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Navigating the Interstices of Nation-States in the Post-NAFTA Era: Vulnerability and Resistance in Mexican Transnational Families

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 12:00pm - 2:00pm
Columbia University Morningside Campus International Affairs Building, Room 802

Bio: Since 1985 GAIL MUMMERT has been a professor and researcher at the Center for Anthropological Studies of El Colegio de Michoacn, nestled in an agricultural valley in central-western Mexico. Trained as a demographer at El Colegio de Mxico and as a social anthropologist at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, she has studied novel forms of family life and of gender and intergenerational relations emerging in the face of sweeping social and cultural change throughout rural Mexico in the latter half of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty first. She is the author of Tierra que pica (a book focussing on transformations in an agrarian community of Michoacn when a factory comes to town) and has edited a volume on migration between Mexico and the United States, entitled Fronteras fragmentadas, now in its second edition. Her most recent research deals with transnational families and their encounters with various Nation-states; she is particularly interested in long-distance care giving arrangements for the young and the old and has compared practices in countries such as Mexico, China, the Philippines and Ecuador.

Description: Dr. Mummert will explore the often contradictory experiences of members of transnational families who conduct their productive, reproductive and sentimental lives across international borders and vis--vis more than one Nation-state. Through their quotidian engagement with narratives of sacrifice, uncertainty and risk, working mothers and fathers who have left their children behindboth observe and confront controls, policies and regulations implemented by the governments of Mexico, the United States and Canada before and after NAFTA ; they also stake claims to human rights and family rights.

Adopting a social interface analysis that attempts to be neither victimizing nor triumphant, she proposes a reading of the myriad ways in which transnational families experience so-called global structural readjustments, interact with diverse agents of Nation-states, regroup in the face of setbacks, and reinvent the family in their struggle to get ahead. The examples considered include the enforcement of transnational family structures on temporary contract workers in the US and Canada, the placement of children of migrants in temporary custody or adoption arrangements, and asylum seeking in the US and Canada by victims of domestic violence or organized crime. In each one of the three cases, she will argue that, as constrained yet proactive subjects, transnational families are paradoxically rendered vulnerable and empowered, clobbered by anti-immigrant legislation and sentiment while bolstered by cross-border immigrant rights networking.

She draws on her own personal experience as a migrant and transnational subject crossing boundaries and navigating the murky waters of dual citizenship to illustrate the risks, challenges and opportunities of living betwixt and between.