Patricia Zavella: Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, UC Santa Cruz
- Author(s): Reti, Irene H.
- Zavella, Patricia
- Zepeda, Susy
- et al.
Patricia Zavella was born in Tampa, Florida in 1949, the oldest of twelve children in a working-class family and often cared for her siblings. Her mother and father were both born in the United States and the primary language spoken in her family was English. She spoke English to her maternal grandmother who was born in the U.S. Her father was in the air force and they moved frequently when she was a child. Zavella was often one of very few Mexican-American children in the schools she attended. Teachers were often “surprised” at Zavella’s stellar performance in the classroom. When she was ten years old, the family settled in Ontario in Southern California. It was here that there were more Mexican-Americans in her classrooms; this prompted her critical thinking about race relations and the Spanish language.
In 1968, Zavella went to Chaffey Community College, in Alta Loma near her family’s home. There she heard both Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez speak and became involved with the Chicano/a movement, developing into a student activist supporting some of the first classes in Mexican-American studies. Her recollections of these early days of the movement are a vital part of this oral history. Zavella participated in the Chicano Moratorium in August 1970, a demonstration of about 25,000 activists who protested in East Los Angeles against the Vietnam War. She joined MEChA [Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán] and began to claim an identity as a Chicana.
Zavella went on to complete her BA in anthropology at Pitzer College (one of the Claremont Colleges) and then attended graduate school at UC Berkeley, where she earned her PhD in anthropology in 1982. As a graduate student, she continued to be deeply involved in and inspired by the Chicano/a movement. Her dissertation Women’s Work in Chicano Families: Cannery Workers of the Santa Clara Valley developed into her first book. Through Zavalla’s reflection we learn of the influence social movements had on her identity formation and search for community-centered knowledge. Zavella was one of the first scholars to analyze the intersections of race, gender, class for Chicana women workers, a research approach that emerged from feminist of color activisms of the late 1960s and 1970s.
Before coming to UC Santa Cruz, Zavella taught courses at California State University at Hayward, UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Barbara and worked as a postdoc researcher at Stanford University with the Center for Chicano Research. In 1983 she was hired by UCSC’s community studies program, first for a temporary position and after a year for a permanent position. Later she transferred to the Latin American and Latino Studies department. Zavella directed the Chicano and Latino Research Center from 1999 to 2003 and was a founder of both the BA and PhD program in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz. She has also served as UCSC’s representative to the UC Committee on Latino Research.
Zavella considers both her scholarship and her teaching forms of activism. Her research focuses on migration, gender and health in Latina/o communities, Latino families in transition, feminist studies, and ethnographic research methods. She has worked on many collaborative projects, including an ongoing partnership with Xóchitl Castañeda with whom she has written four articles, two in English and two in Spanish. In 2010, the Society for the Anthropology of North America awarded Zavella the Distinguished Career Achievement in the Critical Study of North America Award. She has published many books including, most recently, I'm Neither Here Nor There, Mexicans' Quotidian Struggles with Migration and Poverty (Duke University Press, 2011), which focuses on working class Mexican Americans’ struggle for agency and identity in Santa Cruz County.