My interests surround the construction of national identities and how people understand their own and national space. I have studied a diverse range of ethnic groups including Asian-BraziliansArab-Brazilians, and Jewish-Brazilians.  My current research examines the relationship between immigrants, public health, and the built environment.

My research is important to my teaching, and many of my classes include oral and digital history projects. 


Living and Dying in São Paulo: Immigrants, Health, and the Built Environment in Brazil (Durham: Duke University Press) will be released in 2024. Living and Dying examines the competing visions of well-being among immigrants and representatives of the Health State, including policymakers and health care professionals. The book will analyze how these actors lived and worked within rigid social and material structures that misattributed the relationship between cause (culture) and effect (disease) and thus led to enduring health issues. Living and Dying uses health and care (broadly defined) as windows into the connected systems of the built environment, public health laws and practices, and citizenship. It will demonstrate how federal, state, and municipal health and immigration legislation (from about 1850 to present) engendered continuity and created social and material residues by triangulating the history of Brazilian public health research, laws and policies, and globally dominant ideas about disease and other health issues.

By stressing how the state and residents engage with everyday health practices, health spaces, and health imaginaries, I highlight material, political, and social residues, persistent structures of repetition. Residues, as a term and as a reality, are important to my thinking because they mark permanence based on past activity.  Residues like slavery, immigration, formal and informal industrial development, and elite ideas about health and health spaces, have layered on top of each other for centuries to create what scholars often broadly term “structures.” Furthermore, “residues” is a word used regularly in Brazilian health policies and actions. Material residues that structure well-being are and were omnipresent as textile workshops discard piles of strips of cloth on the streets where they collect water and become mosquito breeding grounds. The residues of clogged and overflowing sewers do the same. All structure how people walk through neighborhoods including the routes they choose and the kinds of steps they must take to avoid litter heaps and puddles.  Identifying and studying health residues demands the diverse approaches, sources, and methods that generated the data for this book.   Residues thus both create and are created in the daily lives of people during their cycles of health crises, visits with medical professionals, and in their quotidian discussions of everything from gun violence to human and non-human animal-borne diseases. 

Immigration, Ethnicity and National Identity in Brazil (Cambridge University Press, 2013; Editora UNESP, 2015) examines the immigration to Brazil of millions of Europeans, Asians, and Middle Easterners from the nineteenth century to the present.

I am interested in how these newcomers and their descendants adapted to their new country and how national identity changed as they became Brazilians along with their children and grandchildren. I argue that immigration cannot be divorced from broader patterns of Brazilian race relations, as most immigrants settled in the decades surrounding the final abolition of slavery in 1888 and their experiences were deeply conditioned by ideas of race and ethnicity formed long before their arrival.

I am also the author of A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese-Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy (Duke University Press, 2007; Editora Paz e Terra, 2008).  This book investigates broad questions of ethnicity, the nature of diasporic identity, and Brazilian culture. I do this by exploring particular experiences of young Japanese Brazilians who came of age in São Paulo during the 1960s and 1970s, an intensely authoritarian period of military rule. The most populous city in Brazil, São Paulo was also the world’s largest “Japanese” city outside of Japan by 1960. Believing that their own regional identity should be the national one, residents of São Paulo constantly discussed the relationship between Brazilianness and Japaneseness. As second-generation Nikkei(Brazilians of Japanese descent) moved from the agricultural countryside of their immigrant parents into various urban professions, they became the “best Brazilians” in terms of their ability to modernize the country and the “worst Brazilians” because they were believed to be the least likely to fulfill the cultural dream of whitening.  My research analyzes how Nikkeiboth resisted and conformed to others’ perceptions of their identity as they struggled to define and claim their own ethnicity within São Paulo during the military dictatorship.

For this project I used a wide range of sources, including films, oral histories, wanted posters, advertisements, newspapers, photographs, police reports, government records, and diplomatic correspondence.   I focus on two cultural arenas—erotic cinema and political militancy—to highlight the ways that Japanese Brazilians imagined themselves to be Brazilian. Young Nikkeiwere sure that their participation in these two realms would be recognized for its Brazilianness, but they were mistaken. Whether joining banned political movements, training as guerrilla fighters, or acting in erotic films, my research subjects militantly asserted their Brazilianness only to find that doing so reinforced their minority status.

A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese-Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy  was awarded the 2010 Roberto Reis Prize (Honorable Mention), Brazilian Studies Association.

Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (Duke University Press, 1999; Editora UNESP, 2001; Akashi Shoten, 2016) analyzes why, despite great ethnic and racial diversity, ethnicity in Brazil is often portrayed as a matter of black or white, a distinction reinforced by the ruling elite’s efforts to craft the nation’s identity in its own image—white, Christian, and European. I explore the role ethnic minorities from China, Japan, North Africa, and the Middle East have played in constructing Brazil’s national identity, thereby challenging dominant notions of nationality and citizenship.

By employing a cross-cultural approach, I examine a variety of acculturating responses by minority groups, from insisting on their own whiteness to becoming ultra-nationalists and even entering secret societies that insisted Japan had won World War II.   I show how various minority groups engaged in similar, and successful, strategies of integration even as they faced immense discrimination and prejudice. Some believed that their ethnic heritage was too high a price to pay for the “privilege” of being white and created alternative categories for themselves, such as Syrian-Lebanese, Japanese-Brazilian, and so on. By giving voice to the role ethnic minorities have played in weaving a broader definition of national identity, this book challenges the notion that elite discourse is hegemonic.

Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil  was awarded the Best Book Prize, Latin American Studies Association-Brazil in Comparative Perspective Section.

Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question(University of California Press, 1994; Imago Editora, 2005; Tel Aviv University Publishing Projects, 1997) tells the poignant and puzzling story of how, in spite of the power of anti-Semitic politicians and intellectuals, Jews made their twentieth century exodus to Brazil, “the land of the future.” What motivated the Brazilian government to create a secret ban on Jewish entry in 1937 just as Jews desperately sought refuge from Nazism? And why, just one year later, did more Jews enter Brazil legally than ever before? The answers lie in the Brazilian elite’s radically contradictory images of Jews and the profound effect of these images on Brazilian national identity and immigration policy.

Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Questionwas awarded the Best Book Prize, New England Council on Latin American Studies. 

Series editor (with Matthew Gutmann): The Global Square: Into the 21st Century (University of California Press);

Co-editor (with Raanan Rein): Rethinking Jewish-Latin Americans (University of New Mexico Press, 2008);

Editor: Searching for Home Abroad: Japanese-Brazilians and Transnationalism (Duke University Press, 2003);

Editor: Arab and Jewish Immigrants in Latin America: Images and Realities (Frank Cass, 1998).

Articles, Chapters, and Essays (Selected)

“Between Harm and Health: Jews, non-Jews, and the Making of São Paulo, Brazil,” Jewish Culture and History, 24:40 (2023), pp. 470–485.  

Pacific Rims and Atlantic Worlds” in Andreas E. Feldmann, Xochitl Bada, Jorge Durand, Stephanie Schütze, eds. The Routledge History of Modern Latin American Migration (New York, Routledge, 2023), 93-104.

Os imigrantes e a (des)construção de São Paulo, Brasil” in Thiago Haruo Santos, ed. Afinal, o que é ser Brasileiro?(São Paulo:  Museu da Imigração, 2022), 70-84.

“Pauliceia 2.0: enriquecendo as Humanidades Digitais com Geocodificação e Informação Geográfica Voluntária,” (with Karla Fook, et. al), Acervos Digitais e Memória Social e Representação do Conhecimento, Web Semântica e Dados Abertos 1:1 (2021), 110-133.

“Collaborative Historical Platform for Historians: Extended Functionalities in Pauliceia 2.0” (with Karla Fook, et. al), Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies (SCITEPRESS – Science and Technology Publications 2021), pages 460-466.

“Committing to Continuity: Primary Care Practices during COVID-19 in an Urban Brazilian Neighborhood” (with Emily Pingel, Alexandra Caridad Llovet, Fernando Cosentino).  Health, Education and Behavior (December 2020). doi:10.1177/1090198120979609.   In Portuguese as “Comprometendo-se com a continuidade: práticas de atenção primária durante a Covid-19 em um bairro urbano brasileiro.” Plural 29:2 (July-December 2022), pp.87-98.

“A Platform for Collaborative Historical Research based on Volunteered Geographical Information.” (Co-author). Journal of Information and Data Management 9:3, December 2018, 291–304.

“Why Asia and Latin America?”  Verge: Studies in Global Asias, 3:2 (Fall 2017), special issue “Between Asia and Latin America: New Transpacific Perspectives,” 1-16.

“The Hispanic World/Latin America” (with Raanan Rein), The Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume 8, The Modern World, 1815–2000, eds. Mitchell B. Hart and Tony Michels (Cambridge University Press, 2017), 199-220.

The Social Geography of Zika in Brazil” (with Uriel Kitron), NACLA Report on the Americas, 48:2 (Summer, 2016), 123-129.  Published in Portuguese as “A geografia social do zika no Brasil, ” Estudos Avançados [online]. 2016, 30:88, pp.167-175. Reprinted in English in Third World Resurgence 312/313 (Aug/Sept 2016), 8-12.

“A Better Brazil” História, Ciências, Saúde – Manguinhos 21:1 (2014), 181-194.

“A Reflection on Foreignness and the Construction of Brazilian National Identities,” Luso-Brazilian Review 50:2 (2013), 53-63.

“When the Local Trumps the Global: The Jewish World of São Paulo, Brazil, 1924–1940,” in 1929: Mapping the Jewish World, eds. Hasia Diner and Gennady Estraikh (New York: NYU Press, 2013), 155-170.  2013 National Jewish Book Award (Anthology)