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LLS alumna’s academic journey comes full circle as post doc
By Alex Ortiz, LLS student outreach and media coordinator
The Department of Latina/Latino Studies is proud to welcome Natalie Lira (’08) as one of the incoming 2015-16 LLS Postdoctoral Fellows. She is currently a graduate student and will receive her PhD in American Studies at the University of Michigan this spring.
Lira was born in Chicago to Mexican immigrants and attended Walter Payton College Prep School. She followed in the footsteps of her older brother and came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, graduating in 2008 as a Latin American and Caribbean Studies major and a Latina/Latino Studies minor.
It was during her junior year at Illinois that her passion for Latina/o Studies began to really grow as she participated in the McNair Scholars program. She was able to then decide that she wanted to go to graduate school and pursue a career in academia and Latina/o Studies.
“It really came out of my lived experience and wanting to understand my trajectory and my family’s trajectory and what was going on in the community and also here on campus,” said Lira.
The faculty and tight-knit community, she says, are what really made her experience in LLS special.
She applied to the University of Michigan’s American Studies program and was accepted. There she earned her Master’s degree and, in March of this year, successfully defended her dissertation, "Of Low Grade Mexican Parentage:" Race, Gender, and Eugenic Sterilization in California, 1928-1950.
Lira’s research focuses on reproductive politics where she took on a research project on eugenic sterilization of people in state institutions in California from the 1920s-50s. She helped sift through thousands of records of sterilizations and found high rates of Latina/os who were found to have “mental deficiencies,” but these categorizations, Lira found, were more a result of societal issues and inequalities than actual medical reasons.
“I got so caught up in this history and it took over five years of my life,” she said.
Next year, she will continue her research in this area and shed more light on these problematic practices through the Spanish media at the time and how the families and community tried to resist the system. She has also been involved in collecting and organizing a massive amount of records to be put into a database for other researchers.
Ultimately, Lira’s goal is to earn a professorship following her time as a postdoc, but she says she would also like to be an advocate and work for organizations whose focus is on reproductive rights.
As for any advice she would give to current students, she says:
“I would say I think it’s really important to find that one thing that really moves you because that is what’s going to keep you going through everything.”