Biography

I am postdoctoral fellow at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, which I joined shortly after completing my doctoral studies at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning. My current research interests focus on: transnational migration, international development, hometown associations (HTAs), economic and social policy, and transnational ethnography.

My book manuscript, tentatively titled Bootstrapping Transnational Community Development: Dominican Hometown Associations and their Boundless Pursuit of Projects, examines collective grassroots projects carried out by migrants and their counterparts back home as a window into how community development takes place across borders. Although hometown associations (HTAs) are widely known for taking on projects geared towards improving economic, social and political opportunities for community residents, primarily in migrant-sending towns, their ability to successfully execute and sustain local development projects varies significantly. Based on six years of multi sited ethnographic fieldwork in the southern region of the Dominican Republic, New York City and Boston, I find that the variations stem primarily from the strategies they employ to decide on projects and the methods of achieving them, both within organizational structures and with diverse state actors. My research shows that HTAs are able to succeed at transnational community development when they pursue complex projects that help build cross-border cooperation, coproduction capabilities, and encourage the search for creative responses to unforeseen obstacles.

Focusing on three Dominican HTAs, Bootstrapping Transnational Community Development examines how the development experiences of the towns and organizations under study are influenced by the kinds of projects they choose to carry out. It also focuses on the structural characteristics and sequencing of projects to understand how they’re executed, the factors that lead to successes and failures, and how innovative development pathways are built.

Given that most of the scholarly attention on the migration-development nexus has focused on studying who moves, financial remittances flows and their effects, discussions have centered on measuring how much development occurs. These discussions come at the expense of a more critical examination of what kinds of development processes emerge in communities impacted by the transnational movement of people, money and ideas. Bootstrapping Transnational Community Development moves away from conventional analytical approaches that privilege economistic understandings and metrics, and pays closer attention to the political and social dimensions of HTA endeavors.

Before joining MIT, I spent close to seven years as Research Director in the Center for a New Economy (CNE), a Puerto Rico-based, non-profit think-tank dedicated to promoting innovative and progressive economic development projects and policies. While at the Center, I also taught geography and planning courses at the University of Puerto Rico's Río Piedras Campus, and also at the Polytechnic University's School of Architecture. 

Although my academic projects keep me quite occupied, I collaborate with the CNE and keep a close watch on socioeconomic affairs in my native Puerto Rico. At present, I hold the Churchill J. Carey Jr. Chair in Economic Development Research at the CNE. 

I completed a Masters in City Planning (MCP) at UC Berkeley's Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP) prior to joining the CNE. My Masters work looked at high-technology policy in Puerto Rico and the contemporary economic development challenges in the island. I spent my college days at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras Camups, where I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BA in economics and geography.

Here's a full copy of my Curriculum Vitae.
 

Selected Works

"Empowering Cooperation: Dominican Hometown Associations and the Politics of Transnational Community Development" Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT (2014). 

"Social Remittances Revisited" (with Peggy Levitt) Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 37, no. 1 (2011): 1-22.

"Bringing Culture Back In: Opportunities and Challenges for the Migration Development Nexus" (with Peggy Levitt) In eds. Jeronimo Cortina and Enrique Ochoa-Reza, New Perspectives on International Migration and Development. New York: Columbia University Press. 2013

"Rethinking the Migration-Development Nexus from the Perspective of Time" (with Peggy Levitt) Migration Letters 10, no. 1 (2013): 11-22. 

"Hometown Associations" In ed. Immanuel Ness, Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. New York: Wiley. 2013 [www.migrationencyclopedia.com]

Review of "The Stickup Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence and The American Dream" by Randol Contreras. Planning Perspectives 30, no. 1 (2015): 172-174.

Review of "The New Puerto Rico? Identity, Hybridity, and Transnationalism within the Puerto Rican Diaspora in Orlando, Florida" by Luis Sánchez. CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies 22, no. 1 (2010): 309-311. 

"Escalas de las comunidades imaginarias: de lo local a lo transnacional y viceversa" En eds. Felipe de Alba y Frederic Lesemann, Informalidad e incertidumbre: ¿cómo estudiamos la informalización en las metrópolis? México: UNAM. 2012

"Athens on the Caribbean" (with Andrew Shcrank) Foreign Affairs, (July 6, 2015).

 

Major Projects Underway

—"Bootstrapping Transnational Community Development: Dominican Hometown Associations and their Boundless Pursuit of Projects": Book manuscript under production

—"Roundtable for a New Economy": Research and engaged practice effort led by the Center for a New Economy (in collaboration with the Columbia University, Brookings Institution and the Watson Institute at Brown University) aimed at identifying and advancing a series of development strategies to restructure Puerto Rico’s outdated industrial policy.

—"Puerto Rico Self-Sufficiency Project": Pilot study that aims to incentivize low-income households to engage in work activities and achieve self-sufficiency. The project will employ a randomized-control-trial methodology and qualitative  rounds of fieldwork to evaluate whether reforms to Puerto Rico’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), focused on providing earning supplements and job coaching services, can simultaneously reduce poverty and encourage steady work in the formal sector. (with Gustavo J. Bobonis, Frederico Finan and Marco González-Navarro).