CHAPTER 3
Re- forming the “Traditional Mexican Woman”:
Making Subjects in a Border Factory

Leslie Salzinger

Particimex is an auto parts plant, one of the dozens of Mexican exportprocessing factories run by Autoworld, a major North American car producer.1 It sits among chili fields at the edge of the small agricultural city of Santa María, several hundred miles south of the U.S.–Mexico border. One of Autoworld’s newest assembly plants, with a relatively inexperienced Mexican managerial team, a workforce of young rural women new to the discipline of paid work, and a straightforwardly Fordist assembly line technology, Particimex is notorious among Auto world’s Mexicobased managers for its innovative, team- based managerial philosophy and its domination of company- wide quality competitions. During my first morning on the shop floor, production is running at full throttle, towering assembly lines making their implacable rounds. As the young, enthusiastic Mexican manager takes me around, I am struck by scattered groups of young women workers sitting at tables, chatting among themselves. They make no move to return to work at our approach. On the contrary, they watch with open curiosity as we pass by, some calling out casual, first- name salutes to my guide, then returning to their apparently engrossing conversations. “We’re not traditional here,” he comments complacently.

My surprise is only intensified when, wandering the shop floor a few weeks later, I notice a woman packing finished goods— a job generally described in the industry as too “heavy” for women workers. She explains that she’s part of an all- women team, and team members want

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