Lorena Muñoz, an assistant professor of gender, women and sexuality studies at the University of Minnesota, discussed her research focusing on comparative work between Zimbabwean and Hispanic immigrant domestic workers and their relationships with their families Friday at a talk hosted by the University of Michigan departments of Latina/o Studies and Women’s Studies.
Muñoz focused on the emotional effects economic failures have on immigrant workers as well as related resentment from their children at the talk, called “Mothering Across Borders and the Children Left Behind.”
“For some domestic immigrant workers in transnational motherhood, the poverty wages they receive in their home communities are not enough to sustain their families and communities,” she said. “The failure to sustain their families economically often leads to resentment among their children and family left behind.”.
Muñoz spoke about her own experiences with transnational motherhood and how it has impacted her family and relatives.
Muñoz first explained the root problem in the Mexican economy that encouraged many mothers to work within the United States to support their families. Some of her family members left to work in San Diego during her childhood.
“During the 1980s, Mexico experienced an enormous currency devaluation of the peso,” she said. “The Mexican economic crisis affected investment at all levels. This was the context which pushed some of our family members to move across the border.”
Muñoz expanded on the impact international work had, and continues to have, on her family.
“At some point in their lives, my mother and her sisters have worked as undocumented domestic workers in California,” she said. “The majority of my aunts and female cousins currently work or have worked as female domestic workers.”
Muñoz described her interview with her cousin Lucia, a 54-year-old undocumented domestic worker in the United States. Muñoz said Lucia felt hopelessness with regard to her domestic work responsibilities and her fragmented relationship with her children.
“Lucia, like her mother and her mother before her, embarked on a journey to San Diego at 20 years old to look for work. She left three children behind with her sister … The realities of what Lucia endured and her hardships were invisible to her family,” she said. “… Lucia’s transmigration fragmented her family structure. Her sons are somewhat estranged to her but not their aunt who raised them.”
Muñoz recalled her personal experience of having a mother who worked as a transnational domestic worker. She acknowledged that much of her anger stemmed from her mother co-raising two children, with whom she still keeps in touch today.
“My own mother also worked as an immigrant domestic worker in an affluent area of San Diego … She worked for more than 13 years as a weekly live-in domestic for an immigrant Latinx, Argentinian family, during which she co-raised two children,” she said.
Muñoz explained how her mother’s job affected life at home during her childhood.
“We structured our family around her (my mother) being present on the weekends … I remember our house displaying two professional school photographs of two blonde children,” she said. “The photographs too became a part of our family structure … I grew up knowing they had my mother’s love during the week.”
Muñoz finished with a description of the cyclical nature of immigrant domestic work within her familial experience.
“Transmigration processes shaped and informed generations of women of my family” she said.
Milagros Brito, an LSA senior studying international studies and Spanish, said the talk allowed her to understand the relationship between gender and immigration in the United States and South Africa.
“I know a lot about how immigration is gendered when coming to the United States, but I never thought about it on the other side of the world, so that was something I wanted to see the parallels between,” she said.
Grace Argo, a Ph.D. candidate in the women’s studies and history program, wanted to learn about how the experience of motherhood changes after crossing the border.
“I came because I am really intrigued about the research and similarities in mothering across borders both in the United States and South Africa, and the relationships which are affected by it,” she said.