Ethnographer-composer-performer-academic-musician, Alex E. Chávez earned his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2010 with a concentration in folklore and public culture and holds doctoral portfolios in both Mexican American Studies and Cultural Studies. Having held post-doctoral appointments at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where he served as both a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Latina/Latino Studies and a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology), as well as serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and an affiliate of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
His most immediate research project was a multi-sited ethnographic study of huapango arribeño music performance among transnational Mexican migrants in both the United States and Mexico. With the support of the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation this work resulted in his doctoral dissertation and forms the basis of his book manuscript, ¡Huapango!: Mexican Music, Bordered Lives, and the Sounds of Crossing (Under Contract, Duke University Press). This project has recently expanded into the realm of public anthropology. In collaboration with Daniel Sheehy—curator and director of Smithsonian Folkways—he is presently serving as lead consultant for a Smithsonian Folkways recording of huapango arribeño for inclusion in the world-renowned Tradiciones music series, lending an anthropological perspective on this music to a broader audience.
Centered around the US-Mexico Borderlands and Latinas/os in the United States, more broadly, Chavez’s research interests as a cultural anthropologist explore the innermost workings of transnational migration, embodiment, place-making, and everyday life as manifest in political economies of performance with particular emphasis on music and language. Combining a variety of critical approaches in cultural geography, linguistic anthropology, ethnomusicology, and critical theory, his explorations of music, language, and expressive culture reveal the dissonances and meanings behind the social structures and racialized zones they emerge out of and often challenge. A specialist in these areas of study, his work also bridges scholarship and creative expression as a means to interrogate how performative utterances—linguistic, musical, gesticular—intersect with larger cultural concerns surrounding illegality, mobility, racialized personhood, and the intimacies that bind everyday life across physical and cultural borders. In this regard, he has consistently crossed the boundary between performer and ethnographer in both Mexico and the United States. As a student and practitioner of various Mexican folk musics over the past fifteen years, he has engaged in music-making alongside his interlocuters, transforming his own experiences into a unique perspective on the body politics of performance that has shaped his understanding of how people cross various types of borders.
An accomplished musician and multi-instrumentalist, Chávez has performance experience in an array of styles ranging from American popular music to traditional Mexican son. He has recorded and toured with his own music projects, composed documentary scores (most recently Emmy Award-winning Where Soldiers Come From, Dir. Heather Courtney, 2011), and collaborated with various artists including Charanga Cakewalk/Lila Downs, Martin Perna of the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, in addition to members of the critically acclaimed Quetzal and Son de Madera, Grammy Award winning Grupo Fantasma, and Latin Grammy Award nominated Sones de México. Over the years, he has been invited to perform at a number of prestigious venues, including the Old Town School of Folk Music's Folk and Roots Festival, the Joshua Tree Roots Music Festival, and the Austin City Limits Music Festival.