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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: Dani Carrillo

The top young thinkers in economics, education, political science, and more.

Sociologist Dani Carrillo's fascinating studies of marginalized communities are inspired by her own experiences of feeling "otherized." As a Mexican immigrant growing up in the suburb of Chicago Heights, Carrillo often felt out of place. In elementary school, Carrillo's classmates jokingly laughed at her when she used the wrong English word. At the same time, paradoxically, Carrillo often felt like she wasn't "Mexican enough" at her predominantly Latino church. Part of the problem was that she looked white. "The priest would say goodbye to everybody in Spanish and then turn to me and say goodbye in English," she says.

Carrillo's first published study explores feelings of alienation among immigrants in France. One of her key findings is particularly meaningful in light of Europe's ongoing migrant crises and heightening Islamophobia: Immigrants who feel otherized in France are less likely to become French citizens, and are also less likely to want to become citizens. Holding all else constant, Muslims in particular are less likely to become citizens in France than other immigrants who feel less marginalized; when marginalized groups don't seek naturalization, or are not granted this status, they don't get to reap its many benefits, including upward economic mobility and a greater sense of belonging to their new country. This, Carrillo postulates, might make them feel even more alienated.

Carrillo is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of California­–Berkeley. For her dissertation, she continues to study marginalized communities, but now she turns her attention much closer to home—to the Bay Area, where she currently resides. Like many American suburbs, the suburbs of Oakland have experienced a spike in poverty since 2000. Nationwide, suburban poverty rates now exceed urban poverty rates. Carrillo wonders how this suburbanization of poverty is affecting low-income immigrants. Do immigrants in suburbs feel marginalized? Do they experience forms of marginalization distinct from those of their urban counterparts? How can the answers to these questions "help reduce poverty levels or at least provide more social services to low-income populations?" she asks.

Carrillo has been awarded several prestigious fellowships, including a National Science Foundation Fellowship for work in France and in the Bay Area. She says she is particularly grateful for her fellowship with the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, which empowers her to meet with like-minded peers each week as she continues her dissertation work.

We'll be publishing profiles of this year's list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 throughout the month of March. Visit this page every day to read about another young person who is making an impact on the social, political, and economic issues we cover every day at Pacific Standard.

Carrillo discovered sociology serendipitously, when she needed to fill a gap in her class schedule at Pomona College. "I literally opened a course catalog, scanned a few pages, saw an introduction to sociology course that fit that gap, and signed up," she says. As soon as professor Hung Thai began discussing class and racial inequality on the first day, Carrillo was hooked. "These were topics I had contemplated all my life," she says.

Carrillo now considers Thai one of her principal mentors. Thai took her on as a research assistant for a book project and later encouraged her to apply to graduate school. "I can confidently say that if it were not for him," Carrillo says, "I would not be where I am now."


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