Women and Migration in the U. S.-Mexico Borderlands: A Reader / Edition 1

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Women’s migration within Mexico and from Mexico to the United States is increasing; nearly as many women as men are migrating. This development gives rise to new social negotiations, which have not been well examined in migration studies until now. This pathbreaking reader analyzes how economically and politically displaced migrant women assert agency in everyday life. Scholars across diverse disciplines interrogate the socioeconomic forces that propel Mexican women into the migrant stream and shape their employment options; the changes that these women are making in homes, families, and communities; and the “structural violence” that they confront in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands broadly conceived—all within the economic, social, cultural, and political interstices of the two countries.

This reader includes twenty-three essays—two of which are translated from the Spanish—that illuminate women’s engagement with diverse social and cultural challenges. One contributor critiques the statistical fallacy of nativist discourses within the United States that portray Chicana and Mexican women’s fertility rates as “out of control.” Other contributors explore the relation between sexual violence and women’s migration from rural areas to urban centers within Mexico, the ways that undocumented migrant communities challenge conventional notions of citizenship, and young Latinas’ commemorations of the late, internationally renowned singer Selena. Several essays address workplace intimidation and violence, harassment and rape by U.S. border patrol agents and maquiladora managers, sexual violence, and the brutal murders of nearly two hundred young women near Ciudad Juárez. This rich collection highlights both the structural inequities faced by Mexican women in the borderlands and the creative ways they have responded to them.

Contributors. Ernestine Avila, Xóchitl Castañeda, Sylvia Chant, Leo R. Chavez, Cynthia Cranford, Adelaida R. Del Castillo, Sylvanna M. Falcón, Gloria González-López, Maria de la Luz Ibarra, Jonathan Xavier Inda, Rosa Linda Fregoso, Jennifer S. Hirsch, Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, Eithne Luibheid, Victoria Malkin, Faranak Miraftab, Olga Nájera-Ramírez, Norma Ojeda de la Peña, Deborah Paredez, Leslie Salzinger, Felicity Schaeffer-Grabiel, Denise A. Segura, Laura Velasco Ortiz, Melissa W. Wright, Patricia Zavella

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A deeply felt and thoroughly researched work, Women and Migration in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands brings together some of the most important feminist voices in the field of immigration and transnational studies. I think Gloria Anzaldúa would have been proud to see how the authors of this book took her concept of the borderlands and grounded it ethnographically in the sorrows, struggles, and dreams of contemporary Chicana and Mexican women. A timely and courageous book that speaks to the major issue of our time—the search for home across and between and despite borders.”—Ruth Behar, author of Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story

“Denise A. Segura and Patricia Zavella have compiled a spectacular collection on gender, migration, sexuality, work, and family. Timely, provocative, and imaginative, the essays in Women and Migration in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands will become essential readings across a variety of (inter)disciplines: Latina/o studies, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, gender studies, Latin American studies, American studies, urban planning, and public policy.”—Vicki Ruiz, author of From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America

Marie Woodling

“[A] worthy and much-needed contribution to debates about women, gender, and migration in the borderlands, which, as the editors point out, remains understudied, displaced, or at times simply ignored. Also notable is the interdisciplinary nature of the compilation, which brings a number of significant contributions into a shared space and thus sets a precedent for further interdisciplinary dialogue. . . . The interdisciplinary mix makes the book attractive to a variety of academic fields such as political science and international relations, Chicana/o studies, Latin American and Latino studies, border studies, sociology, and human geography . . . . It is certainly a valuable contribution to studies of women and/or the U.S.-Mexican borderlands in each of these disciplines.”
Lynn Stephen

“This collection is important not only because it sites gender front and center but also because it adds flesh and bone to the borderlands concept by bringing a series of issues into discussion: cultural representations; identity construction and reconstruction; structural, personal, and symbolic violence; sexuality; popular culture; transnational social networks; and marriage and motherhood.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822341185
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2007
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 616
  • Sales rank: 1,296,058
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Denise A. Segura is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Patricia Zavella is Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Read an Excerpt



Duke University Press

Copyright © 2007 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4118-5

Chapter One

Toward a Planetary Civil Society


Cruelty has no unearthly punishment and often no earthly reason. -Jean Franco, The Decline and Fall of the Lettered State

The campaign to end the killing of women in Ciudad Juárez took the name Ni Una Más. Ni una más en Ciudad Juárez. Not one more murdered woman in Ciudad Juárez. Mothers and grandmothers, women's rights and human-rights groups, and friends from both sides of the border joined in a movement of denunciation, demanding an end to the most sordid and barbarous series of gender killings in Mexico's history. By mid-2002, there were 282 victims of feminicide in this city across the border from El Paso, Texas, and more than four hundred disappeared women. Ni Una Más staged women's visibility and invisibility in the nation as well as a confrontation with the historical and social trauma in the region.

The politics of gender extermination in this region took the form of the apparently random yet seemingly systematic appearance of brutally murdered women's bodies and the equally horrific disappearance of many more women. What is now understood as various forms of feminicide started in 1993, a year after the signing of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and persisted through the tenure of three Mexican heads of state: Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, and Vicente Fox. As the numbers of dead and missing women grew, the state continued to turn a blind eye to the violence afflicting women.

In spring 2001 a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOS) involved in human-rights work, including Grupo 8 de Marzo, Comité Independiente de Chihuahua de Derechos Humanos, and Taller de Género de la Universidad Autónoma de Juárez, delivered a report, "Cases of Murdered Women in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua," to the special rapporteur for human rights for the United Nations, Dato' Param Cumaraswamy. The authors of the report had compiled files for 189 women murdered between January 1993 and April 2001. By early 2002, according to a report prepared by La Red Ciudadana contra la Violencia, the number of murdered women had increased to 269, with an additional 450 disappeared. Between 1985 and 1992, by contrast, thirty-seven women were murdered in Ciudad Juárez.

Grupo 8 de Marzo of Ciudad Juárez keeps records of the identities of the assassinated and disappeared women. All were poor, most were dark skinned, and many of them had been mutilated, tortured, and sexually violated. Although there have been random appearances of dead bodies in public places throughout the city, most of them were found on the outskirts of Juárez, in the desert, near poor colonias (shantytowns) like Anapra, Valle de Juárez, Lomas de Poleo, and Lote Bravo. Ranging in age from eleven to fifty, the murdered and disappeared women shared humble origins and, in many instances, the experience of migrating to these borderlands.

Sensationalistic media accounts of these murders have exploited the stereotype of single or multiple serial killers violently and systematically exterminating young women. However, in a highly perceptive study, Julia Estela Monárrez (2000) suggests that the murder and disappearance of women in Juárez cannot be considered simply as the work of psychopaths. Rather than the aberration of a single individual or group, she argues, the murders of women are "politically motivated sexual violence" rooted in a system of patriarchy (Monárrez 2000, 94). In fact, the various feminicides in Mexico make evident the exercise of power across the social spectrum: the power of the state over civil society; the rich over the poor; the white elite over racialized people; the old over the young; men over women. The feminicides constitute a novel kind of "dirty war," one waged by multiple forces against disposable female bodies. The women targeted in these unprecedented border feminicides represent the "stigmatized bodies," those "marked for death in drug wars and urban violence" (Franco 2002, 16). Feminicide in Juárez exposes the reality of overlapping power relations on gendered and racialized bodies as much as it clarifies the degree to which violence against women has been naturalized as a method of social control.

"Yet another massacre, another mass grave," writes Jean Franco. "In our time, only too often we are given the image of the mass of bodies-the massacres of Rwanda or Kosovo-out of which it is difficult for those of us watching the television screen or looking at news photographs to construct a meaningful narrative" (2002, 234). This difficulty is often compounded by the competing discourses used to construct a narrative. In September 1999 I attended the "Burials on the Border" conference, held at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, where I witnessed a struggle over the meanings of these gender murders. There, before an audience of activists, researchers, and family members, representatives of the Mexican state publicly blamed the victims of feminicide in Juárez. The heated exchange I witnessed between representatives of the state and civil society derived in large measure from competing interpretive frameworks. For the purpose of my own study, the public debate about the social identities of the victims and the meaning of their deaths raises broader issues of cultural representation and its role in our efforts to construct a meaningful narrative. In this chapter I intend to examine competing and often overlapping narratives that have been used to interpret the murders of women and, in the process, expose the subject that is constructed within each account.

From Negation to Disaggregation

One would expect the modern state to intervene on behalf of its citizens and limit extreme expressions of gender violence such as those unfolding in Ciudad Juárez, but the Mexican government has failed dismally. It has justified its failure through a rhetorical strategy of defection that has taken two narrative forms: negation and disaggregation. Early on, state officials repeatedly framed their interpretation of the killings within a discourse of negation, refusing to acknowledge the reality of systemic and calculated acts of violence against women.

The state's early response, negation, involved at first a denial that the killings were systematic. Then, when the state could no longer deny this reality, officials shifted the blame onto the victims, committing further sacrilege against already violated bodies. In many instances the state emphasized women's nonnormative behaviors, accusing them of transgressing sexual norms-either of lesbianism or of leading a doble vida (double life), that is, engaging in respectable work by day and sex work by night-as though nontraditional sexual behavior justified their killings. Indeed, the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Human-Rights Commission) found that police authorities had violated the victims' rights by making declarations such as the following to members of the commission: "Many of the murdered women worked in factories during the week and as prostitutes during the weekend in order to make more money" (Benítez et al. 1999, 61).

The discourse of negation thus tended to discredit the murdered women by emphasizing their alleged transgressive sexual behavior: "She visited a place where homosexuals and lesbians gathered"; "She liked dating different men and was an avid patron of dance halls" (Benítez et al. 1999, 36). Such expressions of nonnormative sexuality were so relentless that the mother of murder victim Adriana Torres Márquez responded indignantly, "Don't they have anything else to invent? They have said the same in every case: that it's the way women dressed or their alleged double life" (128). Nonnormative sexuality was central to the causal chain that went from transgression of patriarchal norms to murder.

To establish legitimacy for this narrative of negation, the state enlisted the testimony of scientific "experts" whose testimony linked transgressive sexual behavior to newfound independence. A Spanish criminologist echoed the by now standard "moral panic" about the dangers of modernization: "As a result of the influence of the United States, women are joining the workforce at an earlier age and therefore discovering independence. This means young women could become more promiscuous. Some of these independent women have maintained sexual relations with more than one person. This behavior leads to danger."

Again, nonnormativity became the lens through which the killings were interpreted, although the criminologist's comments also laid bare the patriarchal nostalgia for an earlier era of male authority in which women remain wedded to the private sphere of domesticity and motherhood. Like those who championed the conservative "family values" campaign in the United States in the 1990s, Mexican State officials blamed women's growing independence and mothers entering the workforce for the "disintegration" of the family and for the loss of male authority in the domestic sphere.

It bears emphasizing that the subject constructed within the state's discourse is an "immoral" one. The patriarchal state's initial preoccupation with women's morality and decency is a form of institutional violence that makes women primarily responsible for the violence directed against them. Thus, those women who do not conform to the mother/wife model of womanhood (lesbians, working women, women who express sexual desire, and so forth) are suitably punished. Women are thus transformed into subjects of surveillance; their decency and morality become the objects of social control. What's more, shifting the blame toward the victims' moral character in effect naturalizes violence against women.

By the end of 2001, both the state's investigation of the murders and its dubious interpretive framework had been placed in question after a series of events galvanized the public during that year: the assassination of human-rights lawyer Digna Ochoa, the unearthing of the bodies of eight women in an empty lot adjacent to the headquarters of the Maquiladora Association, and the police assassination of a defense lawyer in Juárez. A broad-scale social force emerged within civil society. Hundreds of NGOS-feminist, civil, and human-rights groups from both sides of the border-joined the existing network of local grassroots activists and women's groups that had been denouncing the killings for several years. Media coverage of the killings zeroed in on state corruption and indifference.

Negating the reality of widespread violence against poor and dark-skinned women proved to be not just a transparent but an obscene interpretive strategy. To counter the growing national and international movement of outrage and denunciation, the state adopted a less ideological strategy, this time enlisting the techniques of science to transform its narrative of interpretation from outright denial to disaggregation.

In December 2001 the office of the governor of the State of Chihuahua released the document "Homicidio de mujer en Ciudad Juárez, enero 1993-noviembre 2001" (Homicide of woman in Ciudad Juárez, January 1993-November 2001). Although a month earlier Zulema Bolívar, special prosecutor for Juárez, had acknowledged the murder of 259 poor women, "Homicidio de mujer" in essence disassociated the individual cases, undermining the idea of the Juárez feminicides as a phenomenon by reformulating most of the murders as discrete and unrelated.

The state authenticated its new narrative through technologies of statistics and forensic evidence, thus shifting the discussion away from broader social issues and isolating each "case" from the more general and systemic phenomenon of violence against women. In other words, the state now conceded the fact of the murders, but it refused to accept their interconnection, claiming that only 76 of the 261 murders exhibited traces of sexual violence or were related as "multiple homicides." As the months passed, the discourse of disaggregation served the state in several ways. First, it provided the state with a veneer of "scientific" authority and professionalism to counter its image as a corrupt "Third World" police force, especially in meetings with representatives of international organizations and media. Second, disaggregation bolstered the scientific claims of the state, especially regarding the universal aspect of the crimes, with similar crimes being cited as a "common" occurrence in any major city; in claiming the Juárez murders to be a normal part of urban life, for example, state officials cited the recent serial killing of fifty women in Canada. Finally, the state used disaggregation in a discursive war, a campaign to discredit women's-rights and human-rights activists meeting with representatives from the United Nations and the Organization of American States by accusing the activists of "politicizing" the murders (Villalpando and Breach 2002a, 47). To some extent, the discourse of disaggregation has proven to be an effective strategy, providing the Mexican State a certain legitimacy with U.S. officials and international media, which report the new narrative uncritically. Ironically, the state's disaggregation of "the rest" of the murders as "crimes of passion, drug traffic, theft, sexual, intrafamilial violence, vengeance, [and] imprudence" does not preclude linking violence against women to gender hierarchies within a patriarchal state (Gustavo Castillo García 2001, 17).

Globalism on the Borderlands

Whereas the state's narrative anchored the meanings of the murders of women at the microlevel of the individual, other accounts of feminicide constructed a narrative out of macroprocesses, as is evident in the discourse of globalism. Unlike the state's narrative, this discourse grew out of a progressive impulse, one critical of the expansion of transnational capitalism and global neoliberalism under the coordination of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the World Bank. Established as a major interpretive framework during the mid-1990s, the discourse of globalism equated exploitation with the extermination of gendered bodies, tracing both conditions to a single process: economic globalization. And, on the Mexico-U.S. border, globalism was most visibly embodied in the maquiladora industry.

The Juárez feminicides came to be seen as part of the "more insidious-and far more widespread-violence of work on the global assembly line" (Nathan 1997, 22). Given the geopolitics of the region, connecting feminicide to the maquiladora industry proved to be a compelling narrative, especially since the murders of poor and dark-skinned women began in 1993, a year after NAFTA solidified the project of neoliberalism and economic globalization in the region. One feature of global capitalism is the creation of export-processing zones throughout the Third World. During the 1990s, Ciudad Juárez was the largest export-processing zone on the border, host to roughly 350 manufacturing plants owned primarily by U.S. transnational corporations. These plants employed roughly 180,000 workers who were paid around $23 per week in take-home pay, a little less than $4 per day, or fifty cents per hour.

In many respects, the geopolitical and economic characteristics of the region lent legitimacy to arguments that the exploitation of bodies on the "global assembly line" and the extermination of bodies in the public sphere were part of a single process. In studies of the worldwide grid of export-processing zones, researchers like Saskia Sassen have contributed important insights about the role of women as laboring bodies for global capitalism, documenting the "incorporation of Third World women into wage employment on a scale that can be seen as representing a new phase in the history of women." It is precisely this body of work on the "feminization of the proletariat" that is used to construct a narrative about the murders of women in Juárez, to make claims about how their "lives and deaths centered around the global assembly line" (Nathan 1997, 18). In other words, since both "exploited female bodies" and "exterminated female bodies" are expressions of the exercise of power and gender hierarchies, the cause of one condition (exploitation of gendered bodies) has served handily to explain the other (extermination of gendered bodies).


Excerpted from WOMEN AND MIGRATION IN THE U.S.-MEXICO BORDERLANDS Copyright © 2007 by Duke University Press. 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

About the Series ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Part 1. Borderlands as Site of Struggle

Toward a Planetary Civil Society / Rosa Linda Fregoso 35

A Glass Half Empty: Latina Reproduction and Public Discourse / Leo R. Chavez 67

Illegal Status and Social Citizenship: Thoughts on Mexican Immigrants in a Postnational World / Adelaida R. Del Castillo 92

“Looking Like a Lesbian”: The Organization of Sexual Monitoring at the United States-Mexican Border / Eithne Luibheid 106

The Value of Immigrant Life / Jonathan Xavier India 134

Part 2. The Topography of Violence

Manufacturing Sexual Subjects: “Harassment,” Desire, and Discipline on a Maquiladora Shopfloor / Leslie Salzinger 161

The Dialectics of Still Life: Murder, Women, and Maquiladoras / Melissa W. Wright 184

Rape as a Weapon of War: Militarized Rape at the US-Mexico Border / Sylvanna M. Falcon 203

“Nunca he dejada de tener terror”: Sexual Violence in the Lives of Mexican Immigrant Women / Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez 224

Part 3. Flexible Accumulation and Resistance

Changing Constructions of Sexuality and Risk: Migrant Mexican Women Farmworkers in California / Xochitl Castaneda and Patricia Zavella 249

Space, Gender, and Work: Home-Based Workers in Mexico / Faranak Miraftab 269

Mexican Immigrant Women and the New Domestic Labor / Maria de la Luz Ibarra 286

“Aqui estamos y no nos vamos” Justice for Janitors in Los Angeles and New Citizenship Claims / Cynthia Cranford 306

Part 4. Family Formations and Transnational Social Networks

Transborder Families and Gendered Trajectories of Migration and Work / Norma Ojeda de la Pena 327

Women, Migration, and Household Survival Strategies: Mixtec Women in Tijuana / Laura Velasco Ortiz 341

Single-Parent Families: Choice or Constraint? The Formation of Female-Headed Households in Mexican Shanty Towns / Sylvia Chant 360

Working at Motherhood: Chicana and Mexican Immigrant Mothers and Employment / Denise A. Segura 368

“I’m Here, but I’m There”: The Meanings of Latina Transnational Motherhood / Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Ernestine Avila 388

Part 5. Transculturation and Identity in Daily Life

Reproduction of Gender Relations in the Mexican Migrant Community of New Rochelle, New York / Victoria Malkan 415

“En el norte la mujer manda”: Gender, Generation, and Geography in a Mexican Transnational Community / Jennifer S. Hirsch 438

Unruly Passions: Poetics, Performance, and Gender in the Ranchera Song / Olga Najera-Ramirez 456

Becoming Selena, Becoming Latina / Deborah Paredez 477

Cyberbrides and Global Imaginaries: Mexican Women’s Turn from the National to the Foreign / Felicity Schaeffer-Grabiel 503

Bibliography 521

Contributors 585

Index 587

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