Immigration and Women: Understanding the American Experience

Immigration and Women: Understanding the American Experience

Immigration and Women: Understanding the American Experience

Immigration and Women: Understanding the American Experience

Synopsis

The popular debate around contemporary U.S. immigration tends to conjure images of men waiting on the side of the road for construction jobs, working in kitchens or delis, driving taxis, and sending money to their wives and families in their home countries, while women are often left out of these pictures. Immigration and Women is a national portrait of immigrant women who live in the United States today, featuring the voices of these women as they describe their contributions to work, culture, and activism. Through an examination of U.S. Census data and interviews with women across nationalities, we hear the poignant, humorous, hopeful, and defiant words of these women as they describe the often confusing terrain where they are starting new lives, creating architecture firms, building urban high-rises, caring for children, cleaning offices, producing creative works, and organizing for social change. Highlighting the gendered quality of the immigration process, Immigration and Women interrogates how human agency and societal structures interact within the intersecting social locations of gender and migration. The authors recommend changes for public policy to address the constraints these women face, insisting that new policy must be attentive to the diverse profile of today's immigrating woman: she is both potentially vulnerable to exploitative conditions and forging new avenues of societal leadership.

Excerpt

Women are migrating and will continue to do so. Their needs
are urgent and deserve priority attention. Only then will the
benefits of international migration be maximized and the
risks minimized.

—United Nations Population Fund, 2006

In 1836, a young Polish woman named Ernestine Susmond Potowski Rose made her way across the Atlantic to her chosen destination, the United States. Her exit from Poland was prompted by her adamant refusal to agree to an arranged marriage. Ernestine had filed a lawsuit against her father, a Jewish rabbi, over control of her inheritance; she arrived, consequently, after sojourning in other European countries, marrying an Englishman, and espousing an avowed rejection of religious beliefs regarding women’s inferiority. An active and controversial leader and eloquent public speaker for the movements to abolish slavery and forward women’s rights, Ernestine Rose went on to earn the nickname of adulation “Queen of the Platform.”

In 1986, a full 150 years later, the young attorney Sheela Murthy left her native India to enter law school at Harvard University, where she earned her LLM (master of law) degree the following year. Sheela’s migration—across a different ocean from that traversed by Ernestine—was motivated in large part by an activist desire to improve the lives of women through the law. By doing so, Sheela was echoing Ernestine’s ambition and underscoring the fact that the revolution that the Queen of the Platform and her cohort undertook had remained unfinished. Sheela’s decision to migrate to the United States and study law meant that she broke out of the mold of a traditional adult path for women in her society, as had Ernestine. Today, Sheela runs the successful Murthy Law, an immigration law firm in Baltimore, Maryland, that she founded, which provides legal assistance to both women and . . .

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