Born and raised in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, I grew up surrounded by extended family, attended the same schools as my parents and grandparents, and for a time lived in the house my great-grandmother built in the 1920s. I became interested in immigration history and ethnic politics in the rich multicultural environment of East Los Angeles, and when my family moved to northern San Diego County in 1968, I carried that interest with me, working as a volunteer at a local Catholic priory with migrant and indigent workers in what was then still a semi-rural, agricultural area.I continued to pursue my interest in immigration and ethnic politics as an undergraduate student in History and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My tenure at UC Santa Barbara afforded me the opportunity to combine formal studies with a series of internships, including a stint working with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) in Washington, D.C. After graduating with a degree in U.S. history in 1979, I moved back to Washington to accept a staff position with Congressman Edward R. Roybal, a representative from East L.A., and former chair of the CHC. After a year of working on the Hill (and after seriously considering a career in law), I decided instead to pursue a graduate degree in history, and enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Stanford University in 1980. Since leaving Stanford in 1986, I have continued my lifelong interest in immigration history, ethnic politics, and civic culture and the history of citizenship in the United States. I have taught courses on these topics at the University of Utah, Stanford, UCSD, and the California Institute of Technology, and have lectured extensively at universities across the country. My research has been supported by the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, the Dorothy Danforth Compton Foundation, the Ford Foundation and National Research Council, and the Shelby Cullom Davis for Historical Research at Princeton University. To date, I have published one monograph, two edited volumes, and a number of articles and book chapters in venues such as the Journal of American Ethnic History; the Western Historical Quarterly; and the Journal of American History.


B.A. (1979) University of California, Santa Barbara; M.A. (1982) Stanford University; Ph.D. (1988) Stanford University


  • History Faculty, University of California, San Diego, 1990-present
  • History and Ethnic Studies Faculty, University of Utah, 1986-90


    Mexican American and Mexican immigration history; comparative ethnic history; history of U.S. citizenship and civil rights

Project Summary

The goal of this project is to explore the many ways immigrants and ethnic lobbies attempted to shape and influence the evolving debate over the meaning and content of American citizenship over the course of the twentieth century. To get at this complex question, the study focuses on four key “flash points” in American immigration history: 1) the intense debate over the National Origins Quota System in the 1920s; 2) a similarly heated national discussion during the debate over the McCarran Walter Act of 1952; 3) the supposed liberalization of U.S. immigration and nationality policy in 1965; and 4) the pitched political battles surrounding passage of California’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994. By closely examining the shifting actors in, and terms of debate over, citizenship in this period, I hope to offer insight both into the many contradictions of the institution of citizenship under liberal regimes—and to provide historical context to the deeply troubled current debate over citizenship and alienage in American society.

Major Publications

  • The Columbia History of Latinos in the United States, 1960-Present (Columbia University Press, 2003)
  • “Migration, Emergent Ethnicity, and the ‘Third Space’: The Shifting Politics of Nationalism in ‘Greater Mexico,’” Journal of American History, vol. 86, no. 2, September 1999
  • Between Two Worlds: Mexican Immigrants in the United States (Scholarly Resources, 1996)
  • Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity (University of California Press, 1995)