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When Women Come First

When Women Come First: Gender and Class in Transnational Migration

Sheba Mariam George
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    When Women Come First
    Book Description:

    With a subtle yet penetrating understanding of the intricate interplay of gender, race, and class, Sheba George examines an unusual immigration pattern to analyze what happens when women who migrate before men become the breadwinners in the family. Focusing on a group of female nurses who moved from India to the United States before their husbands, she shows that this story of economic mobility and professional achievement conceals underlying conditions of upheaval not only in the families and immigrant community but also in the sending community in India. This richly textured and impeccably researched study deftly illustrates the complex reconfigurations of gender and class relations concealed behind a quintessential American success story.When Women Come Firstexplains how men who lost social status in the immigration process attempted to reclaim ground by creating new roles for themselves in their church. Ironically, they were stigmatized by other upper class immigrants as men who needed to "play in the church" because the "nurses were the bosses" in their homes. At the same time, the nurses were stigmatized as lower class, sexually loose women with too much independence. George's absorbing story of how these women and men negotiate this complicated network provides a groundbreaking perspective on the shifting interactions of two nations and two cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93835-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Michael Burawoy

    Immigration is the great American drama, assimilation and upward mobility its great dream. But you won’t find these dreams in Sheba George’s moving tale of emigration from Kerala, India, to the United States. Hers is a narrative of continuing connection back to communities of origin — visitations on the occasion of birth, marriage, or death; the exchange of kith and kin (parents, children, and spouses); the flow of material aid and gifts; visual memories in photographs and homemade videos; and frequent phone calls and, increasingly, electronic mail, not to mention the old-fashioned letter. (Kerala, after all, has the highest literacy rate...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    I remember pressing my face against the warm glass of the airport window as I watched the plane whisk my mother away. My father and two brothers stood with me at the airport in Bangalore, India. My mother was off to the United States to work as a nurse. I was ten at the time and my brothers were both younger than I was. As thechechi, or big sister, I tried to be brave. But I felt my heart breaking, and I remember that I could not stop crying. I cried so much that I fell sick with a...

  8. CHAPTER 1 Contradictions of Gender When Women Immigrate First
    (pp. 19-38)

    Historically, most of the academic research on global workers in the United States has focused on the ideal type of the male sojourning laborer, such as the Chinese railroad worker in California and the Mexican bracero in the Southwest, who arrived as primary emigrants to the United States. An exception to this ideal type was the Irish migration in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The scarcity of opportunities for women to find employment and marriage at home after the great famine in Ireland, coupled with the availability of service jobs and help from kin networks in the United...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Work: Nursing, Women’s Networks, and Men “Tied to a Stake”
    (pp. 39-76)

    It is difficult to get exact numbers on Keralite Christians in the United States, given that the Immigration and Naturalization Service does not break down immigration by region of origin, religion, or profession. While no accurate figures exist on the population of Indian nurses in the United States or of Keralite immigrants, a directory on Keralites in the United States indicates that 85 percent of these immigrants are Christians, whereas Christians make up only one-fifth of Kerala’s population. Scholars attribute the disproportionate presence of Christians among the Keralites in the United States to the nursing professionals who tend to be...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Home: Redoing Gender in Immigrant Households
    (pp. 77-117)

    Given the status of immigrant nurses from Kerala as primary breadwinners, and the initial financial dependency of the husbands who follow them to the United States, what changes in the household division of labor can we expect to find? With the growing participation of women in the paid labor force, the household division of labor has been a subject of increasing scholarly attention in the last two decades (Berk 1985; Hochschild 1989; Brines 1994). The intellectual debates concerning how men and women negotiate reproductive labor fall across the spectrum. While some argue that women are still burdened with the “second...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Community: Creating Little Kerala and the Paradox of “Men Who Play” in the Church
    (pp. 118-157)

    The change of seasons was in full swing early one November, heralding the approach of Advent in the church. The priest’s announcements at the end of the service on the first Sunday in November included an invitation for those interested in Christmas caroling to join and practice with the church’s carolers. I had been attending the church as a visiting researcher only since June, and I was unfamiliar with their practice of caroling. I turned to Anna, who sat next to me, to ask if she were going caroling. She smiled and replied that she would like to go, but...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Transnational Connections: The Janus-Faced Production of an Immigrant Community
    (pp. 158-196)

    The Malayalam movie titledDollaropens with a woman in her sixties — Annamma — in Kerala receiving a letter from her son in the United States asking her to come and visit. Her brother, her son Kuttapai, and her son’s wife are all present to hear the news. As Annamma reads the letter aloud, we find out that one of her two daughters-in-law in the United States is pregnant. Kuttapai opines that his brother is asking Annamma to visit only because he will need help with child care. Annamma disregards this comment and observes that she is glad his two brothers...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Conclusions
    (pp. 197-212)

    Most scholars agree that social relations undergo continuous yet incremental changes over time. Given that such changes are almost imperceptible to the actors involved, actors experience these social structures as immutable and permanent. The immigration process interrupts this perception, as individuals and communities are placed in extraordinary circumstances. Such dramatic changes to the status quo are particularly useful to scholarly research, because they provide rare glimpses into how individuals and communities go about reestablishing social equilibrium.

    In this book, I examine the effects of such an extraordinary circumstance on a community from Kerala, India. More specifically, I explore how gender...

  14. APPENDIX 1: Interview Participants by Household Type
    (pp. 213-217)
  15. APPENDIX 2: Types of Nursing Jobs
    (pp. 218-219)
  16. APPENDIX 3: Transnational Organizational Structure of the Indian Orthodox Church
    (pp. 220-224)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 225-236)
  18. References
    (pp. 237-250)
  19. Index
    (pp. 251-259)