Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Searching for Wages and Mothering from Afar: The Case of Honduran Transnational Families

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Searching for Wages and Mothering from Afar: The Case of Honduran Transnational Families

Article excerpt

This article draws on data from a 2-year two-country study that included 157 people to explore the survival strategies of poor Honduran transnational families. I argue that transnational families, defined as those divided between two nation-states who have maintained close ties, depend on a cross-border division of labor in which productive labor occurs in the host country and reproductive labor in the home country. This article bridges the literatures on transnationalism and families. The transnationalism literature tends to focus on macro processes, whereas the literature on families assumes proximity. This research helps fill the gap in both literatures, exposing the ways in which processes of economic globalization have radically altered family form and function.

Key Words: carework, family, globalization, Honduras, immigration, transnationalism.

Rosalia is a Honduran mother of five. She has been in the United States for 6 years, and her husband Ernesto and her three children for 4 1/2. Rosalia came to the United Sates from Honduras on a tourist visa as part of a religious delegation sponsored by a New England church. Her family's situation in Honduras at that time was dire. She was working part time managing the upkeep of a local church while Ernesto worked as a bus driver. But even with both of them working, they were barely scraping by, and the opportunities for mobility, especially for their children, appeared severely limited. They had talked for years about making the risky trip north to the United States to seek a better future. Rosalia's church trip proved the perfect opportunity. When the religious delegation was over, Rosalia did not return to Honduras. Instead, she slipped away to the house of a Honduran friend in Boston, with whom she stayed while working a patchwork of jobs to save the money to bring her family across the border. With help from family and kin, within a year and a half, Rosalia was able to support her husband and three youngest children's illegal journey to the United States.

Rosalia and Ernesto's two oldest children remain in Honduras. They make do without their mother and father, for the most part understanding their parents' need to go north and the logic of bringing only the youngest children who could still benefit from a U.S. education along with them. One of Rosalia and Ernesto's oldest children, Magda, had been unemployed since the factory where she had worked for 3 years closed down. Perhaps the closing was a blessing, because soon after, Rosalia left for the States and Magda was made to care for her young sisters and brothers. Without Magda's help, Rosalia never would have been able to leave. Magda's brother Franklin drives a taxi. He harbors some anger toward his parents for leaving, but remains committed to their family. On his slim income alone, they would not be able to meet even their most basic needs. Yet with the remittances they receive from their parents, they are able to get by. They have paid off the family's debts and they recently bought a refrigerator for the kitchen, and a television, which, when they can get it to work, allows them to bond with their parents and siblings by watching the same telenovelas. Rosalia and Ernesto's family has not been together for 6 years, but they try to maintain closeness via weekly phone calls and a shared understanding that being apart is the only way for them to make ends meet.

The family of Rosalia and Ernesto is typical of many Honduran families who, on account of financial hardship and limited opportunities in Honduras, have transnationalized, negotiating the economic opportunity structures of two nation-states to sustain themselves economically and to pursue their hopes for a better future. Although divided by thousands of miles and by politics and culture, many transnational families maintain close ties across the distance (Bryceson & Vuorela, 2002; Chavcz, 1998). These families vary by race, class, and nation. …

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