Dr. Gabriela Spears-Rico is a cultural anthropologist and an Assistant Professor of Chicano Latino Studies with a joint appointment in American Indian Studies. A Pirinda Charense and P'urhepecha (descendant) feminist scholar and poet, Dr. Spears-Rico’s BA is from Stanford University and her MA and PhD in Comparative Ethnic Studies from U.C. Berkeley.

Her work examines manifestations of consumption and cultural appropriation in touristic transactions between mestizos and Indigenous people in Mexico. Her primary investment is in unraveling how the trauma of rape from the Spanish Conquest informs the mestiza/o desire to tour and inhabit indigenous communities. She is currently working on Mestiza/o Melancholia and the Legacy of Conquest in Michoacán, a book which offers an ethnographic analysis of the Days of the Dead and the Virgin of Guadalupe pilgrimages in Mexico to examine how ‘going native’ or ‘playing Indian’ functions in Mexico. Prioritizing P’urhepecha critiques of cultural commodification, Dr. Spears-Rico’s conceptualization of ‘mestizo melancholia’ explores acts of mestiza/o mourning and appropriation to analyze mestizo-Indigenous power relations and to denude the technologies of mestizaje. She authored “Decolonial P’urhepecha Maternalista Motherwork as Pedagogy,” in The Chicana Motherwork Anthology and “In the Time of War and Hashtags: Rehumanizing Indigeneity in the Digital Landscape” in Indigenous Interfaces: Spaces, Technology and Social Networks in Mexico and Central America both published in 2019 by the University of Arizona Press. Recent scholarship can be found in Transnational Perspectives on Ana Castillo (University of Pittsburg Press, 2021) and in Dancing With Life: Recontextualizing Mexican Masks (University of Texas Press, 2023).

An emergent internationally respected scholar, Dr. Spears-Rico has been part of invited panels at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting and has spoken on plenary sessions for the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. She has presented her work at peer reviewed conferences with the aforementioned organizations and the National Association for Ethnic Studies, Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, the American Comparative Literature Association, the Society for Applied Anthropology, the Latin American Studies Association, and at the Ethnicity, Race and Indigenous Peoples (ERIP) Conference organized by the Stanford Center for Latin American Studies and Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social (CIESAS). Additionally, she has been an invited speaker at more than thirty colleges and universities, including North Dakota State University, Stanford University, the University of Kentucky Louisville, Arizona State University, the University of San Francisco, Simon Frasier University and the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Spears-Rico has given keynote speeches for various community and academic organizations; some of these include the Cesar Chavez Commemoration at the University of California at Berkeley, Conferencia Alianza Latinx at MacAlester College, the Diversity Leadership Council Paradigm Address at Gustavus Adolphus College and Latinx Graduation at Augsburg University. On her campus, Dr. Spears-Rico has given keynotes for the Chicano Latino Studies Graduation, the Community of Scholars Program Graduation, the Golden Evening for Latina/o Students, and the MLK and PES Hispanic Heritage Month address.

Dr. Spears-Rico takes pride in her public scholarship and public pedagogy. She has offered her expertise and commentary to prominent Native, Indigenous and Latinx media, including Native America Calling, Indigeneity Rising, NDN Collective Stories and Latinx Talk. She has also written for, been interviewed and featured on the Dallas Morning News, WCCO News, the Santa Maria Times, Sahan Journal and the Berkeley Daily Planet among others. Locally, her scholarship has been showcased by the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Minnesota Historical Society. She has also worked on developing curriculum and training high school teachers with the Minneapolis Public Schools' Ethnic Studies Initiative. In 2022, she joined the Advisory Board for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. In 2023, her leadership, expertise, and lobbying were instrumental for the inclusion of the history of Indigenous genocide in the language of SF 2442 Holocaust Education mandate in Minnesota. This policy measure passed and became the first piece of legislation in the country to mandate that curriculum and teaching on the Indigenous genocide of the Americas be included in a Genocide Education mandate. 

Dr. Spears-Rico is also a cultural worker and poet. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies including; Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas (University of Arizona Press, 2011), Love Rise Up: poems of social justice, protest, and hope (Benu Press, 2012) and will also be in the forthcoming Critical Latinx Indigeneities Anthology. Her poetry has been published in the journals Agenda Empowering Women for Gender Equity (2019), Ethnic Studies Review (2021), Chiricú Journal: Latina/o Literatures, Arts and Cultures and Feminist Anthropology (2022). Her poetry has been featured at the DeYoung Museum, the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, Galeria de la Raza, MACLA (Movimiento de Arte y Culturas Latinoamericanas), the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and the Metropolitan Museum of New York.  Locally, her creative work has been showcased at Intermedia Arts, the Loft Literary Center, the Ordway Theater, Indigenous Roots Cultural Center and the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. She was a winner in Saint Paul's Sidewalk Poetry contest of 2021. In 2022, she was a finalist for the Bougainvillea Poetry Prize and was one of ten Indigenous artists in North America to be awarded the Radical Imagination Grant by the NDN Collective. Her first collection of poetry Deer Hide Elegies is forthcoming with FlowerSong Press.

Dr. Spears-Rico is the winner of numerous national awards, including the Mellon Mays Fellowship, the ALCS Fellowship in Native American and Indigenous Studies, and the Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship. At the University of Minnesota, she was awarded a residency with the Institute for Advanced Study 2021–2022 and was named a McKnight Land-Grant Professor for the years 2021–2023. In 2022, Dr. Spears-Rico was awarded the Honoring Indigenous Women's Award by the U of M's American Indian Student Cultural Center for her advocacy work on behalf of American Indian students and for her activism with Indigenous communities in the Twin Cities metro area. In 2023, she was awarded an Imagine Research grant by her institution for the contributions that her research in Michoacan makes to the humanities. 

Educational Background & Specialties
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Educational Background

  • PhD: Comparative Ethnic Studies, University of California Berkeley, 2015
  • MA: Comparative Ethnic Studies, University of California Berkeley, 2006
  • BA: Political Science & Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Stanford University, 2003
  • Certificate: Decolonial Knowledge and Power, PostColonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons, Center of Study and Investigation for Decolonial Dialogues, 2017


  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Performance Studies
  • Gendered violence
  • Heritage tourism
  • Mestizaje
  • Decolonial feminism
  • Ethnography
  • Chicanx indigeniety
  • Latinx spirituality