Mark Padoongpatt

I am currently an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).  At UNLV, I teach a range of courses on the interdisciplinary research process including Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies, Interdisciplinary Research Methods, and the Interdisciplinary Capstone class – where seniors work on a research project, present it in a public forum, and produce a portfolio that highlights and reflects what they’ve learned.  But the majority of my time is spent trying to finish my first book project on the historical relationship between food and identity.  I focus specifically on Thai food and how and why it became central to Thai American community and identity formation in Los Angeles within the context of post-World War II U.S. empire.

I earned my Ph.D. in American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, where I completed a dissertation entitled “Thais That Bind: U.S. Empire, Food, and Community in Los Angeles, 1945-2008.”  In April 2011, I published an article in theRadical History Review on Thai food and race in Los Angeles and recently published an article on White women’s fascination with Asian/Pacific cuisine in the 1950s and ’60s that appears in a wonderful new anthology, Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader (NYU Press, 2013).

What role did your undergraduate ES education at UO play? How did ES help you on your career path?

My undergraduate Ethnic Studies education at UO profoundly shaped both my personal and professional life.  For one, majoring in Ethnic Studies (and History) gave me the tools to make sense of my personal experiences growing up in a multiracial/ethnic but predominantly Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles.   What I learned in ES courses pushed me to place my experiences with racism in a larger structural context, one that allowed me to see connections between the Thai community and other marginalized racial and ethnic groups.  Above all, I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work closely with brilliant and supportive faculty – scholar activists who were all deeply committed to cultivating a sense of social justice among undergraduates.

UO’s Ethnic Studies faculty showed me that academic research wasa form of political activism and that it could be my contribution to making a better world.  They inspired me to want to research, write, teach, and mentor.  That’s the reason I decided to pursue a Ph.D. and become a professor.

What advice do you have for current ES students?

At a moment in higher education when getting a good job is prioritized over critical thinking, I encourage Ethnic Studies students to continue learning about how the world works in order to remake it, rather than be content with the world that is before us.  And to remember that an ethnic studies curriculum provides one of the few spaces where we can create and sustain the necessary critiques and challenges to patriarchy, white supremacy, economic inequality, and imperialism.