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Beatriz: “I came home because my mom couldn’t take care of my son anymore”
While Carla and Ursula migrated with then- spouses soon after they married, other women left Mexico unaccompanied as single mothers. Beatriz, introduced in Chapter 4, migrated to New York in 2002 to be able to provide a better life for her son. She was strongly motivated to migrate to overcome the stigma of fracaso, “failure,” for having a child as an unwed woman. She placed her son in her mother’s care for six years while she worked in restaurants and in retail in New York. After three years of living in the United States, she gave birth to a daughter.
Beatriz returned to Mexico in 2009 when her mother complained that she was no longer able to provide adequate care for her grandson because she was increasingly debilitated by her diabetes.
I came home because my mom couldn't take care of my son anymore. He was in primary school, and he had more homework. “I need you to come home,” she said. I told her that I still wanted to build a house. And she asks me, “And your son?” She says, “You have already bought the land [for the house]. Little by little you can build the house.” “Just give me another year,” I asked her. “No hija," she told me. “Because if your son doesn’t get a good start in school, he isn’t going to learn. They will fail him.” And so I said, “Well, if that’s the case, I would rather be with my son.”
(Beatriz, 29 years old, Zapotitlan Salinas, June 2011)
Beatriz’s return to Zapotitlan meant the end of the remittances her mother needed to pay for insulin. If Beatriz found a job locally, she knew the best wage she could expect would be enough only to support her children. Despite the loss of support via remittances, Beatriz’s mother agreed to these changes, knowing her health would not allow her to be the sole caregiver of the boy. She did not want to fail Beatriz as a caretaker.
Beatriz returned to the village with her three-year-old daughter in 2009. Her seven-year-old son, who Beatriz left at the tender age of eight months, had to confront the difficult process of getting to know his mother and little sister. After several months, Beatriz’s relationship with her son improved, particularly after they played basketball together and she cheered him on as he played games in the local league. Beatriz encouraged her daughter to speak Spanish so that the girl would be able to communicate with her family and others in the village. Eventually, Beatriz’s daughter stopped asking her mom to call a taxi to take them back to New York and her son became accustomed to his mother’s daily presence.
Beatriz gave up the house she wanted to build in Zapotitlan and regular economic support for her mother to assume the affective and emotional work necessary to ensure that her son had a good start in school. Her mother’s deteriorating health weighed heavily in Beatriz’s decision to return. Ironically, Beatriz’s return placed her mother’s health in greater jeopardy because there would be fewer economic resources for the diabetes medication. However, Beatriz’s presence alleviated her mother’s workload as her grandson’s sole caregiver. The contradictions among social reproductive goals were impossible to resolve.
Upon arrival in Zapotitlan, Beatriz worked in a garment factory for a year, a job she performed before migrating to New York. The several garment factories in town remained open throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Not only did they continue to employ local women, they also brought in adolescent men and women from smaller towns and ranchos on buses each day. The resilience of the factories was most likely due to the continued access to a low-cost workforce disciplined to accept extremely low wages with no benefits. Despite her low wages, Beatriz was excluded from public assistance programs because, she believed, her parents were originally from another town. Although they had resided in Zapotitlan for many years, the distribution of public assistance was generally reserved for families with long-standing ties to the community.14
During this time, her brother returned from New York and used his savings to purchase several motorcycle taxis or niototaxis. When we conducted a third interview with Beatriz, we learned that the father of her daughter—a Zapotiteco who remained working in New York—sent her money to help with the purchase of the mototaxis. Beatriz left her job at the garment factory to drive the mototaxi full-time, earning slightly more than sewing clothes. She relied on regular remittances from her New York-based partner to cover many household expenses in Zapotitlan.
At first, we were puzzled why she had not shared with us the important role her partner played in maintaining her household. We learned that she had good reasons for withholding this information from us until she could trust us. Her partner’s family in Zapotitlan made every effort to draw his attention to Beatriz’s unacceptable reputation in an attempt to persuade him to cut off his support for her and the daughter. They did not recognize their son’s daughter as a member of their family. We observed this type of behavior with different families a number of times in our research as parents competed with daughters-in-law and grandchildren for remittances. Because Beatriz had her son as a single mother— even before she met her current partner—his family drew on the gendered trope of Beatriz as a “failed woman” with morally questionable behavior. There was no expiration date for the stigma of a woman’s fall from grace. In an effort to contain tensions and conflicts with his family, she was cautious in sharing information about her partner’s support.
From our first interview with Beatriz, she told us she was interested in returning to New York. She acknowledged that local wages could not cover her family’s expenses, but her mother’s health and her son’s fear kept her in Zapotitlan. Beatriz worried that her mother could suffer a susto, a sudden fright sometimes leading to shock, and worsen her delicate condition. In fact, it was widely believed that susto was the cause of diabetes and cancer. Beatriz’s trepidation was particularly understandable because clandestine border crossings had become more dangerous and violent in the previous few years (Lee, 2018). Her son, aware of these dangers from popular movies about human trafficking across the US-Mexico border, was terrified that he and his mother wouldn’t survive the desert crossing. His sister, a US citizen, would be able to fly from Mexico City to New York. It was hard for the children to understand why their crossing circumstances would be so different. A painfill outcome of “illegality” is that children in the same family had different migratory statuses. This becomes a source of inequality, reaching deep into the intimate spaces of the household (Dreby, 2015). US immigration policy initiates and maintains a caste-like system of social difference based on migration status among spouses and children (Boehm, 2012).
In 2012, the state government eliminated Beatriz’s most important source of income when it banned mototaxis because they did not meet safety standards. The state offered a 2-for-l program, whereby two mototaxis could be exchanged for a regular taxi concession and the equivalent of USS 1,000 toward the purchase of a car to be used as a taxi. However, the credit terms to finance the remaining cost of the car were too expensive, according to Beatriz. She and others speculated that the prohibition of mototaxis was a ruse to disguise the imposition of predatory financial relationships between the state officials, their banking partners and working classes.
We did not have a fourth interview with Beatriz in Zapotitlan because she left for the United States. During an interview with her in New York, we learned that she and her son were detained by the Border Patrol at the border checkpoint. However, for some reason none of us understood, she was allowed to enter and continue on to New York.15 Without a source of income and facing high entry costs to breaking into the taxi market, Beatriz decided that she and her children would have better opportunities in the United States. She would have higher wages, the children could go to school in New York and Beatriz would have more help with parenting by reuniting with her partner. Once in the United States, she could offer her mother regular remittances to help pay her expenses, including those incurred to treat her diabetes. She would also be able to avoid the negative gossip spread by her partner’s family in Zapotitlan. Beatriz hoped that when her daughter turned 19, she would be able to initiate the process by which her brother and Beatriz might regularize their immigration status. Beatriz alleviated her son’s fear about a clandestine desert border crossing by paying more than US$10,000 for the use of other individuals’ documents so that he could cross at a border checkpoint. This was an option which was physically safer than crossing through the desert. However, it put Beatriz at risk for felony fraud charges and time in prison, a punishment meted out to at least one other villager. The debt she incurred to use others’ documents would take several years to pay off.