Academic journal article Family Relations

Transnational Ties, Poverty, and Identity: Latin American Immigrant Women in Public Housing*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Transnational Ties, Poverty, and Identity: Latin American Immigrant Women in Public Housing*

Article excerpt


This study used ethnographic data to examine the nature and functions of transnational relationships of low-income Latin American women who had immigrated to the United States and were living in areas of extreme poverty. Findings indicated that these Latin American mothers utilized transnational ties to help maintain the cultural identities of themselves and their children, to alleviate social isolation, and to provide a safer summer housing alternative for their children. Transnational ties may have had some negative consequences, including financial and social burdens associated with maintaining long-distance familial relationships. However, despite some negative aspects, we conclude that transnational ties are often an instrumental resource for immigrant mothers living in poverty and are vital to immigrant social mobility.

Key Words: family relationships, Latin American families, public housing, refugee/immigrant populations, social support networks, transnational ties.

The manner in which low-income mothers living in areas of concentrated poverty maintain social sup- port and assistance in rearing their children is of ongoing interest to policymakers interested in the health and well-being of mothers and children. Equally of interest is exploring how immigrants are adapting to the United States and what contribu- tions they make to American society. Previous researchers have found that women living in poverty in the United States have limited and homogeneous social networks (Stack, 1974; Wellman & Potter, 1999; Wilson, 1987). Without access to racial and class heterogeneity, low-income women often have limited access to information regarding resources and services, which affects their advancement, well- being, and parenting skills (Small, 2006). A study by Menjivar (2000) found that, under dire economic conditions, family ties of recent immigrants become fragmented, straining social support and destabilizing the emotional well-being of family members because of an inability to correspond reciprocally. Conversely, the notion that immigrant families living in poverty are socially isolated and unable to count on family ties might be a prematute conclusion given the extent to which many Latin American immigrants emphasize the maintenance of family ties (Domínguez & Watkins, 2003).

All the women included in the present study faced severe economic hardship because of their status as recent immigrants who lived in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. As such, the role of support ties is especially important in the care and maintenance of their families (Domínguez & Watkins, 2003; Stack, 1974). However, we do not know much about the role that transnational ties play in the management of acculturation for individual immigrants and their children who moved to high-poverty neighborhoods.

Using a conceptual framework that differentiates among ties that offer emotional support for women from those that yield support to them in parenting (Alicea, 1997; Hondagneu-Sotelo & Avila, 1997; Viruell-Fuentes, 2006), this article examined the intersection of severely limited resources, acculturation-based needs, and the role of transnational ties in the lives of immigrant mothers. We paid particular attention to how these women generated social supporr to acquire resources they need. Three questions drove this research: (a) Do Latin American mothers living in concentrated areas of poverty have access to transnational ties? (b) What type of resources do they receive from those ties? (c) Do these relationships provide additional resources for the children? We explored these questions using data gathered over 2 years of ethnographic interviews with Latin American immigrant women living in public housing in concentrared poverty areas. To contextualize the findings and their implications, we first looked at high-poverty neighborhoods as the setting for this study. We also reviewed rhe literature on transnational ties as it relates to social support and child management strategies in the context of high poverty. …

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