Patricia R. Pessar, an internationally renowned scholar of Latin American immigration issues and refugee and social movements who helped launch a formal program at Yale for the study of ethnicity and migration, died in New Haven on May 10 after a long battle with cancer. She was 63.
Pessar was adjunct professor of anthropology, American studies, and African American studies. Her teaching and research interests included transnationalism and globalization, gender and ethnic studies, migration in the Americas, and social and religious movements. She was considered an expert on the history and ethnography of the Dominican Republic and forms of popular religious expression in Brazil and Latin America.
“Her fieldwork took her to communities profoundly afflicted by civil war and displacement, but she always came away transformed by the creativity and imaginative power of her informants,” says Alicia Schmidt Camacho, professor of American studies and ethnicity, race and migration. “I remember well her field research at the Mexico-Guatamalan border with members of Mamá Maquín, an advocacy organization devoted to the concerns of repatriated Mayan women. Her analysis of the precarious status of these women in the post-conflict period yielded prescient insights about how gender operated in these women’s lives. Patricia matched her scholarly investment in gendered analysis with a generous investment in feminist practice, characterized by dialog and collaborative inquiry. I have benefited so much from her example and from being the recipient of this generosity.”