Meet the Scholars: Josefina Flores Morales
Josefina Flores Morales is a PhD student in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She is a part of the Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2016.
Before we begin, tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research interests are.
I am currently a doctoral student in sociology. My research is about how immigration status influences the health and economic conditions of older-aged adults in the United States. We actually do not currently know what the consequences of living a lifetime undocumented are. My research aims to fill this knowledge gap. My subfields are social demography and race/ethnicity. Most of my research projects are quantitative, and a few are qualitative.
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. The San Fernando Valley is a vibrant community (with great street tacos). It is one in which joy coexists with deep inequality. The two are so deeply intertwined that it is difficult to see one without the other.
I earned my undergraduate degree in psychology with a public health minor at UCLA. During my undergraduate career, I worked three jobs. I was a citizenship class teacher at a nonprofit, a peer tutor for psychology undergraduates, and a trombone player for a Mexican band (a banda). I was also a research assistant for multiple research projects on campus and in nonprofits. One of these projects helped me fall in love with research.
What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing?
The project that convinced me that I wanted to become a researcher was one I conducted in my junior year of college. I was accepted into a program called the Community Development and Social Justice Program at UCLA. Its aim was to introduce underrepresented students to social science research. I was to design my own research project.
I chose to interview Mexican women factory workers in my community, the San Fernando Valley. I recruited participants for the study and interviewed them to learn more about their lives, and about their health. I learned multiple lessons from this study.
First, the women I interviewed reported feeling bodily pain on a daily basis. The interviews helped me realize that the narratives about immigrants often overlook the fact that inequality becomes embodied. Second, the women I interviewed were deeply resilient. They made do, and were proud of their work as well as how far they had come in a country that is not their own. The coexistence of resilience and inequality challenged me to think in a more multidimensional way about immigration research.
Critically, many of the current national immigration policy discussions are centered around young individuals, and older-aged undocumented individuals are often left on the back burner. In my research, I aim to center older-aged migrants’ experiences.
Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about.
I am excited about a research project that investigates how immigration status may influence the financial resources (such as income and wealth) of older-age adults in the United States. Because older-age immigrants who are undocumented are excluded from access to social safety net programs such as Medicare and Social Security, I expect to find profound inequalities in financial resources between those with legal immigration statuses, and those without legal status.
This research is timely because legislatures in states such as California have begun to consider policies that would allow undocumented older-age adults to qualify for health care specific to meet their needs. Such policies are just the beginning of a broader agenda to promote a life of dignity for undocumented individuals.
For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?
I think it is important for people to know that immigration status is not a static characteristic of individuals. Citizenship, legal permanent resident status, and undocumented statuses are actually dynamic. For instance, someone who is currently a citizen and is foreign-born may have spent previous time undocumented. Thus, it is important to consider immigration status as a dynamic variable, one that can change throughout one’s life course.
Who is a researcher you admire and why?
I admire too many researchers to mention! They all share similar characteristics, though. They are humble, and are generous with their time. I would not be where I am at without the support of advisers who care deeply not only about research, but also about strengthening the pipeline to academia.
My most esteemed teachers have been individuals who are meticulous with their craft and invest time in passing the baton of rigorous research to younger generations.
How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?
HPRS has provided me with a broader vision and policy agenda that I apply toward my research. For instance, I have learned about how to communicate my research to an audience beyond the sociology discipline. I now see it as a responsibility to contribute to larger discussions about immigration in interdisciplinary settings. The HPRS community has elevated my graduate training.
The HPRS community represents one of the best treasures of my graduate career. I am thankful to have a constellation of scholars from whom I actively learn, and who are a well of support.
In the RWJF HPRS program, we have worked with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be?
I would decriminalize being an immigrant without legal status. Of course such policy discussions are complicated and need to be combined with discussions about abolishing ICE, and the detention/prison industrial complexes.
OK, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you had a talk show, who would your first three guests be?
I would invite artists and poets: Ocean Vuong, Yesika Salgado, and Yosimar Reyes. Their words and poetry always remind me about the power of language. After all, sociologists are writers, too.