Producing Outstanding Scholarship
Dr. Sergio Lemus is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M University and an Accountability, Climate, Equity, and Scholarship (ACES) Fellow
. We interviewed Dr. Lemus to introduce his book, “Los Yarderos: Mexican Yard Workers in Neoliberal Chicago,” which is expected to go into production at the end of the year and his ACES Fellowship participation.
What is the inspiration for your research?
In 2005-2006, there were a lot of immigration marches taking place around California immigration reform. After seeing the marches in California, I felt I could use my skills to study this topic. I saw more than an immigration issue but a working-class issue. Many of the hardships and hard work of the Mexican working classes in the US economy was not being portrayed, so that’s why I decided to work on this topic. I felt, I could use anthropology to let other people know the kinds of lives these workers experience. This was the inspiration for my research and my work. Showing the kind of lives they experience and the kind of communities they form.
Tell me about your background and your life growing up.
It all started with migrating to the United States at a very early age 11 or 12 and crossing the U.S. – Mexican border. It was a very eye-opening experience. After that, many of my decisions in life involved some kind of aspect of crossing borders or being inspected at those borders, as one attempts to cross, whether it be for education or trying to find work, or now in academia. My own migrant immigration background growing up has deeply affected the kind of questions and the kind of research that I’m interested in looking at. My research and my life history are connected for sure, sometimes in sudden
ways and sometimes in more specific ways, but it is always there. I grew up in Chicago. That’s home for me. I then traveled to Urbana-Champaign, downstate Illinois, to do a BA, then through Riverside, California to do a master's, and that’s when I decided I should go back to Illinois and focus my skills in examining something that is a personal issue for my community. After my Ph.D., I moved to Indiana University to do a visiting appointment. Then I got the wonderful chance to come to Texas A&M.
How did you become interested in Anthropology? Did you start off in Anthropology?
It was not anthropology at first. I applied in undergrad as a physics major. I went through the hard sciences, calculus, then I got to chemistry. Maybe it has something to do with the lack of minorities in the hard sciences, then I got to chemistry and I said I don’t think I’m that interested in physics. At that point, I was taking electives like the history of Latin America and I was getting an A+ and thought maybe I should study something around government and politics. I met Senior Professor, Alejandro Lugo. I took one of his classes on Latinos in the U.S., and that was the eye-opening course where I received material and theories I have never learned before. He’s been supportive all along, even until today. He was one of the first teachers that got me interested in anthropology.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned from your research?
One surprise that is interesting is, while the level of the family of the African American and Mexican community seems to be apart, in the everyday life of economic, political, and cultural exchange in Chicago, there’s a lot of connections between our community. It makes sense, we’ve been in the same space together, the place that I studied in South Chicago. And if I recall my own life, I went to a predominately African American high school, and I consider I had friends that were not Latino. As an academic, I saw these two communities as very distant, maybe because of my training. But once I went into the field and to study this, I was surprised. I’m sharing this back to other scholars. We need to communicate more between Latino studies and African American studies, between anthropology and sociology. Try to reach beyond disciplinary boundaries. We share a lot in terms of how we study our unprivileged communities, of working-class communities.
Do you have any suggestions to help others become a better researcher and have work published? If so, what are they?
There’s normal and not so normal advice. The normal advice is you have to care about your topic. You have to care about the issue you want to study. Not just because it’s interesting, but you have to believe it is something you need to write about and tell other people about. In order for that to happen, you have to write. That means every day you have to write. Even if there is no one telling you to write, you have to write because there is no other way you can produce or write your results. Writing from a masculine perspective is like changing a car tire, you have to do it, because you have to do it. Writing is like washing dishes. The purist writers will say that’s not the case, that writing means something pure and pristine and is something only capable scholars can do and become better at it. Writing is about practicing every day.
How did you learn about ACES?
I saw ACES in major job ads. I looked at the university, I looked at the community, I browsed the Office for Diversity website from top to bottom and decided to apply because I really felt that Texas A&M was ready for a change. And, also ready to support the diversity initiatives to diversify its faculty.
How has being an ACES Fellow contributed to your success and/or publishing research?
It’s really nice, because you come to a new place like Texas and it is a country in itself, literally. So, there’s a lot going on in your first semester, and I would imagine that transition would have been very difficult if I had started a tenure track. By having the opportunity and space to devote to my research, ACES is certainly giving me the chance to think about my work. To work on my writing to the point where I am enhancing the finer product to a degree where hopefully my work will influence a generation of scholars or might influence the students that might come to Texas A&M to study or be trained under me. But hopefully this work will have a greater impact in the field with the tremendous additional time I have devoted to it by not being obligated to carry out service and additional teaching duties.
Do you have any take aways for others interested in applying for ACES? Why should scholars apply?
Apply. Don’t think twice. Apply! Apply! Apply! On a serious note, if you’ve been in academia long enough you know time is precious, time is golden. There will hardly be another chance in your career that you will have two years to write about the topic that you care about. If you want to really think seriously about your work, if you want to publish work that makes an impact in the field, apply. You probably will never have again this opportunity to devote time to your writing, because once you become in the tenure track you will have so many responsibilities of teaching, research, mentoring that it will be very hard to dedicate this amount of concentration to your work.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I enjoy science fiction movies, especially when they deal with space. I grew up in the generation looking at Star Trek
and Star Wars
. I often sit down with my kids and tell them, "Look!, we’re gonna watch a wonderful story." I get them, we sit, and I tell about the movie, space, and the science experiments that they are doing. They get into the movie, but then after ten minutes of me narrating the movie they want me to stop. I enjoy movies and spending time with my family.
Crystal S. Carter