Desiree J. Garcia

Academic Appointments

Associate Professor
Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies
Affiliate, Film and Media Studies

Desirée Garcia is an interdisciplinary humanities scholar, trained in American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Film and Media Studies. Her areas of specialization include the musical film and race and ethnicity in American culture. Her publications range from monographs to scholarly journal articles and online essays about musicals and mediated representations of immigrants, race, and ethnicity. She has also produced historical documentaries for American Experience/PBS, including Zoot Suit Riots (2002) and Remember the Alamo (2004).

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Garcia received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Boston University and her B.A. in History from Wellesley College. She has taught at institutions large and small, including Mount Holyoke College, Ursinus College, and Arizona State University.

In her book, The Migration of Musical Film: From Ethnic Margins to American Mainstream (Rutgers University Press, 2014), Garcia traces the history of early sound era musicals from the makers of African American films and the transnational networks of Yiddish and Mexican cinema. As such, the book is also the first to document the role of immigrants and migrants in the making of the genre, both inside and outside of Hollywood. Challenging notions that the genre is merely escapist entertainment, The Migration of Musical Film shows the musical to be a significant cultural product that has withstood the test of time precisely because it has ministered to peoples of different backgrounds as they negotiated their position within American society. Musicals made by marginalized communities were resonant and influential cultural products that developed a formal language in response to the concerns of their communities, a language that was ultimately incorporated into what we consider to be the Hollywood musical. The book destabilizes the notion of film genre as a nation-bound concept and instead, positions the musical film as a site of multiple points of cultural convergence, social conflict, and artistic creation.

Garcia is currently working on a new book project, Show People: The Musical Stage in Film and Popular Culture, for which she was awarded the highly competitive, nationally-awarded Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty from the Woodrow Wilson and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations. Show People engages with emerging directions in genre study that focus on “space,” specific material locations that motivate the kinds of stories, plot twists, and characterizations that we associate with genres. Building on the idea that genres (and the spaces they depict) travel across time, mediums, and borders, Show People examines how the musical stage has held and produced meaning for various marginalized groups in American society, including women, African Americans, and Mexican immigrants. In the realm of cultural narrative, the musical stage has both extended and denied opportunity to these groups and shaped their associations with urban space and modernity, art and commerce, identity and mobility. Show People takes an intersectional approach to the study of race, gender, and citizenship in musical stage narratives, ranging from Hollywood’s backstage musicals, the productions of the Federal Theatre Project, African American “race movies,” and La Hora Internacional, the Mexico-based international version of the highly successful radio and television amateur contest, The Amateur Hour. The first chapter, “Toil Behind the Footlights: The Spectacle of Female Suffering and the Rise of Musical Comedy,” has been accepted for publication by Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s History.

Desirée Garcia’s teaching at Dartmouth includes courses on the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands and Race and Gender in American Film.

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219 Raven, Phone 603-646-2541
HB 6026
B.A. Wellesley College
Ph.D. Boston University

Selected publications

The Migration of Musical Film: From Ethnic Margins to American Mainstream (Rutgers University Press, 2014).

“Toil Behind the Footlights: The Spectacle of Female Suffering and the Rise of Musical Comedy” (forthcoming, Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies).

“Ramona in the City: Dolores Del Rio, Mexican Los Angeles, and the Remaking of a Mythic Story” in María Elena de las Carreras, Colin Gunckel, Jan-Christopher Horak and Paulina Suarez-Hesketh, eds. Recuerdos de un cine en español: Classic Latin American Film in Los Angeles (forthcoming, UCLA Film and Television Archive and Rutgers University Press).

“There’s No Place Like Home: The Hollywood Folk Musical” in Cynthia Lucia, Roy Grundmann, and Art Simon, eds., The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film, 4 vols. (Walden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 318-338.

“The Soul of a People: Mexican Spectatorship and the Transnational Comedia Ranchera.” The Journal of American Ethnic History 30.1 (2010), 72-98.

“Subversive Sounds: Ethnic Spectatorship and Boston’s Nickelodeon Theatres, 1907-1914.” Film History: An International Journal 19.3 (2007), 213-227.

Works in progress

Show People: The Musical Stage in Film and Popular Culture (monograph)

“Dressing the Part: Gender, Genre, and Space in the Cinematic Dressing Room, 1930-1960” (article)

Selected works and activities

Actress (“Madeline”), Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, dir. Damien Chazelle (Variance Films, 2009)

Associate Producer, Remember the Alamo (American Experience/WGBH, 2004)

Associate Producer, Zoot Suit Riots (American Experience/WGBH, 2002)