Leo Chavez

Acclaimed anthropologist, author and professor Leo Chavez from the University of California, Irvine – best known for his work in international migration, particularly among Latin American immigrants – has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The 243rd class of inductees includes nearly 270 people from around the world, recognized for their accomplishments and leadership in academia, the arts, industry, public policy and research.

“I am pleased to congratulate Leo Chavez on his election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences,” said Hal Stern, UCI provost and executive vice chancellor. “Professor Chavez’s research on international migration is highly impactful and a wonderful example of the excellent research being done at UCI.”

Chavez is a Distinguished Professor of anthropology in UCI’s School of Social Sciences. His research on transnational migration, particularly among Latino communities, is the focus of four books, including The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens and the Nation, which earned the American Anthropological Association’s 2009 Latina and Latino Book Prize.

He has written more than 100 academic articles, produced two films and penned numerous op-eds on the uphill battle undocumented immigrants face in American society, with status affecting everything from physical and mental health to access to education and housing. Chavez’s work has helped debunk stereotypes of the Latino threat narrative echoed by politicians, pundits and journalists, for whom he consistently provides expert commentary. He has also examined immigrants’ access to medical care and the role of culture in cancer beliefs and treatment.

"This is well deserved recognition for a towering figure in anthropology and in the study of the Latinx experience in the U.S.," said Bill Maurer, UCI social sciences dean and professor of anthropology and law. "What makes it so gratifying, though, is not just the acknowledgment of his field-defining work, but that Leo Chavez built many of the institutional structures we now tout as foundational to UC Irvine's identity as a HSI and minority-thriving institution--including the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies, which he helped found as a program and then chaired as a department, and PRIME-LC. Not to mention his role in building the Department of Anthropology into a top-ranked department. He has mentored generations of undergraduate and graduate students, many from underrepresented backgrounds, who now occupy faculty and administrative positions at universities throughout the state and country, and who, like me, are grinning ear to ear with this news."

In 2018, Chavez was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2019, he received the Association of Latina/o and Latinx Anthropologists’ Distinguished Career Award, honoring his outstanding research, teaching, service and public engagement efforts that enhance understanding of Latino lives and communities in the U.S. The following year, Chavez was named the association’s president-elect and is now serving a two-year term as president. And in 2021, he received the Society for Applied Anthropology’s Bronislaw Malinowski Award in honor of his work using social science concepts and tools to solve human problems.

Chavez earned a Ph.D. at Stanford University and has been a member of the UCI anthropology faculty since 1987. 

“It’s an incredible and unexpected honor to be elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences,” Chavez said. “To be mentioned alongside such outstanding scholars and artists as Alexander Hamilton, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Charles Darwin, Martin Luther King and many others humbles me beyond words. I recognize my success benefited from the support of all my colleagues – and the administration – here at UCI. It’s a great honor for all of us.”

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, founded in 1780, is one of the nation’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening elected members from the academic, business and government sectors to respond to challenges facing the nation and the world.

The 2023 inductees join a distinguished roster of previously elected members, including Benjamin Franklin (elected in 1781), Alexander Hamilton (1791), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1864), Charles Darwin (1874), Albert Einstein (1924), Robert Frost (1931), Margaret Mead (1948), Milton Friedman (1959), Martin Luther King Jr. (1966), Stephen Hawking (1984), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1984), Condoleezza Rice (1997), John Legend (2017), James Fallows (2019), Joan Baez (2020) and Sanjay Gupta (2021).

-Cara Capuano and Heather Ashbach, UCI
-pictured: Leo Chavez, UCI Distinguished Professor of anthropology, examines the uphill battle undocumented immigrants face in American society, with status affecting everything from physical and mental health to access to education, housing and medical care. Steve Zylius / UCI

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