Adán Ávalos

basking in the flickers of life

As one of eleven children from a Mexican migrant labor family, Adán Ávalos has focused his artistic and scholarly career on paying tribute to the lives and experiences within migrant communities.

Ávalos earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. His current academic work focuses on exploitation films of the 1970s and 1980s — so-called naco movies — reclaiming part of Mexican film history often dismissed by conventional scholarly research. His creative work ranges from film, ceramics, photography, printmaking, and traditional fiber art.


Forthcoming 2019

book cover: Que Naco

¡Qué Naco! Popular Mexican Cinema: The Audience and the Nation

Under Contract, SUNY Press

The primary focus of this manuscript is to study popular Mexican films, which proliferated soon after the fall of the “Golden Age” in Mexican cinema. Often referred to as exploitation or border cinema, these Mexican films of the 1970s and 1980s frequently detailed the lives of recent Latina/o immigrants in the United States. Produced primarily for profit, not quality, these films have repeatedly been described as “naco,” or low class, for pandering, as assumed, to its audiences’ baser instincts of simpleminded pleasures and self-indulgences.

In this study, I resemanticize naco cinema and challenge the conventional understanding of a marginal cinema that has been disavowed and derided by dominant critical discourse. I define this popular, entertaining, naco cinema as a transnational art form that has both stimulated identity creation and embodied the recent Latina/o diaspora in the United States a group that is constantly transgressing established boundaries. Hence, while important in many ways, critical discourse on Mexican cinema has been limited to a kind of nationalist framework that has evaluated film in terms of positive nationalist representations or formal and aesthetic “qualities” in ways that have made it difficult to see popular cinemas that depart from or are even antagonistic toward a nationalist gaze. When defining Mexico, particularly in the context of today’s political and economic climate, it is important to examine all aspects of the cultural spectrum, not just the most palatable ones. Naco cinema continues to address the unpleasant realities of the millions of immigrants living on low wages outside of their home countries.


book cover:Valuing Films

¡Qué Naco! Popular Mexican Cinema and Migrant Audiences

Book Chapter in Valuing Films: Shifting Perceptions of Worth
ed. Laura Hubner
UK: Palgrave Macmillan Press, Summer

View chapter as PDF


book cover: Latsploitation, Exploitation Cinemas, and Latin America

The Naco in Mexican Film: La banda del carro rojo, Border Cinema and Migrant Audiences

Book Chapter in Latsploitation, Exploitation Cinemas, and Latin America
Routledge Press, April

View chapter as PDF



Assistant Professor, Media Arts

University of New Mexico, Cinematic Arts Department

Courses: Film Theory, Latin American Cinema: Theories of Resistance, International Cinema, Mexican Cinema, Media and Social Change/Production, Beyond Hollywood: Cinema of Childhood.


Artistic Director / Lecturer, Center for Creativity and the Arts

California State University, Fresno, Department of Art & Design, Department of Mass Communication & Journalism

Courses: Art Appreciation, Art 102: Visual Literacy, Middle Eastern Cinema


Lecturer, Chicano Latin American Studies

California State University, Fresno, Dept. of Chicano Latin American Studies

Courses: Chicano Artistic Expression, Critical Thinking


Assistant Professor, Screen Studies

Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts, Aqaba, Jordan

Courses: Critical Approaches to Cinema, International Cinema, Film Theory, Middle Eastern Cinema, Film Production Workshop


Media Instructor, Mary Pickford Institute

Taught courses in media literacy and Documentary/Narrative film production to at-risk, LA area, inner-city youth


College Instructor, Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, California

Courses: Studio Art classes in Drawing, Design, Ceramics


Art Teacher, Clovis West and Santa Monica High School, California

Courses: Studio Art classes in Drawing, Design, Ceramics, Media Literacy

Creative Work

Summer 2018

¡Aguardiente! Mezcal and the Politics of Production

Documentary Short that supports and expands my scholarly and artistic interest around theory and practice
Funded in part by UNM CFA, Creative Research Grant


Nuestra Señora: Religion of the Poor

Documentary short on religion, Mexico City
Funded by a UNM Creative Grant, Post-Production


The Ballad of Evelardo Torres

Short on Central Valley police killing



Sculpture of child
Media: Papier-mâché, wire, with community poetry



Documentary short on santería


Chiapas: A Transformative Time

Documentary short featuring the community of San Jeronimo Tulija, Chiapas, Mexico


sculpture: El Rojo

“El Rojo”

Sculpture of a 1966 Ford Galaxy
Media: burlap and sugar


Invisible Wall

Documentary short on China’s rural/urban migrant population


sculpture: 61 ford

“My Trip in a ’61 Ford”

Sculpture of a 1961 Ford Ranchero
Media: burlap and sugar
artist statement


poster: dia de muertos

“Días de los Muertos”

Continuing series, annual lino print
Media: ink on paper