Immigration, Migration, and Citizenship

Gender & Society in the Classroom: Immigration, Migration, & Citizenship

Organized by: Cassaundra Rodriguez, University of Massachusetts

This collection of articles masterfully provide compelling analyses of how gender informs the migration process, produces new gendered outcomes and relationships, and how men and women navigate their lives as (im)migrants. Gender is central to all the research here, but gendered processes, outcomes, and experiences are shaped by the state, work, and family, as well as the intersectional identities of (im)migrants. Spanning research from several countries, these articles will prompt students to question conventional notions on how, for instance, migration leads to gendered empowerment or how human rights-based measures are automatically beneficial for immigrant women. This research also provides insights on how the consequences of migration also provide new gendered opportunities for experiencing masculinity, re-arranging care work, and creating more sustainable and supportive communities. Despite these opportunities, migration and immigration (enforcement) policies also have its costs; the article on immigrant organizing against deportation and research on migrant domestic workers underscore the enduring struggle for legibility and mobility.

Zentgraf, Kristine. M. 2002. Immigration and Women’s Empowerment: Salvadorans in Los Angeles. Gender and Society 16(5): 625-646.

Testing whether women’s migration leads to empowerment in their post-migration lives, Zentgraf interviewed 25 Salvadoran immigrant women living and working in Los Angeles. This article engages with literature on immigrant women and work and provides a background on the 1970s-80s wave of Central American migration to the United States. Salvadoran women interviewed mostly adhered to a traditional division of household labor, but shared decision-making power. Many women also migrated to the U.S. with paid work experience, but their post-migration labor was experienced as more valuable. Women in this new context also experienced more mobility. Zentgraf argues, however, women’s assessment of their post-migration experience is shaped by what their experience was before migrating; the few women who experience middle class lifestyles in El Salvador were less satisfied in the United States compared to women who had working class lives in their home country. Post-migration, women can be empowered in new ways, but this study certainly complicates the assumption that women will be automatically empowered in the U.S. context. 

Fallon, Kathleen M. 2003. Transforming Women’s Citizenship Rights within an Emerging Democratic State: The Case of Ghana. Gender & Society 17(4): 525-543.

This article focuses on how women gained citizenship rights following Ghana’s democratic transition. Fallon provides a discussion of feminist perspectives on citizenship and the case of Ghana. Fallon analyzed surveys with 621 Ghanaian women, newspaper articles, and in-depth interviews with women involved in a number of women’s organizations. Pre-democratization, women’s groups focused their efforts on their social rights by meeting economic needs. After the transition, women’s organizations engaged more with the state and encouraged women’s political participation as a means to access civil and social rights. This article is appropriate for classes where students are thinking through questions of state transition and the various components of citizenship rights. 

Acosta, Katie L. 2008. Lesbianas in the Borderlands: Shifting Identities and Imagined Communities. Gender & Society 22(5): 639-659.

Building on Gloria Anzaldúa’s work, this article focuses on the intersectional identities and experiences of Latina lesbian migrants by showing how these women create borderland spaces for themselves. Data includes interviews with 15 Latina lesbian migrants living in the Northeast. Acosta finds that Lesbian migrants are confronted with a new racial hierarchy in the U.S. that influences their sense of identity, while there sexual identities are also situational because they may be open about their sexuality in the U.S., but may not identify as lesbians to their families back home. Latinas create “imagined communities” or borderland spaces, often in Latina LGBT groups, in order to find connection and solidarity. These spaces, however, are not utopias as there are still tensions that are shaped by nationality, age, and language ability. Given the intersectional themes in the article, this research can serve as a segue into a more in-depth conversation on sexuality and LGBT solidarity, and an introduction to women of color feminisms. 

Schmalzbauer, Leah. 2009. Gender on a New Frontier: Mexican Migration in the Rural Mountain West. Gender & Society 23(6): 747-767.

Challenging the notion that migration is always empowering for women, this article provides important insights on how the context of reception matters for how migrants experience their new lives and gendered relationships. Pulled from ethnographic data gathered in rural Montana, Schmalzbauer demonstrates that the process of migration and settlement in Montana reproduces gendered relationships between partners that typically impacts women in a negative way. The lack of available jobs for women means migrant Mexican women are relegated to the home, even when they may have had previous work experience. Women are further socially confined because of the geography of the area and limited public transportation. As a destination with few migrants, Mexican women also feel their presence is especially highlighted in public places which is an especially dangerous problem for undocumented women. Despite these issues, for those with children and experience living in high-crime urban areas, the area represents a safer place to raise their children. 

De Regt, Marina. 2010. Ways to Come, Ways to Leave: Gender, Mobility, and Il/legality among Ethiopian Domestic Workers in Yemen. Gender & Society 24(2): 237-260.

Recognizing the dearth of literature on migrant domestic workers in the Middle East outside of research exclusively on exploitation or violence, this article focuses on how gender shapes the migration trajectory of migrant domestic workers and how (il)legality subsequently impacts their mobility. Spanning more than a ten-year period, the data for this article includes extensive fieldwork and interviews with Ethiopian migrant domestic workers working in Yemen. Students may appreciate reading interview narratives that demonstrate how the pre-migration options have important consequences for migration. Migrant women recruited through family members often experience more mobility compared to women who are recruited through agencies as contract workers. 

Hoang, Lan Anh and Brenda S. A. Yeoh. 2011. Breadwinning Wives and “Left-Behind” Husbands: Men and Masculinities in the Vietnamese Transnational Family. Gender & Society 25(6): 717-739.

This article highlights how women’s labor migration has important gendered consequences for their husbands who remain in Vietnam to care for their children. Hoang and Yeoh blend together the literatures on masculinities and the feminization of labor to frame the pertinent background of this study. Pulling from extensive survey and interview data with mostly fathers of mother-migrant households, the authors find that Vietnamese fathers and husbands are performing gendered duties often associated with wives and mothers, however, their continued waged-labor also serves the symbolic function of protecting their sense of masculinity. Unlike in other studies and contexts, this study suggests that husbands “left behind” are the common caretakers in families where wives and mothers have migrated. 

Choo, Hae Yeon. 2013. The Cost of Rights: Migrant Women, Feminist Advocacy, and Gendered Morality in South Korea. Gender & Society 27(4): 445-468.

Focusing on frameworks of citizenship, this paper explores how feminist organizations in South Korea used a discourse of victimization and human trafficking to argue for human rights-based provisions for marriage migrants and migrant women working as hostesses. Choo’s data includes extensive fieldwork with Korean migrant advocacy organizations and Filipino migrant communities. Choo finds that migrant women in her study did not pursue human rights-based provisions because doing so would contradict the moral and stigma-reducing logics they have assigned to their relationships and work. Claiming victimhood to access human-rights provisions, in some cases, also appeared to make less economic sense. Highlighting immigrant women’s agency, this research illustrates how there can be a cost to accessing certain rights. 

Montes, Veronica. 2013. The Role of Emotions in the Construction of Masculinity: Guatemalan Migrant Men, Transnational Migration, and Family Relations. Gender & Society 27(4): 469-490.

Building on rich ethnographic and interview data in California and Guatemala, this article illustrates how the process of migration shapes new masculinities and emotional expressions for migrant Guatemalan men. The article presents a thorough engagement with masculinities research, and the specificities of migration and the research site. Montes finds that Guatemalan men share accounts of their perilous journey(s) of migration and the experience of familial separation, resulting in feelings of pain, fear, and love. These emotional expressions resist the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity. This study suggests that migration inspires new and open emotional responses that challenge gender identities. 

Das Gupta, Monisha. 2014. “Don’t Deport Our Daddies”: Gendering State Deportation Practices and Immigrant Organizing. Gender & Society 28(1): 83-109.

This article focuses on Families For Freedom (FFF), a grassroots organization dedicated to assisting families that have deported or deportable immigrant fathers with criminal convictions. Das Gupta expertly outlines how researchers and activists have often relied on the affective pull of heterosexual family ties to challenge deportation. The data for this study includes personal narratives, or testimonios and interviews with members of FFF and the New York chapter of the New Sanctuary Movement. Das Gupta finds that FFF testimonios protest deportation by placing an emphasis on the emotional, care and parenting work that fathers provide for their families. Interviews with FFF leaders also reveal the strategies the organization must use to build solidarity and make criminalized fathers legible. Aside from the research and arguments presented, students will likely benefit from reading Das Gupta’s useful background on contemporary immigration and deportation policies. 

Andrews, Abigail. 2014. Women’s Political Engagement in a Mexican Sending Community: Migration as Crisis and the Struggle to Sustain an Alternative. Gender & Society 28(4): 583-608.

This article demonstrates how Mexican women’s migration to the U.S., and subsequent return migration creates new gendered opportunities for women to become politically engaged in sustaining their communities of origin. This article includes a wide array of data, including participant observation, 51 life story interviews with Mexican Mixtec men and women in Vista, California and San Miguel, Mexico, and survey data. Faced with the ‘crisis’ of living undocumented lives in the U.S., many migrant women returned back home to help build sustainable communities through civic participation, which was previously limited to men. Women’s increased participation in these spaces were successful, newly acceptable and often, necessary as many migrant men remained in the U.S. to fulfill breadwinning duties. This article lends insights on how hostile contexts of reception and subsequent return migration creates gendered consequences and new opportunities for survival.