Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Children and Power in Mexican Transnational Families

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Children and Power in Mexican Transnational Families

Article excerpt

Today, many families find that they are unable to fulfill the goal of maintaining a household by living together under the same roof. Some members migrate internationally. This article addresses the consequences of a transnational lifestyle for children who are left behind by migrant parents. Using ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with a total of 141 members of Mexican transnational families, I explore how children who are left behind react to parents' migrations. I focus on how Mexican children manifest the competing pressures they feel surrounding parents' migrations and consequently shape family migration patterns. The article shows that children may experience power, albeit in different ways at different ages, while simultaneously being disadvantaged as dependents and in terms of their families' socioeconomic status.

Key Words: children, family, Mexico, parent-child relations, transnationalism.

Today, many families find that they are not able to fulfill the common goal of maintaining a household by living together under the same roof. By diversifying the residence of family members, families are able to take advantage of the disparities in the world economy. Able-bodied sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, and fathers move to areas where they can earn more for their human labor, whereas other family members remain in areas where the cost of living is low. Families move transnationally (Bryceson & Vuorela, 2002; Schmalzbauer, 2004). Although the international separation of families is not a new phenomenon (Foner, 2000; Nakano Glenn, 1983; Thomas & Znaniecki, 1927), one type of transnational family, mat in which mothers leave their children behind to work abroad, is increasingly common causing a plethora of new research focusing on the fives of these transnational families (Dreby, 2006; Hirsch, 2003; Hondagneu-Sotelo & Avila, 1997; Salazar Parrenas, 2005).

This article addresses some of the consequences of the transnational lifestyle for children who are left behind by migrant parents. Using ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with a total of 141 members of Mexican transnational families, I explore how children who are left behind react to their parents' migrations. The overall study is based on interviews with migrant mothers and fathers residing in Central New Jersey, and children and their caregivers, most often grandparents, residing in the Mixtec region of south central Mexico. It analyzes the ways that members of transnational families accommodate changes in each other's lives over time. Here, I focus on how children who are left behind manifest the competing pressures they feel surrounding their parents' migrations and consequently shape families' migration patterns.

Background

Over the past 20 years, an emerging area of research on childhood has focused on understanding children as autonomous actors creating their own social worlds as distinct from and in dynamic relationship to those of the adults in their lives (Corsaro, 1997; Wrigley & Dreby, 2005). According to Qvortrup (1999), the new sociology of childhood has been relatively divorced from traditional, structural approaches to understanding children's fives, which emphasize the economic and political inequalities children experience in different societies. Primarily, ethnographic studies of children's social worlds have not been successful in describing how children's power, or lack of power, in their families and in other institutions relates to their families' relative position in the society in which they live (Wrigley & Dreby). In this article, I consider the power of children left behind in transnational families in relation to their families' social position as transnational migrants. I explore how children in Mexican transnational families are, on the one hand, the least powerful actors within their families, but on the other hand, very influential, both as intended recipients of the benefits their families gamer via international migration and as independent agents with divergent needs that are intensified by the separation from parents. …

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