Skip to main content

Transborder program helps get research that matters off the ground

Nahua/Mexicano community dance in the streets during a celebration

Members of the Nahua/Mexicano community dress up and dance through the streets of Coatepec de Costales in Guerrero, Mexico, during a celebration hosted by the indigenous organization Mi Tierra,Mi Familia, which connects families from Coatepec de Costales to their transnational families in Arizona.

Saskias Casanova, an assistant professor in ASU's School of Transborder Studies, and her team are conducting research into four Mexican indigenous transnational communities (Maya, Mixteco, Nahua/Mexicano and Zapotec) and how indigenous students from Mexico adjust in Arizona. A grant from the year-old Program for Transborder Communities is helping to further their research.

September 04, 2015

The Mexican government calls them “etnias,” or ethnicities. In her research, Saskias Casanova refers to them as “indigenous immigrants.”

They are individuals descended from groups of peoples living in Mexico prior to its European colonization – much like Native Americans in the United States today are descended from tribes living here prior to European colonization.

The U.S. is seeing a growing number of these indigenous immigrants from Mexico making their homes in the border states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And, much like modern-day Native Americans in the U.S., because of factors such as varying cultures and languages, they face distinct issues when it comes to social institutions like education.

Before becoming an assistant professor at Arizona State University, Casanova conducted research that found indigenous Mexican adolescents in the U.S. faced higher levels of discrimination compared with indigenous Mexican adolescents still living in Mexico, and also compared with Mexican students who weren’t of indigenous origin in Mexico.

In essence, she was trying to find out “what happens to [indigenous immigrant] students when they are trying to negotiate multiple cultures in the context of schooling.”

“From sharing my findings with colleagues in the field, I knew there was still a need to continue my research,” Casanova said.

So when she came to ASU’s School of Transborder Studies in August 2014, she was delighted to discover the school’s brand-new Program for Transborder Communities.

Launched in July 2014, the program is a initiative that provides yearlong seed funding for ASU faculty conducting collaborative, interdisciplinary research on the changing needs and growing cultural, political and economic influence of Latinos in the U.S., as well as on cross-border issues faced by communities in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and other border regions in the world.

During its inaugural year, the program awarded three research cluster grants and three individual research grants. Along with her colleagues – Brendan O’Connor, School of Transborder Studies, ASU; Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, University of Idaho; and Francesca Lopez, University of Arizona – Casanova applied for and was awarded a cluster grant to continue her research.

They titled the project “Ecologies of Cultural and Linguistic Adaptation for Indigenous Latina/o Immigrant Families With Children: Implications for Development and Learning.”

With the help of the cluster grant, Casanova’s team has been able to begin collaborating, and also hired a community liaison to assist in targeting indigenous communities in Arizona with whom they intend to conduct further research.

The next step is applying for a larger, external grant to fund the actual research, but, Casanova asserts, the initial grant money from the program has made being awarded a larger grant much more likely.

“Research projects that already have a team of experts assembled are more likely to get funded by larger grants because the initial seed grant gives you time and funding to pull together research and a collaborative team, and to do some initial outreach,” she said. “You’re not rushing to apply [for a grant] … so you have time to build a strong foundation and really explore your research questions and build a good study and be prepared.”

A social psychologist herself, Casanova touts the program’s emphasis on research that reaches across disciplines.

“One of the things I really appreciate about the program is that it’s interdisciplinary, so it encourages you to reach out to potential collaborators that aren’t just in your field.”

She cites as proof fellow researchers O’Connor, an anthropologist, and Lopez and Anthony-Stevens, an educational psychologist and an educational anthropologist, respectively.

“There are a lot of things in place within the Program for Transborder Communities that really encourage young, emerging scholars like us to really push ourselves to not only engage in a project that we all care about, but also push ourselves to be really interdisciplinary, which also fits within the larger mission of ASU as the model of the New American University,” said Casanova.

The program also organizes seminars, workshops and colloquiums to facilitate a network of information and research sharing, and to explore opportunities for collaboration across disciplines, institutions and borders – both physical and metaphysical.

School of Transborder Studies associate professor Francisco Lara-Valencia helped to design the program and now serves as its director.

“In particular because of the location of ASU, within a border state, the study of border issues and communities is critical,” he said. “What we are trying to do with this program is facilitate a better understanding of borders in general and, in particular, the Arizona-Mexico border, through research and education.”

During its inaugural year, the Program for Transborder Communities hosted eight interdisciplinary seminars and two colloquiums – one of which served as the final major event of its inaugural year, the Arizona-Sonora Colloquium – and also partnered with the Mexican Consulate General’s Office in Phoenix for a public exhibition titled “Imagined Regions: The ASU Simon Burrow Map Collection.”

Due to heightened interest, the program has increased some of the funding for its second year.

Carlos Santos, an assistant professor of counseling and counseling psychology at ASU, and Enrique Vivoni, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, are the respective recipients of an individual research grant and a cluster research grant for the program’s 2015-16 academic year.

Santos’ project, titled “The Stigma of Illegality and Its Impact on the Well-Being of Immigrants of Mexican-Origin in Arizona,” takes a hard look at certain laws, such as SB 1070, that “institutionalize racial profiling.”

“What is interesting to me as a psychologist (about laws like SB 1070) is that they target people regardless of status; if you appear to be of Mexican origin, you can be targeted. And there are psychological underpinnings of that. That makes people anxious … I wanted to capture that anxiety quantitatively through numbers, through surveys,” he said.

Vivoni will be researching urban sustainability across the U.S-Mexico border. He feels that the program “supports existing strengths, such that our efforts at ASU can be taken to another level. … This effort will serve as a seed for research for years to come.”

Santos and Vivoni represent the varied nature of the research being funded by the program, and both are enthusiastic and appreciative of what it’s enabling them to accomplish.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to be able to expand my research. It’s wonderful to have the resources to do that,” Santos said.

Other recipients for the 2015-16 academic year:

•Individual: Elizabeth Sumida Huaman, assistant professor, Justice and Social Inquiry, School of Social Transformation. Project: Indigenous Education in the Americas: A Comparative Study of Community-based Schooling in Canada, the United States, Peru, and Bolivia.

•Individual: Christiana Honsberg, professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. Project: Efficient Water Desalization Using Combined Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal Energy Sources.

•Cluster: Rudy P. Guevarra Jr., associate professor, Asian Pacific American Studies, School of Social Transformation. Project: The Latino Pacific Archive: Digital Access to the Latina/o Experience in Oceania.

•Cluster: Noe Crespo, assistant professor, School of Nutrition and Health Promotion (Exercise Science and Health Promotion). Project: Fostering Transborder Collaborations to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity
Among Underserved Latino Families Living in the Southwest U.S.-Mexico Border.