Maurice Rafael Magaña Explores Mexican Migration, Youth and Social Movements through the Lens of Ethnic Studies


DVC Social Justice Series Flyer

Carter Herrera, Editor-in-chief

After learning that the 1968 Olympics were going to be held in Mexico City, Mexican university students held protests in anger over the allocation of funds going towards the event rather than alleviating poverty or investing in public services. The Mexican military was ordered to open fire on the protesters.

No one knows exactly how many were killed but it is believed to be in the thousands. Maurice Rafael Magaña’s father was a part of these protests, and when Rafael Magaña heard about the events, it opened his eyes to the repression that governments of any country are capable of exercising against their citizens. 

Rafael Magaña, now a sociocultural anthropologist and assistant professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona, described his research on transnational migration issues during a Mar. 25 conversation with students and faculty at Diablo Valley College as part of the Social Justice Speaker Series.

When Rafael Magaña’s mother was pregnant with him, she left Mexico to help out her own mother living in Florida. After he was born, mother and son returned to Mexico, where Rafael Magaña would live until he was five years old, at which point the family returned to the United States. 

Rafael Magaña’s journey to becoming a professor of Mexican American studies “was by no means linear,” he said. After being a high school “push out” – meaning he was encouraged by his school to drop out – he went on to earn his GED, attend community college, and ultimately transfer to a four-year public university.

To pay his way, he roofed houses, washed cars, worked as a cook and took on other jobs, so that “by the time I graduated I was older than most of my classmates,” he said, adding that the rich variety of his experiences shaped him into the person he is today.

Rafael Magaña explained that his interest goes beyond the “one-way flow” of migration into the United States, but rather analyzes “the dynamic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico [in terms of] urban social movements, specifically the role of young people in social movements, through their activism, and also how youth culture informs social movements and activism.”

In graduate school at the University of Oregon, Rafael Magaña got his first chance to explore Ethnic Studies and “immediately fell in love” with the discipline. His first solo-authored book, Cartographies of Youth Resistance, published in November, is about urban and migrant youth social movements in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

Rafael Magaña said that “seeing the shared experiences of especially racialized and other marginalized communities, seeing the overlap that we feel when we’re coming up in this system, in this country,” is what drove him to investigate and tell people’s stories.

He said, “We feel it, but to be able to study it and to learn the long histories of Black and Brown and working-class immigrants [as well as] refugee non-immigrant communities organizing together [and] achieving social justice victories – it just immediately resonated with me.”