I hold a dual appointment at the University of California, Davis, as an Assistant Professor in the American Studies and Design departments. In addition, I am part of the affiliate faculty for the Cultural Studies Graduate Group and the Geography Graduate Group. I’ll be a 2018 Davis Humanities Institute Faculty Fellow, and I currently am participating in the UCHRI Social Heterogeneity Exploratory Workshop on Civil War.

My double lijavier_01_0 (1)fe as a scholar with homes in the humanities and the arts captures well my varied professional trajectory. I must admit, I have a difficult time explaining what I do as an academic because (as more than an academic!) I have cast a wide net searching for the questions, theories, and practices that I like to engage with. Moreover, I have been captivated by many things over the years — buildings, landscapes, archives, infrastructure, oral histories, sounds, and much more. I first studied architecture as an undergraduate and worked in the profession for several years. But overall, my work has certain common threads:

• I am concerned with: (a) state violence (including police, so often overlooked as alleged “officers of the peace”); (b) with how such violence is made material and spatial — or in other words, how such violence is remembered and forgotten in material and spatial ways; and (c), last but not least, with the ways in which violence (and its materiality, thus) function in relation with race and racism, with cultural and social identities, and with the built environment.

• To put it briefly, I am interested in memory as something spatial, and in tandem, with spaces as archival. Or as Allan Pred more eloquently stated, given his special attention to the embodiment of memory in situated locations that I would like to carry forth:

Every element of collective memory is both acquired and activated through bodily engagement in situated social or economic practices; is formed, reformed, and deformed through the corporeal involvement of women and men in the discourses and activities of everyday life. (1998: 636) 

In addition, I am increasingly more and more interested in ethnographies of grief and grieving, paying attention to how people cope with suffering that emanates from myriad forms of neoliberal violence (direct force as well as environmental distributions), and particularly police violence (see also the Research page). Grief operates at varying temporal and spatial scales, with implications for domesticity, work, nationhood, etc. And I’m interested in the sensorial and aesthetic politics of grief. I work through theoretical questions by studying a variety of literatures, mainly drawing from theories of citizenship, borderization, and belonging; critical race and ethnic studies; architecture and design theory; critical urbanisms; and Marxism/post-marxisms.

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and I grew up roaming in and around San Juan and Santurce. This does not make me Puerto Rican per se—after all, many Puerto Ricans identify firstly as US citizens—but I identify as a Puerto Rican who happens to have a United States passport by virtue of imposed territorial circumstances. My experiences as a child and teenager in a place colonized and militarized over centuries by Spain and the US push me to consider the long historical ties between militarization, the production of cities, and memory. Furthermore, although not as central in my current work, in previous years I have worked on the mutually constitutive ties between the military and the environment, especially with relation to the case of Vieques. In Puerto Rico, I continue to establish cultural exchanges, research, and dialogue with artists and activists there as part of an ongoing commitment to decolonization.

Between 2014 and 2016, I was appointed as a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in American Studies at UC Davis. I was privileged to work under the mentorship of Caren Kaplan. I received my Ph.D. in Geography at UC Berkeley, advised by Richard Walker (primary), Paul Groth, and historian Richard Cándida-Smith. I completed my dissertation with the support of a Ford Foundation Fellowship and a Bancroft Library Award. In addition, I have been a Visiting Critic in Architecture at Cornell University. I also taught in Architecture and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts.

Demilit NCR

The New City Reader (2012) Issue 3 – Terra Incognita game board for urban puzzle games; created by demilit with the Istanbul Design Biennial curatorial and design team.

In 2010, I co-founded an experimental landscape arts collective, along with Bryan Finoki and Nick Sowers, that operates under various pseudonyms. We guide tours, organize events, and produce sound and visual art pieces. We have completed works for (among others) the Headlands Center for the Arts, Deutschlandradio (Germany), and the 2012 New City Reader at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Recent articles published together include a piece for the Harvard Design Magazine, Volume, and a design fiction (“[In]Visible Sites“) that was featured in the exhibition Timing is Everything at the UCSD University Art Gallery. I also frequently collaborate on educational programs with Beta-Local, a not-for-profit art space in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I hold an undergraduate degree from Cornell University in architecture, a discipline that continues to shape my spatial inquiries and ideas, and a master’s degree in architecture and urbanism from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At MIT’s School of Architecture, as mentioned above, I investigated issues of nature and militarism in Vieques under the guidance of Anne Spirn, and committee members Mark Jarzombek and Bill Porter. A peer-reviewed essay from this research appears in Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review.

PhD Advisees:

Trisha Barua, (dissertation committee)

Andrea Miller, (qualifying examination chair)


Undergraduate Advisees:

Angela Kim, (thesis supervisor)


My (recent-ish) CV is here: https://ucdavis.box.com/v/ArbonaCV

Just about all of my written work is posted on my page Academia dot edu. See the Contact page for more info, and the Works page.

I will be updating this site little by little, as much as I can, including posting more on new research projects as I go along. If you don’t have—or do not want to have—an academia .edu account (I certainly don’t blame you), please contact me and I can send a PDF if available.


Beta-Local Winter Session (Vieques walk): Land, Place, and Visuality