds. When I learned that anthropologists had the opportunity to do this when they conducted ethnographic research and interviews, I knew that this was the field for me.

Q: What does your PhD research focus on, and why is it important? 

A: My research explored the experiences and identities of 33 trans individuals who live in Valencia, Spain. I used a multi-method and comparative approach and analysis to understand the lives of 19 trans individuals born in Spain and 14 individuals who migrated from Latin America, Russia, Ukraine and Belgium. Relying on intersectional qualitative methodologies, semi-structured interviews, a photovoice project, archival research and over 100 hours of participant observation, my research documents a critical historical moment for trans communities. 

This research focuses on non-migrant and migrant trans individuals’ sense of belonging and incorporation into Spain’s public and private spheres. The dissertation also sheds light on the immigration experience of trans individuals fleeing their countries of origin, mostly from Latin America, to escape gender discrimination in hopes of finding a safe place to live in Spain. It also shows the critical role that social relations and support systems play in their overall well-being.

This research is important because it highlights the variability that exists among trans communities, including the experience of migrants, and how due to these differing experiences it is important to tailor laws, policies and programs to incorporate and address the needs of all of these diverse communities. 

Q: Which professor/course taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The courses that taught me the most important lessons while at ASU were the ethnography courses by Professor Takeyuki Tsuda and Associate Professor Emir Estrada and the ethnographic research methods by President’s Professor Amber Wutich. These courses taught me how to find my own ethnographer voice and approach to pursuing my research. In my ethnography courses, I learned how to analyze ethnographic accounts and case studies and how social science researchers pursued their work efficiently and focused on the communities that were part of the studies. In my research methods class, I learned about different qualitative methods and how to implement different tools to produce a successful study.

Q: Any awards or grants you’d like to tell us about?

A: I was honored to have received the Wells Fargo Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies Research Scholarship as part of my pilot study, the Tripke Travel Grant for experiential archival research, the 2023 Barrett Honors College Alumni Service Award Winner, and the ASU Graduate College Completion Fellowship to complete the writing component of my dissertation this academic year.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: I would like to add that I am very much appreciative and grateful for my terrific committee. My co-chairs helped me tremendously every step of the way as I have pursued pilot research, applied for funding, jobs, postdocs and fellowships, and as I have completed my degree. 

I am also extremely grateful for my committee members Marivel Danielson, associate professor at the School of Transborder Studies, and Paula Otero-Hermida, postdoctoral researcher at INGENIO CSIC-UPV. Both have provided support, feedback and advice along the way. I am also very grateful for such a supportive department. Everyone in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, from the staff to the faculty, have not only helped me feel supported and heard, but I have enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside such a kind team. Their goal is to guide, teach and support students while pursuing and encouraging them to partake in innovative and impactful research.

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