As an activist scholar, LeighAnna Hidalgo received the UCLA's Graduate Dean’s Scholar Award and is currently a Eugene Cota-Robles Fellow at the Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies with an emphasis in Border and Transnational Studies and Labor, Law, and Policy Studies. While at UCLA, her thesis called "Augmented Fotonovelas: A Visual Methodology for Community Engaged Research" chronicals a decolonial research praxis she draws on called Augmented Fotonovelas. Augmented Fotonovelas draw on the aesthetic of traditional fotonovelas, but incorporate new technologies—such as video interviews, interactive mapping, smart phone technology, and Augmented Reality (AR) along with the classic form of photographs, text and bubble captions—to produce Augmented Scholarship. Augmented Scholarship is defined as knowledge production bridging the gap between communities of color and the academy, where researchers and communities draw on creative research and traditional research methods to produce alternative narratives revealing erased histories that are seen and heard using AR. Her goal is to continue working with migrant entrepreneurs whose cultural traditions and resilience are transforming urban cities. Topics of interest include access to credit and finance, self-employment, entrepreneurship, and resiliency among Latino migrants.
Prior to her doctorate studies, she entered the Applied Anthropology Masters of Arts program at California State University Long Beach (CSULB) with a focus on economics, urban space, and visual media. While there, she expanded her undergraduate research on financial inequality by designing a multimedia interactive fotonovela using maps generated from GIS, archival and contemporary photographs, and video taped interviews of community members. The goal of this was to make her research knowledge accessible to the public and provoke dialogue on salient economic and immigration issues. While at CSULB, her thesis called “'Tacos! Burritos! Tortas!': Migrant entrepreneurs’ quest for economic mobility and safe spaces in Arizona" was an engaged ethnographic study in Phoenix, Arizona, where solidarity through political activism and labor aboard a food truck provided her the vantage point of understanding the living realities of Mexican migrant entrepreneurs. Migrant entrepreneurs contest local policies that exclude them and re-imagine themselves as cultural citizens, reclaiming public space in the city and the rights to live and work in the U.S. Through narrative analysis of interviews with taco vendors and community organizers, she illustrated how these enterprises are crucial to migrant struggles and to providing goods and services to racially segregated communities.