God, children and country : an in-depth study of the condition of immigrant illegality through the experiences of Mexican domestic workers in Dallas, Texas
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In this dissertation I examine the lived experiences of 43 undocumented Mexican women working in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, particularly, the ways that these women navigate and make sense of what I identify as environments of vulnerability -social contexts characterized by local configurations of migrant “illegality” (a paradigm-in-progress). In Article 1, I analyze three in-depth interviews with undocumented Mexican domestics to understand how they use religious stories and symbols to help them make sense of and cope with the uncertainties and vulnerabilities they face living in the United States. Findings from this article indicate that women 1) draw from religious discourses to actively interact with their social environments and 2) construct narratives that allow them to create an alternative version of the social world and a coherent sense of self. These findings contribute to a nuanced understanding of the ways that religion shapes undocumented immigrant women’s lives outside of religious institutions and religious contexts. In Article 2, I examine the strategies that 40 undocumented Mexican women use to mother in environments of vulnerability. Findings from this article reveal that these women use two key strategies to protect their children’s well-being: 1) moving out of neighborhoods with undesirable “others” (i.e., the poor, Blacks, and “less worthy” Mexican immigrants) and 2) withholding information from their children regarding their legal status. These findings contribute to an increased understanding of the mothering practices of women who face multiple structural oppressions. Finally, in Article 3 I examine the factors that influence undocumented Mexican women’s decisions to stay in the United States, even as they face the uncertainty associated with deportability -- that is, even as they traverse environments of vulnerability. Two factors primarily underlie women’s decision to stay in the U.S.: the availability of quality public education and educational opportunities for their children and the fear that they or their children will be the targets of violence in Mexico. These findings add to research on family and migration and extend previous research to reveal how Mexican women and their children navigate the shifting terrain of state power as they build their lives in the United States.