I am a medical anthropologist with cross-training and experience in public health both domestically and internationally. Most of my work is located within what I believe is a productive synergy between anthropology and the more applied concerns of public health. As an anthropologist trained in ethnographic methods, globalization, and critical medical anthropology, I have sought to trouble the terms of discourse and "intervention" in public health, and to bring structural inequalities and material processes into greater focus in public health. Specifically, I have used this analytic lens in my work on HIV/AIDS and sexuality in Latin America and the Caribbean.
My book Caribbean Pleasure Industry: Tourism, Sexuality and AIDS in the Dominican Republic, seeks to provide a critical structural analysis for patterns in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean, drawing on experience-near ethnography with male sex workers who work in the tourism industry in two Dominican cities. For this book, I was honored to receive the Ruth Benedict Award for best solo-authored book on sexuality in the field of anthropology in 2008. I have sought to carry much of this work forward as my career has evolved, including obtaining funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to pursue innovative mixed-method studies that aim to translate ethnographic interpretation into interventions and policies for HIV/AIDS prevention.
Two recent NIH-funded studies that I have led include: (1) "Injection Practices and HIV risk behavior among transgendered persons in Puerto Rico" (Grant #1R21DA032288-01); and "High-Use Alcohol Venues: Tourism, Sex Work and HIV in the Dominican Republic (Grant #1 R21 AA018078-01). The former study, entitled "TRANSforma", uses both ethnographic methods and a quantitative survey to examine the social context of lay hormone and silicone injection practices that are common among male-to-female transgender persons in Puerto Rico. The research seeks to use the knowledge obtained to design subsequent federally-funded interventions to address the life conditions faced by transgender women, which contributes to the vulnerabilities they face. The latter study used the medical anthropological notion of "syndemics" to address the political, economic, and cultural conditions of commercial sex workers who serve a tourist clientele in the Dominican Republic.
I have been so honored, as well, to serve as Principal Investigator for a Ford Foundation funded study called "Detroit Youth Passages." See the project web page at Detroit Youth Passages. This project takes a truly structural and critical approach to medical anthropology and applies it to analyze the political and economic context of Detroit, Michigan. This project uses a Community-Based Participatory Research approach, and includes three community-based organizations in Detroit who are working with three highly marginalized populations: (1) transgender women of color; (2) young women involved in sex work; and (3) Latino youth at risk for gang involvement. We are using an interdisciplinary approach to conduct applied research and large-scale communications on the structural realities of Detroit youth, in order to transform the policies and conditions that place such youth at risk. In many ways, this project brings my critical ethnographic lens from my work in Latin America and the Caribbean to a domestic context, demonstrating that the global conditions of health inequities are often interconnected in unexpected ways.
I am currently beginning a 5-year NIH-funded study on migration, tourism, and the HIV/drug syndemic in the Dominican Republic (grant # 1 R01 DA031581-01A1) which examines through ethnography and a large-sample survey the social and structural factors that contribute to the clustering of HIV and drug use vulnerabilities within tourism zones.
The project involves a close collaboration with colleagues at the Facultad de Ciencias de la Salud (http:/www.fcsuasd.netweb/) at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, the largest public university in the Dominican Republic. The study is the first large NIH-funded interdisciplinary research project to examine the social and structural risks for HIV and drug abuse associated with the tourism industry, and aims to collaboratively develop a pilot intervention to support the health and well-being of Dominicans who work in tourism zones.
Critical Medical Anthropology, Global Health, Latin America, Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Tourism Studies, Gender/ Sexuality Studies, HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention, Mixed Methods Research on Health Inequities.