Jason De León is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and the director of the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a study of clandestine migration between Mexico and the United States. By using a range of anthropological methods, combining ethnographic analysis of migrant stories, forensic science, and archaeological research, De León tries to understand the human consequences of immigration policy —who makes the journey, the routes, the means of survival and manner of death.
His research and fieldwork in the Sonoran Desert, adapting the tools and theories of archaeology for the study of the items and material artifacts left behind by migrants (i.e., an "archaeology of the contemporary", informs his ongoing Undocumented Migration Project (2009–).
Part of the Project includes State of Exception/Estado de Excepción, a touring museum exhibition, co-curated by De León. The exhibition features the backpacks, shoes, water bottles, and other items left behind by migrants, as well as audio interviews that add the perspectives of migrants making this dangerous journey.
His book The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (2015), also focuses on migrants, specifically the estimated 300 individuals who die each year attempting to cross the border and how, and what happens to their bodies when they perish.
In 2013, De León was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and in 2017, he was named a MacArthur Foundation 'Genius' Grant Fellow.
De León received a B.A. (2001) from the University of California at Los Angeles and a Ph.D. (2008) from Pennsylvania State University. He was affiliated with the University of Washington (2008–2010) before joining the faculty of the University of Michigan, where he is currently an associate professor of anthropology and a faculty associate of the Latina/o Studies Program.
Outside of academia, De León is also a singer-songwriter who has recorded and released several albums with the Long Beach, California based hardcore-reggae group Youth In Asia in the 1990s and with the Central Pennsylvania based group The Wilcox Hotel. He also records and performs as a solo artist and has toured extensively in the U.S. and Mexico.
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