Sustaining Families and Communities: Nonmigrant Women and Mexico-U.S. Migration Processes

Kanaiaupuni, Shawn Malia
Working paper no. 2000-13


Prior migration research has failed to take adequate account of the centrality of nonmigrant women to the creation and continuity of international labor migration processes. This study analyzes women’s activities in transnational families with life history data collected from Mexican women. The main argument is that the domestic links women sustain in sending communities, in addition to their economic contributions, permit the social institutionalization of migration in many Mexican communities. This research moves beyond prior conceptualizations of migrant social networks by locating women as central actors connecting households across national borders. The analysis reveals that their work to maintain social networks in origins is a fundamental building block of transnational migration. By maintaining family cohesion, mobilizing origin networks, and ensuring economic provision of families, women are central to the initiation and perpetuation of Mexico-U.S. migration patterns. The key position of women in this migration process, however, comes at the cost of labor intensification and marginalized status in origin communities.