Maribel Alvarez, an assistant research social scientist in the University of Arizona Southwest Center, has received a Fulbright/Garcia Robles grant to conduct research in wheat in Sonora, Mexico.

Alvarez will use the nine-month, $10,000 grant to analyze the historical and cultural significance of wheat cultivation and consumption in Northern Mexico.

Fulbright grants are highly prestigious awards given every year to U.S. scholars. The grants support collaborative work between U.S. and Mexican academic institutions and scholars in the border regions.

Mexico is one of the most important producers of wheat in the Western Hemisphere, and Sonora is the third largest producer of wheat in Mexico.

Wheat products including "tortillas de harina" or flour tortillas, breads, and pastries also are iconic markers of a manifest Norteño cultural and regional identity in northern Mexico and the Southwestern U.S.

Alvarez's research project will be conducted in collaboration with Guillermo Nuñez Noriega of the Center for the Research of Nutrition and Development in Hermosillo, Sonora. The research will bring together perspectives from history, anthropology, economics and folklore.

Alvarez will spend the first three months of the project researching historical archives in Hermosillo and the National Archives in Mexico City. Alvarez and Nuñez Noriega plan to spend the bulk of their time conducting interviews, collecting oral histories, and taking part in participant-observation activities in the Yaqui Valley region near Ciudad Obregon, at the southern tip of Sonora.

They hope to get to know, in-depth, key workers associated with the wheat industry, including not only farmers but also bread and tortilla artisans, marketers, educators and cooks.

Alvarez hopes her research leads to an understanding of wheat beyond the economic dimensions.

"Wheat is also a highly charged symbolic element of Sonoran ways of life,” Alvarez said. “Concretely, we can discern evidence of a sense of cultural distinctiveness centered on ‘harina de trigo' (wheat flour) in everything from language to foodways to gender roles."