Transnational motherhood and economic failure: Latina immigrant domestic workers and the children they left behind

As part of the Lunchtime Seminar Series, the African Centre for Migration & Society invites you to a seminar titled Transnational motherhood and economic failure: Latina immigrant domestic workers and the children they left behind by Lorena Munoz (Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota).

This presentation explores the experiences regarding family separations—a contemporary condition of transnational motherhood of Latina immigrant domestic workers as well as the children they left behind. Through well-established narratives of separation, female immigrant domestic work is understood through multiple contradicting transnational meanings of motherhood. These discourses of transnational motherhood often frame immigrant mothers as heroic; these mothers have to leave their homes to sustain their families and communities, while also negotiating the emotions of being ‘bad’ mothers for leaving their children behind. This study adds to these gender and immigration transnational motherhood processes by analyzing how emotions tied to economic failures at different scales, shape the lived experiences of transnational mothers. To elaborate, for some immigrant domestic workers and transnational mothers, the poverty wages they receive in host countries are not sufficient to economically sustain their families and communities in sending countries. The ‘failure’ to sustain their families economically often leads to resentment among their children and extended family left behind, that in turn can be understood and internalized by immigrant domestic workers as a personal/individual failure. As such, immigrant mothers often blame themselves for not raising their families out of poverty instead of contextualizing economic failure as part of larger social, economic and political structural conditions that shape global labor immigration and capitalist practices. The presentation does so by analyzing ten in-depth interviews with my relatives who currently work or have worked as Latina domestic workers in San Diego, California, including four of their children left behind in Mexico. In addition, Munoz analyzed the lives of participants of this study in relation to her own experience as a daughter and granddaughter of Latina immigrant domestic workers.


Professor Muñoz is an urban/cultural geographer whose research focuses on the intersections of place, space, gender, sexuality, health and race. Dr. Munoz’s transdisciplinary research agenda has been focused on Latinas/os in the global south, particularly in the areas the (in)formal economy, labor, health and productive/transformative agency. Dr. Munoz’s is currently working on two interdisciplinary, collaborative, comparative projects. The first project is a study of informal systems of access to food, labor and health in three different urban populations of migrant and immigrant laborers in the Global South: Colombia, Mexico, and the U.S. This project examines how street vending in the shadows of large-scale neoliberal development projects in (im)migrant receiving centers becomes both a sustainable mechanism of livelihood and a gendered delivery system of food, goods, and healing remedies for migrant laborers in Bogotá and Cancún and Latino immigrants in Los Angeles. The project focuses on the intersection of food, health and labor in relation to street vending as well as food-way systems. The second project is a comparative study on immigration and the impact of family separations in South Africa and the United States.

Date: Tuesday 21 August 2018

Time: 12.30 -13.30

Venue: ACMS Seminar Room 2163, South East Wing, Second Floor, Solomon Mahlangu House, University of the Witwatersrand East Campus