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Structure of the book

Chapter 2 examines the conditions from which migratory flows to the United States emerged and accelerated in Puebla during the last two decades of the twentieth century. We consider both the impact in rural life of economic restructuring undertaken by the Mexican state beginning in the 1980s and the deindustrialization of

Migration, class and gender 17 the US economy. The analysis captures the articulation, through the supply of cheap and precarious labor, between the state of Puebla, in Central Mexico, and New York City and the Raleigh-Durham corridor in North Carolina. Statistical information from our survey data allows us to compare Zapotitlan Salinas and Pahuatlan de Valle in terms of the emergence and acceleration of migration and staying in the US or returning to Mexico.

In Chapter 3 we examine the connection of two distant and unequal territories through the provision of cheap and undocumented workers from Pahuatlan in the Northern Sierra of Puebla, in the center of Mexico, to North Carolina, in the Nuevo New South, during the last four decades.8 International migration, initiated in the 1980s, spread throughout the municipality. Between 1995 and 2007, we identify a short-cycle accelerated migration that developed in the region and the combination of the traditional model of individual and cyclic mobility of male predominance, a “military model of migration,” with a mobility scheme of single women or with dependents, which overlaps with the migration of young couples with or without children. We document the conditions that underlie the production of the mother-worker-undocumented migrant subject, whose experience of mobility between two countries is intertwined with precarious work, overexploitation and gender inequality. We describe and explain the tensions that traverse a type of binational domestic arrangement in which children born in Mexico and North Carolina were raised in the United States, a formation that has grown during the last three decades in the context of the decrease of circular migration.

Through the accounts of women and men situated along different points of the transnational circuit, Chapter 4 traces villagers’ experiences with changing political economic regimes in Zapotitlan and New York City. Some Zapotitecos/ as responded to the economic crisis in Mexico of the 1980s by migrating to the United States, while others, especially women, increased their participation in waged work, particularly in recently established garment factories that produced for domestic and international markets. As the crisis deepened in the 1990s with the devaluation of the peso, migration accelerated, and many more men and women migrated north to work in New York's expanding sendee sector. Providing for families’ basic needs appeared to be “progress” against the backdrop of worsening conditions of social reproduction in Mexico. As low-waged service workers Zapotitecos/as struggled to meet the basic social reproductive requirements for their families. While the women’s labor and migration trajectories demonstrate the ways in which flexibility, precarity and disposability traverse their working lives on both sides of the border, they also show how they have moved through different class positions with respect to the wage relationship. In the final section, the discussion turns to the forms of discipline that traverse gendered, “illegal” subjects laboring as restaurant workers, domestics and garment factory workers. We note how collective class straggle is abandoned and replaced by a repressive individualism in which problems are internalized and can only be resolved by the individual working on him or herself.

In the following two chapters we discuss migration and return in the aftermath of the Great Recession and increasingly restrictive border policies. Chapter 5 analyzes the containment of an accelerated migratory flow to North Carolina in the preceding and subsequent years of the so-called great crisis, the selectivity of staying-returning and the context in which these men and women went back to the municipality of Pahuatlan. in the center of Mexico. We consider two modalities identified in this municipality: the return of the worker without dependents and the family or joint return migration. We resume the proposals of several feminist authors who analyze the relationship between migration and the crisis in social reproduction, as one of the three elements, along with the crises of ecology and finance, contributing to the contemporary crises of global capitalism. From our perspective, Pahuatecan migrants’ return expresses at the macro level the oscillating relationship of surplus populations with the capital, trapped in the sway between full employment, underemployment and unemployment in both sides of the border. At the macro and the micro level, the return entails destabilization and reorganization of reproductive processes in binational households integrated by citizens wielding uneven rights, impeding—or at times facilitating—the mobility of the group, or of some of its members, between both countries.

Chapter 6 explores how the Great Recession and increasingly restrictive immigration policies shaped the selectivity of return to Zapotitlân. Which migrants returned to Zapotitlân and why? Into what social and economic context did return migrants insert? Which migrants re-migrated to the United States and why? How did migrants and others make sense of these changes? The multiple links among productive and social reproductive labor inform migrants’ complex decision-making processes about mobility. Gender traverses decisions about mobility because most social reproductive tasks are assigned to women in rural Mexico and among female migrants in the United States. Furthermore, state interventions into social reproduction shaped the quality of life that migrants could expect to enjoy in the United States or Mexico that in turn had an effect on decisions about migration and return. In Mexico, we explore how the state intervened in local development through a tourism project and how these processes played out in Zapotitecos/as’ lives. Credit from different types of financial institutions mediated productive and reproductive relations in Zapotitlân, often in the form of microloans to stimulate women’s “empowerment.” Finally, we analyze how remittances played a role in social reproduction after the Great Recession.

Chapter 7 summarizes our main findings by drawing together the experiences of Pahuatecos/as and Zapotitecos/as through whose lives we can detect broader economic and political transformations. We will also discuss the implications of our research for the study of migration-return, class and gender particularly through the lens of social reproduction. We believe our contributions have not only something to say about the Mexican migrant lives we analyze here, but about the lives of working-class people in many places where a blind faith in so-called “free trade” for four decades has crushed livelihoods and aspirations.

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