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Immigration and Women

Immigration and Women: Understanding the American Experience

Susan C. Pearce
Elizabeth J. Clifford
Reena Tandon
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 319
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  • Book Info
    Immigration and Women
    Book Description:

    The popular debate around contemporary U.S. immigration tends to conjure images of men waiting on the side of the road for construction jobs, working in kitchens or delis, driving taxis, and sending money to their wives and families in their home countries, while women are often left out of these pictures. Immigration and Women is a national portrait of immigrant women who live in the United States today, featuring the voices of these women as they describe their contributions to work, culture, and activism.Through an examination of U.S. Census data and interviews with women across nationalities, we hear the poignant, humorous, hopeful, and defiant words of these women as they describe the often confusing terrain where they are starting new lives, creating architecture firms, building urban high-rises, caring for children, cleaning offices, producing creative works, and organizing for social change. Highlighting the gendered quality of the immigration process, Immigration and Women interrogates how human agency and societal structures interact within the intersecting social locations of gender and migration. The authors recommend changes for public policy to address the constraints these women face, insisting that new policy must be attentive to the diverse profile of today's immigrating woman: she is both potentially vulnerable to exploitative conditions and forging new avenues of societal leadership.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6826-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 “We Can’t Go Back”: Immigrant Women, Intersections, and Agency
    (pp. 1-16)

    In 1836, a young Polish woman named Ernestine Susmond Potowski Rose made her way across the Atlantic to her chosen destination, the United States. Her exit from Poland was prompted by her adamant refusal to agree to an arranged marriage. Ernestine had filed a lawsuit against her father, a Jewish rabbi, over control of her inheritance; she arrived, consequently, after sojourning in other European countries, marrying an Englishman, and espousing an avowed rejection of religious beliefs regarding women’s inferiority. An active and controversial leader and eloquent public speaker for the movements to abolish slavery and forward women’s rights, Ernestine Rose...


    • 2 “Your Story Drops on You”: Who Are These Women?
      (pp. 19-44)

      It is 1774, in Great Britain. A woman named Ann Lee has finally convinced her brothers and husband to migrate with her to the American colonies. Although illiterate, Ann is nonetheless familiar with the legal philosophy of English judge William Blackstone, who insisted that “[t]he very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during marriage, or at least incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband.”¹ Ann has adamantly expressed her impatience with Blackstone’s philosophy; additionally, in the midst of disappointments in her personal life and with her surrounding culture, she has become attracted to the emotionally expressive...


    • 3 “I Had to Start Over”: Entering through the Front Door
      (pp. 47-76)

      In 1970,Anicaand her family left Romania, fleeing the persecution they experienced there as Jews. After spending a few months in Vienna, they arrived in the United States, settling in Baltimore. On a stopover in New York City,Anicasaw the Statue of Liberty, which, she said,

      is the symbol of hope for every soul that can breathe behind the Iron Curtain.. . . It stands for freedom; you can go anywhere you want. It stands for opportunity; if you want to work, you might have to work like a dog, but you have the chance. . . ....

    • 4 “I Had to Leave My Country One Day”: Entering through the Back Door
      (pp. 77-100)

      Reyna Gómez was perched on a cozy sofa in her small Miami, Florida, apartment, eagerly and passionately reciting the details of her biography: “It was hard to come here. I had a good life in Honduras, working in a school. It was a rushed decision; I had to leave my country one day. They tried to run me over, kill me, so I had to leave. I didn’t want to come.” Her journey to her eventual home in Florida took her over the Guatemalan border, across El Salvador, and through the hot deserts of Mexico—a journey she described as...


    • 5 “I Am Not Only a Domestic Worker; I Am a Woman”: Immigrant Women and Domestic Service
      (pp. 103-127)

      Sarla,an immigrant from Nepal who worked there as an accountant, spoke contemplatively of her entrance into domestic service through an unexpected route and the dilemmas and questions she faced after coming to the United States in 2003:

      What do I tell you? We got trapped coming here. Our name came in the diversity lottery. Everyone said we were lucky. We gave up our life there [in Nepal] and came [to the United States]. We never anticipated a life like this. It’s a result of our sins in a previous life! . . . Soon, the money we had brought...

    • 6 “Mighty Oaks”: The Entrepreneurs
      (pp. 129-158)

      On a sunny March afternoon, Los Angeles–area architect Rita Kalwani presents the offices of KAL Architects, the firm that she built, owns, and manages. Rita moves glowingly from room to room, describing the models and drawings on display that feature both past and current KAL projects; she pauses to introduce her father, a member of her firm, who is intensely focused on a deadline. Rita migrated from India as a young woman, entered a U.S. university, earned her architecture degree, and then steadily built a career in a downtown Los Angeles firm. All along, she dreamed of starting her...

    • 7 “There Is Still Work to Do”: Immigrant Women in Gender-Atypical Occupations
      (pp. 159-176)

      Sitting in a café near the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, New York, Femi Agana explains how she became a carpenter. When she arrived in this country from England in 1983, she was originally pursuing a career in fashion. She had a fair amount of success, working first as a designer’s assistant and then on her own.

      One thing about going to a new place where I didn’t know the rules is that I could break them and get away with it. I would make the clothes, take them to stores, show them to salespeople, who would get me an...

    • 8 “Always in Life, We Are Ripping”: Culture Work
      (pp. 177-204)

      It is a balmy June evening in Miami, Florida. The monthly art walk offers the occasion for art enthusiasts to stroll leisurely from gallery to gallery, touring the latest works of Miami-area artists as they sip glasses of complimentary wine. On this evening’s self-guided tour but slightly off the beaten path is the GIL Gallery, where Cuban-born artist Lilian Fernandez, dressed fully in white, crouches in the gallery’s display window and carries out a silent, studied performance-art piece with her back to her sidewalk audience. Lilian explained later,

      I was rubbing charcoal on the wall. The other artist and I...


    • 9 “Misbehaving Women”: The Agency of Activism
      (pp. 207-234)

      Haitian-born Marleine Bastien sits behind a desk in her busy Miami office of the organization Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami/Haitian Women of Miami (FANM), which she founded and directs. She has just finished an interview with a newspaper journalist, and her assistant reminds her of an upcoming meeting—signs of the many demands on her schedule. Posted behind her on the wall is a bumper sticker that states, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”¹ In the previous chapter, we met artists who are simultaneously engaged as political and social activists. Marleine is an individual whose “master status” across her adult professional life...

    • 10 “Making History”: Drawing Conclusions, Looking Forward
      (pp. 235-254)

      One of the final questions that we asked the women we interviewed was whether they consider themselves to be members of a community of immigrant women. We were struck by the number of women who said no or “I never thought about it.” Several women did say yes—and said it quite adamantly and proudly. And yet those repeated hesitations that we noticed offer evidence for our assertion that the gendered face of immigration is not yet part of the public imagination. Those hesitations also offer further evidence of the multidimensionality of the locution “immigrant woman.” Additionally, perhaps a question...

  9. Appendix A: Notes on Research Methods
    (pp. 255-258)
  10. Appendix B: List of Interviewed Women
    (pp. 259-262)
  11. Appendix C: Timeline: U.S. Immigration Policy and Women, 1875–2009
    (pp. 263-264)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 265-280)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-300)
  14. Index
    (pp. 301-308)
  15. About the Authors
    (pp. 309-309)