Maribel Alvarez

Associate Research Social Scientist and Associate Research Professor


Dr. Maribel Alvarez is an anthropologist, folklorist, curator, and cultural organizer. She holds the Jim Griffith Chair in Public Folklore at the Southwest Center, University of Arizona. From 2018-2021 she served as the inaugural Associate Dean for Community Engagement in the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences. Her leadership helped produce the first study ever at UA on community perceptions of university interventions. In 2022, she was asked by the University Provost to lead a comprehensive strategic re-tooling of the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Maribel is the founder of the Southwest Folklife Alliance, which produces the annual Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival in addition to other initiatives connecting heritage artists and ethnic food entrepreneurs to grassroots organizing and economic development. Southwest Folklife Alliance (SFA) is an independent nonprofit affiliated with the University of Arizona.

She has been a Fulbright Fellow in Sonora, Mexico, where she carried on a partnership with indigenous Yaqui communities around food and sovereignty. In 2021, with support from the Mellon Foundation, she co-founded the Northern Mexico Alliance for Folklore with her long-time collaborator, the distinguished Mexican anthropologist Guillermo Nuñez Noriega. In 1989, Maribel co-founded MACLA in San Jose, California –one of the most vibrant contemporary Latino art spaces in the United States. Maribel has served as a Trustee of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. She has been an advisor for several philanthropic national initiatives on questions of equity, narrative strategy, and the generative power of changing demographics in the United States. She has served in the faculty of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures’ National Leadership Institute for 18 years, training and mentoring more than 400 Latinx and BIPOC leaders throughout the nation.

In the School of Anthropology at UArizona, Maribel teaches courses on methods of cultural analysis, with particular emphasis on objects, oral narratives, foodways, and the visual cultures of the US-Mexico border. Maribel has written and published essays about poetry and food, intangible heritage, nonprofits and cultural policy, the theory of arts participation, artisans and patrimony in Mexico, and popular culture and stereotypes. She is currently completing a cultural history of the contested “Sleeping Mexican” image, based on her research of more than 20 years and her private collection of more than 2,000 artifacts. In 2018 the American Folklore Society awarded her the prestigious Americo Paredes Prize for “excellence in integrating scholarship and engagement with the people and communities one studies.” Maribel self-describes as an immigrant, queer, first-generation college student. Born in Cuba, she grew up in Puerto Rico since age 7, but later came of age in California, where she became deeply involved in the Chicano/a arts movement as a poet, organizer, and advocate. Her doctorate in Cultural Anthropology is from the University of Arizona.

Read Maribel´s essay La Pared Que Habla in Journal of the Southwest