The College of Humanities congratulates Chicana and Chicano Studies professor Martha Escobar on being named a 2013/14 University Research Fellow. The prestigious fellowship
program is a campus-wide initiative of the provost’s office to offer outstanding CSUN faculty, selected by a committee of their colleagues, the time and resources needed to conduct ongoing scholarship. Just one honoree is chosen per college.
Over the course of Escobar’s fellowship semester this fall she will revise her book manuscript, Criminalization of Latina Migrants and the Construction of Irrecuperability. The book, which is under contract by the University of Texas Press, examines how the criminal justice system is used as an instrument of population control against Latina migrants. Escobar’s scholarship holds that the criminalization of Latina migrants is motivated by both race and gender, arguing that the imprisonment of females of color ensures reproductive control, separation of families, and eventual expulsion of individuals among unwanted socioeconomic and racial groups who have come to represent “national threats or excess within the neoliberal labor market.”
“Mass incarceration has become a ‘fix’ for most of our social problems, including racism and poverty,” Escobar says. “I believe we have reached a point where most people realize that this ‘fix’ is not working and that we need to be radical, which simply means getting to the root causes of these social problems.” Escobar hopes that her scholarship can contribute to conversations both in the immigrant rights movement and in the prison abolition movement.
Escobar says that she first started working on issues related to the criminalization of communities of color in 2000, when as an undergraduate student activist at University of California at Riverside she organized against California’s Proposition 21, the Juvenile Crime Initiative, and its specific targeting of youth of color. Now, as a professor, she believes it’s important to keep her scholarship accessible to college students. “When I was an undergraduate I became motivated to get involved and to try to create a more just society in large part inspired by the scholarship that I was exposed to in ethnic studies and women’s studies,” says Escobar. “I come from a working-class migrant family, and relating to my education provided the drive necessary for me to not only go to graduate school but, most importantly, to participate in bringing about social changes that I believe are necessary. Hopefully my work will do the same for other students.”
In the summer of 2004, following her first year of graduate school, she interned with Justice Now, a prison abolition and advocacy organization in Oakland. She conducted needs assessment visits with incarcerated women; as the only Spanish-speaking intern she worked primarily with Latina migrants, and she noted patterns among them: that they were largely convicted on drug charges; that all had children in foster care and had either lost or were in the process of losing their parental rights; and that they all faced deportation at the end of their sentence.
Says Escobar, “Learning from their stories and witnessing these patterns motivated me to understand what informed their incarceration, their particular struggles while in prison, and how they experience social reintegration given that the vast majority are deported to their counties of origin.”
Now, nearly a decade after that summer internship with Justice Now, Escobar is entering her last phase of research and revision to bring this passion project to completion and publication. She finds it “extremely significant” that her colleagues have selected her as the 2013/14 Humanities Research Fellow. “It means that my colleagues see the value of understanding Latina migrants’ experiences of criminalization and demonstrates a willingness to invest in this endeavor,” she says. “I am extremely grateful for the amazing opportunity to dedicate myself for an entire semester to this work that I consider so valuable and necessary, especially given the current changes taking place in California’s prisons with court orders to reduce overcrowding and the ongoing dialogue of potential immigration reform.”
College of Humanities dean Elizabeth Say is delighted with the selection, agreeing that it speaks to the value placed on Escobar’s work by her peers within the College. “Professor Escobar’s work highlights the importance of considering the intersections of race, class, and gender as a framework for analyzing issues that impact social justice concerns,” she says. “Such an approach is a strength of the College of Humanities and the interdisciplinary work done by the faculty of the College.”