Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Kinship Ties of Mexican Migrant Women on the United States/Mexico Border*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Kinship Ties of Mexican Migrant Women on the United States/Mexico Border*

Article excerpt


Contemporary and historical stuthes of migration to industrialized nations have focused increasingly on the concept of social networks or social ties. In particular, kinship systems and the various types of social support they offer in reducing the short- 'erm costs of settiement in the country of destination have generated a great deal of interest during the last two decades (e.g., Glick, 1999; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1992, 1994; Chavez 1 985; Portes and Bach, 1985; Sanders and Nee, 1996; Tilly, 1990). As Sassen notes, the importance of social ties or networks per se in job attainment is already a fairly well established fact for immigrants (1995). A decade earlier, Chavez concluded that, "rather than diminishing in importance, the evidence overwhelming suggests that extended family households are essential to the migrants' adaptation to their new environment" (1985: 302).

Glick (1999) suggests that evidence that immigrants are involved in supportive kin relationships comes primarily from two sources: patterns of coresidence and remittances. Living in an extended family household is often used by researchers as a proxy for kin support or as evidence that resources are being exchanged within family networks (Glick, 1999). Chavez (1990) and Sanders and Nee (1996) suggest that extended family households ensure that new arrivals to the United States gain support in establishing themselves in a new country while providing services to coresident kin (Glick, 1999). Portes and Bach (1985) found close ties between family members on both sides of the border with migrants oftensending remittances to Mexico.

Research on the social networks of immigrants has examined such networks structurally, in terms of size and network position. While sending communities have been investigated (e.g., Durand and Massey, 1992; Massey et al., 1994), emphasis has been on the personal characteristics of migrants, successive cohorts and historical trends in patterns of migration (Reichert, 1 982; Reichert and Massey, 1 980). Still, much of me literature on Mexican migration has focused on men, with few stuthes giving primacy to women migrants (HondagneuSotelo, 1992, 1994; Solarzano-Torres, 1987; Ruiz, 1987).


Given the border's immediacy to Mexico, kin networks, as social structures, operating on both sides of the U.S. Mexico border were investigated. Such binational networks, it was assumed, offer protection to newcomers, mainly undocumented workers, and facilitate their incorporation into the informal economic sector of the border economy.

Kinship networks are conceptualized here as linking, otherwise, individual economic actors seeking social mobility in the United States, to stable social structures along both sides of the border. In particular, the resources that flow across linkages and their consequences for the success or failure of the migration process are examined. The importance of network composition, particularly that of the sending and receiving kinship networks is also emphasized.

Moreover, in addition to network composition and size, attention is given to the content of ties rather than just the structure formed by these ties. As suggested by Powell and Smith-Doeff (1994: 371), "the powerful analytical tools of network analysis have often been honed without parallel attention to substance". And, Milardo writes that:

"Families live in an elaborate system of interaction where they create ties of varying complexity and strength with an array of other individuals, other families, and larger social collectivities. Families are profoundly influenced by this web of ties and they are active agents in modifying and adapting these communities of personal relationships to meet ever-changing circumstances" (1988: 13-14).

In focusing on the kinship networks of recent immigrant women, it is assumed that their decisions to migrate north are made as individuals connected to one another in stable kinship networks, with ties of varying complexity and strength, as suggested by Milardo (1988). …

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