Theses Doctoral

Transnational Care Constellations: Mexican Immigrant Mothers and their Children in Mexico and in New York City

Oliveira, Gabrielle

The feminization of Mexican migration to the United States is increasing, and more mothers who migrate leave their children behind for long periods to be cared for by grandparents or relatives in Mexico. Women also form new families when they arrive in the United States, but continue to "care" for the children who stayed in Mexico. We know little about how transnational familial ties across the U.S. -Mexico border influence the educational trajectories of children who stay behind, are born here and are brought over from Mexico. This study asks how Mexican maternal migration has influenced care arrangements and education trajectories of the children in Mexico, comparing these to their siblings who were brought over to America or who were born in the United States. In this dissertation I address how U.S. bound Mexican maternal migration shapes and influences children and youth in both sides of the border. These families, or what refer to "transnational care constellations" include the following types of members: New York based undocumented mothers; the children they brought to the U.S. (also undocumented); their U.S. born offspring (U.S. citizens); children they have left behind in Mexico; and children's caregivers in Mexico.
Drawing on ethnographic method I examine transnational caregiving practices among women with children in New York and Mexico. After recruiting twenty families to participate in my study I established three levels of engagement with participants. Eight transnational care constellations constituted the center of my qualitative research. I spent time with them in Mexico and in New York and tracked half of them for over three years. The second level of engagement happened with the other twelve families who I interviewed and observed in New York City, but visited less times in Mexico. Finally, participants who belonged to the third level of engagement were forty mothers in New York City, fathers, caregivers and over sixty children and youth in Mexico who were not matched. In addition I surveyed over 200 children between the ages of seven and sixteen in three schools in Puebla to assess the impacts of maternal remittance on school achievement. Specifically, I compare the educational experiences and social trajectories of three groups of children: the ones left in Mexico, the undocumented children and youth brought to the U.S., and those born in the U.S. The ethnographic core of my dissertation work tracked twenty transnational families who are split between Mexico and the U.S over a period of 18 months. I have traveled back and forth between different states in Mexico and New York in order to capture the dynamism of communities who are "here and there." The children and youth in what I refer to as "care constellation" share the same biological mother who has migrated to New York City, but their lives differ dramatically in terms of academic achievement and familial support.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Anthropology
Thesis Advisors
Bartlett, Lesley
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 12, 2015