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Current PhD Students

Centre of Latin American Studies


Jessica A. Fernández de Lara Harada


PhD working title

Mexican Japanese Middle and Working Classes: Transnational Biopolitics, Contested Ethno-racial Identities, and Cultural Repertoires (1888 – present).


Jessica is a qualified lawyer and human rights defender with over five years of experience in legal practice, research and advocacy work. Before coming to Cambridge, Jessica completed an MA in Latin American Studies (with Distinction) at University College London, and a BA (First Class Honours) in Law at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Jessica is based at the Centre of Latin American Studies, and her doctoral research is funded by the Gates Cambridge Trust.  


Jessica’s research is concerned with race and migration, processes of ethno-racial boundary making across generations, and inequality. Drawing on migration and memory studies, critical race theory, and everyday forms of state formation, she investigates how social processes create, contest and transform ethno-racial boundaries in “mestizo” settings such as Mexico. She explores this by focusing on the overlooked experiences of Asians in Latin America. Jessica traces the histories, memories and trajectories of Japanese middle and working class immigrants who settled in Mexico before the Second World War and how their experiences of exclusion, forced displacement and concentration during this period impacted on subsequent generations' sense of identity, inner communities and relations with Mexican Society and Japan. Her research aims to expand understandings on exclusion towards ethno-racial minorities in this region and repertoires of resistance, recognition and belonging. 

Jessica’s research also addresses the politics of repress-entation, reflexive positionality and collaborative practices. Her methodological approach involves multiple methods, including multi-sited ethnography, interviews, survey questionnaires and archival research. She conducted fieldwork research in the US, Mexico and Japan from January 2018 to January 2019, and travelled extensively to the main cities of settlement for Japanese migrants and their descendants in Mexico where she interviewed 180 families, collected oral histories, cultural productions and official data.

Jessica's research is building upon her master's dissertation on graphic novel representations of mestizaje, the positioning of afro-descendants, and the operation of race, racism and popular culture in contemporary Mexico from a transnational frame.

Research Interests

Jessica's research interests include cultural sociology, history of race relations, legacies of transpacific labour migrations, racism and inequality, mobility controls, political violence, repress-entations, memory, citizenship, transnationalism and nation-state formation in the late nineteenth and twenty first centuries.

Research Collaborations

  • Co-Founder and Co-Convener of the CRASSH Graduate Research Group 'Power and Vision: The Camera as Political Technology
  • Researcher for the Survey of Nikkei Communities in Latin America commissioned by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • Centre for Historical Studies Visiting Scholar at El Colegio de México under the Supervision of Prof. Pablo Yankelevich.
  • Co-organiser alongside Dr Rin Ushiyama and Zeina Azmeh of the International Conference Memories in Transit, supported by the British Academy and The Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement.
  • Convener alongside Dr Helena F. S. Lopes, Dr Frances O’Morchoe and Sundeep Lidher of the ENIUGH Panel Colonial borderlands, nationalism and foreign others: Mobility controls, practices of citizenship and the definition of marginal subjects in the 20th century.
  • Convener with Andrea Aramburu Villavisencio, Tatiana Vargas and Erika Teichert of the SLAS Panel Methodologies in displacement: Writing through texts, (auto)ethnographic gestures, and affective traces.

Teaching and Supervisions

Jessica supervises for Soc3 Modern Societies II: Global Social Problems and Dynamics of Resistance and Soc11 Racism, Race and Ethnicity, in the Department of Sociology, and teaches on the MPhil module Race, Racism and Anti-Racism, in the Centre of Latin American Studies, at the University of Cambridge.

Public Engagement

  • Mentor for BAME students at the University of Cambridge organised by Gates Cambridge.
  • Participation in the celebration of Black History Month with a presentation about ‘Overlooked minorities in the past and present, and the value of articulating their unspoken narratives’, for the Gates Cambridge Panel on Anti-colonial Research, Activism and Making universities more inclusive.
  • Curatorial Intervention in the Altar of the Day of the Dead at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology to bring awareness to past and present overlooked Migrants and Ethnic Minorities in Mexico and the Americas. For the altar - Camino a Mictlān – Jessica drew inspiration from previous celebrations in Mexico City, and with the MAA, Mexican and Migration Societies, dedicated it to Chinese, Korean and Japanese labour migrants, Jewish and Political exiles, Indigenous peoples, and Latin American youth in their transit to Mexico and the US (Interview for BBC Radio & Cambridge TV).
  • Participation in the Teach Out: Liberation Organising in Cambridge, organized by Cambridge UCU, CUSU BME Campaign, and The Black Cantabs Society.
  • Participation in the podcast AnalisisMX to discuss from historical, sociological and public policy perspectives the subject of racism, its social impacts and its relationship with the modern project of the Mexican nation, that is, Mestizaje.

Conference Papers

  • "Chino, Chino, Japonés" in the "all-inclusive-post-racial" fiction of Mestizaje: Dissecting Anti-Asian racism and political violence in post-revolutionary Mexico, Oxford Latin American Graduate Seminar Series Trinity Term (2020).
  • "Chino, Chino, Japonés: Orientalism, Racial State Formation, and National Politics of Mestizaje in Mexico”. Through the Nation: Interdisciplinary Symposium, The University of Cambridge Nationalisms & Identities Research Group (UnCaNI) (2019).
  • “Ambiguous pathways of Japanese immigrants in Mexico, 1888 – 1952”. Liminal Borders: Constructing and Deconstructing Borders in World History, Cambridge World History Workshop Conference (2019)
  • “Summer Grass, Traces of the Brave Ones' Dream: A sense of a timeless Japan in Chiapas, Mexico”, Sensing Colonial Ports and Global History, Colonial Ports and Global History (CPAGH) Conference, TORCH, University of Oxford (2019)
  • “Asian Americas and Latin America: Linkages, disruptions and woven histories between Japan and Mexico through past and present migratory flows”, Annual Conference, SLAS (2018) (accepted).
  • “The making of the migratory experience: Arts and lives of Mexicans with Japanese ancestry in historical and contemporary perspective”, Annual Conference, LASA (2018) (accepted).
  • “Mexican Comics” (Chair), Graphic Novels and the Politics of Form, TORCH, University of Oxford (2017)
  • “Racing colours: A discussion of two multicultural states, México and Perú”, Power and Change in the Americas in the Modern Area, UCL Americas Reserch Network (2015).

Other Interests

Jessica enjoys reading world literature, listening to podcasts while walking, and more recently baking. She also loves pottery, writing short stories, and squash.

PhD Supervisors and Advisor

Dr. Monica Moreno Figueroa, Prof. Loraine Gelsthorpe and Dr. Brigitte Steger

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