An underlying theme in my research is the question of categorical ambiguity. How confident are we that the array of race and ethnic options given in the U.S. Census, for example, reflects anything like the lived experience of race and ethnicity? How shall we classify the growing number of children of mixed-race background? What impact do the long-term effects of language assimilation, intermarriage, and social integration have on the persistence of racial and ethnic categories among groups as we now define them?
A recent development in my research has been an exploration of the way consumer markets structure both race and class relations in American society today. In the second chapter of my book, Mestizo in America: Generations of Mexican Ethnicity in the Suburban Southwest, I argue that the pervasive presence in the Southwest of Spanish language media, businesses catering to the Mexican-origin community, and other cultural institutions provide the scaffolding for an additional layer of collective social capital which works to reinforce Mexican ethnic ties over generations.
In addition to understanding how social identities are to some degree shaped by our immersion in consumer culture, a critical take on consumer life must also grapple with the unequal distribution in the population of benefits and costs inherent in market-based economies. In this regard, the question of food equity and food security has become increasingly relevant in recent years, especially in poor African American, American Indian and Latino communities.