'I'm here, but I'm there': the meanings of Latina transitional motherhood

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Authors: Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Ernestine Avila
Date: Oct. 1997
From: Gender & Society(Vol. 11, Issue 5)
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 11,697 words
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Latina immigrant women who work as nannies or housekeepers and reside in Los Angeles while their children remain in their countries of origin constitute one variation in the organizational arrangements of motherhood. The authors call this arrangement "transnational motherhood." On the basis of a survey in-depth interviews, and ethnographic materials gathered in Los Angeles, they examine how Latina immigrant domestic workers transform the meanings of motherhood to accommodate these spatial and temporal separations. The article examines the emergent meanings of motherhood and alternative child-rearing arrangements. It also discusses how the women view motherhood in relation to their employment, as well as their strategies for selectively developing emotional ties with their employers' children and for creating new rhetorics of mothering standards on the basis of what they view in their employers homes.

While mothering is generally understood as practice that involves the preservation, nurturance, and training of children for adult life (Ruddick 1989), there are many contemporary variants distinguished by race, class, and culture (Collins 1994; Dill 1988, 1994; Glenn 1994). Latina immigrant women who work and reside in the United States while their children remain in their countries of origin constitute one variation in the organizational arrangements, meanings, and priorities of motherhood. We call this arrangement "transnational motherhood," and we explore how the meanings of motherhood are rearranged to accommodate these spatial and temporal separations. In the United States, there is a long legacy of Caribbean women and African American women from the South, leaving their children "back home" to seek work in the North. Since the early 1980s, thousands of Central American women, and increasing numbers of Mexican women, have migrated to the United States in search of jobs, many of them leaving their children behind with grandmothers, with other female kin, with the children's fathers, and sometimes with paid caregivers. In some cases, the separations of time and distance are substantial; 10 years may elapse before women are reunited with their children. In this article we confine our analysis to Latina transnational mothers currently employed in Los Angeles in paid domestic work, one of the most gendered and racialized occupations.(1) We examine how their meanings of motherhood shift in relation to the structures of late-20th-century global capitalism.

Motherhood is not biologically predetermined in any fixed way but is historically and socially constructed. Many factors set the stage for transnational motherhood. These factors include labor demand for Latina immigrant women in the United States, particularly in paid domestic work; civil war, national economic crises, and particular development strategies, along with tenuous and scarce job opportunities for women and men in Mexico and Central America; and the subsequent increasing numbers of female-headed households (although many transnational mothers are married). More interesting to us than the macro determinants of transnational motherhood, however, is the forging of new arrangements and meanings of motherhood.

Central American and Mexican women who leave their young children "back home" and come to the United States in search of employment are in the process of actively, if...

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Source Citation

Source Citation
Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette, and Ernestine Avila. "'I'm here, but I'm there': the meanings of Latina transitional motherhood." Gender & Society, vol. 11, no. 5, 1997, p. 548+. Accessed 28 May 2020.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A20166237