Óscar F. Gil-García, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
Welcome to my website, here you can learn more about my research and teaching interests as a sociologist and cultural anthropologist.
I am currently an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University at Buffalo. I received my Ph.D. in sociology from UC Santa Barbara. I was a Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Los Angeles and an assistant professor at Binghamton University and DePauw University.
My research explores the long-term impact of the Guatemalan war (1960-1996) on Indigenous Maya (Akatek) refugees who resettled in Mexico and the United States. Broadly my work examines the micro-level consequences of public policy on individuals, comparative frameworks of race, gender, and migration in the Americas, immigrants' health and healthcare access, and the use of photography to promote social change.
Originally from Brooklyn, NY, I am a first-generation college student and am a graduate of Vassar College. In my spare time I enjoy distance running, playing guitar and singing.
Gil-García, Ó, Bové, F., Velazquez, L., Vener, S., Miranda, A. (2021). "It felt like my son had died": Zero tolerance and the trauma of family separation. Latino Studies.
Galaviz, K. I., Breland, J. Y., Sanders, M. Breathett, K., Cerezo, C. Gil O, Hollier, J. M., Marshall, C., Wilson, J. D., Essien, U.R. (2020). Implementation Science to Address Health Disparities During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Health Equity, v.1, 463-467
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2019). The Prospera Conditional Cash Transfer Program and Its Impact on Education, Labor, and Migration in an Indigenous Mayan Community in Chiapas, Mexico. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 49(1).
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2018). U.S. Immigration Enforcement and the Making of Unintended Returnees. Représentations dans le monde anglophone. Migrations and Borders in the United States: Discourses, Representations, Imaginary Contexts.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2018). From Stateless to Citizen: Indigenous Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico. E-misférica, 13(2). Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, New York University.
Gil-García, Ó. F., Sawyer, K. (2017). Health Coverage Expansion for the Undocumented and Potential Impacts for Unaccompanied Migrant Youth and Families in California. Migration and Health Series Report. Secretariat of Government/National Population Council (CONAPO) and Health Initiative of the Americas, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley, CA and Mexico, DF.
Berger Cardoso, J., Brabeck, K., Stinchcomb, D., Heidbrink, L., Price, O. A., Gil-García, Ó. F., Zayas, L. H. (2017). Integration of unaccompanied migrant youth in the United States: a call for research. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 1-20.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2016). Gender Equality, Community Divisions and Autonomy: The Prospera Conditional Cash Transfer Program in Chiapas, Mexico. Current Sociology, 64(3), 447-469. (International Journal). Awarded the Social Sciences Article Prize by the Latin American Studies Association Mexico Section.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2012). Asylum: The Case of Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico. In Asylum: 20th Century Case Studies, Vienna: LIT Verlag.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2018). The Practice of Trust, Disclosure, and Collaboration with Guatemalan Refugees. Practicing Anthropology, 40(1), 37-42.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2007). Migration Politics and Human Rights: Redefining the Camera as Collaborative Technology in Transnational Forced Migrant Communities, The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, 2(7), 189-206. (International journal). Awarded the best article prize by the Latino/a and Ethnic, and Racial Minorities Sections of the American Sociological Association and Latino/a Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2013). Migration and Distributive Politics in an Indigenous Community: Oportunidades, Education Surveillance and Migration Patterns in La Gloria. UCLA Program on International Migration, Working Paper Series.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2012). Asylum and Population Control: Assessing UNHCR’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme in Guatemalan Refugee Settlements. Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, Working Papers Series, no. 83.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2018, May 16). Deportado dos veces. Plaza Pública. Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala. Collaborated with Plaza Pública in translation.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2017, Aug. 27). Inmigración en Estados Unidos y México: Retratos de refugiados guatemaltecos en el limbo, Plaza Pública. Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala. Collaborated
with Plaza Pública in the translation.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2019, Nov.). From Stateless to Citizen: Indigenous Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico. In M. Ybarra (Chair), Indigenous Hemispheric and Borderlands Studies. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association. Honolulu, HI.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2019, April). From Stateless to Citizen: Indigenous Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico. In A. Moore, Cheng, J. (Co-Chairs), Technologies of Human Rights Representation: A SUNY Conversations in the Discipline
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2018, April). Negotiating Uneven Legal Geographies: U.S. Immigration Enforcement and the Making of Unintended Returnees. In E. M. Burciaga, K. A. Escudero, A. Flores, L. M. Martinez, J. Perez, C. Valdivia (Chairs), Migrant Illegality across Uneven Legal Geographies. Symposium conducted at the University of Colorado-Denver, CO.
Gil-García, Ó. F. (2017, March). An Emergent Clandestine Migrant Economy: U.S. Immigration Enforcement and the Making of a Human Smuggler. In S. Bertheir, P. Otto (Chairs), Migrations and borders in the United States: discourses, representations, imaginary contexts. University Grenoble, Grenoble, France.
My research integrates photography to tell the stories of forced migrants and their families. Photos and accompanying narratives have been exhibited throughout the world.
From Stateless to Citizen:
Indigenous Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico
In 2016, a series of photographs helped end decades of transient statelessness for several Guatemalan refugees. In 2014, residents of La Gloria, the largest refugee settlement in Chiapas, Mexico, asked me to help push the Mexican government to resolve the matter. Aware that photographs help increase public awareness, 26 refugees agreed to be photographed. In late 2016, our efforts paid off and they obtained Mexican citizenship. Up to 27,000, however, remain stateless.
Click here to view the From Stateless to Citizen collection
Guatemalan Forced Migration:
The Politics of Care in Representing Refugees
Guatemalan forced migration: the politics of care in representing refugees, a collaboration with my brother, professional photographer Manuel Gil, explores the mechanisms of representation used for forced migrants that stage appropriate refugee identities to justify the need for humanitarian care and includes images of indigenous Guatemalan forced migrants living in the former refugee camp of La Gloria in the state of Chiapas in Mexico.
Through the use of an innovative participant photovoice ethnographic method, a series of portrait photographs have been taken, whereby participants determine how they would like to be photographed for the first frame, while a second picture reflects the dominant frame reflected in the humanitarian and mainstream media. These portrait photographs provide an opportunity to examine how an indigenous forced migrant community shapes its identity. At the same time, it deconstructs their stereotyped, gendered representation that portrays forced migrants — women in particular — as apolitical domestic nurturers; while males are viewed as mobile wage-earners or perpetrators of violent conflict. This collection contains nineteen photographs, a flyer and a bibliography for further research.
Click here to view the Guatemalan Forced Migration collection.
Legacies of Forced Migration
Legacies of Forced Migration documents how traumatic memories associated with the Guatemalan war (1960-1996) and family separations form part of the everyday violence experienced by Indigenous Maya who must contend with new and old structural dynamics designed to deny Indigeneity a place in Mexico and the United States. This project utilizes ethnography and photography to study the overarching problem of state policies at the border, their corresponding effects on families, and to advance social justice claims for Indigenous Maya
US and Mexico immigration: Portraits of Guatemalan refugees in limbo. The Conversation.
Reprinted in: The Los Angeles Times, San Diego Tribune, The Huffington Post, and Salon. Total circulation over 34.5 million.
August 6, 2017
Many of Guatemala’s refugees produced by its long civil war are still stateless today. The war lasted between 1954 and 1996 and inflicted significant harm, particularly on indigenous Mayans. The conflict prompted 200,000 Guatemalans to flee to Mexico, where up to 43,000 refugees established settlement camps. For more than a decade I have conducted research former refugee settlements in Chiapas, Mexico, near the border of Guatemala. Currently, due to strict naturalization laws, more than 27,000 Guatemalans throughout Mexico remain stateless. Many migrated to the U.S. This essay features photo-documentary work with stateless refugees to examine the impact of draconian immigration measures in both the U.S. and Mexico on this population and to others currently fleeing violence. Recommendations are made in reshaping U.S. foreign policy to align security concerns with upholding the human rights of migrants and their families throughout Central America and Mexico.
Deported twice, man struggles to help his family survive. The Conversation.
Reprinted in: Latino USA, Univision, San Francisco Gate, and Salon. Total circulation: over 41.7 million
February 22, 2018
For more than a decade, I documented one man’s deportation, the impact on his family and his eventual return to the U.S.
I did this as part of my work studying the migration of indigenous Mayan refugees from Guatemala to Mexico and the U.S. My telling of the story of this man, who I’ll call Alex to protect his identity, is forthcoming in the journal Representations. I believe it can help shed light on the human consequences of deportations and family separations – and the enormous risks deportees are willing to take, irrespective of walls, fences, and the danger of reuniting with their families. Here is Alex’s story.
Take a look through the list below to read some of the latest news regarding my research.
Digital Scholarship Studio & Network Presentation, University at Buffalo
Oct. 24, 2022
Migration, Citizenship, and Human Rights
This course is framed by a simple contradiction: race is real, yet it is a myth. Racial categories are very real social and cultural phenomena. They are rooted in history and culturally constructed through laws, the media, and various institutions. These categories are reproduced, subverted, and sometimes changed by people through socialization, media consumption, interaction, dialogue, protest, and political participation. We will explore both its historical construction through immigration law and its contemporary manifestation as a crucial aspect of American culture and an integral component of people’s identity. Specifically, in this course, we will learn how race, class, gender structures the meanings of citizenship, alienage, and nationality to shape immigration policy in the U.S. nation state.
In addition to looking at the historical formation of immigration policy in the U.S. context, we will also pay attention to certain concepts of migration that include: the dichotomy between forced and voluntary migration; understanding of borders; violence and migration; migration and labor; involuntary and return migration. Students will obtain a historical grounding on the formation of migration policies, its relationship to labor demands facilitated by the state, and the agency of civic society in bringing about immigration reforms in the U.S.
The course will provide an interdisciplinary overview of the geographies, economies and politics of human migration and transnational lives, even as we scrutinize the lenses through which immigration and migrant populations have been studied. A key intent is to understand the reasons behind the displacement and dislocation of individuals and populations as well as the processes involved in recent and contemporary population transfers across the globe. Our analysis of the present will be anchored in multi-faceted historical perspectives. The course will also touch upon the impact of migration on “host” spaces and on the places from which migrants originate.
Social Science Research Methods
This course will allow students to explore critical unanswered questions in the social sciences. Students will learn methods used in the social sciences, and critique existing studies.
We will learn three methodological traditions, identify their strengths, applications, shortcomings, and areas of where they complement each other. The course will equip students to be thoughtful readers of: 1. quantitative social science research, 2. qualitative social science research, 3. mixed-methods research.
Researching Immigrant Families
The course puts the qualitative study of immigrant lives at the heart of its project. Even as we design our own research proposals we will look at disciplinary and interdisciplinary frameworks for such research. We are especially concerned with theoretical constructs of transnationalism, hybridity, and cultural fusion and how they are actualized within research contexts. Finally, we will grapple with our role as researchers working within and beyond nation-state agendas as we look at how immigrants utilize transnational practices to open up spaces for activism in a bid to improve the lives of communities.
Vitae / Relevant Links
Please see the links below for more information on the programs I have been affiliated with or received research funding from.
July 2019 - June 2020
Research in Implementation Science for Equity (RISE) program
I was accepted into this program at the University of California, San Francisco. Participated in two-week training on implementation science, refined research proposal to study barriers to health access among unaccompanied minors in Oakland, CA, and successfully obtained funding to support research.
December 2019 - September 2020
Grant Writing Mentee
I received acceptance to the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) Strategic Empowerment Tailored for Health Equity Investigators (SETH) Grant Writing Coaching Study, Funded by National Institutes of General Medicine. The NRMN SETH Grant Writing Coaching Study is part of the NIH's (National Institutes of Health) efforts to diversify the pipeline of funded early career researchers, particularly in health equity research. The program is structured over nine months: six months of bi-weekly virtual meetings working with a coach and a small group on developing the funding proposal, and three months of mock review before revision and submission. Over 160 early career scientists from across the U.S. applied; 100 were interviewed and 60 were chosen to participate.
May 18-22, 2020
Summer Course on Grant Writing
I received acceptance to an intensive one-week summer course in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences supported by the National Science Foundation, University of Mississippi, Oxford.
August 2015 - June 2016
Consortium for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship
Selected as a postdoctoral scholar to teach at DePauw University and received protected time to conduct research and writing.
September 2012 - October 2014
Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow
Selected as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). As a fellow I prepared manuscripts for peer review and attended two weekly seminars: (1) Mind, Medicine, and Culture (2) Culture, Power, and Social Change at UCLA's Department of Sociology.