Review by Rebecca Zanolini
While there is a large body of research on adult migration, the role of children in this environment is relatively understudied. The authors of Everyday Ruptures point to the importance of researching migration in youth:
“Often seen as the linchpin of social regeneration, children enhance our understanding of the interconnected web of family relations, cultural life, and social change that inevitably accompany global migration.” (p. 13)
Everyday Ruptures highlights the process youth migrants go through upon reconciliation of their (or their parents’) country of origin, language, and socio-cultural norms with that of their new home country. While arguably all immigrants suffer emotional loss, pain, nostalgia and fragmentation upon rendering their country of origin, this book illuminates the additional disadvantage for migrant youth who must nurture and navigate the juxtaposition of two worlds with limited resources.
Throughout the text and within the title, the authors describe the role of migration in a child's personal displacement, also referred to as rupture. Furthermore, the word "everyday" in the title reminds the reader that the stories within the text are not isolated anomalies, but rather examples of quotidian immigrant life around the world.
In my interview with co-editor and author Deborah A. Boehm, I asked her to elaborate on her research on transnational Mexican children. The following are excerpts from our interview.
Zanolini: Throughout the book, the collaborating writers described youth migration through the lens of agency. How can agency be noted in transnational youth as described in your chapter?
Boehm: There is a wide range of what might be considered to be agency—or a lack of agency—among transnational Mexican children and youth. Expressions of agency are possible or difficult because of many factors, such as one’s age and gender. At one end of the continuum are adolescent boys who migrate autonomously, sometimes as young as 13 or 14. When they go north, they are considered adults and exercise a considerable amount of agency in their migrations. Teenage girls do not have the same freedoms that teenage boys do, and are not likely to migrate at all—if they do, usually to reunite with family, their migrations are closely orchestrated by adult family members. At the other end of the spectrum are very young children (infants and toddlers) whose movement is, understandably, closely controlled.
You mention an interesting story about an 18-year old named Javier who was “sent back home” to his birth country of Mexico due to his undocumented status even despite the fact that he has no socio-cultural ties with his country of origin (p. 171). From your experience, how common is this? Is there a limitation of age that can protect potential undocumented youth like Javier?
This is a scenario that is increasingly common. Following current immigration laws, an individual’s age at arrival is not considered in deportation cases. By providing a path to citizenship for young people who came to the United States without authorization, the DREAM Act would address this very issue, but to date it has not been signed into law.
|Deborah A. Boehm|
In the chapter, I describe transnational children and youth as “here, not here” (U.S. citizen children who may be excluded from the nation despite formal membership) and “not here, here” (unauthorized migrant children who may have strong ties to the United States). The case you describe is an interesting one, and perhaps most comparable to the experience of adult migrants because they maintain strong ties to Mexico in terms of identity and a sense of belonging. Still, even those who migrate as adults develop connections to the United States and may feel part of both countries and/or excluded from both nations.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in compiling your research for this project?
Although not a challenge directly related to conducting research, it is very difficult to learn about the struggles of individuals and families knowing that there are few options available to migrants—for example, for unauthorized migrants who would like to begin a path to citizenship or for deportees who have no way to legally return to the United States. I have conducted research with hundreds of people, but there are millions of people who are facing similar circumstances.
What research are you doing with transnational youth right now?
My current research focuses on deportation and the conditions in the United States that are resulting in a record number of deportations.
As a researcher, what is your ultimate goal for uncovering and sharing research of this sort both domestically and globally?
Ethnographic research—by considering people’s experiences on the ground—can provide a perspective that is not typically part of debates about immigration and has the potential to influence policy. I hope that my research contributes in some way to this endeavor.
Everyday Ruptures: Children, Youth, and Migration in Global Perspective (Vanderbilt University Press 2011) was edited by Cati Coe, Rachel R. Reynolds, Deborah A. Boehm, Julia Meredith Hess, and Heather Rae-Espinoza. The authors call on citizens, residents, immigrants, adults and youth around the globe to re-examine the world in which we live. The book successfully educates, informs, and challenges readers to make personal, professional and political changes towards an improved quality of life for all.