Over the summer, an old heifer at the O’Reilly farm became sick with mastitis. Juan appointed me to watch over the cow as he did his other chores one afternoon. I brought the cow fresh hay and several pales of water. A few days later Juan called and told me “mataste la vaca” [you killed the cow]. Juan explained solemnly that I had given her too much water and the cow had died. My stomach lurched; I could not imagine a better way to anger a dairy farmer than messing with his cows. It took me a while to catch on to the joke, which soon became a favorite tease. I was a lazy student, and furthermore, a cow killer. Humor, both among migrants themselves and with Anglos, is a way for migrants to break up the monotony of milking cows and shoveling mierda.
The men also delighted in teaching me groserías [swears] and trabalenguas [tongue-twisters]. Along with vulgar slang for sex, as well as the ubiquitous insults on mothers, Gabriel and Juan coached me to respond to any insults from a Mexican with “callate la boca, pinche racista!” [shut up, fucking racist!] Watching me wrestle with the intricacies of Mexican groserías and trabalenguas always made the men laugh, and by the end of my fieldwork, Juan commented proudly that hablas en pura groserías [you speak only in curses].
Much of the humor between men on the O’Reilly farm was gender specific. By gender specific, I mean that the men believed the jokes or swears would probably seem insulting rather than humorous if a man were to direct them at—or even in the presence—of a woman. The men occasionally reminded me this, telling me to watch my mouth if I swore in Spanish in the presence of a woman.
Many of the jokes on the O’Reilly farm were not so light-hearted. Chapter three considers how nativist insults transcend the language barrier to foment conflict, but this section discusses how more aggressive humor between Mexicans and Anglos can help Mexican migrants cope with the challenges of the daily grind. Besides combating boredom, jokes allowed Anglos and Mexicans to express frustration with each other while enjoying the humor implicit in the audacity of vulgarity. Aggressive jokes also provide a means to resist Anglo dominance (cf. Scott 1990). For example, many times migrants would mutter under their breath “pinche Gringo”[fucking Gringo] or “chinga tú madre” [fuck your mother] as they finished speaking with the patrón or another Anglo. The laughs that followed these whispered insults in Spanish suggested they acted as a resistance to Anglo domination by reaffirming migrants’ capacity to, at least internally, challenge their Anglo patrones. One time as Miguel and I watched George drive his pick-up off the farm with his German Shepard at his side, Miguel commented to me that George, “tiene como quince pinche perros!” [he has like fifteen fucking dogs!] It made me laugh hard, and then Miguel, usually somber, cracked up too.
Sometimes, Mexicans did not whisper these aggressive jokes but shared them explicitly with Anglo, openly challenging their authority. One afternoon, as I followed Juan around on his chores, a ragged red pick-up truck pulled up to the driveway of the barn. It was Jake, the “mala espíritu” Anglo worker who once dragged Emilio kicking out of the milking barn. Jake slammed the door shut and took a drag on his cigarette before striding into the barn to talk to George.
A few minutes later, his question for George answered, Jake headed back out to his pickup truck. Juan and I stood under the silo, filling the feeding cart with hay. Juan stiffened as Jake walked by, but said nothing. As he stepped into the truck, Jake turned and faced us. Juan flashed him his middle finger. Jake did not hesitate to return the insult, smiling under his raggedy beard as he extending his own middle finger towards Juan, who was now laughing. The engine on the pick-up started, and Jake peeled out of the driveway, going at least twenty-five miles an hour.
Juan’s inhibitions would usually discourage him from insulting Jake directly. As a physically imposing Anglo, Jake is senior to all of the Mexican workers. The situation of Jake’s departure, however, reduced Juan’s inhibitions, empowering him to present a challenge to Jake’s authority. Jake was in a rush to leave the farm, so the risk of serious retaliation against Juan for a passing insult was minimized. Juan’s boldness in giving him the finger informed Jake that Juan wished to temporarily suspend social conventions. Jake’s own inhibitions to insult, perhaps rooted in George’s insistence that he treat Mexicans better, were also lifted and he accepted the suspension of rules and returned the insult. Both men seemed to experience a pleasure in the relief of inhibition, which provided a break from their serious enmity.xxxv The incident was gender specific, as the incident, if it occurred between a man and a woman, would probably not be interpreted humorously.
Jake’s choice to speed out of the farmyard subsequently reestablished his power over Juan and ended the suspension of convention that had been needed for the joke to be funny. Although hardly unusual, Jake’s aggressive driving alluded to his power over Juan. His privilege of motorized mobility as an Anglo citizen contrasted with Juan’s curtailed freedom as an unauthorized Mexican.
During an interview in their house on a Saturday morning in September, Kathryn and George O’Reilly described a similar incident as they offered me coffee and pastries.
“What was it you said the other day?” Kathryn called from the kitchen towards the dining room table where George and I sat, “that they thought was so funny, hysterical?”
George said nothing.
“We were at Wal-Mart,” she continued, walking back to the table carrying a mug, “after Wal-Mart, I said something about…” She stopped and thought for moment. “Oh yes, I said ‘the polite form is por favor’ and you said…”
George interrupted her, “I said, ‘por favor, fuck you.”
“They were almost laughing out of their seats!” Kathryn exclaimed. We laughed. “I was explaining that to George again, that they [the Mexicans] like the polite form [of speech],” Kathryn said.
Like the exchange between Juan and Jake, George’s succinct joke was funny because it broke down inhibitions of interaction between male Mexicans and male Anglos. George signaled his intention for the comment to be interpreted humorously by mixing Spanish and English. Switching language in mid-sentence and the vulgarity in the midst of a conversation about courtesy suggested a suspension of the rules of interaction by breaching the conventions of language. The comment would not have been humorous if George had simply sworn in one language. From the laughter Kathryn said the comment stimulated, it is evident the joke incited relief—or fear— in the workers.
“They say cats have seven lives,” Juan told me once, “but that is a lie, because the patrón killed one, and the cat did not survive.” Jokes not only serve to dampen the boredom and loneliness of the dairy. But also reflect—and perhaps relieve—some of the tension between Anglos and Mexicans. Despite language and cultural differences, Anglos and Mexicans on the O’Reilly farm sometimes shared a gender specific pleasure in vulgarity. It may be an attempted coping strategy by both Mexicans and Anglos to curtail the conflict in their relationships. As Limon (1994: 133) argues, the temporary suspension of social conventions required for joking among Mexican-Americans in South Texas built the trust needed for cooperative social relations.
Unauthorized Mexican migrants in Vermont may buy alcohol if they can prove they are over twenty-one years old, at least at some stores. One evening, I drove Gabriel to Hannafords in Middlebury, where he purchased a thirty-six pack of Bud Light using his matricula consular identification card. I managed to convince Gabriel not to open a can until we returned to the farmhouse, explaining that we would be in real trouble if the police stopped me and he was drinking. When we were back on the farm, Gabriel, Juan, and I sat at the kitchen table and talked. They both drank several beers before going to bed after midnight, even though they had to wake up before dawn to work.
George described the use of alcohol among the Mexican workers in this way: “We’ve had a few of them [Mexican workers who drink heavily] but I don’t think it’s any more prevalent than it is for Americans.” On several occasion I saw migrants binge on beer, but, like George, I have no reason to think alcohol abuse is more prevalent in this group than any other.
On a humid August afternoon, I interviewed Gabriel about his reasons for coming to Vermont as he sat shirtless in a chair and drank a beer. Unexpectedly, Kathryn walked into the house to give Gabriel his change from a remittance she had sent for him to a brother in Warner Robins, Georgia. As Kathryn walked into the room, Gabriel quickly hid the beer from her in the darkness behind his chair.
A few minutes after Kathryn left, Gabriel moved into the kitchen to eat lunch and drink more beers with Juan before the afternoon shift. I asked Gabriel about drinking. “Sometimes, a lot of people drink to get drunk, to go crazy,” he explained, “but others drink just one beer to feel relaxed and tranquil. Sometimes the nerves make you feel weak. You know, sometimes you spend all your time working, you’re only focused on work, work work.”
Juan, interrupted, “It’s good at night. When we come back from work at six, we have all night to sleep, and if you drink, you sleep better.”
I told them I would probably not drink before working.
“We’re hanging out with you, though,” explained Gabriel.
“We work with our hands, understand?” Juan said.
“With you hands?” I repeated.
“We work with our hands, not with our heads!” Juan laughed.
“Four, five beers, and you’re relaxed,” said Gabriel, explaining how the use of alcohol combated the monotony of the work, “use the bathroom, change your clothes, and you go to work.”
Once I arrived at the farm to find one of the Mexican workers dragging his way through his afternoon chores at the O’Reilly farm. I knew he had been drinking as soon as I approached him from the stench of beer that prevailed even over the smell of mierda. The man threw the sawdust into the cows’ stalls haphazardly and laughed. He asked me to tell George he had a headache. Before I could offer this excuse, George asked me to tell the worker how good of a job he was doing. Of all the days to offer a compliment, George chose the day when the man happened to be working while drunk. When I explained George’s earnest compliment to the still tipsy worker, he stopped shoveling mierda and, leaning on the shovel, bent over with laughter. As with humor, drinking alcohol on the job reaffirms a migrant’s autonomy and consequently can act as a form of resistance towards the dominance of the patrón.
Kathryn and George tolerated drinking among their workers. “We do not mind if they drink occasionally” Kathryn told me, “but as soon as they are drunk [at work], they are out of here.” Juan’s brother, whom I met only briefly, was one of the migrants George fired because of his alcohol abuse. “He was a great milker,” Kathryn told me, “one of our best milkers, but he was a liar and an alcoholic… he had to go.”
I also heard stories about alcohol problems from Omar, the middle-aged dairy worker from Hidalgo. Omar lived in a trailer in an overgrown field with one housemate on a dead end dirt road. As he showed me around his trailer one day, Omar pointed at the empty beer cans next to the trailer door and opened the refrigerator to reveal the boxes of Bud Light his housemate had purchased. Omar blamed his housemate’s failure to send remittances, his loud music, and his tendency to leave candles burning, on his drinking. I was told Omar had found his housemate’s drinking even more problematic before he learned he could recycle the empty beer cans for five cents each at the grocery store.
Drinking for Mexican migrants may be both an adaptive or maladaptive way to cope with the stresses of Vermont. For some migrants it seems to provide relief from the daily grind without seriously endangering health or employment. For others, drinking interferes with work and creates conflict with other migrants or Anglos.
MANAGING THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
The patrones cope with the initial difficulty of teaching dairy work to a new migrant by relying on veteran Mexican workers as brokers to explain tasks. For Juan, the help of a veteran migrant alleviated his worries about dairy work when he first began at the O’Reilly’s farm: “When I arrived I did not feel good, because I did not know anyone here, I did not know anything about the farm, nothing… I did not know how to milk. I had milked, but by hand… There was a guy here who told me they were good people. He brought me to the farm and taught me what I needed to know. In two days, I had learned the work.”
Once they have learned the basics from veterans, migrants on the O’Reilly farm manage the language barrier by relying on their shared familiarity with the work they do everyday. In cosas de trabajo [matters of work], Antonio told me “I understand what he [the patrón] tells me and I can answer him a bit, but outside of work—not so much.”
Faced with continued difficulty in speaking with each other, Mexicans and Anglos also search for non-verbal ways to communicate. During the same conversation with George where he recounted the por favor joke, he explained his basic strategy for coping with the language barrier in the milking barn. He said that he had learned to show tasks by demonstration rather than try to verbally explain them.
“This morning, he couldn’t get the thing to work,” George said, referring to the silo unloader that dumps sillage into the feeding cart. “It’s over there clickin’, clickin’, clickin’. The sound—I could hear it. He [Juan] comes to me and says…” George raised his eyebrows and opened his eyes to show how Juan asked him what was wrong with the unloader without saying a word.
“I knew exactly what it was. I tried to show more than I tell. So I just told him he had it down too far, I raised it up and I started the unloader, and I just stood there. He kept saying…” Again, George contorted his face to mimic how Juan had questioned him just with his expression.
George continued, “I just said ‘you gotta’ wait, you gotta’ wait.’ Pretty soon a whole bunch of it came down. I guess it worked pretty good for the rest of the time. They got to see how you do something, and I’m not saying they’re going to learn it perfectly, but they seem to do better.”
“You’re teaching by example,” Kathryn said, offering her interpretation, “and that seems to work for you.”
“Yah,” George responded, “and I don’t think Jake is doing that.”
Mexicans and Anglos attempt to cope with the language barrier on the dairy by having veteran migrants train new workers and by teaching through demonstration. Despite these efforts, communication is still a major challenge and source of conflict. “It is hard,” Juan told me in March 2008, after months of English classes and almost a year on the farm. “One understands only parts of what [the patrón] says, and if not [we communicate] through signs.” With a quite laugh, Juan admits that on the dairy, “ya no queda ni otro [there is no alternative].”
While isolation on dairies diminishes the importance of local coping strategies for Mexican migrants in Vermont, it increases the importance of dealing with problems within the superlocal sphere of the dairy itself.xxxviFutból, humor, and alcohol are some of the superlocal coping strategies that break up the boredom and loneliness of life on the farm. Futból provides a context to socialize and reminisce about Mexico. Humor sometimes acts as a means for migrants’ to resist the dominance of Anglos, and both Futból and humor may also build trust and reduce tension between Mexicans and Anglos. The lack of a shared language remains a great frustration to both Mexicans and Anglos, which dairy workers attempt to overcome in the milking barn barrier by employing veteran migrants as trainers and through teaching by example.
CONCLUSION This thesis has posed two questions. First, how is the historical role of Mexican migrants as disposable and exploitable braceros realized on 21st century dairies in Addison County? Second, how do migrants cope with their ascribed bracero status?
I began by clarifying what it means to be a bracero through a historical review of Mexican migration to the United States in chapter two. Braceros are Mexican migrants who have been welcomed to the United States when their labor is needed, but remain ultimately exploitable and disposable because of their status as racially “undesirable” foreigners. Chapter three applies the bracero classification to a contemporary migrant group—Mexican dairy workers in Addison County. In Vermont, the effects of presumed unauthorized legal status, nativism, and the language barrier marginalize Mexican dairy workers into braceros. Physical attributes such as skin color as well as cultural attributes such as language are conspicuous markers of foreignness in Anglo dominated Vermont that put unauthorized Mexicans at a high risk for deportation. Even if patrones treat their workers well, the fear of being “disposed” isolates Mexicans on the dairies and renders them vulnerable to exploitation.
The second half of the thesis provides a thicker description of life on the dairies by considering how migrants respond to their bracero status. Chapter four examines how migrants rely on connections with people and media in the translocal sphere outside of Vermont to cope with their marginalization. In chapter five, I argue that isolation on the dairies, and perhaps the lack of migrant women and even Anglo conceptions of charity, preclude the emergence of a supportive Addison County migrant community lead by migrants themselves. The ethnography finishes with a look at the ways migrants use futból, humor, alcohol, and various methods of managing the language barrier to confront their bracero status within the superlocal sphere of the dairies themselves. Being a bracero constrains the choices migrants’ can make, but the second half of the ethnography demonstrates that they retain some agency. As Morawska (2001) notes, migrants’ actions result from a dialectic between structural conditions and individual agency.
UNAUTHORIZED STATUS: THE STRUCTURAL ORIGIN OF THE NEW BRACERO The lives of Mexican dairy workers within Vermont are restricted by the structural condition of unauthorized legal status; the dialectic is tilted in favor of a structural condition over individual agency. Unauthorized legal status limits the freedom of migrants by isolating them on dairies, denying them the protection of the law and law enforcement, instilling a fear of deportation, and providing a justification for nativist discrimination. In Addison County, unauthorized legal status is the crucial factor that marginalizes Mexican dairy workers into disposable, exploitable braceros. As Juan explained, the structural condition of unauthorized status means migrants have little personal choice while in Vermont: “You have to be working, nothing more.”
The stratification of Mexicans as braceros is structural because it is beyond the control of individuals. Even if potential migrants have choice in crossing the Mexican-U.S. border and know that doing so will make them an unauthorized migrant, they do not choose for the U.S. state to assign them a fugitive status. Being unauthorized—and being a bracero—is therefore a status ascribed by the U.S. state. New braceros in Vermont share this ascription with the old braceros of the 20th century Bracero Program. In both cases, immigration laws that classified Mexicans as outside of the imagined community institutionalized their bracero status. During the Bracero Program, contracts tied migrants to a single employer who could abuse his workers without consequence. Today, new braceros are exploitable primarily because of the implicit or explicit threat of deportation.
Formalizing the marginalization of migrants through immigration law depersonalizes their exploitation, as it is the state bureaucracy rather than individual actors that reduce migrants into braceros. Bourdieu (1977: 190) explains that such an arrangement can act to normalize exploitation through the inherent officialdom of the state and also protect individuals from culpability: “Once a system of mechanisms has been constituted capable of objectively ensuring the reproduction of the established order by its own motion, the dominant class has only to let the system they dominate take its own course in order to exercise their domination.”
In Addison County, the structural constraint of migrants’ unauthorized status means it is nearly inevitable that migrants will be exploited. Even if they want to treat their workers fairly, patrones must fight the endless temptation to abuse the power they wield over their workers. Over the countless hours patrones and Mexican workers spend together in the milking barn every day of the year, the tensions that come from being unable to effectively communicate will occasionally blow-up into nativist abuse. Although individual culpability ought to be maintained, explaining the abuse of migrants as the fault of malicious employers obscures the more fundamental, structural cause of migrants’ marginalization.
“When you look at the big picture, I do not think it is just the farmers fault,” Chris Urban told me. “I think it is the federal immigration law that is exploiting the workers. It is institutionalized racism that gets played out on a local level.” The more time I spent on the dairies, the more I believed that neither migrants nor patrones are oppressors or victims. Condemning patrones as oppressors ignores the structural condition of unauthorized legal status and the other structural challenges, only briefly touched on in the introduction, that farmers themselves face running a small business in an uncertain industry. Calling migrants victims perpetuates their marginalization by denying them the agency they expressed by coming to the United States, earning their wages on the dairies, remitting to their kin, assisting new migrants, and participating in acts of resistance.
Attributing migrants’ marginalization to the structural condition of unauthorized status avoids essentializing migrants and patrones as victims and oppressors, and, more importantly, it provides a means to understand why the interethnic interaction between Mexicans and Anglos happens as it does. Migrants’ presumed unauthorized status pervades all aspects of life in Anglo dominated Vermont, from how migrants had to wait weeks for a ride to go shopping to how they drank before the afternoon milking shift. The aim has been to understand what happens to migrants in Vermont, and why. The ethnography describes what happens to migrants, and the structural condition of unauthorized legal status goes a long way to explaining why.
i “Referring to the ‘guest worker’ system in Europe in the 1960s and the 1970s, Swiss playwright Max Frisch one said: ‘we called for workers, and there came human beings’” (Calavita 1992: 6).
ii “Coolidge” is a pseudonym.
iii Rees (2002) conducted a questionnaire with 36 parishioners at the Spanish mass at Sacred Heart Church in Warner Robins on October 14, 2001. Seventy-four percent of the parishioners migrated from Mexico, although the survey did not specify a specific Mexican state. She found that 22 of the 28 men surveyed worked in construction or as a carpenter.
iv As Glick Schiller, et al. 1992: 17 notes, rhetoric also demonstrates how nationality and race are determined by the same arbitrary, observable characterstics: “It is useful to recall that until recently race and nation often were used interchangeably, as in the construction ‘the British race,’ in order to make clear that race is no more a product of genetics than nationality or ethnicity.”
v Discriminating on legal grounds is also less problematic for the attackers, as they deny their actions are racist and instead rely on rule-of-law and nationalistic justifications.
vi Although the markers of perceived foreignness of Mexican migrants in Vermont discussed in this thesis are largely confined to height, dress, skin color, language, and legal status (when it is known), I imagine other markers exist as well. I refer to language as a marker and do not break down linguistic attributes into more particular markers (such as tone, dialect, or accent in English or Spanish) because I found that Anglos recogonized Mexicans did not speak English but did not further distinguish linguistic attributes.
vii Bales (2004) applies the concept of disposability to present-day slaves around the world. Bales calls slaves “disposable” because it is more profitable for slave owners to reap the profit of slave labor for a short period and “dispose” of them rather than taking on the expenses of long-term ownership. The labor condition of contemporary slaves renders them disposable (Bales 2004:14-15). In addition, Nicolas De Genova (2002; 2005) applies the terms disposability and deportability in his discussions of undocumented Mexicans.
viii Although of Spanish etymology, “bracero” is not italicized as other Spanish words are in this thesis since it is used widely in spoken and written English and appears in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
ix Galarza 1956: 1
x Ernesto Galarza, a researcher employed by a U.S union campaigning to end the Bracero Program, interviewed this individual.
xi Within U.S. legalization of unauthorized migrants began in 1947 even before the August 1949 revival of the Bracero Program. Between 1947 and 1949, 142,000 undocumented migrants were legalized in the U.S., while only 75,000 braceros were contracted from Mexico (García y Griego 1996: 57).
xii The number of INS arrests does not provide a very accurate figure of unauthorized migrants in the U.S. For example, these figures do not account for different levels of enforcement or repeated crossings. Nonetheless, INS arrests are one of the few sources of data available for migration in the 20th century and provide some idea of patterns of unauthorized migration over this period. Contemporary figures for unauthorized migrants rely on a residual method. The residual method determines the number of unauthorized migrants by comparing the number of foreign-born individuals and the number of legal migrants (Bean and Lowell 2004: 269; Passel 2006: 14-15; Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994: 23-24).
xiii Hondagneu-Sotelo (1994: 195) clarifies that the slow transformation in gender relations within the Mexican migrant community towards more equitable relations between men and women does not reflect a “modernizing Anglo influence.” Instead, she notes that Mexican women are often employed in wage work for the first time upon migration to the U.S. This, she argues, gives them more power in relation to men compared to their traditional situation as home-based workers in Mexico. In turn, the greater autonomy and equitable relations with men facilitated by migration often makes them advocates for more permanent resettlement (Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994: 195-196). Not all the effects of migration have a liberating effect for women, as Goldring (2003) explains, Mexican migrant hometown associations, which finance community projects in Mexican sending communities, often serve to reinforce men’s control over local politics.
xiv Pollero literally means a chicken farmer, but is used to describe a smuggler who brings pollos (migrants) across the border clandestinely.
xv These figures are for unauthorized migrants of all nationalities.
xvi As Shorris (1992: 105-106) eloquently explains, the verb aguantar [to bear] is symbolic represents the courage and exploitation of the Mexican migrant experience: “The verb means to bear, to endure, to stand, to tolerate, to put up with. The noun formed from it aguante, means fortitude, patience, endurance, resistance to toil or fatigue… Thus, aguantar came to mean enduring one’s fate bravely and with a certain style… In Mexico, the concept of aguantar enabled the conquerors to make use of the poor, particularly the Indian poor, as cheap labor. The North Americans were quick to learn from the criollos. Based on the Mejicano’s willingness to endure, the Anglo decide that Mejicanos were docile, easily managed. Aguantar, the virtue, betrayed Mexican immigrants in labor negotiations, education, housing, every aspect of life in the United States.”
xvii A Freedom of Information Act request to ICE for official deportation statistics of Mexicans from Vermont provided only the record of the total number of deported individuals from the Boston Area of Reponsibility (covering all five New England states). The total number of deported individuals from New England was 1895 (in 2003), 2253 (in Fiscaly Year 2004), 2991 (in 2005), 3245 (in 2006), 3409 (in 2007), and 1795 (as of March 31, 2008). ICE Office of Public Affairs in Vermont and Massachusetts ignored multiple requests via email and phone for comment on enforcement in Vermont throughout April and May 2008.
xviii “Buena onda” means literally “good wave” or “good vibe.”
xix The verb chingar [to fuck, to screw] and its many derivatives has a rich history and many meanings in Mexico. Perhaps most famously, Paz (1962: 76-78) described chingar as a “magical word” that divided people into the masculine chingones [the screwers] and the feminine chingadas[the screwed]: “… in this plurality of meanings, the ultimate meaning always contains the idea of aggression, whether it is the simple act of molesting pricking, or censuring, or the violent act of wounding or killing. The verb denotes violence, an emergence from oneself to penetrate another by force… the person who suffers this action is passive, inert and open, in contrast to the active, aggressive and closed person who inflicts it. The chingón is the macho, the male; he rips open the chingada, the female, who is pure passivity, defenseless against the exterior world… To the Mexican there are only two possibilities in life: either he inflicts the action implied by chingar on others, or else he suffers them himself at the hands of others. This conception of social life as combat fatally divides society into the strong and the weak.” Paz essentializes the meaning of chingar, but his analysis does illustrate the feminizing connotation of the verb (Limón 1994: 127-130).
xx Migrants used the English word for ride, asking me, “puedes darme un ride?”
xxi Quoted in De Genova 2002: 427.
xxii By referring to this discrimination as nativist and not as racist, as migrants themselves describe it, it is not my intent to inflate the standing of my own etic analysis over the emic analysis of Juan and other Mexicans in Vermont. Instead, I refer to this discrimination as nativist to emphasize the importance of perceived or actual foreignness in discrimination.
From my limited fieldwork, I am unsure of what Juan and others mean exactly when they speak of racism. Wagley (1968: 166) provides insight by explaing that social status is generally more important for determining a person’s perceived race in Mexico than in the United States. Further research should investigate the meaning of race and racism for Mexican migrants in Vermont.
xxiii I refer to Samuel as a reitero, but Juan did not: “[Samuel] is [not a reitero], he sells food. If you need a ride, he will provide it, but it is very expensive.” Since Juan described (and I directly observed) Samuel as a person who gave migrants rides, I call him a reitero. I believe Juan was reluctant to label Samuel a reitero since, in the one interaction I observed between the men, they appeared to get along well, playing soccer and talking with each other. For Juan, the term “reiteros” described an immoral person, since reiteros are those who are “dedicated to screwing their fellow Mexicans.”
xxiv The circular characteristic of transnational migration is my reason for refering to Mexicans in Vermont by the broader term “migrant” rather than the more specific term “immigrant,” which implies permanent resettlement and progressive incorporation into the receiving nation-state.
xxv The term “ transnational social field” is preferred over “transnational community” since it identifies individuals as connected but allows for conflict and difference within the group (as the quote notes) rather than implying an equality among members (Glick Schiller 2003: 108).
xxvi Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2003: 577-578 identify three assumptions that have rendered the nation-state the default unit of social science analysis: “1) ignoring or disregarding the fundamental importance of nationalism for modern societies: this is often combined with 2) naturalization, i.e., taking for granted that the boundaries of the nation-state delimit and define the unit of analysis; 3) territorial limitation which confines the study of social processes to the political and geographic boundaries of a particular nation-state.”
xxvii Levitt and Glick Schiller (2004: 1010) differentiate between ways of belonging and ways of being in a social field. Ways of being describes “the actual social relations and practice that individuals engage in” and ways of belonging describes “practices that signal or enact an identity which demonstrates a conscious connection to a particular group.” Ways of belonging is used in this case to demonstrate that assistance upon arrival to the United States from veteran migrants and later hosting new migrants oneself is a means to demonstrate continued conscious identification with a transnational social field that connects individuals in Mexico and the United.
xxviii Juntar una pequeña lana para pagar una casa means literally “get together a small bit of [sheep’s] wool to pay for a house.”
xxix Remitting can be conceptualized as an exchange of economic capital for social capital (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992; Portes and Sensenbrenner 1993; Levitt 1998: 935-936). Senders lose money by remitting, but recipients become, if not economically, socially indebted to senders. The receivers’ debt might be repaid by any number of future favors, economic or otherwise. I choose not to refer to social capital in my discussion of remittances, since my own fieldwork provided few examples of how receivers might repay their debts to senders.
xxx More generally, Samuel’s self-identification indicates how migration transforms identity.
xxxi I also hypothesize that hosting new migrants in Vermont, like remitting, might be seen as an obligation of membership in the translocal social field.
xxxii As with remittances, the help new migrants receive from veteran migrants can be conceptualized as an exchange of social capital (Massey and Espinosa 1999). Veteran migrants accrue social capital by assisting new migrants. In turn, new migrants are expected to repay their debt through future favors to the veteran migrants. Again, I choose not to refer to social capital in my discussion, since my own fieldwork provided few examples of how new migrants would repay the debt to the veteran migrants who assisted them.
xxxiii Migrant church services can in some cases connect members of a translocal social field. I visited a Protestant church in Massachusetts where I was told Quechua speaking Ecuadorian migrants often called kin on speakerphone in the middle of the church service.
xxxiv A few times during fall 2007, I gave rides to Mexicans working on nearby farms to the O’Reilly dairy for local futból games. In these games, futból became a local event rather than a superlocal event, but only because I could provide free rides. Without me, futból remained a superlocal event. This is consistent with Chris Urban’s experience as well. He had participated in games involving Mexican dairy workers from several farms, but only when he provided rides. Consequently, I classify futból as a superlocal adaptation rather than a local adaptation. If transportation became available, however, futból games might become events for a local Mexican migrant community.
xxxv Freud, among others, described the humor in the lifting of social conventions in the relief theory: “tendentious jokes exhibit the main characteristic of joke-work—that of liberating pleasure by getting rid of inhibitions…” (Freud 1960: 167).
xxxvi The importance of the superlocal sphere is also seen in another, ostensibly different group of migrants in the U.S.—live-in Latina nannies and housekeepers. Employees often pay only a few hundred dollars a week to these domestic workers and demand they provide around-the-clock childcare. Stuck in the houses where they work, these women have little privacy. As Hondagneu-Sotelo explains, Latina live-in domestic workers, like Vermont Mexican dairy workers, are isolated from other migrants and the local migrant community: “A Spanish-language radio station, or maybe a telenovela, may serve as their only link to the outside world” (Hondagneu-Sotelo 2001: 33). For both Mexican dairy workers in Vermont and Latina domestic workers in affluent households across the United States, intense isolation inflates the importance of the superlocal sphere.
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