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Border Tech, Alien Studies

February 6, 2019

Portrait of Michael Lechuga

Portrait of Michael Lechuga
Photo by Meghan Baumler, CLAgency Student

Growing up in El Paso, Texas on the border of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Assistant Professor Michael Lechuga of the Department of Communications Studies learned about border control from a young age.

“The life of somebody who lives on the border is so intertwined with border security, it’s almost part of our daily lives,” says Lechuga, who remembers a constant stream of border control vehicles passing through El Paso. Lechuga became intrigued with what technologies and daily processes were used to monitor and secure borders.

Fact or Fiction?

Lechuga earned his masters in communication studies from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2007 and his PhD from the University of Denver in Colorado in 2016. He came to Minnesota in 2018 to teach rhetoric, migration, Latina/o/x studies, and affect studies.

His book, Cine-Mexicans: An Introduction to Cinematic Representations and Chicano Cinema, was published in 2018 and tracks the history of cinematic representations of Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and/or Chicano/as in the US. It also explores notable developments in the Chicano/an experience and comments on the relationship between the US and Mexico, between US culture and Mexican/Chicano culture, and between US Americans and Mexican-Americans.

His current research builds on his experiences at the border and focuses on the role that technology plays in border security mechanisms and the ways migrants are depicted as “alien” in popular culture.

He recalls, “There was a gas station near our house that was the hub for border patrol, security mechanisms,” he says. “You would see ICE agents out there, you would see DHS agents, you would see military vehicles. You would see these huge, towering light systems.”

Lechuga explores popular culture and current technology in his classes, asking his students questions like, “What does the new iPhone X have to do with the United States’ borders?” And he delves into movies like the 1987 sci-film film Predator, whose plot includes everything from extraterrestrial aliens to surveillance technology.

Predators vs. Aliens

As he settles into his role at CLA, Lechuga is excited about future research possibilities.

He says he will continue to explore US dynamics around race, ethnicity, and immigration and how border policies may work against US economic interests.

“From what I’ve studied, Pew [Research Center] studies, for example, immigrants actually contribute to our country way more than they take away from our country,” he says. “There’s something about the logic that’s not right. Why are we throwing money away to patrol the border which will actually stifle this economic growth within our own country that migrants provide?”

He is eager to see where his research will go. “A couple of my recent publications made me feel as if I was ready for a bigger opportunity,” he says. “My research is something that is very important to me, so when I saw the research support that Minnesota offers, I jumped at it.”