This is an early extract from Dignity in motion: boundaries, bodies and rights, edited by Jasmin Lilian Diab (E-International Relations, in preparation 2021).
Since the last decade of the 20th century, globalization has stimulated various and varied forms of mobility: while it favors the transnationalization of capital, it restricts human mobility, especially for vulnerable population groups. In addition, First World countries have created discriminatory narratives and policies that shape migration (Donato and Massey 2016). This paradox of contemporary mobility has encouraged the emergence of research paradigms that seek to respond to the challenges of this dissimilarity. In this context, Latin American scholars have devoted themselves to researching migration from various disciplines in order to understand causes and propose solutions for mass migration in the region.
Among these intellectuals are feminist scholars who have sparked debates about the importance of qualitative methods of hearing and analyzing migrant narratives and breaking the prevailing logic that makes the right to a face and voice a privilege of the few. At a time when mass migration is portrayed by the media with agglomerated and anonymous bodies, research methods that present the stories of migrants are essential to avoid their dehumanization, denormalize oppression and make their resistance visible (Cacopardo 2018).
In order to hear and understand the stories of migrant women, I follow the epistemological approach of decolonial feminism according to María Lugones. She suggests decolonial feminism as a theoretical framework to spread counter-hegemonic narratives about the mobility of women of color, to highlight the multiple oppressions they experience, but also their resistance and their opportunities to form coalitions to overcome inequality and marginalization. This approach makes these aspects of the stories of Nicaraguan migrant women visible.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Nicaragua had experienced three waves of emigration by 2012, but only in the last one, which began in the 2000s, women accounted for 50 percent of migration flows (IOM 2013). This third wave was mainly formed by economic migrants with different destinations: the traditional destinations like Costa Rica and the United States, but also new countries like Panama, Spain and El Salvador. Most migrant women started working as carers and domestic workers (González 2012). In 2016, Nicaragua was the country that rejected more migrant women to other Central American countries (González 2016), while El Salvador became a preferred destination for migrants, especially women from the border state of Chinandega.
Chinandega is Nicaragua’s northernmost state bordering El Salvador, a country where the main labor market for migrants is care and housework. As a result, many women have migrated seasonally in recent years because it is closer and cheaper to travel between the two countries. It is also logistically easier because no passport is required and because Chinandegan women in the states of Usulután and San Miguel in southwest El Salvador have extensive networks of transnational communities (Ramos 2009). Finally, migrating to El Salvador is a relatively safe option for women who can avoid the dangers of many Central American migrants traveling to the United States (González 2016). All of this has fostered the continuity of the flow of migrant women from Chinandega, Nicaragua to El Salvador, and thus large regional care chains have been formed that include both migrant women and substitute carers – usually grandmothers – who remain there from the communities of origin.
These regional care chains tend to intensify the oppression of migrant women and care workers who remain in the communities of origin, because today’s “care system” reproduces an “intrinsic contradiction between the actual care needs for a good quality of life and the capital city” reproductive needs ”(Orozco and Gil 2011, 23). The “care system” and the logic of the globalization of capital prioritize the income from the lives of migrants over their well-being (Sassen 2003). As a result, inequalities that migrant women suffer are perpetuated on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and citizenship. In Nicaragua’s case, the maintenance of these care chains is favored by the lack of state care and the increase in single parents (Espinoza, Gamboa, Gutiérrez and Centeno 2012).
Therefore, maternal grandmothers tend to look after the grandchildren, the household and sometimes get a job to look after children, even if they don’t have the age or the energy to do it (Yarris 2017). On the other hand, migrant women, who are usually heads of families, often receive low wages and are not socially protected. This does not give them access to better living conditions for themselves and their families and exposes them to the exploitation of labor. In addition, due to the general violence in El Salvador, Nicaraguan migrant women are also victims of organized crime. In this chapter I list some of the cases of oppression and the strategies of resistance articulated by migrant women in this context.
For narrative investigation as a methodology
The research question that led this work is: To what extent do the infrapolitical and political resistance articulated by migrant women and caring grandmothers contribute to the reconfiguration of their identity? How does this resistance redraw the maps of power and create new opportunities for a decent life in the face of an unjust welfare regime?
These questions arose from my field work with migrant women in the border area between Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador between 2016 and 2017. The aim of the project was to determine the need for psychosocial and legal care and support for returned migrants and their families. In the first conversations with migrant women and their mothers, I noticed that they define themselves as resistant women in the face of a socio-economic and care system that is perceived as unjust. So I realized that I had to find a methodological approach that would adapt to their narratives, and so I took advantage of the framework of methodology of narrative research and decolonial feminism.
Narrative Inquiry emphasizes the value of life stories as a “journey” rather than a “destination” (Ellis and Bochner cited in Trahar 2009). This methodical approach underlines the relevance of “being sensitive to the different worldviews of the interlocutors” and recognizing one’s own positionality – in the sense of intersectionality – which could favor unequal power relations. In addition, the narrative study assumes that understanding the text as a journey implies the encounter of “three common places”: “Temporality, sociality and place” as specific dimensions that serve as a conceptual framework for interpreting stories and addressing them Approach the narrator’s gaze. This is a process of learning to “think narrative” (Clandinin and Huber cited in McGaw, Baker and Peterson 2010, 9).
Based on these considerations, I conducted open interviews with six women from Chinandega, Nicaragua: three caring grandmothers and three returned migrant women from six different communities in the border area. The interview process consisted of several conversations and participatory observation during community activities. To select these women, I used snowball samples. At the time of the interviews, all caring grandmothers were between 57 and 65 years old and were full-time carers for grandchildren of migrant women. All returned migrants were between 30 and 40 years old and were heads of families who immigrated to El Salvador between 2010 and 2018, leaving their children in the care of their mothers.
The interview guide consisted of a list of key topics with guiding questions. I also asked some questions directly to guide the dialogue. Central themes were childhood and adolescent memories in relation to care, gender and migration; Adult life, including motherhood, mobility, work and care; personal migration experience and / or daughter; and return, including ideas of care, dignity, and resistance.
Mapping oppression: welfare, migration, violence
The grandmothers I interviewed are Flora, Emilia and Pilar (names may have been changed). Flora and Emilia live in a neighborhood close to the city in the center of Chinandega. Pilar lives in a rural community near the sea border with El Salvador. All of them were intra-regional migrants. The returned migrants are Deborah, Marisa and Carla. Deborah lives in a rural community near the sea border, while Marisa and Carla live near the land border with Honduras.
In the six stories there are common socio-historical events that women interpret differently, but which are essential for understanding their worldview and self-view. In order to find the “three common places” of narrative research, these events are presented:
The economy of the banana and cotton enclaves in Chinandega during the Somoza dictatorship (1960s and 1970s)
The grandmothers remember the banana enclave economy as the only local source of employment and the place where they suffered labor exploitation. It was also a place to get some freedom from home and family: there they spent the time away from home doing non-domestic chores and were able to manage some or all of their income. The banana plantations were also places of solidarity between women who resisted discrimination against community members as farm workers. For Flora and Pilar it was also the place where they got involved in civil groups linked to the Sandinista Front (FSLN).
Meanwhile, memories of the relative economic prosperity and independence of the women associated with the plantations of the returned migrants were only inherited from their mothers. In 1980, as a result of the Nicaraguan Revolution and the war, the banana and cotton plantations and with them most of the local jobs had disappeared. In the returnees’ stories, banana plantations are associated with economic precariousness, relatives moving to urban centers and an undesirable job due to the abuse women have been exposed to.
The Sandinista People’s Revolution and the War between Contras and Sandinistas (1980s): Memories of Solidarity, Grief and Exile
Flora and Pilar were involved in the 1979 uprising. For them, these processes were an opportunity to strengthen solidarity relationships and to perform tasks that were only available to men before the armed struggle: sending messages, transporting supplies and logistical work with the local guerrillas. Pilar’s political involvement enabled her to get a better job in the public sector after the FSLN triumphed. Flora’s work situation became more precarious after 1979 when Emilia, who was already a mother, returned to her native Honduras with her children in order to obtain permanent residence in Nicaragua.
For the returned migrants, the revolution is a heroic past that they did not live to see, but from which they have ideas and feelings from family histories. Both in their stories and in those of their grandmothers, the revolution is an event that is remembered with sadness and anger because it did not bring about the expected change, but, on the contrary, war. In addition, the war between Contras and Sandinistas led to an increase in impoverishment, hunger and exile.
Neoliberal Economic Reforms (1990s): Peace and “Ghost Towns”
After peace agreements were signed in 1990, some refugees from Honduras returned to Chinandega. However, the peace did not bring jobs as it should. On the contrary, due to economic reforms that gave capital priority over people’s lives (Martínez and Voorend 2012), poverty and lack of access to services increased in rural and peri-urban areas. In some communities the few remaining farms were closed, in others the war devastated everything.
Deborah describes this period as “ghost towns” as refugees who have returned from Honduras and communities in search of work soon headed for Costa Rica and El Salvador and left entire communities. According to Deborah and Carla, the flow of people leaving the cities was mixed: it was no longer just men fleeing forced recruitment or entire families before the war, but young women migrating alone or in groups of friends looking for work.
“After being a mother, you are a grandmother and play the role of mother again. But I no longer had the same strength ‘: Associated oppression in the stories of caring grandmothers
Some “connected oppressions” in grandmothers’ stories shaped their lives and the way they saw themselves and the world. The oppressions intertwined in their narratives included gender-based violence, motherhood / grandmotherhood, welfare, and migration.
For all of them, gender-based violence, which manifests itself in physical, verbal, psychological, sexual and patrimonial violence, is a constant in their lives. All this violence has shaped their relationship with those in power and with the state. Emilia told me:
We had to be quiet at home. Whether girls or adults, women had to be quiet. We had to do all the housework, and when we worked outside in the banana plantations, we had to give the money to our father. But my father and then my husband spent everything on alcohol … Who should take care of me? Now they are telling me that the government has protection programs for women, but I’ve never seen that here before. We are like abandoned.
This feeling of being “abandoned” and defenseless by those who used gender-based violence against them is repeated in the stories of other grandmothers. When they gave reasons for tolerating gender-based violence, they were mostly referring to their children. They described motherhood and parenting as a rewarding process, but not entirely voluntary, but viewed as part of the process of growing up. All three grandmothers had children when they were teenagers. Flora said:
Nobody has ever explained anything to me about menstruation or having children. I just remember my boyfriend telling me I had to have a child and I didn’t know and when I looked I was already pregnant. Later my grandmother said to me, ‘Well, my little girl. Now you have to find a permanent job and learn to take care of the baby.
Early motherhood was also a reason for migration for the grandmothers who were looking for a better life for themselves and their children. Usually they left their children to their mothers. While this extended family-based social organization of care, led by grandmothers, has historically been fundamental to sustaining life in rural Nicaragua, caregivers do not necessarily consider it the best option. On the other hand, they all recognize that both fathers and the state should play an equally responsible role in the care and redistribution of paid and unpaid work. They also admit that this care organization is exhausting and a change is necessary that entails a shared responsibility for the family, especially for the fathers. Pilar commented:
My grandmother and aunt took care of me. My mother also looked after my cousins. It has always been like this. I also left my children to my grandmother when I emigrated and I thank her, but I know it is exhausting. And it should be different. When my daughter left, I continued to take care of my grandchildren … I believe that women and men have the same ability to work both outside and inside the home. What separates us is gender, but we must accept everything equally.
The grandmothers are of the opinion that the state should also take over part of the care needs; However, her experience with government nursing programs has been negative. According to Emilia:
I was in the hospital once with my two grandchildren. Since the girl had a stain on her foot while playing, an official from the Family Department threatened me that if I didn’t take good care of these children, they would take them away from me. I was angry and told him, ‘Tell the ministry that I want to set my rules too. If they ask something of me, give me something for these children: a little help for their education, for their clothes. But you ask and you don’t give us anything. “
“It’s not like Nicaragua there. You have to learn the law of the neighborhood: See, hear and be silent ”: Interconnected Oppressions in the Narratives of Returned Migrants
The stories of the returnees share oppression with those of the grandmothers, but they also differ in the peculiarities of their migration situation. The most common forms of oppression include gender-based violence and the effects of general violence on the lives of migrant women. Both Deborah and Marisa emigrated to El Salvador due to domestic violence. However, as Deborah reports, migration did not end gender-based violence:
When my partner threatened me with a gun in front of my children … I left the country. I was shocked. I only had $ 20 and felt bad about leaving my kids. I believed that there would be a change after I arrived, but no … I met some men who called me “whore”, “thief” just because I am Nicaraguan. And that’s why I got involved with my husband, the other one who tried to kill me so they wouldn’t attack me on the street … I think I have a bad fate.
For Carla, the immigration experience was different. Her mother immigrated to El Salvador as a child and left her with her grandmother. When she was 13, her mother decided to take her to work. Carla returned to Nicaragua a few months later because of gangs threatening her. At the age of 18 she had returned to El Salvador in search of work and, since she had no papers, only had access to precarious jobs that threatened her safety.
I told my mom that I wanted to come because a gang member wanted to make me his girlfriend. And I didn’t want to [be his girlfriend] because they turn girls into prostitutes and “mules”. And I went back without telling her … But after that … [a few] Years ago I had to leave because there were no jobs. And that’s when I started as a waitress at the bar. But that was also a dangerous place. The gangs were the VIP customers and they scared the waitresses with their guns.
Marisa also worked in a bar but left to work as a domestic servant: “[A]l Although I earned less, it was safer for me. ”However, her safety has been compromised due to a mistake in accordance with what she calls” the law of the neighborhood. “
I worked and lived with my employers and had a day off every two weeks. I’ve washed, ironed, cooked, [and] took care of their children and my son. I also went shopping, cooked and served as a waitress at the inn. They paid me $ 75 a month with no insurance. But sometimes they gave me milk and clothes for my son. Everything went well, but when I lived alone that changed.
I went to a neighborhood with several Nicaraguans but there were some gang members who were neighbors and one day I saw them doing something and they looked at me. I have not spoken. It’s not like Nicaragua there. You have to learn the law of the neighborhood: see, hear and be silent. And thinking I was going to say something, they threw me into the police. They gave the wrong lead and I was accused of being a drug mule.
The police went into the house, held a gun at me in front of my children, yelled and beat me. Even though they couldn’t find anything, I was locked up. Because there, a migrant without money who should take care of me? To be in prison, away from my children and my country, was the saddest thing.
Mapping everyday resistance: infra-politics and coalitions
Multiple and sometimes merged oppressions persist in all of the narratives. Hence the possibility of resistance or emancipation seems insignificant. According to Lugones (2008), the modern / colonial gender system maintains this oppression. This system categorizes, separates and subtracts the agency of individuals by placing them in a “broken place” on the edge of power. But against this “logic of oppression” stands a “logic of resistance”, which implies the recognition of interconnected oppression and the possibilities of concrete coalitions in everyday life to overcome them. Colored women who – geographically and powerfully – are located on the “edge” have an “epistemological advantage” to learn the logic of oppression from experience and at the same time to articulate resistance in the border area they inhabit.
These resistances are infrapolitical, anonymous, intersubjective and collective. Therefore “they contain the affirmation of life above profit, communalism” (Lugones 2011, 116). These conscious and shared practices can lead to the start of a great political struggle. Some of the “infrapolitical resistances” are “adaptation, rejection, non-acceptance, disregard”, silence and the celebration of life (Lugones 2011, 116). They all shape women’s understanding of themselves and the world and enable the reconfiguration of their identities, which are historical and situated processes that are open to change on the basis of new experiences. In the narratives of the grandmothers and returnees, the process of “suppressive → ← resistance” and its impact on their discourses and practices around identity is remarkable.
“But when I talked about it with other women in the community … I felt accompanied”: Dialogues and silence as resistance
In the interviews and community activities I witnessed, the grandmothers and returned migrants emphasized the importance of recognizing and identifying oppression in order to face it. This implies the denormalization of oppressions that are culturally accepted as part of life. The experience of self-organized self-help groups, formed by grandmothers, enabled Emilia to speak of experiences of sexual abuse in childhood. An essential part of her healing process was the feeling of being heard:
That’s why I suffered a lot as a child. I found it difficult to understand how this relates to my assuming that violence from other men is normal. But when I talked to other women in the church about it and they listened to me, I felt accompanied … It was also the acceptance of the anger that I felt. I also saw that there are beautiful things in life for me and my granddaughters.
During her time in prison, Marisa spoke to a psychologist about her experiences and feelings. That was important to feel healthier and to plan for the future.
She told me that I was getting out of jail and that I had to be prepared for it. She spoke to me about my self-esteem and self-care. She helped me write a plan for life after prison. So I started taking baking workshops and managed to get the best position in the bakery. I made money there to buy my things and it felt good … But with my kids, I decided to shut up. Maybe one day I’ll tell them all about prison, but now my silence is better for them.
“If you have your own house and earn money, nobody will stop you”: Economic independence as resistance
One of the basic resistances in the narratives is the pursuit of economic independence. Pilar believes that this enabled her and her children to live a life free of violence and a certain stability.
After I returned to the country, I bought my land. Only with my country did I feel fulfilled. If you have a home and are making your living, nobody is going to stop you. That way you are free and you don’t have to endure Machismo… In the past it was not common for a separated woman to buy a house to live alone with her children, but I managed to [and] there are more of us. Now we hope our daughters achieve the same even if it happens through migration.
“I like to dance and laugh to feel free”: Playfulness as resistance
Playfulness, despite oppression, is also a common resistance of the narrators. Sometimes even laughter and jokes about the politics and situation of their communities are used to simplify the difficult and find the good in the repulsive.
Carla: “I like to dance and laugh to feel free. Even if they tell me, “Don’t dance and sing, it’s crazy,” it makes me feel good in the face of adversity.
Deborah: “And sometimes we just joke about this country, the corrupt ones and such. Well we have to laugh so as not to cry.
“I cry out to God to give me peace and justice”: Spirituality as resistance
In the stories of the grandmothers, the Christian God is a source of spiritual strength to overcome adversity. They see God as a close friend who fights injustice. In addition, some grandmothers combine Christian spirituality with the indigenous religious traditions of their communities. Flora and Pilar commented:
Flora: “Every day I cry out to God for peace and justice for the death of my son. I can’t do the gang members justice, but God can. I forgive them because God is gracious to me and he will know. The conversation with God gives me a lot of relief and strength. “
Pilar: “For me it is my San Roque Indio and the Santeria of the People. I ask miracles from him and he does them for me. I remember a curandero from Guatemala said that hard things would happen but that everything would be fine. And now I see it that way. “
“Even when I’m not in my country, I have the right to know what my rights are in the other country”: knowledge as resistance
In addition to personal resistance processes, grandmothers and returnees articulated collective forms of resistance and organization in order to support each other emotionally, claim rights and organize projects for the common good. The grandmothers organized mutual support groups to discuss strategies for balancing caring for their grandchildren with self-care and other problems in their emotional and physical health. Returned migrants worked together in both Nicaragua and El Salvador to organize human rights workshops in their communities and to raise funds for projects to support migrants in El Salvador. All of these projects, says Carla, were inspired by knowledge: “This process of self-organization was good and results from learning about rights. I am happy to be here and to do something. “
Deborah is now a facilitator in the group of returned migrants. She shares her immigration experience and knowledge of human rights. For her, the solidarity networks she was able to build up with other women in El Salvador were the key to getting to know each other and overcoming oppression:
I went to Ciudad Mujer, on a support program for migrant women. There they taught me about my rights and my self-esteem and I exchanged ideas with other migrant women from other countries. I made friends and one of them who later went to the United States was the one who sent me money for my son’s food when I didn’t have one … Now I know I even when I’m not in my country bin, habe das Recht zu erfahren, was meine Rechte im anderen Land sind. Es spielt keine Rolle, ob ich Staatsbürger bin oder nicht. Ich habe Rechte.
Die aus der Perspektive des dekolonialen Feminismus analysierten Narrative zeigen, dass die Großmütter und zurückgekehrten Migrantinnen Agenten ihrer eigenen Veränderung in komplexen alltäglichen Prozessen des „Unterdrückens →←Widerstands“ sind. Diese infrapolitischen Widerstände haben die Artikulation von Diskursen und Praxen begünstigt, die die Emanzipation von Frauen in Kontexten multipler Unterdrückung unterstützen. Im Fall dieser Frauen ergeben sich diese Unterdrückungen aus Fragen und Beschwerden des Staates und der Machthaber der sozioökonomischen Ordnung, die das Pflegeregime tragen. Ihre Diskurse hinterfragen auch Vorstellungen von Familienloyalität und der Unterdrückung weiblicher Wut. In Bezug auf praktische Widerstände haben diese Frauen gegenseitige Unterstützungsgruppen und Gemeinschaftsinitiativen organisiert, um Migranten und Rückkehrer zu unterstützen.
All dies sind wertvolle Praktiken, die der Staat berücksichtigen und reproduzieren sollte, wenn er über Maßnahmen zur Betreuung und Integration zurückgekehrter Migranten nachdenkt. Es ist wichtig für die nicaraguanische Regierung, ihren politischen Ansatz von einem auf Wohlfahrt und kurzfristige Lösungen ausgerichteten Ansatz zu einem zu ändern, der die Erfahrungen, Fähigkeiten und Weltanschauungen von Frauen und Gemeinschaften berücksichtigt, um langfristige Lösungen zu schaffen, die auf der Gemeinschaft basieren. Wie Carla es ausdrückte: „Nur mit dieser Unterstützung können wir eine Gemeinschaft aufbauen, die niemand verlassen muss, wenn es nicht freiwillig ist.“
 Mulas auf Spanisch ist ein umgangssprachlicher Begriff, der sich auf Menschen bezieht, normalerweise Frauen, die mit oder ohne deren Zustimmung Drogen tragen und transportieren.
 Ciudad Mujer (Frauenstadt) ist ein Programm des Sekretariats für soziale Eingliederung von El Salvador. Sie unterstützt die Menschenrechte salvadorianischer Frauen und hat einige Projekte für Migrantinnen.
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