Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

"For My Children:" Constructing Family and Navigating the State in the U.S.-Mexico Transnation

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

"For My Children:" Constructing Family and Navigating the State in the U.S.-Mexico Transnation

Article excerpt

Abstract

Transnational children-ranging from infants to teenagers-reside in, and migrate to and from, both Mexico and the United States. This paper considers this understudied population, the youngest members of Mexican migrant communities, to understand shifting configurations of kinship in a transnational space. By focusing on transnational families with ties to San Luis Potosí and several locales in the U.S. Southwest, I study the everyday experiences of Mexican migrants to demonstrate the presence and power of the U.S. state in family life. This paper examines a dilemma in transnational lives: a primary motivation for migration is to support and benefit children, and yet children are repeatedly in precarious or threatening situations precisely because of transnational movement, their own and that of their family members. The inclusion of children in the study of transnationality, I argue, nuances our understanding of the (re)production and (re)structuring of kinship. Moreover, a focus on children as embedded within families problematizes popular conceptions of migrants as solely autonomous agents, uncovering the multiple ways in which the actions of parents, children, and other family members are repeatedly shaped and constrained by state policies. [Keywords: transnationalism, children, Mexico, transnational children, migrants, migration]

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, at the U.S.-Mexico Border-Early one morning, three young Mexican children-three, five, and six years old- waited with their grandmother in a relative's home on the outskirts of the city. They had been apart from their mother, Susana, for over two years, and had not seen or heard from their father since he had migrated to Los Angeles three years earlier. As Susana described to me years later, she had migrated north out of necessity to support the family. When she went to the United States, the children stayed with their maternal grandmother in their small rural Mexican town. As the children waited that morning for the coyota who would facilitate their border crossing, moods shifted from melancholic to anxious. Meanwhile, Susana sat by the phone in Albuquerque, frightened at the thought of her children crossing without her, and yet no longer able to tolerate years of separation. The children had become accustomed to living in the rancho with their grandmother and extended family. Leaving Mexico, and their abuelita, to migrate to New Mexico was not easy for these young migrants or their grandmother, and the oldest child, Tía, who is now 18-years-old and a U.S. citizen, still remembers and recounts the pain of that life-altering morning. As the children sobbed and reached out to their grandmother, they were taken by the coyota to begin the eight-hour trip to be reunited with their mother.

The border crossing of Susana's children-a story I have heard several times, from the perspective of Susana, her children, and their grandmother- reveals the changing character of transnational kinship against the backdrop of state power. The ethnographic study of the negotiations between Mexican migrants and state regimes provides a starting point for understanding how the U.S. state structures migrant families, as well as the ways transnational Mexicans, of all ages, navigate the shifting terrain of state power, building lives and kin relations in the U.S.-Mexico transnation. Mexican (im)migrant families and communities live within and across two nation-states, and their lives both transcend and are separated by the U.S.-Mexico Border. Such transnationality (Ong 1999) results in new kinship configurations and ways of caring for children, as well as a diverse range of experiences that shape children's lives. Within this transnational community, children-ranging from infants to teenagers-reside in, and migrate to and from, both Mexico and the United States. Migrant children move transnationally in diverse ways: by themselves, with one another, with their parents, under the care of extended family or community members, or with a coyote or a coyota [a man or woman paid to facilitate entry to the United States]. …

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