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Nikolai A. Alvarado

Profile picture for Nikolai A. Alvarado

Contact Information

2028 Natural History Building
M/C 150
1301 W. Green St.
Urbana, IL 61801
Assistant Professor

Research Interests

Migrant Urbanism
Latin American Urbanization
South-South Migration
Environmental Justice
Urban Infrastructures
Racism and Xenophobia

Research Description

My research lies at the intersection of urban politics, environmental racism, and South-South migration. It focuses on migrant-led urbanization in the Global South and the everyday political strategies that migrants use to acquire urban rights and navigate exclusionary migration regimes. Empirically, my work takes place in Central America, the second-fastest urbanizing region in the world, and in the largest migrant informal settlement in Central America: La Carpio, in San José, Costa Rica. Through this work I have set out to answer broader questions on the role of international migrants in emerging spatial configurations in Global South cities. I conceptualize informal settlements as the main political arena for international migrants in the urban Global South. It is in these spaces where migrants are engaging in a gradual acquisition of urban rights through, for example, the self-installation of informal infrastructures. These infrastructures for basic services become the first step in the gradual recognition by governmental authorities of migrants’ right to remain. They force face-to-face encounters with representatives of state institutions through which migrant-state relations take hold and allow the ongoing participation and recognition of migrant populations, regardless of citizenship status. 

My research also seeks to understand the ways in which racism and xenophobia structure urban spaces and everyday life in Latin America. It documents the ways in which Costa Ricans construct migrant spaces through racialized discourses and policies. The resulting “dislodging” of these migrant spaces from the (Costa Rican) urban imaginary serves as a powerful symbolic internal border that not only normalizes the (unwanted) presence of migrants but also provides a city layer in which social and environmental injustices can be committed without accountability. Indeed, La Carpio has been targeted for the siting of the largest landfill in the country and the largest sewage treatment plant in Central America, while sandwiched between two of the most polluted rivers in the world. My work illuminates the links between racism/xenophobia and space and the consequences for migrants’ urban environments and lives.


Ph.D., University of Denver
M.A., University of Denver
B.A., California State University, Fullerton


Current Graduate Students

Main Advisor

Marina Moscoso Arabía, PhD Program

Célio Moura, PhD Program

Committee Member:

José Acosta Códova, PhD Program

Colt Pierce, PhD Program

Andrea Pimentel Rivera, MA Program

Additional Campus Affiliations

Co-Director, Latin American and Caribbean Cities Collective

Affiliate, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Affiliate, LAS Global Studies

Recent Publications

Alvarado, N. A. (2021). Political Infrastructures, Infrastructures of Citizenship! Self-Installed Urban Services and the Incremental Acquisition of Rights by Nicaraguan Migrants in Costa Rica.. Manuscript in preparation.

Alvarado, N. A. (2021). Shitty Citizenships, Trashy Politics: Migrant Spaces, Racism, and Street Politics in Costa Rica.. Manuscript in preparation.

Alvarado, N. A. (Accepted/In press). Migrant Politics in the Urban Global South: The Political Work of Nicaraguan Migrants to Acquire Urban Rights in Costa Rica. Geopolitics, 1-25.

Alvarado, N. A. (2020). Where Are the Cities? On Not Excluding (Much More Than) Half of the Latin Americans in Latin Americanist Geography. Journal of Latin American Geography, 19(1), 193-203.

LaVanchy, T., Taylor, M., Alvarado, N. A., Sveinsdóttir, A., & Aguilar-Støen, M. (2020). Tourism in Post-revolutionary Nicaragua: Struggles over Land, Water, and Fish. (SpringerBriefs in Latin American Studies). Springer.

View all publications on Illinois Experts