Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Immigration / Edition 1

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The momentous influx of Mexican undocumented workers into the United States over the last decades has spurred new ways of thinking about immigration. Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo's incisive book enlarges our understanding of these recently arrived Americans and uncovers the myriad ways that women and men recreate families and community institutions in a new land. Hondagneu-Sotelo argues that people do not migrate as a result of concerted household strategies, but as a consequence of negotiations often fraught with conflict in families and social networks. Migration and settlement transform long-held ideals and lifestyles. Traditional patterns are reevaluated, and new relationships‹often more egalitarian‹emerge. Women gain greater personal autonomy and indepence as they participate in public life and gain access to both social and economic influence previously beyond their reach. Bringing to life the experiences of undocumented immigrants and delineating the key role of women in newly established communities, Gered Transitions challenges conventional assumptions about gender and migration. It will be essential reading for demographers, historians, sociologists, and policymakers. "I've opened my eyes. Back there, they say 'no.' You marry, and no, you must stay home. Here, it's different. You marry, and you continue working. Back in Mexico, it's very different. There is very much machismo in those men."‹A Mexican woman living in the United States

Author Biography: Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520075146
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/13/1994
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo is Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California.

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Read an Excerpt

Gendered Transitions

Mexican Experiences of Immigration
By Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo

University of California Press

Copyright © 1994 Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-07513-7

Chapter One

Immigration, Gender, and Settlement

I came in 1975 just to stay for a spell, at least that's what I thought. One thinks that it's so easy to come, make a little money, and then return to Mexico to put up a little store and maintain oneself with that-that was my thinking when my sister invited me to join her. I wanted to get out from my father's thumb, to make something for myself, but my idea was not to leave forever or to stop helping the family. But once here, it was initially difficult for me to find work, and later I became locked up in the routine of work at the motel. And at first I did not want to learn English out of fear that immigration authorities would catch us, but yes, eventually I did learn English. Now I have my little [flower vending] business, but it is here, not in Mexico. I have my husband, and most of my brothers and sisters are here too. My life, my sorrows and my joys, they are all here now.

Margarita Cervantes Settlement has a funny way of creeping up on immigrant workers who intend to stay only a short while. With the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, more than 2 million formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants applied for legal status, but many other Mexican immigrants and their families are staying in the United States despite their inability to secure permanent legal residence status, and in spite of their original intentions to remain only a short while. This trend toward staying for prolonged periods of time was well under way by the 1970s and 1980s, signaling the establishment of permanent or "settled-out" immigration. The consequences are visible to even the most casual observer in California, the preferred place of destination for Mexican immigrants, where the surge of marketing efforts directed at Spanish-speaking consumers, and the proliferation of Mexican immigrant communities, are difficult to ignore. The permanent settlement of Mexican immigrants is a principal factor driving the so-called Latinization of California.

Among these long-term Mexican immigrant settlers in California and other states, there is a significant presence of women and entire families. In fact, the Mexican undocumented settler population appears to be nearly evenly composed of women and men (Cardenas and Flores, 1986; Passel, 1986), a sharp contrast with the temporary Mexican migrant population, where men predominate. In other words, the well-established, long-staying undocumented immigrant population reflects a balanced sex ratio.

Perhaps the most significant recent development in Mexican immigration to the United States is the concurrent increase in undocumented settlement and the participation of women and entire families in undocumented migration and settlement. As I studied these developments in a California community, I came to see that gender is a fundamental category of analysis for developing theories of immigration and settlement, and that in turn, immigration and resettlement experiences are vital to our understanding of how new immigrants reconstruct gender relations. I also developed a view of settlement that highlights how women's activities advance undocumented immigrant settlement. My aim in this book is to show how gender and immigration are reflexively intertwined. Gender relations shape immigration patterns, and in turn, migration experiences reshape gender relations.

The Intersection of Immigration, Gender, and Settlement

Before looking at the theoretical legacies and implications of these perspectives, it is useful to ask why themes of gender and settlement have been neglected in the immigration literature. Feminist scholarship has shown that gender-that is, the social and cultural ideals, practices, and displays of masculinity and femininity-organizes and shapes our opportunities and life chances. Yet the concept of gender as an organizing principle of social life has encountered resistance and indifference in both mainstream sociology (Stacey and Thorne, 1985) and immigration scholarship conducted in various disciplines (Beuchler, 1976; Brettell and Simon, 1986; Crummet, 1987; Glenn, 1986; Morokvasic, 1984). There is now research on the topic of women and migration sufficient to yield substantive review essays (Pedraza, 1991; Tienda and Booth, 1991), but gender is typically considered in migration theory only when women are the focus. In this book, I argue that gender is an analytical tool equally relevant to our understanding of men's migration as it is to our understanding of women's migration.

Since men predominated in many periods of U.S.-bound Mexican migration, most immigration research has ignored questions of gender altogether, as if men were without gender. This study begins with the premise that an appropriate research strategy requires more than either examining men's gender in isolation or simply "adding" women to the picture. Gender is not simply a variable to be measured, but a set of social relations that organize immigration patterns. The task, then, is not simply to document or highlight the presence of undocumented women who have settled in the U.S., or to ask the same questions of immigrant women that are asked of immigrant men, but to begin with an examination of how gender relations facilitate or constrain both women's and men's immigration and settlement. As Joan Acker (1992:568) aptly states, "The relevant question becomes not why are women excluded but to what extent have the overall institutional structure, and the character of particular institutional areas, been formed by and through gender?" Gender is exercised in relational and dynamic ways, and in this study I examine how the social relations of gender contour women's and men's immigration and settlement experiences.

Over the last two decades, a lively literature has debated the nature of patriarchal subordination and domination under capitalism. In an effort to avoid viewing gender as secondary to class inequality, Heidi Hartmann (1976, 1981) conceptualized patriarchy as an independent system of domination rooted in the division of labor and predating capitalism. Critics, however, have argued that this type of dual-systems scheme suggests that patriarchy is a monolithic, ahistorical system where all men have equal interests and privileges, and all women are equally disadvantaged. More recently, this universalizing view has been modified by a framework emphasizing that gender inequality is produced simultaneously with hierarchies of class and race (Collins, 1990; King, 1988; Zinn et al., 1986). Race, class, and gender shape immigrant women's and men's life experiences, and this study also shows how legal status is an important factor in shaping these experiences as well. Building on these aforementioned works, I define patriarchy as a fluid and shifting set of social relations where men oppress women, in which different men exercise varying degrees of power and control, and in which women collaborate and resist in diverse ways. While patriarchal gender relations are simultaneously constructed and exercised in different arenas, such as the labor market and the state, and through mass media, I suggest that important elements of patriarchal power and meanings are constructed in family relations, and that macro-level economic and political transformations such as those that produce mass immigration are key to the social construction of patriarchy. Examining connections of family-based patriarchal relations and broader global processes may offer a dynamic view of women's subordination and resistance that goes beyond the public/private dichotomy. I prefer to conceptualize patriarchal gender relations within family relations rather than in the "household" or the "domestic sphere of reproduction," as others have, because a focus on family relations draws attention to the ideological and cultural meanings embedded in families. Moreover, family relations may span household units which simultaneously exist in two different countries. For years feminist scholarship has focused on the domestic unit of reproduction precisely in order to avoid dealing with the family, which anthropologist Rayna Rapp (1978) identified as an ideological and normative construct. A consequence of this, as sociologist Sherri Grasmuck (1991:2) his pointed out in a discussion of women's subordination in Latin America, is that because of the analytic emphasis on the reproductive sphere and the household, "the autonomous role played by kin structures in regulating social life has been underestimated." My approach in this study is to focus on the social relations that people identify as the most experientially salient in their lives. This book, then, examines how immigrant husbands and wives, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, siblings, and extended kin enact and reconstruct patriarchal gender relations in families. Another important institution for the social construction and expression of gender relations is social networks. Patriarchal gender relations are contextually expressed and contested in families and social networks.

Historical, conceptual, and methodological factors explain the neglect, until very recently, of settlement in the study of Mexican immigration. Historically, much of Mexican immigration to the U.S. was dominated by male migrants on temporary sojourns, and hence researchers focused on sojourner migration, not settlement. Undoubtedly, political agendas also exerted influence, as many U.S. politicians and employers found Mexican immigration more palatable when defined as temporary labor migration. Conceptually, settlement remains an imprecise and indiscrete category, further discouraging research and analysis (Massey, 1986; Chavez, 1988; Rouse, 1992). Finally, there is a methodological obstacle to studying settlement when undocumented immigrants are concerned, as people with "illegal" status are naturally reluctant to expose themselves to scrutiny while attempting to maintain an established, settled life in the U.S. For this reason, many studies of undocumented immigrants have been exclusively or primarily conducted in Mexico, where return migrants are surveyed in their place of origin; for research done in the U.S., apprehended undocumented immigrants have served as the research subjects. As many observers have pointed out, these methodological strategies effectively undersample and underestimate the presence of both long-term settlers and women. This study attempts to join the two relatively neglected areas of analysis-gender and immigrant settlement-in the examination of Mexican undocumented immigrants in a California community.

Toward a Theory of Migration As a Social Process

Theories based on macrostructural transformations or "push-pull" analyses cannot explain the immense variety of socially distinct migration routes. Take, for example, the familiar pattern whereby husbands migrate before their wives. Why does this pattern continue when there is now a well-documented, objective demand for immigrant women's labor? Why do some families continue to follow this route while others do not? In order to answer such questions, one needs to consider the immediate social context in which migration occurs. This social context is often lost in the two competing theoretical frameworks which dominate the study of immigration: the orthodox, equilibrium perspective; and the macrostructural approach.

Derived from neoclassical economics and congruent with modernization theory, the orthodox perspective, alternately called the equilibrium or "push-pull" model, posits migration as an individual response to negative "push" factors at the point of origin and positive "pull" factors at the point of destination (Lee, 1966; Todaro, 1969, 1976). At its most extreme, this perspective casts the individual migrant as a purely self-interested economic agent, as an actor who compares present income with potential earnings in alternative locations. This analysis yields a one-dimensional view of human action, flattening complex social processes into a random composition of generic, individual calculations. Moreover, the voluntarist assumptions embedded in this paradigm ignore the contingent social structural factors that shape migration, so that individual calculus occurs in a vacuum devoid of history and political economy. The conditions which give rise to "push" and "pull" factors are not investigated, but are assumed to derive from distinct, unconnected societies or, more distortingly, from universal conditions.

Macrostructural approaches to the study of migration developed in opposition to the neoclassical model, and redirected the research focus to the structural and historical factors that make labor migration possible. Unlike the orthodox model, the structural model conceptualizes migration as a phenomenon internal to one global "world system," not as the movement between two autonomous spheres.

Research informed by macrostructural and comparative historical approaches illuminates how broad structural factors induce and support migration, offering a necessary corrective to the orthodox views by providing the missing "big picture" focus. Yet in explaining the origins of migration and the functions that labor migrations play in the development and maintenance of modern capitalism, the social dimensions of immigration are neglected. Conspicuously absent from the macrostructural perspective is any sense of human agency or subjectivity. Rather than human beings, immigrants are portrayed as homogeneous, nondifferentiated objects responding mechanically and uniformly to the same set of structural forces.

This study views immigrants as active participants in the process of migration, not as victims of structural forces or as robots computing cost benefits of their moves. A complementary research strategy to this perspective requires some attention to the diversity of immigration patterns. Beyond broadly defined categories of border commuters, seasonal or sojourner migrants, and settlers, which catalog outcomes more than social patterns, variations of gender, generation, class, and culture in immigration remain obscured in the macrostructural theories. These variations should be unveiled.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, immigration researchers addressed some of these issues by focusing on more intermediate units of analysis: the household and immigrant social networks. These efforts, however, remained flawed by several unexamined assumptions. Analyses presented the household as a unified collectivity, ignoring divergent and conflicting interests, and thus continued to obscure gender and generation as social relations influencing immigration.


Excerpted from Gendered Transitions by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo Copyright © 1994 by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Table of Study Participants
1 Immigration, Gender, and Settlement 1
2 The History of Mexican Undocumented Settlement in the United States 19
3 The Oakview Barrio 34
4 Gendered Transitions 53
5 Reconstructing Gender through Immigration and Settlement 98
6 Women Consolidating Settlement 148
7 Gendered Immigration 186
Notes 207
References 233
Index 255
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