Family Activism: Immigrant Struggles and the Politics of Noncitizenship

By Amalia Pallares | Go to book overview

2 • A TALE OF SANCTUARY
Agency, Representativity, and Motherhood

I fight not for myself but for my U.S. citizen son, so that he will know that he is
a child of God and not a piece of garbage that can be used and thrown away.

—Elvira Arellano, press conference upon
entering sanctuary, August 15, 2006

This chapter focuses on Elvira Arellano, a Mexican undocumented immigrant mother and founder and president of La Familia Latina Unida (LFLU) who, facing deportation, sought sanctuary in Adalberto Unido Methodist Church in Chicago in August 2006. Arellano’s action gained national and international recognition, shedding light on the increasing deportations and creating a platform for the voice and agency of an undocumented mother. An analysis of Arellano’s case provides insight into the relationships among political motherhood, agency, and representativity. I explore what her appeal to motherhood meant for her as an undocumented immigrant, for the immigrant rights struggle, and for a broader public. Finally, I also explore the potential and limits of the Arellano case by comparing it to the case of another mother, Flor Crisóstomo, who sought sanctuary in the same church. The comparison provides a useful window into our understanding of undocumented immigrant agency and representativity, which points to the limits of the family frame with a specific emphasis on motherhood.

Motherhood has been relied on by different groups and social movements as a source of political legitimacy and agency, as exemplified by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina as well as other groups of mothers organized around issues of violence and human rights, such as Conavigua in Guatemala and Comadres in El Salvador.1 What these groups share is their reliance on traditional notions of motherhood as a source of political legitimacy. Interestingly, through their claim that they have been denied their traditional reproductive

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