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Mexican Women and the Other Side of Immigration

Mexican Women and the Other Side of Immigration
Engendering Transnational Ties

A fascinating study of the transnational experiences of Mexicans who immigrated from San Ignacio Cerro Gordo, Jalisco, to Detroit, Michigan.

Series: Chicana Matters Series, Deena J. González and Antonia Castañeda, editors

January 2010
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
223 pages | 6 x 9 | 10 b&w photos, 6 maps, 9 tables |

Weaving narratives with gendered analysis and historiography of Mexicans in the Midwest, Mexican Women and the Other Side of Immigration examines the unique transnational community created between San Ignacio Cerro Gordo, Jalisco, and Detroit, Michigan, in the last three decades of the twentieth century, asserting that both the community of origin and the receiving community are integral to an immigrant's everyday life, though the manifestations of this are rife with contradictions.

Exploring the challenges faced by this population since the inception of the Bracero Program in 1942 in constantly re-creating, adapting, accommodating, shaping, and creating new meanings of their environments, Luz María Gordillo emphasizes the gender-specific aspects of these situations. While other studies of Mexican transnational identity focus on social institutions, Gordillo's work introduces the concept of transnational sexualities, particularly the social construction of working-class sexuality. Her findings indicate that many female San Ignacians shattered stereotypes, transgressing traditionally male roles while their husbands lived abroad. When the women themselves immigrated as well, these transgressions facilitated their adaptation in Detroit. Placed within the larger context of globalization, Mexican Women and the Other Side of Immigration is a timely excavation of oral histories, archival documents, and the remnants of three decades of memory.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. La Fiesta de los Ausentes
  • Chapter 2. Transnational Sexualities
  • Chapter 3. The Politics of Movement
  • Chapter 4. Transnational Identities and Citizenship
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Luz María Gordillo is Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at Washington State University in Vancouver.


Afternoon sunlight lit the main avenue of San Ignacio Cerro Gordo as Carmen waited for the sign to begin the procession. She was wearing a formal black dress trimmed with delicate white lace along the plunging neckline. Her hair, perfectly done, was held up with an ornate black hairpin. Standing next to Carmen was her fiancé, Roberto, wearing a dark gray suit. Together they held a magnificent painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, their family's contribution to the local Catholic church. Immediately behind Carmen and Roberto stood a young woman, also dressed in formal attire, proudly holding aloft a sign proclaiming "DETROIT." Hundreds of immigrants lined up behind the sign to participate in the celebration they had been awaiting all year.


The purpose of the procession was twofold: to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico and of San Ignacio, and to celebrate the return of the town's immigrants, making their yearly visits from the United States. The town of San Ignacio celebrates its fiestas patronales (patron saint festivities) each year during the last week of January. Traditionally a religious ceremony, the festivities now also serve as an elaborate welcome for los hijos ausentes—the town's "absent sons and daughters," most of whom are members of the large working-class San Ignacian colony in Detroit.


The regional bishop joined forces with several local priests to orchestrate the week-long celebrations. There were several processions each day, celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe and the many patron saints of nearby towns. They included special parades for young people, children, business owners, beauty queens, married couples, and even single women and single men. Father Ignacio Ramos Puga, the local priest and main organizer of the festivities, had carefully selected most of the participants who took on significant roles in the parades. Being chosen to be a character in one of the biblical scenarios represented on the intricately decorated custom-built trucks was an honor.


The celebration also served as a reminder of the economic and social importance of immigration. Returnees displayed their immigrant success by flaunting clothing and jewelry purchased stateside. Children were dressed in the latest Detroit styles and wore gold bracelets and necklaces, from which dangled medals of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Some children wore medals honoring San Toribio, to whom immigrants pray for protection during risky border crossings. Young women from Detroit took the opportunity to transgress forbidden spaces by wearing revealing dresses and blouses that drew disapproving glances from the town's older women.


For the celebration of 2003, Father Ignacio Ramos Puga chose Carmen and Roberto to lead the procession of los hijos ausentes. The parade would end at the town's church, where a special mass had been planned for the visitors. As the opening procession got underway, charros and charras (traditional cowboys and cowgirls) mounted on their magnificent thoroughbreds were followed by antique cars, beauty queens, Aztec dancers, and the truck-borne floats. Carmen stood proud, representing her own transnational family and the larger family of San Ignacian youth, who experience both Detroit and San Ignacio as their home.


This vibrant celebration, held every year in San Ignacio, symbolizes the enduring connections between members of a working-class single natal community that now straddles two contested geographic sites thousands of miles apart. The communities of San Ignacians in San Ignacio, Mexico, and Detroit, Michigan, are not separate entities but one transnational community that navigates in two nation-states and that is continuously shaped and reshaped by back-and-forth migration and by complex family, social, and economic ties.


Mexicans in the Midwest


Scholarly work on Mexicans in the Midwest appeared in the 1930s, written by sociologists and economists who thoroughly recorded the growth and composition of the Mexican population there. One of the most notable works, and directly relevant to this study, was Paul S. Taylor's in-depth sociological analysis of Mexican immigrants from Arandas, Jalisco. The small town of San Ignacio Cerro Gordo in Los Altos de Jalisco (the case study presented in this book) belonged to the municipality of Arandas until 2003, when it was approved to become an independent municipality. Along with Taylor, who also wrote on Mexican immigrants in Chicago and the Calumet region, sociologist Norman Daymond Humphrey recorded the lives of Mexicans in Detroit, starting in the 1930s. Their work provides a narrow window into Mexican immigrants' lives in the Midwest and tells us more about the academic approach to the study of people of color—including assumptions and stereotypes about Mexicans and Mexican Americans—than it does about Mexicans' experiences as immigrants. Nonetheless, these scholars left thorough statistics and numerous interviews that have enriched the work of later historians of Mexicans in the Midwest.


It was not until the 1990s, however, that Chicana/o historians turned their attention to the Midwest and produced monographs that revealed new circumstances surrounding the lives of Mexicans in the Midwest. Dionicio Nodín Valdés, Juan R. García, and Zaragosa Vargas mapped out social and labor experiences that differed from the experiences of Mexicans in the Southwest. Vargas focused on Mexicans in Detroit, providing a detailed account of labor relations and labor experiences that set the stage for community formation in Detroit during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Building on Vargas's work, which ends in the Great Depression years, this book seeks to provide a sense of historical continuity by analyzing the postwar experiences of Mexicans in Detroit. Moreover, it integrates gender as an inherent component of the study of Mexicans in the United States and more specifically in Detroit.


This book holds a specific conversation with Chicana historians who contributed a gendered historical analysis emphasizing the lives of Mexican women and women of Mexican descent in the United States. These Chicana historians focused on the Southwest, where Euro-American conquest and violence underscored the history of Mexican Americans in the United States. They recorded how, after many Mexicans were dispossessed and marginalized by hegemonic Euro-American conquest, struggles of resistance began to map out Mexican American history.


Vicky Ruiz challenged not only Euro-American mainstream historians but also Chicano historians who left women outside of their narratives. Her narrative emphasized the lives, experiences, and struggles of Mexicanas in the Southwest. Ruiz demonstrated strategies such as "cultural coalescence" that Mexicanas appropriated in order to navigate Euro-Americans' stratified society, which privileges some while marginalizing others. Mexicanas, according to Ruiz, appropriated cultural capital from the United States that they felt most appropriately covered their needs. Historian Deena González contested Eurocentric discourses of the Southwest that erased Mexican and Mexican American women's agency. González emphasized the strategies of resistance applied by Mexicanas to contest and challenge colonization while their social organization was severely disrupted. Antonia Castañeda's work centered on contestations of Euro-American historical narratives, underlining the importance of social constructions that historically devalue women of color and justify narratives of conquest. Enriching the field of history, Castañeda proposed a social constructionist approach that is now integral across disciplines and inherent in the recent field of transnational studies.


Transnational Studies on Mexicans in the United States


Several researchers have attempted to redefine the historiography and literature on Mexican immigration to the United States. Of particular note is the innovative work by Jorge Durand and Douglas S. Massey, who began their study of immigration in the early 1980s and continue to supply us with invaluable statistics and information on Mexican immigration to the United States. Most recently, however, Gabriela Arredondo has provided a notable gendered study on Mexicans in Chicago, contributing not only to the history of Mexicans in the Midwest but also to transnational studies. Arredondo proposes the innovative term mujeridades for what she considers to be a collection of experiences that Mexican women undergo while experiencing movement in their nation-state. Mujeridades are Mexican (and often nationalist) ideals of social expectations of and about women—notions of "womanhood" that are far from representing working-class Mexican women's realities. Arredondo not only frames gender as central but also begins to look at the complexities of gender relations within Mexican immigrants' social networks during the interwar years in Chicago. My study expands on gendered literature of working-class Mexicans in the Midwest and also begins to interrogate the way transnational studies have approached the study of working-class Mexicanas in the United States.


Starting in the 1990s, feminists and other scholars have opened up the dialogue focusing on gender as a category of analysis while investigating Mexican immigration to the United States and framing their argument within a transnational context. Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Saskia Sassen offer a socioeconomic and political analysis of how the capitalist global economy has interlocked transnational corporations and labor forces in underdeveloped countries, triggering large diasporas. They suggest that the global economy creates a tier of low-wage labor that for the past three decades has been filled mostly by women. While I largely agree with their approach to the study of social institutions and their effects on transnational subjects, I focus on an in-depth examination of the everyday processes within the migratory experiences of Mexican immigrants.


This book contends, first, that the experience of working-class immigrants is not fragmented into two different spaces—their community of origin and the receiving community. My research shows that both spaces are integral to their everyday lives and should be considered as parts of a whole. The collection of experiences while migrating from one nation-state to another is what I refer to as the immigrant experience. Moreover, the immigrant experience is gender specific and affects and influences San Ignacian working-class men and women differently.


Second, I introduce the concept of "transnational sexualities," which emphasizes the social construction of working-class sexuality informed by experience in both the sending and receiving communities. This process shapes and reshapes meanings and understandings of different social realities that apply to working-class Mexicanas' and Mexicanos' experiences in San Ignacio and in Detroit. In tandem with recent literature focused on constructions of sexualities in transnational spaces, I argue that transnational studies should attend to the ways in which gender meanings operate and are reconstructed in these transnational spaces. In addition to offering a gendered feminist analysis of migration, however, I maintain that many San Ignacian working-class women take the first step toward fragmenting gender stereotypes and transgressing traditionally male roles while they are still in their community of origin, often while their husbands or other family members are living abroad as immigrants. These transgressions facilitate the later migration of the women themselves and their adaptation and accommodation to the new environment in Detroit.


Some feminists and academics of transnational studies (like Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo in her work on Mexican domestic workers in Los Angeles) have suggested that Mexican immigrant women achieve semi-emancipation from patriarchal roles first by immigrating and later by joining the paid labor force. I contend, however, that these processes of emancipation are complex: they begin in the community of origin and later provide Mexicanas with certain tools while they are experiencing immigration to the United States. Mexicans in both San Ignacio and Detroit have expanded their understandings of femininity and masculinity and their constructions of gender and gender roles.


A third goal of this monograph is to deconstruct the social networks that support and sustain immigration to understand the contributions made by the reproductive and productive labor of Mexicanas. The concept of "social networks" contributes to our understanding of the construction of transnational communities. Although we have grown accustomed to reading about social networks that sustain immigration, as researchers we have failed to explore the meanings that working-class Mexicanas and Mexicanos themselves attach to these networks. In this analysis I deconstruct these support systems in order to understand how working-class Mexican women built upon the bracero generation's first attempts to initiate the movement of San Ignacians to Detroit. Within the gender dynamics of these social networks we can observe how immigration is stimulated and sustained. It is particularly important to recognize that the immigrant experience is full of contradictions, and these shape the lives of working-class Mexicanas and Mexicanos as they contribute to the building of transnational networks.


In Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work Rhacel Salazar-Parreñas argues that "the experience of migration is embodied in dislocations." These dislocations include first and foremost familial separation but also dislocation from one's accustomed place in the socioeconomic structure. Salazar-Parreñas documents the downward social mobility experienced by many Filipina immigrants in Los Angeles and Rome, who have had some formal education yet have to work as domestics. Her work focuses on four institutions (the nation-state, the family, the labor force, and the migrant community) and underscores the dehumanization or commoditization of labor in the context of the global economy. This study contends that these dislocations—transnational dislocations—are embedded in the immigrant experience. Moreover, it adds that transnational studies must integrate these dislocations as an inherent variable in studying "diasporic subjects," as Chicana feminist Emma Pérez calls the global mobilization of labor from developing countries to industrialized world powers.


Finally, this book shows clearly that the immigrant experience has transformed both the sending and receiving communities and has created an innovative and dynamic gendered culture that supports what I call transnational citizenship, grounded in "membership" in two or more nation-states. In the process, contradictions and tensions continuously arise, challenging working-class Mexicanas and Mexicanos constantly to re-create, adapt, accommodate, shape, contest, and create new meanings for the environment in which they live. Many of these contradictions are gender specific to the transnational experience. Thus this study examines the impact of migratory movements on the gendered politics of movement within the larger context of globalization.


Mexican Immigrants and Transnational Spaces


I began my work with working-class Mexican immigrants in Detroit by visiting Patton Park, where Mexican immigrants play soccer every Sunday. After numerous visits I became aware of the large numbers who hailed from the state of Jalisco and from the town of San Ignacio in particular. I attended soccer games in Patton Park over a period of three years. Every Sunday afternoon large numbers of Mexican immigrants would gather in the park to watch the soccer matches and enjoy each other's company. While the men took the field, women set up vending booths and sold the favorite foods and products of Mexico—chicharrón con chile y limón (pork rind with chile and lemon), tacos de carnitas (braised pork tacos), cowboy boots and sombreros, T-shirts emblazoned with the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Mexican flag. As Mexicanas gathered in small bunches to exchange the latest news and gossip, the public park was transformed into an intimate, familial space that attested to the importance of leisure time in Mexican women's lives.


Historians of Mexicans in the United States like José Alamillo and Juan Javier Pescador have documented the importance of leisure in shaping political activism and identities within Mexican and Mexican American communities. Pescador's work focuses on the soccer fields as transnational spaces of leisure where men explore notions of "masculinity" while sharing the immigrant experience. Moreover, his gendered analysis of immigration, documenting experiences from the Oiartzun Valley and its inhabitants' immigration to the New World from 1550 to 1800, has influenced transnational studies as well as contributing to the conceptualization of the "immigrant experience" as an analytical tool. Alamillo reconstructs leisure sites as political and civic platforms for Mexican Americans to build sociopolitical resistance. Patton Park, very much like Alamillo's pool halls and Pescador's soccer fields, provided a forum for working-class Mexicanas to explore, contend, and contest their social, political, and economic realities while making a home in the United States. Thus they appropriated and Mexicanized this public space in Patton Park, Detroit.


Spending time in the park on Sundays, I met many women from San Ignacio. They shared their collective experiences with me, recounting how they had adapted to their new surroundings and how they navigated the frequently hostile and racist environment of Detroit. Topics of conversation ranged from health to marriage, child rearing, and jobs in the paid workforce, as women compared their lives in Detroit and San Ignacio. San Ignacian women reclaimed this public space where they constructed their social positioning in the United States. In the process, they continuously shaped and reshaped notions of womanhood, motherhood, and domesticity. Moreover, this public space became the center stage where women made important decisions in their everyday life about their well-being and their families.


Traditionally patriarchal structures, both religious and civil, and most notably the Roman Catholic Church, have influenced the lives of the people who emigrated from San Ignacio.16 But the migrants' transnational experience in turn has influenced and changed these institutions. San Ignacians in both Detroit and San Ignacio have continuously challenged the conventional constructions and understandings of womanhood and manhood and of gender relations, thus extending the parameters and complicating the meanings of immigrant experience. Viewing transnationalism in such personal terms introduces us to contradictions and harsh encounters, but it also emphasizes the creations of new meanings embedded in gendered processes that force us to understand transnational communities without romanticizing, criminalizing, victimizing, or demonizing the migrants who live in them.


San Ignacio and Detroit


San Ignacio Cerro Gordo is a small town in the state of Jalisco, in western Mexico. It belonged to the delegación of Cerro Gordo (part of the municipio of Arandas) until 2003, when it was approved to become a separate municipality (put into effect in 2005). The town's population was approximately 17,500 in 2000. Its economy is based on the cultivation of corn and agave, the plant used to make tequila; other activities include cattle ranching, dairy farming, and brick making. In the last fifteen years San Ignacio has seen the rapid expansion of small businesses, financed partly by immigrants' remittances. Construction companies are booming, due to the demand for new houses paid for with Detroit dollars. Bars, restaurants, and small retail businesses have sprung up.


Both the town and the state have a long tradition of migration to the United States. People have been journeying north from Jalisco since the last decade of the nineteenth century. In the first quarter of the twentieth century some Mexican men and women migrated to midwestern states, including Michigan, where they worked in beet fields or on railway construction crews. Mexican immigrants from the states of Michoacán, Guanajuato, and Jalisco were reported to be in the majority in this early migration flow.


In stark contrast to San Ignacio's rural landscape, Detroit's urban setting surrounded San Ignacians' transnational experiences. Its highways, the main arteries of the city's grid, cut across poor neighborhoods in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the name of urban development. One of these fragmented neighborhoods was the barrio in southwest Detroit known as Mexican Town. Postwar Detroit attracted many immigrants from Mexico and migrants from Texas to the booming economy of America's "arsenal of democracy." This economic mirage lasted but a few years, however, before the city's economy plummeted due to deindustrialization, worsened by white flight to the suburbs. By the 1950s Detroit looked like a skeleton: "Whole sections of the city [were] eerily apocalyptic." Adding to this image of a city where institutionalized racist practices such as redlining (lending that discriminated against neighborhoods viewed as high-risk areas) were a regular practice, the racial tensions that had been simmering on the back burner culminated in the Detroit Race Riots of 1967.


San Ignacians settling in Detroit in the late 1960s and early 1970s experienced the bizarre and serious implications of the historical racial tensions plaguing the city. Racist real estate and banking institutions pushed minorities to what they considered "appropriate" urban spaces for these already marginalized groups. This housing segregation allowed San Ignacian immigrants to purchase homes at very reasonable prices, however, even though the neighborhood had the look of a war zone, with burned-down houses next to the houses that they purchased. Segregation went hand in hand with lack of public services such as garbage collection, street lighting, and access to health and education in the poor barrios. Nevertheless, the Mexican transnational community of San Ignacio grew, facilitated first by Latinas' social networks, followed by the first bracero San Ignacians (like Don Chuy, who is believed to be the first San Ignacian to settle in Detroit in the late 1960s). The community was later reshaped by the arrival of San Ignacian women in southwest Detroit.


Mexican Town, the part of southwest Detroit where Mexican immigrants are concentrated, offers a prime example of how a transnational community functions culturally, economically, and politically. The direct connection to Jalisco and San Ignacio can be seen and felt everywhere in Mexican Town. The names of local businesses, many owned by Mexican entrepreneurs, refer to the region, from Jalisco's Auto Sales to Aranda's Low Rider to Los Altos Restaurant (Los Altos de Jalisco is the geographic area where San Ignacio is located). After several visits to Patton Park, where I developed friendships with San Ignacian women, I decided to conduct my investigation in San Ignacio and Detroit. My work aims to provide a more complex and substantial picture of the Mexican immigrant experience in the United States and in Mexico.


In the first three decades of the twentieth century there was already a small but steady flow of Mexican migrants to the Midwest, attracted by jobs in the beet industry and work on the railroad. They were also attracted to Detroit by the growing auto industry. Thus many became industrial workers in the "Motor City"; as early as 1930, however, the Mexican consul in Detroit reported to his embassy in Washington, D.C., on the deplorable conditions of Mexicans in Detroit due to stagnation in the automotive industry. The letter emphasized that Mexican families had to depend on public services but that the U.S. government gave U.S. citizens preferential access to these services. Because of this situation, many Mexican families were forced to work in the beet fields for extremely low pay. The consul asked the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations) to stop the flow of Mexican immigrants to the United States. Working-class Mexicans had been imported through labor agreements between Mexico and the United States. The numbers of Mexicans entering the Midwest were low in relation to the numbers of Mexicans who were entering the United States through California and Texas during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Many were experiencing rural dislocation; others were fleeing the Mexican Revolution. The vast majority were male immigrants participating in more informal gendered-male labor agreements that predated the Bracero Program implemented in 1942.


The numbers of migrants surged in the Midwest during the 1940s and 1950s, when the gendered-male Bracero Program, one of the first official state-sponsored and state-managed bilateral labor agreements between Mexico and the United States, began bringing thousands of working-class Mexican men to work in the agricultural fields of California and Texas and on the railroads in the Midwest. Some of these braceros eventually made their way to the cities of the Midwest, enticed by better-paid job opportunities in industry. In the early 1960s a handful of working-class Jaliscans from San Ignacio who had been hired initially as braceros in Texas and California arrived in Detroit, becoming the nucleus of a future San Ignacian transnational community. In the late 1960s Delfino Hernández, who had worked as a bracero in California, moved with his brothers into Don Chuy's apartment in Detroit. In 1970 his wife, Doña Tita, arrived in Detroit with all of her children. A woman from Chihuahua informed Doña Tita where to purchase necessities as well as how to go about enrolling her children in school in Detroit. Doña Tita began to nurture a future transnational community by receiving large numbers of San Ignacians into her home in Detroit, while they settled and found jobs. She and her family marked the beginning of a San Ignacian transnational history of community formation, full of complexities that are not only gender specific but also inherent in the immigrant experience.


A Gendered Approach to Transnational Studies


Although the current literature on transnational studies enriches our understandings of transnational subjects, feminist narratives that represent and highlight Mexicanas' everyday experiences are still few. I support Edna A. Viruell-Fuentes's contention that "our knowledge of 'the emotional lives and subjective experiences of those embedded in transnational social fields' remains limited." Contributing to this much-needed literature, my study relies primarily on oral histories. Oral narratives, much like pictorial narratives, provide an important tool for the historian to trace women's experiences and the media through which they chose to narrate their transnational lives. Exvotos (votive offerings), for example, left a historical pictorial or visual account of rural Mexican women's social and cultural anxieties while providing degrees of resistance (albeit small: prayers and promises of payment for miracles) to situations over which they could otherwise have no direct control. Scholars such as Olga Nájera-Ramírez have considered the impact of popular culture on transnational subjects through musical genres like the ranchera (mariachi-style music). They have analyzed "the long history of labor migration within greater Mexico, which has caused the fragmentation of families," and argued that "for many listeners such songs may apply as much to parent-child separations as they do to separations experienced by two lovers."


Popular culture is understood and readapted to fit a transnational reality. Diversity of resources such as cultural forms of expression should be a common denominator for researchers of diasporic and gendered transnational studies. Women have different ways of expressing their (dis)content and carving their own socioeconomic and political discursive space(s): "that interstitial space where differential politics and social dilemmas are negotiated." Moreover, as Emma Pérez notes, "the historian's political project, then, is to write a history that decolonizes otherness." This study highlights Mexican immigrant women's narratives, thus challenging hegemonic male-dominated narratives on transnational subjects. San Ignacian women's narratives offer a close-up examination of how these gender-specific relationships unfold in a transnational space.


My first interview in San Ignacio was with Doña Luna, whose daughter and son-in-law I had met in Patton Park in Detroit. The son-in-law, Francisco, was the owner of the Detroit soccer team representing San Ignacio, Las Chivas de Guadalajara. My interview with Doña Luna led to others, and my contacts snowballed as each person I spoke with suggested talking to his or her family members and friends. I was touched by people's willingness to invite me into their homes and to share their lives with me.


About the Book


This book is divided into four chapters, followed by brief Conclusions. Chapter 1 maps out the relational changes in the religious festivities in San Ignacio and the principal influences that have brought about this evolution. Because of large-scale emigration from the town, small, local pious celebrations were transformed into an elaborately choreographed production to welcome los hijos ausentes upon their return. The starting point for this story is the migration of young men from San Ignacio to Texas to work in agriculture in the 1940s. Over the next two decades many continued on to Detroit, where industrial jobs beckoned. The San Ignacian women who arrived in Detroit beginning in the 1970s greatly expanded the economic, social, and cultural ties between Detroit and their hometown. This chapter analyzes the ways in which Mexican immigrant women and men became agents of demographic, social, cultural, economic, and political changes in their own histories as they constructed their transnational community in San Ignacio and Detroit.


Migration opened social and cultural spaces that allowed women to contest and negotiate traditional gender roles. Chapter 2 challenges the common assumption that immigrants' experiences can be cleaved in two—one set of experiences, values, and practices in their community of origin and another in their adopted community. Instead I use the term "transnational sexualities" to refer to a single set of constructed notions shaped by experiences in both San Ignacio and Detroit. In this chapter Mexicanas from different generations explain their understandings of femininity, womanhood, and motherhood and how these have been affected by migration. They discuss appropriate behavior in relation to courtship, marriage, sex, contraceptive use, and childbearing, weighing various economic and social imperatives against the influence of church teachings.


Chapter 3 turns to the development of the San Ignacian community in Detroit as the small Mexican Town of the 1960s burgeoned into a bustling immigrant community continually replenished by new arrivals. As more and more women came to Detroit, they played crucial roles in creating and sustaining the networks that supported the immigrant community's social and cultural life. Women performed productive labor in the paid workforce as well as reproductive labor, caring for extended families and for new immigrants arriving from Mexico. These new roles for women have given rise to a number of conflicts and ambiguities, especially in the realm of marriage and family life.


Chapter 4 examines the politics of transnational identity and citizenship that come into play when immigrants feel a sense of belonging to more than one place. San Ignacians living in Detroit play an important role in the economic, social, and political life of San Ignacio. For example, San Ignacio had tried to become a municipality in the state of Jalisco since the 1970s; it finally succeeded in 2003, thanks in large part to economic contributions from Detroit-based San Ignacians in support of the cause. This chapter explores Mexicans immigrants' conflicted feelings about the prospect of living permanently in the diaspora. Economic success in the United States is a compelling goal, and most want to stay long enough to achieve it. Yet pernicious stereotyping of Mexican immigrants and their exclusion from full participation in U.S. society—even as their low-wage labor is in demand—shape immigrants' feelings about living out their lives in el norte (the north). Many older immigrants nurture the romantic dream of a permanent return to Mexico, though few will achieve it. Younger people tend to see their future in Detroit, yet they have a clear-eyed view of institutional racism and the need to fight against it.


Finally, Conclusions offers some final thoughts on the creation and sustainability of a very complex transnational community in San Ignacio Cerro Gordo, Jalisco, and Detroit, Michigan. It reiterates the need to reshape transnational studies to integrate all the transnational processes experienced by diasporic subjects. More importantly, it confirms that the migratory process is gender specific: it is in fact women who continue to supplement and support the migratory flows that sustain Mexican immigration to the United States.


Moreover, this book begins to integrate legislative processes such as immigration policies—often detrimental to the well-being of immigrants—into the study of transnational subjects. The militarization of the Mexico-U.S. borderlands has created a whole set of complex circumstances surrounding Mexican immigration to the United States. These gendered circumstances are experienced differently by Mexican immigrants seeking a better future for their families while joining the global mobilization of labor in the twenty-first century.