By Gloria González-López
January 24, 2011
“Compañera, tenga cuidado, what you are suggesting has the risk of dividing our immigrant communities and families.”
The above comment is my paraphrase of the concerned voice of a highly committed community activist, a Mexican man I met more than a decade ago as I completed my doctoral studies in Los Angeles. Back then I was trying to engage in a conversation with him and other activist men about my ongoing research with immigrant women. In these dialogues, I was sharing information about my dissertation project and the ways in which these women were teaching me about their unique experiences of migration to the United States. More and more, this was becoming crystal clear to me: Mexican immigrant women experience their immigration journeys in very particular ways, very differently when compared to men migrating from their same locations and regions, including the men in their families.
Listening in person to the individual sex life histories and stories as told by the 40 immigrant women I interviewed back then made me keenly aware of the very unique social contexts and circumstances surrounding their complex immigration journeys. Sexual violence, for example, as part of the migration experiences in some of these women’s lives (i.e., rape as a reason to migrate, rape as part of the immigration journeys, and/or rape as part of life in Los Angeles after settlement) made me think of the ways in which immigrant women have very specific needs as women who are migrants. I shared this and other concerns with the few activist men I coincided with back then in Los Angeles. I commented that community-based agencies were generously offering attention to immigrant women, but perhaps that was not enough and (in my utopian and naive imagination) special attention sponsored by the Mexican government was additionally needed for Mexican immigrant women. Some of these men expressed how much they cared about these issues, but they were concerned about what this might potentially do to their communities and families, for example, “poner a las mujeres en contra de los hombres y dividir a sus familias.” From these conversations, research I conducted later with men, and influential publications on gender and migration, I have learned that the labyrinths of inequality for both immigrant women and men are complex, frequently surrounded by intricate twists and turns, and fascinating contradictions and tensions. I have also learned that although patriarchy may be challenged and reorganized after migration and settlement, it does not vanish away.
More than 10 years have already passed. In the meantime, I have learned about the networks of allies working tirelessly to understand and help Mexican immigrant women who live in the United States, in person and the cyberspace, and on both sides of the border. During my visits in recent years to Mexico, I have also witnessed the visibility of a Mexican government sponsored institution addressing women’s issues on the Mexican side: el Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres. So, I have asked myself: Would the Mexican government ever consider creating an official, parallel institution in the United States, something like, the Instituto de Atención a las Mujeres Migrantes? Although Mexico as a nation is currently in deep pain while deciphering unprecedented crime and violence, and sexual violence is still a puzzle along the US-Mexico border and in the rest of Mexico, in my naivete, I keep wondering, y las mexicanas migrantes que vivimos en Estados Unidos, ¿cuándo?
[i]Women represent 46% of the estimated 12 million Mexican immigrants who live in the United States, according to the Consejo Nacional de Población, November 22, 2010, Migración y Salud: Inmigrantes mexicanas en Estados Unidos. Capítulo I: Características de las mujeres mexicanas adultas en Estados Unidos. http://www.conapo.gob.mx/