Paternal Absence and International Migration: Stressors and Compensators Associated with the Mental Health of Mexican Teenagers of Rural Origin

Article excerpt

Studies have reported that labor migration from Mexico to the United States is a dynamic process that has an economic and social basis in the structures of both the communities of origin and those of migrants' destination. This process is perpetuated through networks of social relations that facilitate movement from one country to another as a survival strategy at various stages of the family cycle (Massey, Alarcon, Durand, & Gonzalez, 1991). The spread of globalization has shown that migratory flows reflect economic oscillations in specific sectors of the receiving economy and the needs of its labor market more than any other factors. From the perspective of the sending country, "migration is a cruel manifestation of misery: the need to survive requires the uprooting and modification of personal, family, community, cultural, linguistic, and religious links" (Maza, 1997).

Male labor migration to the U.S. has changed traditional family dynamics in the communities of origin in Mexico. One of these changes involves the emergence of a semi-present father who is able to participate in his children's upbringing only for short periods of time (De Keijzer, 1998). In fact, many children and adolescents in rural and urban areas of some Mexican states grow up without the everyday physical presence of their biological fathers.

Studies have also reported that the U.S. is regarded by the inhabitants of the communities of origin as a "necessary evil" due to the fact that local economies depend largely on money sent by migrants (Moctezuma, 1999; Padilla, 1998). Paradoxically, in communities with a high incidence of sending, male migration as a strategy for supporting the family's goal of financial independence often leads to a weakening of the paternal sense of obligation (D'Aubeterre, 2000) while the father's absence may become a risk factor for the healthy psychological development of his offspring (Sanchez-Sosa & Hernandez-Guzman, 1992).

In a more recent theoretical approach to migration, Golring (quoted by D'Aubeterre, 2000), regards migrants as "creative social actors" since they not only manage to transcend the limitations of their economic and social positions but participate in the transformation of the social and political practices around them. The literature on migration and families emphasizes the reconfiguration of the limits of migrant communities and the reorganization of social and family life in more than one geographical space, giving rise to transnational social spaces and families with more than one place of residence (Salgado de Snyder, Diaz-Perez, Acevedo, & Natera, 1996; Salgado de Snyder & Diaz-Guerrero, 2002; Moctezuma, 1999).

These historical, cultural and social processes, however, produce stressors that may expose migrants to the risk of illness. Stressors emerge from contextual limitations and demands, due either to class, gender or ethnic group and are the result of the simultaneous confluence of demands from the environment and insufficient or inadequate resources for adaptation. Within this process, the socially molded significance of the demands of a person's surroundings, and the resources and supports available for dealing with them is crucial. These factors must be analyzed together since demands and resources exert a mutual influence on each other (Dressler, 1996).

With regard to the role played by men as fathers in Mexican families, migrants' families constitute a microcosm in which members live outside the norms of the conjugal nuclear family (De Keijzer, 1998). However, as in any family, the intimate sphere of these families is the scene of consensus and support as well as conflict and struggle (Salles & Tuiran, 1998). The specific importance of fathers' physical absence due to international migration translates into more familial, social, and labor responsibilities for migrants' wives and children (Salgado de Snyder, 1992; Salgado de Snyder et al. …


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