Author: Sampson, Carrie
Date published: July 1, 2011
Gordillo, Luz María. Mexican Women and the Other Side of Immigration: Engendering Transnational Ties. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2010. ? + 211 pages. Cloth, $55.00.
For five years, Luz Maria Gordillo, an assistant professor of women's studies at Washington State University, engaged a transnational community that has been migrating from the small, rural town of San Ignacio, Mexico, to Detroit, Michigan. This migration began in the 1940s and 1950s during the Bracero Program (a guest worker program established between the United States and Mexico) and has continued steadily since then. In her dynamic interactions with this community through interviews and observations, Gordillo focuses on these migration experiences from the intersecting lens of gender, race, class, age, sexuality, and citizenship. She also pays particular attention to how these experiences unfolded for the women involved.
Gardillo 's research led her to discover several underlying themes within this community. San Ignacians who migrated to Detroit often remained strongly connected to their hometown and through this connection San Ignacio was redefined economically and culturally. At the same time, they also invested in Detroit during its downward economic spiral. With increased purchasing power, they bought homes and developed businesses in what has become known as "Mexican Town." As networks of San Ignacians grew in Detroit, women created kinship-like communities with ties to certain public venues such as schools, churches, and social services. Gordillo suggests that most of these women found ways to empower themselves through various aspects of living in the United States. For instance, several used reproductive rights (e.g., birth control methods) that they were often dissuaded to use in their community of origin due to religious and cultural practices. Additionally, many women more readily embraced their sexuality by dressing provocatively, dating more openly, and other means.
When added to the desire to be near their families and the networks they developed, these women often had a deeper affinity toward the Detroit community. Many San Ignacian men, however, desired to return "home" because they valued the respect they received in this community. Here the author examines the patriarchal challenges that women faced including the relative difficulty of receiving citizenship and the lack of participation allowed in the political process in their community of origin. Gordillo suggests that these challenges might also have influenced their desire to remain in Detroit even though they still strongly identify as San Ignacians.
Gordillo places this community in the context of its history by describing the historical cultural, religious, and political events of San Ignacio. She dedicates one chapter to La Fiesta de los Ausentes, an annual cultural and religious celebration that welcomes the town's absent residents visiting from Detroit. Upon sharing her observations of this celebration, Gordillo provides both historical data and immigrant-related policies along with the stories of how Detroit became a target destination for many San Ignacians. She then describes the exponential growth of this community in Detroit as women and children joined men who had migrated there. Gordillo shares these women's migration experiences from crossing the border to building a home in this new, urban city highlighting the significant role they often play in caring for incoming families from San Ignacio. Without glamorizing these experiences, the author provides a critical analysis of both the challenges and burdens of this caring role as well as the rewards these women felt from building a home and community for their families and friends.
Gordillo builds on the foundational work of Gloria Anzadulua, one of the first scholars to theorize about the borderlands between Mexico and the United States through a feminist lens by providing research that supports these theories. Gordillo's work also adds to the dialogue and research of scholars such as Denise Segura (sociology and Latin American studies) and Patricia Zavella (anthropology and Latin American Studies), introducing new concepts such as "transnational sexualities" and emphasizing a transnationalism that challenges the idea of two separate communities. She acknowledges the significance of both the receiving community and the community of origin in the lives of these immigrants. Additionally, unlike many feminist scholars, Gordillo observed and interviewed men while keeping much of the focus on the women in her research. She used these male perspectives to better examine how migration is a gendered experience.
Yet, in her use of feminist theory to guide her focus on power relations, Gordillo does not seem to position herself within this book. Many feminist researchers embrace the assumption that knowledge is socially located, critiquing research that does not acknowledge this social location as an attempt to be objective which is never truly achieved. Although Gordillo uses language that situates her participants as friends, she does little to identify herself, thus leaving readers to wonder where this researcher stands in relation to the subjects she is studying. Questions such as, "is this author speaking from an immigrant, heterosexual, or working-class lens" are left unanswered. It is within her social location that Gordillo interprets her findings, thereby making it essential for her to share this location with her readers as they come to understand the experiences of this community from her perspective.
Despite this shortcoming, Gordillo presents an important story of how communities develop and redefine themselves through the process of migration. While many scholars would attempt to identify broad shared experiences within immigrant communities, Gordillo uses her knowledge of power relations to analyze how various identities influence individual and group experiences differently. Overall, her approach of integrating historical facts, observations, and stories collected in her research allows readers to gain an understanding of migration that disputes the common belief that migration experiences are all similar. Instead, she presents these stories through an intersecting lens of identity that makes a significant contribution to existing research on immigration.
Public Affairs, Doctoral Student
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada