Robert C. Smith
Fellow: Awarded 2009
Field of Study: Sociology
Competition: US & Canada
Robert Courtney Smith is a Professor of Sociology, Immigration Studies, and Public Affairs at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. His work seeks to increase our understanding of contemporary migration, and to identify strategic sites of intervention for policy. He has worked in the Mexican community in New York and in Mexico (especially the state of Puebla) for more than twenty years. He is the author of Mexican New York: Transnational Worlds of New Immigrants (University of California Press, 2006), which won four awards from the American Sociological Association: the 2006 Thomas and Zaniecki Award for best book on migration; the 2007 Robert Park Award for the best book on Community and Urban Sociology, the 2008 Latino/a best book award, and the 2008 overall Distinguished Book Award. It also won a Presidential Excellence Prize from Baruch College. He has been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Foundation, the Spencer Foundation/National Academy of Education, the Columbia Oral History Research Project. He was a Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Fellow in 2007-2008.
Mr. Smith's work relies mainly on longitudinal ethnography and intensive interviewing. This means that he follows people for many years, observing and participating in their daily life, repeatedly interviewing them, and discussing their lives with them.
Robert Smith's "public sociology" seeks to identify strategic sites of intervention to promote the interests of Mexican community. He has served several years on the CUNY Chancellor's Commission on Mexicans and Education in New York, and serves as the Lead Faculty in the Baruch College School of Public Affairs Emerging Mexican Leaders Program. He co-founded the Mexican Educational Foundation of New York (which is merging with the Mexican American Students Alliance), which promotes educational achievement and committed leadership in the Mexican community. Mr. Smith was an expert witness in the Voting Rights case of US. v. Village of Port Chester, focusing on the history of discrimination and racial social dynamics involving Latinos. He also routinely advises Mexican community organizations and leaders. In recognition of this work, he was awarded the Youth Advocate of the Year Award in 2008 by the largest Mexican nonprofit organization in New York, Organizacion Tepeyac.
Robert Smith's Guggenheim Fellowship project will write up data from a twelve-year project on children of Mexican immigrants (funded currently by the W. T. Grant Foundation), following them from mid-adolescence into early adulthood (mid-teens to about thirty). The resulting book will be called Horatio Alger Lives in Brooklyn... But Check His Papers. This research documents how the majority of his 100 research subjects experienced at least modest upward mobility over the decade, benefitting from the many "second chance" mechanisms or special programs in the New York schools, from good mentoring, and from hard work. The study also shows how undocumented youth, who have grown up in the U.S., including some with stellar educational records, have experienced harsh and unfair limits. Some have responded by pursuing their educations and becoming leaders in their communities, maintaining a strong hope that America will give all its children a fair chance. It is a morally upside-down universe where young people raised in the U.S. are condemned to life at hard labor in the informal economy for the "crime" of coming to the U.S. with their parents as children.