UC Santa Cruz grieves death of sociologist Lionel Cantú Jr., 36

Lionel Cantú Jr., an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, died unexpectedly on Sunday, May 26, at the age of 36.

The cause of death was cardiac arrest, said Patricia Zavella, professor of Latin American and Latino studies. Cantú had been hospitalized after suffering a ruptured intestine earlier in the week.

As word of Cantú's death spread, friends and colleagues shared their grief and their memories of a young, passionate sociologist who made lasting contributions to sexuality studies and immigration studies.

"We can't believe this has happened. It's a complete shock to all of us," said Zavella, who was at Cantú's bedside much of the week. "It's such a loss."

Several hundred people attended a memorial service Tuesday, May 28, at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz.

Cantú's work straddled the areas of sexuality studies and immigration studies. He specialized in the ways in which sexuality influences migration. His dissertation, "Border Crossings: Mexican Men and the Sexuality of Migration," focused on Mexican men who have sex with men, and how sexual identity changes in different cultural contexts.

His other interests included race and ethnicity, and Latinos in the U.S. He joined the UCSC faculty in 1999 from UC Irvine, where he earned his Ph.D. in social science. He received a UC President's Doctoral Fellowship and spent the 1999-2000 year as a UC Davis postdoctoral researcher, studying how American gay culture was becoming globalized and commodified.

Sociology professor Candace West, a colleague and friend, said Cantú brought a sense of community to the Sociology Department and shared a "joy of living" with his associates, including students, with whom he had a special connection.

"He was probably responsible for more students hanging on and triumphing--getting their Ph.D.s--than any other faculty member, certainly for Chicano and Latino students," said West. "He was a mainstay."

Cantú and Zavella had recently submitted a proposal to the National Institutes of Health for a four-year, cross-border study on HIV risk among Mexican migrants. They planned to assess the risks among migrants in the Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay areas as well as in the regions around Cuernavaca and Guadalajara in Mexico, said Zavella.

"We were going to look at how location affects sexual behavior and risk taking," she said. "It was a great project that was going to combine his expertise on gay immigrant men and mine on immigrant women. He was pretty excited about it."

At the time of his death, Cantú was revising his dissertation for publication and was collaborating with Eithne Lubheid on an edited anthology, "Queer Moves: Sexuality, Migration, and the Contested Boundaries of U.S. Citizenship," about the queer migrants in the U.S and how they have transformed notions of queerness, racialization, migration, and citizenship.

"His intellectual and social home really was the Chicano/Latino Research Center," said Zavella. "He was a real core member. We all loved his wonderful sense of humor and his plans for expanding our undergraduate apprenticeship program."

Earlier this year, Cantú was awarded a 2002-03 postdoctoral research fellowship from the International Migration Program of the Social Science Research Council. Established in 1923, the SSRC is an independent, nongovernmental organization that supports social science research, education, and scholarly exchange.

Among his publications are "De Ambiente: Queer Tourism and the Shifting Boundaries of Mexican Male Sexualities," an article that appeared earlier this year in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies; "The Peripheralization of Rural America: A Case Study of Latino Migrants in America's Heartland," which appeared in the journal Sociological Perspectives; and "Responses to Persons with AIDS: Fear of Contagion or Stigma?," which appeared in the journal Applied Social Psychology.

In 1998, Cantú was named UC Irvine Lauds & Laurels Outstanding Graduate Student. From 1993 until his graduation in 1999, Cantú was cochair of the UCI Lesbian and Gay Faculty/Staff Network, and he was instrumental in founding the Lilac Collective, a speaker series on sexuality studies. He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and Spanish from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1991. He earned his doctorate in social science with emphases in social relations and feminist studies.

Cantú is survived by his life partner, Hernando Molinares, of Santa Cruz; parents Rosario and Lionel Cantú, of San Antonio; sisters Rose Louise and Rachel Diane Cantú, both of San Antonio; a brother, Charles Cantú, of San Antonio; and a grandmother, Herlinda Reyes.

At the family's request, an endowed scholarship is being created to honor Cantú. Contributions should be made payable to the UC Santa Cruz Foundation, with Cantú's name in the memo line, and sent to:

UCSC Gift Administration

Carriage House

1156 High Street

Santa Cruz, CA 95064-1077