A Courtship after Marriage: Sexuality and Love in Mexican Transnational Families

By Seccombe, Karen | International Journal of Men's Health, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

A Courtship after Marriage: Sexuality and Love in Mexican Transnational Families


Seccombe, Karen, International Journal of Men's Health


by Jennifer S. Hirsch. Berkeley, CA-university of california Press, 2003, 376 pp.

A Courtship After Marriage provides a fascinating look at social change among Mexican families. Jennifer Hirsch skillfully documents how the shift to modernity has changed the face of Latino intimate relationships, including love, sexuality, conceptions of gender, and the meaning and practice of marriage.

Her book is based on a study of transnational families who are connected both to Atlanta, Georgia, and one of two neighboring communities in Mexico. Some families own property in both countries; others do not but move from one country to the other for work. Thus, Hirsch has focused on a group of migrants who feel and act both Mexican and American, which challenges earlier research over simplistic notions about identity and assimilation. The economic and social contexts of Mexico and the United States differ radically, and Hirsch's subjects live in both worlds. Her ethnography reveals the consequences of these differences for the intimate family relationships of men and women.

Hirsch developed extensive life histories from 13 women in each location, visiting each at least eight times. The descriptions of the research context and the methods used to collect her data provide a rich background to her study. Life histories were organized into six topical interviews, including (1) childhood and family life; (2) social networks, migration, and differences between life in the United States and Mexico; (3) gender, earning and spending money, and the household division of labor; (4) menstruation, reproduction, and fertility control; (5) reproductive health, STDs, and infidelity; and (6) dating, marriage, and sexuality. Interviews were conducted in both Atlanta and Mexico; in Atlanta she often conducted interviews while assisting women with errands, such as driving them to the doctor. In Mexico she provided transportation to weekly rosary. In many ways Hirsch became an important fixture in their communities and their lives.

Her initial intention was to interview each woman's husband, but the sex segregation among Mexicans made this virtually impossible. Unrelated men and women typically do not interact with one another; private interviews violated the tradition of separate spheres and made both Hirsch and the respondents highly uncomfortable. Consequently, Hirsch was forced to make a significant but understandable compromise: to gain the trust of married women, she could interact little with men. Thus, she was afforded only a rare glimpse into the male social world. Instead, she focused her fieldwork on women and their mothers. Therefore, her analysis of men in family relationships, including their attitudes, behaviors, and norms, are most often filtered through the lens of the women in their lives. This distinction is important because the book is purportedly about sexuality and love in Mexican transnational families, not simply about women's experience and interpretations within these families.

Despite that caveat, I found this book to be a fascinating story of social change. We see dramatic differences in "ideal" relationships between older and younger women. …

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