Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, PhD, didn’t always know she wanted to be an anthropologist. Gomberg-Muñoz, assistant professor at Loyola and an applied anthropologist who focuses on migration issues, says she got interested in her field in a roundabout kind of way.
“I started waitressing at 16, and almost every place without exception had workers who were undocumented immigrants,” says Gomberg-Muñoz. “I stumbled across anthropology by reading things. It seemed like a field where I could explore migration more fully.”
As an applied anthropologist, Gomberg-Muñoz researches and works with the immigrant community with the higher aim of understanding how to help this population and serve their needs. When she was a doctorate candidate at University of Illinois at Chicago, Gomberg-Muñoz wrote her dissertation, “Labor and Legality,” as an ethnography on the network of undocumented restaurant workers in Chicago. Her current research is a three-year, National Science Foundation funded study on Latin American immigrants in Chicago who want to adjust their legal status. This project is specifically focused on understanding how people navigate the legal process and how their lives change, if at all.
She says that Chicago is a great place for this type of research because of the high immigrant population.
“My research has been geographically rooted in Chicago. There are many activists in the immigration rights movement, and it is one of the few places that has this large undocumented population. It makes Chicago a bit unusual in that regard,” she says.
Being in a city like Chicago makes it easy for people to get involved in this movement.
“That’s one of the great things about Chicago, all the opportunities,” says Gomberg-Muñoz. “The most effective way of becoming part of a movement is getting plugged into the information cycle. You can join immigration rights groups and go to all the events. It is an important display of solidarity.”
As a professor at Loyola, Gomberg-Muñoz says she feels a lot of support from the University and the community that she hasn’t necessarily found elsewhere.
“I feel very empowered to do the four things I love most. There is intellectual and institutional support for the research that I do. There is a lot of community work, and the institution supports and respects that kind of work. There is also a lot of support for teaching. The fourth is all that can be balanced with being a parent,” says Gomberg-Muñoz. “I feel really lucky.”