Studying the impacts of migration, conflict and political violence

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Police vehicle in the foreground with refugees set up along the US-Mexico border wall with tents

New professor Mateo Vásquez-Cortés to offer new courses focused on race, ethnicity and conflict in Latin America 

Tackling global issues requires input from a broad range of disciplines. And Mateo Vásquez-Cortés, new assistant professor at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS), is bringing his own expertise in the salient topics of migration, conflict and violence, particularly in Latin America, to GPS classrooms. 

“This is a great opportunity to be part of a community in which global issues are at the core of academic research — I’m very excited to join a growing group of scholars that are focused on the Latinx and Chicanx populations in the U.S.,” Vásquez-Cortés said. “UC San Diego is making an effort to involve more researchers who are working on topics related to race, ethnicity and migration in Latin America and how those experiences affect the populations of Latinx and Chicanx people in the U.S.”

Vásquez-Cortés comes to GPS from Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México in Mexico City. Previously, he earned his Ph.D. in political science from New York University.

Originally from Colombia, Vásquez-Cortés explained that the way he grew up has driven his passion for this particular research topic.

“Growing up under the context of violence really had an impact on me,” Vásquez-Cortés said. “All my life, I keep studying and trying to understand the impact that these things have on people’s lives, and that’s one of the reasons I tried to focus my own research on these topics.”

Vásquez-Cortés studies migration in the global south and the political dynamics of migrants traveling from one Latin American country to another. 

“I study a set of strategies and policies that will promote the integration and the assimilation of these populations in the host country,” Vásquez-Cortés explained. “I work to understand the xenophobia and discrimination against these migrant populations in the context of weaker state capacity, and what we try to do in response is to tell people the personal narratives of migrants to see how that reduces the growing levels of xenophobia and discrimination against these populations.”

Another topic Vásquez-Cortés’ research focuses on is how people who experience political conflict and violence are affected — and how that affects their political participation in the future.

“For example, we have conducted some political workshops in which we interact with former combatants from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, and we try to understand how they can transform the political capital that they have into electoral politics,” Vásquez-Cortés said. “How can they participate in electoral politics? How can they engage with political parties? How can they engage with other organizations in the country?”

At the core of each facet of Vásquez-Cortés’ research is the goal of finding policies that can help Latin American communities thrive economically, socially and politically, particularly with populations that face discrimination. 

“In my research, I actually engage with organizations and governments from the host countries, as seen in Costa Rica, Colombia and Peru, in which we try to engage with these organizations to promote the integration of migrants into the social networks,” Vásquez-Cortés continued.

Driving new curriculum on Latin America

In the winter and spring terms, Vásquez-Cortés will bring two entirely new Latin-America-focused courses to GPS: one on civil conflict and violence in the winter, and another on race and ethnicity in the spring. 

“Race and ethnicity in Latin America is an area that has been studied very well politically, and I think there is an opportunity to engage with students to try to get new perspectives for how to address these kinds of issues in America and how these issues affect the study of Latinx and Chicanx populations in the U.S.,”  Vásquez-Cortés said. 

Highlighting the importance of the civil conflict and violence course, Vásquez-Cortés pointed out that Latin America is one of the most violent regions in the world. 

“We have to study the causes: What drives people to participate in violence? What are the consequences of violence — the social, political and economic consequences?” he continued.

In his classroom, Vásquez-Cortés said he focuses on leading his students through methods of reading academic papers, as well as how to be current on cutting-edge research. Then, they can take those methods and learn how to apply it to real-world issues. 

“I want students that are interested in Latin America and in Latinx and Chicanx populations to have good debates about these groups in the U.S.,” Vásquez-Cortés added. 

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Virginia S. Watson is the Assistant Director of Communications for the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She has spent her entire career in editing, writing and design, both in industry and higher education. She holds a master's in technical and professional communication from Auburn University and a B.S. in journalism from Troy University.
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