Adam Goodman is currently a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the Humanities at the USC. Beginning fall 2016, he will be an Assistant Professor of History and Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Goodman is a scholar of migration interested in the interconnected histories of people throughout the Americas and received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. His current book project explores the rise of the deportation regime and the expulsion of Mexicans from the United States over the last century. He has published articles, essays, and reviews in academic venues such as the Journal of American Ethnic History and popular outlets such as The Nation and The Washington Post.
We interviewed Adam about his research, what he’s currently teaching at USC, and how his work affects his experience of Los Angeles.
ICW: Tell us about your background and training. How did you come to your interest in immigration history?
Adam Goodman: Before starting graduate school I worked as a high school history teacher in the Lower Rio Grande Valley on the US-Mexico border. Many of my students came from families that had recently migrated to the United States, and some continued to cross the border on a daily, weekly, or seasonal basis. Living in the Valley sparked an interest in how migration and migration policies shape people’s lives, which I then went on to explore in more depth as a history Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania.
ICW: What was it like to study American immigration at Penn, and how did Mexican immigration history fit or not fit the paradigms you studied in graduate school?
Goodman: From the outside looking in, the Penn history department doesn’t seem like an obvious place to study Mexican migration history: there are no Mexicanists or Chicana/o historians on faculty and, although it has grown in recent years, the Mexican community in Philadelphia remains relatively small compared to major metropolitan areas in the Southwest and West. But it was the perfect place for me. When I started graduate school I didn’t know what I wanted to specialize in. (For a time, I thought it might be the history of education and social inequality.) Fortunately for me, I found a dynamic group of engaged scholars—Michael Katz, Tom Sugrue, Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, Eiichiro Azuma, and Steve Hahn, among others—who nurtured my burgeoning interest in migration history and policy, pushed me read widely and “think big,” and encouraged me to conduct archival research and oral histories in Mexico. Ultimately, their advice made me a better historian and added depth to my work. And, in the end, the fact that Penn didn’t have anyone working in my direct field forced me to branch out and make connections with colleagues at other institutions across the country.
ICW: Do the metaphors of uprooting and transplanting still mean something in immigration scholarship? Why or why not?
Goodman: More than anything, metaphors like “the uprooted” (popularized by Oscar Handlin in 1951) and “the transplanted” (coined by John Bodnar in 1985) are useful to understanding the historiography of immigration and how much it has changed over the last few decades. Up until the 1990s, studies of one-way European immigration and assimilation dominated the field of immigration history (aside from a few notable exceptions). Since then, however, scholars—from increasingly diverse backgrounds—have focused on the histories of migrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa; the many connections people maintain to their countries of origin; and how nativism, exclusion, and deportation have shaped United States history. There has also been an important shift away from the study of immigration and toward migration and mobility studies.
ICW: How does your work inform your daily life in LA?
Goodman: There are times when I see the city in a different light because of my work on Mexican migration and deportation. Dodger Stadium isn’t just where the Dodgers play: it’s also Elysian Park, the place where immigration authorities rounded people up in a make-shift detention camp during the infamous “Operation Wetback” deportation campaign in 1954; and it’s Chavez Ravine, the home to a large Mexican community until the city and team ownership forcibly displaced them so the ballpark could be built. Two of my favorite places in LA are Grand Central Market and the central branch of the Public Library. But when I emerge from the Pershing Square metro station en route to either, I can’t help but think about the people whose deportation hearings are taking place at that very moment, just two blocks away at the Immigration Court at 6th and Olive.
ICW: Tell us about the class you are teaching at USC. What do you think you might expect from USC students on the topic(s) you are working with in the course?
Goodman: This semester I’m teaching a class on the history of Mexican migration to the United States. The first half of the course covers the sixteenth century to 1986. (We move fast!) It starts with the legacies of colonialism and conquest by European powers and the United States, and then it explores the first Mexican migrants to the US, Mexican American community formation, the Bracero Program, undocumented migration, and return migration to Mexico—whether by choice or force. The second half of the semester we’ll be examining topics on contemporary Mexican migration, including the militarization of the US-Mexico border, popular culture and migration, and Mexico’s impact on migration and migration’s impact on Mexico.
I hope that the course’s historical orientation enables students to better understand the essential role migration has played in shaping the interconnected histories of Mexico and the United States. Today, more than 34 million people of Mexican origin live in the US, making up around 11 percent of the total population; and the 12 million Mexican migrants who reside in the US comprise around 10 percent of Mexico’s population.
There’s also no better place to learn about Mexican migration, past and present, than Los Angeles. I hope the class helps students engage with the city in new ways. I want them to get off campus and see LA for what it is: a global metropolis that is home to more Mexicans than anywhere else in the world aside from Mexico City. With that in mind, during the second half of the semester students will be heading out into the community and conducting institutional histories of local migrant-serving organizations.
ICW: What’s the best thing about Los Angeles?
Goodman: The food is hard to beat, but, as a public transportation user and advocate, I’d add that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the metro. The Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, Gold Line extension to the SGV, and Purple Line extension to Westwood are going to be game changers. An affordable, integrated public transportation system will make Los Angeles a more livable city for all of its inhabitants.
ICW: What are you working on now, in the short and long term?
Goodman: In the short-term I’m working on a couple of articles and essays, in addition to a book chapter about how migration policy has affected families split between Mexico and the United States. (It’s largely based on oral histories I did in the central-western Mexican state of Jalisco.) I’m also organizing an event on the roots and realities of the Central American refugee crisis that will be held at USC on March 22. And, a couple of weeks later, I’ll be giving a talk in El Monte on the history of immigration raids and immigrant resistance in 1970s Los Angeles. In the long—but hopefully not too long!—term, I’ll be working on my book project about the growth of the deportation regime and expulsion of Mexicans over the last century, and preparing it for publication.