Alex Avina

Interview: How to Make History with Alex Avina

Alexander Avina is a Professor of History at Florida State University. His work focuses on Latin American history, specifically in Mexico.

Below is a summary of our interview:


“Here, by the downslip of hills, facing the sunset and time’s muzzle, near gardens with severed shadows, we do what the prisoners do, and we do what the unemployed do: we nurture hope.”

His Journey

Most of his story is actually depended on the bravery of his parents who are undocumented migrants who came here to the United States from Mexico in the late 70’s. They took Alex and his siblings to the best public schools in southern California. He had some “hard ass parents” at home when it came to getting good grades and obtaining an education.  There was the sentiment that if Alex didn’t fulfill their goals, which was to attain higher education, then he was wasting the sacrifice that his parents his made. He also played soccer growing up which got him financial aid he needed to get to St. Mary’s College in northern California. His first year there he met Dr. Myrna Santiago, who became his mentor throughout college. She allowed him the ability to navigate the college experience and kept him on the academic path. She’s largely responsible for his goal in attaining a post-graduate career in academia, particularly History. Next, he attended University of Southern California for his Doctorate in History. He was there for seven years, plugging away course work, finished his doctorate in 2009, and came to Florida State as his first academic job.

Low Point

There were two moments: the first was when he was 12 years old, his parents were trying to their status whether they were able to stay in the country as legal citizens. They had to leave the country and go to Mexico and a few times they weren’t able to go back to the U.S. and his parents were able to become citizens. The second time was during his first semester in graduate school, Alex didn’t think it was for him. He was trying to decide if he was going to stay or if he was going to go and when he saw his high grades, he decided he belonged there.

Aha Moment

Alex doesn’t know if he’s found that moment yet, but there have been a few times he had hints. The first was when he finished his dissertation, he got to Tallahassee, he walked up to his office and saw his name ‘Dr. Alexander Avina’ on the door,  he said “alright, I think I’m doing this.” He also felt the most validation the moment he received a University teaching award.

Alex’s work now  

His area of concentration is in modern Mexican history, specifically post World War 2. Alex looks at civilizations in the country side and the cultures of rural Mexico.

Alex delves into a story about the time he was able to interview a man who had a son that became a rural school teacher in the guerrilla movements. His son joined the movements and was captured and disappeared.  They were never told how he died. In 2006, because of his  the efforts of human rights activists in Mexico, they found the remains of his son, so he could give his son a proper burial. Alex interviewed this individual after this. Alex was welcomed into his home and was told this story with such a dry sense of humor, that is so rare. His story was amazing to Alex because it served as a great motivation to get the story out. Alex’s research project involves the drug wars in Mexico. There are horrific levels of violence going on that Alex wants people to know what’s going on and the Alex has an uncle disappear due to a trafficking group. His biggest challenge is how to do this drug war project in a way that doesn’t frighten his employer and develop a feasible research project. But it’s exciting because he finished his first book that he had been working on for a long time.

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Lightning Round

Book Alex Recommends

Empire’s Workshop

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Helpful Habit:

That was writing every day. He writes between 9am and 12pm, every day.

Helpful Person

His mentor from St. Mary’s College, Dr. Myrna Santiago. Since 2008, the most helpful person has been his wife, Ryanne.

Internet Resource

Democracy Now, a radio show for news on the go.

What’s Your Purpose

To teach a generation of Americans how the history of Latin America continue to influence their every day lives, even if it’s not very apparent.

Where to follow Alex

He has a Twitter handle @Alexander_Avina.

Parting Words

Think critically and analyze things, to go beyond the surface.

One More Thing

If you enjoy this interview, please take some time to rate and review us on iTunes or Stitcher.

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Jackie Abrams

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