Student Spotlight

Sandra Portocarrero, PhD Candidate in Sociology

Sandra Portocarrero

Where did you grow up?          
Lima, Peru.

What drew you to your field?   
My parents fell through the cracks of broken systems and, as their only child, I wanted to understand the root causes of our experiences.

How would you explain your current research subject to a high school student?    
I investigate the relationship between education and inequality, the acquisition of different kinds of capital, and the different social processes and dimensions that define a person’s position within a social space. One question I am trying to answer right now is: How do college graduates from elite universities in the U.S. from working class and poor families interact with the labor market when trying to get their first entry- level job?

Is there a common misconception about a topic in your field that you wish you could correct?
Not a misconception, but a lack of interest in the Latino incarcerated population in the U.S.A. Most sociological literature looks at the differences between the black and white populations, but the Latino incarcerated population is rapidly growing. Most private prisons are full of Latino immigrants serving federal sentences. These immigrants will most likely be deported after they serve their sentences. For-profit prisons are negatively affecting the family and economic dynamics of many immigrant families, and scholars need to pay more attention to this issue.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?    
I migrated from Peru to the U.S.A. when I was 16 with my father. He was a drug addict, and he wanted a fresh start in the land of opportunity. When the economic crisis hit in the early 2000s, he lost his job and started dealing drugs. A few years later, he was sentenced to seven years in federal prison, and was deported back to Peru a few months ago. I had to grow up very fast, and support my father throughout these processes as we migrated together. Meanwhile, my mother was in Peru dealing with her own demons: depression and bipolar disorder. Without a support network and anxious to send remittances back home, I got my first job in this country cleaning tables for $4 an hour. Something inside me always pushed me for more, so I started taking classes at Berkeley City College while working. In 2012, I graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with high honors. In 2015, I won the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, and was admitted to six top Ph.D. programs. I consider my academic achievements my greatest triumphs, and hope to serve as an example for all immigrant women in this country.

Who are your favorite writers?
Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf and Simone de Beauvoir’s Les Mandarins really helped me during my adolescence. Henry Miller, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Gabriel García Márquez were my companions in my early twenties. I’m currently enamored with Tariq Ali and his Islam Quintet. He is captivating!

Who is your hero of fiction?
Santiago Zavala (Zavalita) in Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa, because he followed his political beliefs and his heart during a time (1948-1956) in Peru when only a few sacrificed having a comfortable life for a greater political ideal.

Who are your heroes in real life?  
My grandparents. My grandparents have been through poverty and migrated from the Andes to Lima, the capital of Peru, and then to the U.S. and Japan to seek better opportunities for their five children and for me. They became homeowners only eight years ago! And in spite of all the difficulties, they always wear smiles on their faces. True warriors.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?          
A dog. Dogs are so content with so little, and they make people happy.

What music have you been listening to lately?
Caetano Veloso has been perfect for my first summer in New York City.

What is your favorite blog or website?
Hands down, Facebook. I fundraise through Facebook for abandoned children in Lima, I keep in touch with my friends around the world, I organize, and I find out about events in the city. Long live Facebook!