What is the focus of yourwork? My work focuses on how people participate in meaning- making and identity formation. I am especially interested in the relationship between humans and the larger cultural and societal milieus in which we are enmeshed. I have always been interested in the role that faith plays in people’s lives, and my lifelong curiosity about religion and spirituality led to a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. My academic training in the socio-cultural history and anthropology of religion and my own personal interests in ethnicity, religion, and place has most definitely impacted my teaching and what I research and write about. Most of my academic work has focused U.S. Latina/x/o Christianities in the United States and how Latinx craft religious communities. I grew up in a part of the Rustbelt where there were many Puerto Rican and Mexican-descent families, and my lived experience most certainly led me to my academic work. As an ethnographer of religion, I search for compelling stories, akin to what investigative journalists do, and my scholarship has featured the ways in which underrepresented people carve out meaning in the midst of difficult lives. What I have discovered in my research within Latina/x/o and other self-consciously ethnic communities is that many migrants and refugees draw on their religious faith to survive, persevere, and even thrive. My fourth and most recent book, Meatpacking America: How Migration, Work, and Faith Unite and Divide the Heartland (UNC Press, September 2021) is a deep dive into the grittiness of everyday life for recent arrivals to the state of Iowa as well as longtime white residents of our state. In Meatpacking America , I try to convey how recent migrants to Iowa and the broader Midwest come to our state for work and to provide opportunities for their families. A goal of my scholarship is that the reader will come away with a deeper understanding and empathy for what migrants and refugees experience each and every day. I want my readers to feel the sting of discrimination and the thrill of everyday triumphs. and to see their struggles as well as their dreams and hopes as similar to their own.

As an ethnographer, I embrace thick description, and try to write vividly in order to bring the reader into the communities my interlocutors inhabit. For example, In Meatpacking America , I describe two Iowa meatpacking plants in detail as they are the places where my interlocutors work. I describe the smells, the sounds, and sights of packing plants and focus on conveying the difficulty and danger of these workplaces. I want to transport my reader into the bowels of these workplaces because they are the places where migrants and refugees work to harvest and package the meat that is prepared and eaten in homes across the United States. Tell us about the broad impact it has/ could have. I hope that at the very least, those who read my books and articles will come away with a deeper understanding of the challenges facing migrants, refugees and the working poor.


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