Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Migration and Development? the Gendered Costs of Migration on Mexico's Rural "Left Behind"

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Migration and Development? the Gendered Costs of Migration on Mexico's Rural "Left Behind"

Article excerpt

(Governments, civil society, and policymakers optimistically affirm the potential of international migration to foster development and alleviate poverty through remittances, and income and skill transfers (Hernandez and Coutin 2006; Faist 2008; Geiger and Pecoud 2013). Such assertions are rooted in macroscale geopolitical analyses, which mask the localized, uneven, and embodied ways family members who remain are disproportionately affected by migration. Despite the "left behind" (1) being a much larger group than the migrants themselves, Mika Toyota and colleagues argue, "[...] in the limelight are still the migrants, while the left behind remain in partial shadow" (2007, 158). Through a place-specific, microscale approach, we argue that the hidden costs of migration, embodied and borne by the families left behind challenge macro-scale public policy schemes oriented at migration for development. These policy measures are largely based on neoliberal discourses touting their ability to stem migration through increased marketization of developing economies. However, in Mexico, it is well documented that neoliberal restructuring, especially in the rural sphere, has indeed led to the growth of emigration in new sending areas--creating a new geography of migration (Riosmena and Massey 2012). Within this system, Mexican migrant labor subsidizes key sectors of the U.S. economy, while also providing a social safety net for family members left behind. We contend that the left behind--and not only the migrants--shoulder the costs of this integration project through their labor, bodies, social reproduction, mobility, consumption, and extended family networks.

Migration places added demands on women, especially those who become de facto heads of household through migration and must bear responsibility for social reproduction and maintenance of the labor force; outside wage and income-earning activities; farming/gardening; community work; managing remittances; and caring for children, elderly, disabled, sick, and injured (often return migrants). There is growing recognition of the social and economic value of the unpaid care work invested by women (Dyck 2005). It enables reproduction of migrant labor, which forms the foundation for a global neoliberal economy that is contingent on a constant supply of flexible, mobile, and cheap workers. A consequence of this is the increasing number of single mothers and female-headed households, revealing the vulnerability of the "left behind," and their dependency upon remittances for survival. Long-term separation, due to constrained mobility--a function of tightening border enforcement, which makes crossing riskier and more costly--potentially leads to weakened family ties and a reduction or total loss of remittance income over time, poverty, marginalization, and social and bodily suffering.

This article demonstrates how the left behind (particularly women, children, elderly, sick, and disabled), often in de facto female-headed households, disproportionately bear the burden of "externalities" or hidden costs of neoliberal restructuring and transnational migration. To achieve this, we employ a gender analysis, informed by feminist geopolitics, to emphasize the different ways household members experience migration in their everyday lives. Feminist geopolitics seeks to disentangle how global political processes are experienced in localized, everyday, and informal practices (Dowler and Sharp 2001). Our research draws upon combined analyses of a Mexican Migration Project (MMP) ethnosurvey, and in-depth interviews with community leaders, migrants, and families remaining in rural Veracruz. Narratives shed light on the consequences and impacts of migration through the often ignored voices and perspectives of the left behind (Toyota and others 2007), and in particular those nonmigrant women partners and caregivers who are equally affected by migration but receive far less attention in the literature (Frank and Wildsmith 2005; McEvoy and others 2012). …

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