Dear Latina/o Studies Family and Friends,
It is with great sadness that we write to tell you that our dear friend and colleague Prof. Edna Viruell-Fuentes passed away yesterday morning (Sunday, August 23, 2020) in Urbana, IL. We in the Department of Latina/Latino Studies are very much in grief. Edna was an all-around wonderful person, a great colleague, and a brilliant scholar.
There will be no funeral services for Edna right now due to the pandemic. But if you wish to send condolence cards (no flowers please), these can be addressed to her husband Sunil Nepali, c/o Department of Latina/Latino Studies, 1207 W. Oregon St., Urbana, IL 61801. Also, the department will hold a forum sometime this fall or in the spring to honor her.
Edna was born in Mexico City, Mexico on December 28, 1964. She was one of 4 children. She is survived by her husband, Sunil Nepali; three brothers (Edgar, Eloy, and Ernesto Viruell) and their families; and her mother, Maria Amparo Viruell.
Edna received a BA in Mathematics and Psychology from Berea College in 1989. She then went on to receive a Master’s in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1991. Edna worked in the field of health care policy for a number of years before returning to school to work on a PhD in Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan. She received her PhD in 2005. After graduation, Edna was a Yerby Fellow and W.K. Kellogg Scholar in Health Disparities for two years at the Harvard School of Public Health. In the fall of 2007, she joined the University of Illinois and the Department of Latina/Latino Studies. She started out as an assistant professor and was subsequently promoted to associate professor with tenure.
Edna was a stellar researcher who had developed a national and international reputation as a leading scholar of race, health, and Latina/o immigration. This reputation was due to a superb body of theoretical, quantitative, and ethnographic work she produced that challenged how scholars thought about immigration and racial inequalities in health. Specifically, she eloquently argued that researchers needed to move away from individual level explanations of health disparities and focus instead on the structural factors that shape immigrant health. Indeed, she called attention to how, in order to fully understand immigrant health patterns, one had to analyze how othering, racialization processes, discrimination, residential segregation, and immigration polices affected health.
Most recently, Edna had been working on a project that focused on the relation between health and transnationalism. This project made a case for the importance of looking not only at the health experience of migrants at the point of destination but also at how the context in the sending community affects the health of both migrants and the families left behind. Specifically, she was working on an ethnographic study of the ways in which return migration (whether voluntary or due to deportation) to a migrant-sending community in central Mexico impacted the health and well-being of returned migrants, their families, and communities. This research is not only highly innovative but timely given the growing number of deportations to Mexico (and other countries in Latin America) over the last decade.
Our deepest condolences go out to Edna’s husband Sunil and her family. Her absence will leave a deep void in our department. We already miss her greatly.
Department of Latina/Latino Studies