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The selectivity of staying (in the US)/returning (to Mexico), gender and social reproduction

The analysis of the selectivity of return takes into account those who returned as well as those who stayed in the United States. We argue that gender shaped the experience of the formation of these new classes of workers, both in terms of their oscillating relation to capital as well as their reinsertion in Mexico. Return, in most cases, involved a destabilization of reproductive conditions for these workers and their families.

The economic crisis had far-reaching effects for different sectors of the native and immigrant working classes, including Mexican migrants in the United States, their transnational households and the communities in Mexico from which they came. Recall Adriana (Chapter 5) who observed that “we were all affected by the crisis.” She noted that neither citizens, residents nor undocumented migrants in Durham escaped hardship. During the crisis, however, return was selective; only some Pahuatecos/as and Zapotitecos/as returned to Mexico. The rate of staying for Pahuatecos/as was 73 percent (27 percent returned) and for Zapotitecos/as 64 percent (36 percent returned) (see Table 2.3). We attribute these community-level differences to the substantially higher cost of living in New York compared with North Carolina (see Chapter 2). From these figures, we can see that there was no “massive” return of migrants.

Within each community, the rates at which men and women returned varied. A greater percentage of Pahuatecan women returned than men. This can be explained with reference to the conditions of social reproduction for a particular group of women: young mothers with preschool age children. These women, who returned at a higher rate than other women, had comparatively shorter periods of residence in the United States. Burdened with heavy workloads in the home, these women lost their hyper-flexibility. Women with older children had a comparatively easier time balancing productive and reproductive labor because they had the support of social relations and institutions (particularly schools) that extended

Crisis and transnational working classes 163 between workplace and home and into the different sites of reproduction. Mothers of preschool-aged children tended to return with their partners and children, accounting for the cases in the category of “family returns.” The majority of men who returned to Pahuatlan did so alone, without other family members.

In contrast, a greater percentage of men from Zapotitlan returned to Mexico than women. While men lost jobs or experienced severe cutbacks in hours and pay (Carla’s husband, Chapter 6), the women from Zapotitlan did not (Gilda and Beatriz, Chapter 6).2 When compared with Pahuatlan, Zapotitlan’s migration flow started about a decade earlier (Chapter 2). Many women who had migrated as young, unmarried women in the 1990s, had school-age and adolescent children by the time the crisis hit, and therefore, they were less likely to return to Mexico. Carolina (Chapter 4), for example, had three US-born children in school, and was firmly oriented toward raising her family in the United States where she felt they had the best educational and economic prospects.

Our longitudinal study allowed us to follow families during many years and we found different patterns of return among them, partly accounted for by having US-born family members. Some migrants had invested in building a home in Pahuatlan and Zapotitlan and used their savings to establish a business. Once they returned to their villages, these families were mostly likely to stay long-term. Not all who returned, however, settled permanently in Mexico. Elena (Chapter 5) and Ursula (Chapter 6) returned with their partners and children. Yet. in less than a year, their partners re-migrated to the United States alone in order to continue working toward their goal. By re-migrating alone, these men reconfigured themselves as “the perfect immigrant” (Hahamovitch, 2003), a worker without dependents that places a burden on the destination country. This process of self-cheapening one’s labor transfers the costs of social reproduction to the family and origin communities. These men believed that by shedding the costs of maintaining their families in the United States, they could “start from scratch,” that is, work toward their goals but now with fewer costs and more possibilities to save money.

Women with preschool-aged children who returned to Mexico shortly before, during, or shortly after the crisis re-migrated to the United States when their children were of at least primaiy school-age. Elena (Chapter 5) and Beatriz (Chapter 6) and other women in this position, waited until they could insert their children in school in the United States so that they could regain their hyperflexibility and resume the working lives that were suspended because of their caretaking responsibilities for young children. These women’s trajectories highlight the demise of the male breadwinner among these working classes; in this case, these women's return to Mexico represents a period of latency in the labor force, another example of how these classes experience an oscillating relationship with capital. These are not the full-time workers formed in the image of Manchester’s industrial working class. Rather, these are workers whose habitus is shaped by a constant cycling among employment, underemployment and unemployment. The formation of class is not linear; it is uneven and full of ruptures (Carrier, 2015; Kalb, 2015; Smith, 2015).

A variation on this last pattern of family return occurs when the father and mother re-migrate together to the United States leaving their children with grandparents. Their objective is to accumulate savings more quickly working at the same time, without the burden of caring for children. This modality is particularly stigmatized by the community not only because of the mother’s abandonment of her children, but also because of its potential to dissolve the ties that maintain the social fabric.

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