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University of California Press
Gender and U.S. Immigration: Contemporary Trends / Edition 1

Gender and U.S. Immigration: Contemporary Trends / Edition 1

by Pierrette Hondagneu-SoteloPierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo
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Resurgent immigration is one of the most powerful forces disrupting and realigning everyday life in the United States and elsewhere, and gender is one of the fundamental social categories anchoring and shaping immigration patterns. Yet the intersection of gender and immigration has received little attention in contemporary social science literature and immigration research. This book brings together some of the best work in this area, including essays by pioneers who have logged nearly two decades in the field of gender and immigration, and new empirical work by both young scholars and well-established social scientists bringing their substantial talents to this topic for the first time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520237391
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 08/01/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 402
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile: 1420L (what's this?)

About the Author

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo is Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Immigration (California, 1994) and Doméstica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence (California, 2001).

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University of California

Copyright © 2003 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-23739-0

Chapter One

Gender and Immigration

A Retrospective and Introduction

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo

The intent of this volume is both modest and ambitious. High-caliber social science research has emerged on gender and U.S.-bound immigration in recent years, and this book simply draws together some of the best new work in the field. The book includes essays by pioneers who have logged nearly two decades in the field of gender and immigration, and new empirical work by both young scholars and well-established social scientists who bring their substantial talents to this topic for the first time. More ambitiously, this volume seeks to alert scholars and students to some of the gender consequences emerging from the last three decades of resurgent U.S. immigration. This immigration is changing life as we know it, in the United States and elsewhere, in many ways. One important change concerns the place of women and men in society.

I felt a need to put together this book because of the continued silence on gender in the contemporary social science literature on U.S. immigration. A glance at the main journals and at recent edited volumes on American immigration and international migration reveals that basic concepts such as sex, gender, power, privilege, and sexual discrimination only rarely enter the vocabulary or research design of immigration research. This is puzzling. Gender is one of the fundamental social relations anchoring and shaping immigration patterns, and immigration is one of the most powerful forces disrupting and realigning everyday life. It is my hope that the chapters in this volume will earn the recognition they deserve, spur a wider conversation about immigration and how it is changing social life for women and men, and prompt immigration scholars to design research that acknowledges the gendered social world in which we live.


During the 1980s and 1990s, the social sciences experienced major transformations. Among the most notable were two separate developments: the growth in feminist-oriented scholarship and immigration research. The establishment of women's studies programs and research derived from the second-wave feminist movement, which emerged in the 1970s to advocate equality for women. Feminist research called attention to the unequal power relations between women and men in society and illuminated and analyzed how women's and men's actions, positions, and relative privileges in society are socially constructed in ways that tend to favor men. Since then, we have witnessed a shift away from the premise of a unitary notion of "women" or "men" to an increasingly accepted perspective that acknowledges how the multiplicities of masculinities and femininities are interconnected, relational, and, most important, enmeshed in relations of class, race, and nation. Globalization, immigration, and transnationalism are significant sites for contemporary inquiries of gender.

The growth in immigration research derived not from a social movement like feminism, but from the massive increase in literal human movement across borders during the late 20th century. Today, it is estimated that as many as 150 million people live in nations other than those in which they were born. Only a small portion of these millions have come to the United States, although many Americans believe that the whole world has descended on their country. U.S. immigrants have reached unprecedented numbers-about 28 million according to the 2000 census-but this constitutes only about 10% of the total U.S. population, a smaller percentage than we saw earlier in the 20th century. Immigration is certainly nothing new for the United States-it is, after all, foundational to the national narrative-but the resurgence of immigration during the last three decades has taken many Americans by surprise. Prompted by global restructuring and post-World War II U.S. military, political, and economic involvement throughout Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and facilitated by the 1965 amendment to the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act, which erased national origin quotas that had previously excluded Asians, U.S. immigration picked up in the 1970s and shows few signs of diminishing.

In the 1980s and 1990s, immigration to the United States from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean increased dramatically. These contemporary immigrants are a diverse lot. Among them are refugees and preliterate peasants as well as urbane, highly educated professionals and entrepreneurs. Although a fairly constant barrage of restrictionist, nativist, and blatantly xenophobic campaigns and legislation has raised tremendous obstacles to these newcomers, the number of legal permanent residents-those who can be legally admitted to live and work in the United States-has steadily increased in the 1990s. Nearly one million immigrants are now granted legal permanent residency status each year. Immigrants and their children today constitute about one fifth of the U.S. population, and the percentages are much higher in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Miami, where immigrants concentrate.

Different dimensions of immigrant social life are threaded by the dynamics of gender, and this volume exposes some of the complex ways in which these threads are woven. The chapters cover a range of topics, including the way gender informs the sexual practices and values among immigrant parents and their adolescent daughters, transnational political group participation, household divisions of labor, naturalization, and even our definition of childhood. Readers of this volume will gain insight into the lives of immigrants as diverse as affluent, cosmopolitan Indian Hindu professionals and relatively poor, undocumented, and modestly schooled manual workers from El Salvador and Mexico. All of the contributors to these chapters recognize that gender does not exist in a vacuum but emerges together with particular matrices of race relations, nation, occupational incorporation, and socioeconomic class locations, and the analyses reflect nuances of intersectionality.

Distinct approaches and areas of concern, which correspond to different stages of development, have characterized the gender and immigration scholarship. While the periodization is not nearly as linear as I present it below, glancing back at these legacies will allow us to better situate the contemporary research on gender and immigration.


The first stage of feminist scholarship emerged in the 1970s and early 1980s, and might be labeled "women and migration." This early phase of research sought to remedy the exclusion of women subjects from immigration research and to counter sexist as well as androcentric biases. It seems inconceivable to us today, but several very highly regarded immigration studies had relied entirely on survey or interview responses from men, and yet, based on this research, had made claims purported to represent the entire immigrant population. In some instances, men were asked to report for their wives and female kin. In other projects, women were unproblematically assumed to automatically follow male migrants as "associational" or dependent migrants and were often portrayed as somehow detached or irrelevant to the labor force. These premises were usually unfounded. The first stage of research thus set about the task of actually taking women into account. As modest as this first-stage project seems to us today, it was met in many corners with casual indifference and in some instances, with hostile, defensive reception.

Given the long-standing omission of women from migration studies, an important first step involved designing and writing women into the research picture. In retrospect, this stage is sometimes seen as consisting of a simplistic "add and stir" approach, whereby women were "added" as a variable and measured with regard to, say, education and labor market participation, and then simply compared with migrant men's patterns. This approach worked well in quantitative studies that sought to compare, say, immigrant women's and men's earnings. This type of approach, however, fails to acknowledge that gender is fundamentally about power. Gender informs different sets of social relations that organize immigration and social institutions (e.g., family, labor markets) in both immigrants' place of origin and place of destination.

Other research projects of this era focused exclusively on migrant women. This prompted several problems, among them the tendency to produce skewed "women only" portraits of immigration experiences. This approach characterized many historical monographs. Commenting on this trend in the introduction to an edited volume of multidisciplinary essays on immigrant women, historian Donna Gabaccia observed that "the numbers of volumes exploring immigrant women separately from men now exceeds the volumes that successfully integrate women into general accounts" (Gabaccia, 1992, p. xv). Paradoxically, this approach further marginalized immigrant women into a segregated subfield, separate from major social dynamics of immigration.

Equally problematic, as Cynthia Cranford and I have pointed out elsewhere (1999), both "add and stir" and "women only" efforts were often mired in some variant of sex-role theory. In this view, women's migration is explained with respect to "sex-role constraint," generally understood to be a set of stable, freestanding institutional practices and values rather than a fluid and mutable system that intersects with other social institutions. In the sex-role paradigm, separate spheres of public and private reign and men's and women's activities are seen as complementary and functional, while the manner in which these are relational, contested and negotiated, and imbued with power, privilege, and subordination is glossed over.

In retrospect, we can see that the immigrant "women only" and "add and stir" approaches limit our understanding of how gender as a social system shapes immigration processes for all immigrants, men and women. Only women, not migrant men, are marked as "gendered," and institutions with which they interact-family, education, and employment, etc.-are presumed to be gender neutral. The preoccupation with writing women into migration research and theory stiffed theorizing about the ways in which constructions of femininities and masculinities organize migration and migration outcomes.

A different and exciting body of feminist migration research appeared in the early to mid-1980s, and although not centered on U.S.-bound migration, it has left a significant impact on the field. It focused on the recruitment of poor, young, mostly unmarried women from peasant or agrarian backgrounds for wage work in the new export processing plants owned by multinational firms in the Caribbean, along the U.S.-Mexico border, and Asia. These studies alerted us to the linkages between deindustrialization in the United States and the emergence of a new "feminized" global assembly line. Case studies from around the globe explored the relationship between young women workers' migration, the shifting gender and generational dynamics in their family relations, and their incorporation into new regimes of production and consumption (see Arizpe & Aranda, 1981; Fernandez-Kelly, 1983; Wolf, 1992).

In a key article published in a 1984 special issue of the International Migration Review on women and migration, Saskia Sassen posited a relationship between internal rural-urban migration of young women to work in export manufacturing and agriculture in the Third World, and the increasing labor migration of women from these countries to the United States. Both types of female migration, Sassen suggests, are driven by the dynamics of corporate globalization: the intensification of profit and the reliance on low-wage work performed by disenfranchised Third World women. This moment marks a significant switch from a "women only" and "sex-role constraints" individualistic approach to one that looks more broadly at how gender is incorporated into corporate globalization strategies.


A distinctive second phase of research emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, displacing an exclusive focus on women with recognition of gender as a set of social practices shaping and shaped by immigration. Prompted in part by the disruption of the universal category "women" in feminist scholarship, by heightened awareness of the intersectionality of race, class, and gender relations, by the observation that men possess, display, and enact a variety of masculinities, and by the recognition of the fluidity of gender relations, this research focused on two aspects: the gendering of migration patterns and how migration reconfigures new systems of gender inequality for women and men.

Among this crop of gender and migration studies are Sherri Grasmuck and Patricia Pessar's study of Dominican migration to New York City, much of which is reported in the book Between Two Islands: Dominican International Migration (1991), Nazli Kibria's Family Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans (1993), and my own research on undocumented Mexican migration to California, reported in Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Immigration (1994). All of these studies take as their launching point a critique of "household strategies," a model explicitly and implicitly used by many migration studies of that period. The critiques put forth in these three books, informed and driven by feminist insights, particularly those from Third World contexts, counter the image of a unitary household undivided by gender and generational hierarchies of power, authority, and resources. Families and immigrant social networks, these studies underscore, are highly gendered institutions. This body of research highlights conflict in gender relations, the result of a strong feminist lens on the lookout for evidence of patriarchy and male domination and of methodological reliance on interviews and ethnography. These methods, as both Prema Kurien and Patricia Pessar note in their essays in this volume, tend to throw into relief gender conflicts and negotiations that might appear uncontested when survey methods are used.

The second-stage research is also notable for drawing attention to the ways in which men's lives are constrained and enabled by gender and also the ways in which immigrant gender relations become more egalitarian through the processes of migration.


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Table of Contents


1. Gender and Immigration: A Retrospective and Introduction Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo
2. Engendering Migration Studies: The Case of New Immigrants in the United States
Patricia R. Pessar
3. Strategic Instantiations of Gendering in the Global Economy
Saskia Sassen

4. The Global Context of Gendered Labor Migration From the Philippines to the United States
James A. Tyner
5. Gender and Labor in Asian Immigrant Families
Yen Le Espiritu
6. The Intersection of Work and Gender: Central American Immigrant Women and Employment in California
Cecilia Menjívar
7. Israeli and Russian Jews: Gendered Perspectives on Settlement and Return Migration
Steven J. Gold

8. Gendered Ethnicity: Creating a Hindu Indian Identity in the United States
Prema Kurien
9. Disentangling Race-Gender Work Experiences: Second-Generation Caribbean Young Adults in New York City
Nancy Lopez
10. Gendered Geographies of Home: Mapping Second- and Third-Generation Puerto Ricans’ Sense of Home
Maura I. Toro-Morn and Marixsa Alicea

11. De madres a hijas: Gendered Lessons on Virginity Across Generations of Mexican Immigrant Women
Gloria González-López
12. Raising Children, and Growing Up, Across National Borders: Comparative Perspectives on Age, Gender, and Migration
Barrie Thorne, Marjorie Faulstich Orellana, Wan Shun Eva Lam, and Anna Chee
13. "We Don’t Sleep Around Like White Girls Do": Family, Culture, and Gender in Filipina American Lives.
Yen Le Espiritu

14. Engendering Transnational Migration: A Case Study of Salvadorans
Sarah J. Mahler
15. "I’m Here, but I’m There": The Meanings of Latina Transnational Motherhood
Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Ernestine Avila
16. Gender Status and the State in Transnational Spaces: The Gendering of Political Participation and Mexican Hometown Associations
Luin Goldring
17. "The Blue Passport": Gender and the Social Process of Naturalization Among Dominican Immigrants in New York City
Audrey Singer and Greta Gilbertson


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