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New director says understanding borders key to understanding society

School of Transborder Studies director Dr. Alejandra Lugo

Alejandro Lugo recently appointed director of the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, points out that borders are not just physical; they exist in and between several social institutions, such as race and gender.
Photo by: Deanna Dent/ASU News

September 17, 2015

Translated to English, the Spanish word “cruces” simply means “crosses.” However, in Spanish, depending on the article, it can have two meanings. There’s “las cruces,” which translates to “crosses,” and then there’s “los cruces,” which translates to “crossings.”

That duality is the reason Alejandro Lugo chose the word as the title of his photo essay — published in Duke University Press’ South Atlantic Quarterly — depicting the passage of people across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It captures the border experience and how people cross borders, but also how many people die doing so, their graves marked with crosses,” he explained.

Lugo was recently appointed director of the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. A welcome reception will be held for him today from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at College Avenue Commons Devils Oasis Community Room (second floor) in Tempe.

As an anthropologist, Lugo’s research specialization is the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border region in the tristate area of southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Chihuahua in Mexico.

However, he points out that borders are not just physical; they exist in and between several social institutions, such as race and gender.

“Geographically I cover the Western Hemisphere; topically, besides border issues, I cover culture, capitalism, gender, ethnicity, race and other social inequalities,” he said.

Though he comes to ASU via the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he taught for 20 years, Lugo is a native of the Southwest, born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and raised in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“I’ve lived in border zones all my life so [that interest] has been there all along,” he said. “And then it became a topic of scholarly interest.

“We cannot understand society without understanding borders, so the study of anthropology captivated my mind because it studies the human condition cross-culturally but also in space and time; geographically and historically.”

At the University of Illinois he was a professor of anthropology and Latino studies, with appointments in Latin American studies and gender and women’s studies, playing a large role in helping to establish the Department of Latina/Latino Studies. He also served as an associate dean and as director of graduate studies in the Department of Anthropology.

In his new role as director of the School of Transborder Studies at ASU, Lugo has been tasked with establishing a doctoral program in transborder studies, which will accept its first applicants this year. The first cohort will begin studies in the fall of 2016.

“Border studies is fundamental to understanding the human condition. That’s why we need a PhD program here ... to train scholars for what’s coming in the 21st century,” he said. “And I see this as part of the New American University, which is attempting to capture life as it’s taking place without ignoring institutional developments or change.”

Lugo is looking forward to elevating the transdisciplinary program to a level of excellence that cannot be found anywhere else.

Patrick Kenney, dean of the college, said, “… We are confident he will lead the school in innovative ways to provide opportunities for ASU students.”

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