Melina was born and raised in a small, rural, farm community in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Her parents are Mexican immigrants from Guanajuato, Mexico who have inspired and pushed her to continue her education.
She received her B.A. in political science from California State University, Stanislaus and completed her M.A. in Trans-Atlantic Politics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her M.A. thesis explored South-North migration with a focus on Mexico-U.S. and Morocco-Spain immigration issues. Her thesis analyzed push-and-pull factors of immigration, immigration policies, and the politics behind reclassifying immigrants as economic refugees.
Along with her academic work, Melina is also an active part of her community. She is part of the Raza Graduate Student Association and various grassroots organizations and campaigns that tackle issues relating to immigration/immigrant rights, ethnic studies and education access, and LGBTQ issues.
Her parents and family inspire Melina’s research. Growing up in an immigrant household and community, working side by side with her parents in the fields, and having to be their guide through a system that she barely understood, made her realize the important implications of ill-informed policy for immigrant communities and communities of color.
Melina studies the effects of public policy on immigrant health, focusing on immigrants of Latin American origin and specifically on the health of women and youth. Because having immigrant status places you in a complex and subordinate position in our society, Melina believes that traditional or mainstream theories of political science are often not enough to explain the realities of the immigrant experience. She therefore utilizes theories that speak to and incorporate the lived realities of marginalized peoples, including theories of embodiment, historical trauma, Critical Race Theory, and Marxism. Her work aims to develop a critical understanding of the structures of power and privilege that inform policy and ultimately affect immigrant health.
In addition to her work at UNM and the Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy, Melina is part of an international, interdisciplinary research group studying labor gray zones. Here she focuses on analyzing the confluence of labor and immigration laws and regulations and how the convergence of these policy spheres produces sociopolitical gray zones that ultimately affect the health and well-being of Latinxs and immigrants.
- Fall 2015: Visiting Graduate Fellow Center for Poverty Research, University of California, Davis
- Fall 2015. “Under Siege: Mexican Immigrant Women in the United States,” in Gerard Gomez and Donna Kesselman, Dossier: Femmes au travail dans les Ameriques, Presses Universitaires de Provence.
- Summer 2015: Fund for Latino Scholarship Recipient
- Summer 2015: “Transgender Rights and Communities of Color.” Politics of Color blog, Journal of Race, Ethnicity, & Politics.