Hillary The People’s President!

Dear Hillary,

I’m probably one of the many Washington voters whose ballot hasn’t yet been counted along with others who voted for you. My ballot like theirs is sitting somewhere being tallied slowly day by day. It’s a hopeless feeling to know that the most popular choice of the American people didn’t win, that ultimately my ballot didn’t count.

thumb_img_2379_1024My daughter came home from school on Wednesday with a big H on her hand and she said all of the girls in her class painted them. Then she painted one on me.



The next day I took a run, part of me thinking I’d run into you, like that heartbroken woman in the woods who you saw walking.  I did see this sign on someone’s front yard and smiled, especially with the “still” in it.


thumb_img_2385_1024That’s when I realized there was nothing wrong with me for still wanting you as my president and even thinking of you as such. Even as all of the mainstream media has normalised this insane situation and tried to make everyone believe this is democratic, my gut says no. I know now I’m no longer alone feeling the grief of your absence.

You simply were not rewarded for being the very obvious ‘best’ choice and hence, this is the story for so many of us who struggle, work hard and shine bright only to be stamped down or never seen.  Why have we as women come so far on some levels and can’t crack the glass ceiling of political offices? It’s also a “white lash” against a changing country. So many white women also voted for him, believing his lies, being  groomed by a predator who is also selling fear-mongering  snake oil, and going back to watching Fox news. This is depressing although not shocking—all his supporters letting their true colors show. I wonder what’ll happen when they realise he couldn’t care less about them.

Many of us are signing petitions and protesting and even organising underground railroads for the 3 million immigrants “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named“” intends to deport. I truly can’t hear his voice, look at his face, or know his cabinet posts. This has all moved much too fast and seems so wrong, and undemocratic.

We are trying to make some sense of this for ourselves and our children. I don’t know how to tell my daughter that a man who she knows has a history of criminal wrongdoings, financial and otherwise, including assaulting women, exploiting working people, touting racism and bigotry and xenophobia as well as a long list of other horrible things can not just be a president, but run for president at all. My daughter has watched every debate with me and like me, has always wondered how in the world this Frankenstein (of the Republican party at the end point of the Reagan era) has come this far. I tell her, “honey, he’s not our president”  even when her teacher says he is.

I’m one of those optimists still holding on to the hope that we can somehow petition the system and bring back a popular referendum. I can’t pretend that this insanity happening all around me is a peaceful transition, it’s not. I’m writing this today as a memorial to my mother Hillary who loved you and your work. She was born on November 13th and as much as I wish she were alive I’m so glad she hasn’t seen what has happened to our poor and very pathetic country.

Thank you so very much for giving us hope, for trying so hard, for winning the hearts of so many people like me and my daughter and for taking on the struggles of the most marginalised in this country–I hope you know we appreciate that. I still believe in you as President of the United States.





Transnational Family Communication Chains

The Transnational ICT Communication Chains Of Immigrants and Their Families

Sondra Cuban


I present a model for understanding the ways immigrants in the U.S. communicate with their away-families through information and communication technologies (ICTs) based on a two-year study and which is the topic of my new book coming out in 2017, Transnational Family Communication: Immigrants and ICTs (Palgrave Macmillan). Through my lens of Transnational Communication Chains, four types of communication patterns emerged that highlight digital literacy and languages: 1) Rescue Chains for providing help; 2) Mother Tongues for family advice; 3) Family Dinner Tables for establishing togetherness; and 4) Walls for circulating mis/information. These family chains were adaptive strategies and as problematic as the ICTs that activated their communication

The literature on immigrants adopting information and communication technologies (ICTs) is highly optimistic; immigrants use the new technologies because of their “low cost” and contact their families in their home countries so successfully that not only do political borders seem to disappear, but so does the geographic distance that separates members (Baldassar, 2016; Portes, 1999; Vertovec, 2004, p. 219). The technology platforms and applications seem to make these connections possible rather than immigrants who are viewed as passive users of communication systems that they simply turn on. Furthermore, this scenario makes it appear that not only do all immigrants use these new technologies, and use them alike, but also the digital divide impacting this cross-border contact is non-existent.

I problematize the new technologies and propose a new model for examining this phenomenon through, what I call, Transnational Communication Chains (TICCs) (Cuban, 2015; 2017). These ‘chains’ are efficient and ingenious systems that immigrants develop for communicating with their away-families through ICTs. They develop these chains to exchange support, be together, and develop “familyhood” (Bryceson & Vuorela, 2002) from afar and they do so differently depending on their circumstances. Moreover, the chains, like the technologies are problematic and changeable. The model is based on findings of a two-year study (2014-2015) study that I conducted in Washington State. The study consisted of sixty women immigrants struggling to communicate with their families left behind through ICTs and the issues they encountered. The following research questions guided my study: 1) what adaptive strategies do immigrants develop to communicate with their transnational family members? 2) Which ICTs do they use and why and what is the frequency as well as the types of conversations that ensue? 3) What are the purposes of transnational family communication through ICTs? All of these participants were engaged in ICT-based TICCs but they differed in terms of the types, the ways that they used them, and their frequency. Two sketches of participants highlight their different family backgrounds and their ICT-based chains.

Josefina and Mariana
Josefina migrated from Oaxaca, Mexico to California “through the desert and with no papers” fourteen years ago to join her siblings and work in the fields. After getting married she moved to rural Washington, where she had four children. Using phone cards she bought from the local Mexican store, she called her family in Mexico, once a week “to know how they are doing to help them.” Mainly she spoke to her mother whose health problems required medical attention. First her mother dialed Josefina who then called her due to the cost after which she called one of her seven siblings who relayed the news to the next one. They remitted to their mother with Josefina noting, “It was just not enough.” She wished she could directly help her since: “talking on the phone and sending money isn’t the same.” Although Josefina had a computer, it had no camera and she didn’t know how to use it. Besides neither her parents nor her had broadband. By 39, Josefina felt torn between her mother and her children. Her teenage son, aware of the tensions vowed: “Don’t worry mom, when I am older I am going to fix your papers so you can come and go.” But Josefina felt uneasy about his need to rescue her so she could rescue her mother. Because Josefina couldn’t return, she circulated her mother’s news throughout her U.S. sibling network and secured the necessary funds for her medical needs. Josefina was caught between countries and generations as well as siblings. Her circumstances and communication patterns differed from Mariana.

Mariana, from Bogota, Colombia lived and worked in Seattle as an au pair. Yet she was constantly on social media with her family and friends in Colombia and enjoyed examining their Facebook Walls, “to see what people are doing.” She made it clear however that she didn’t like the chat and call features embedded in Facebook for interacting with those very people. This sentiment was sparked when her father’s communication lessened after which she became curious. In perusing Facebook she discovered that he was having an affair. She reflected:

He was not talking to me for three months. What is going on? He put this stuff on Facebook but never talks. There was a woman who wanted to hit on my dad…during that time it was terrible. My mom called me twice per day, crying. I felt I had to carry the problems.

For Mariana, using text-based social media was important because she could not verbally discuss complicated matters in her host family’s home. She said: “I always feel there is someone listening to what I’m saying.” At 20, she arrived a year ago but felt homesick: “I really want someone here, to kiss, to hug. I miss this most.” Although she regularly communicated with family back home and friends in Seattle, she felt that, “even if I know there are people that care, I feel alone.” Mariana and Josefina’s stories illustrate different TICCs.


I developed the TICC framework and focused heavily on access and use because in the ICT literature, it seemed as if no barriers to transnational communication existed. I conceptualized access as part of the technological tools and the digital literacies and languages required to navigate digital media and messages (Knobel & Lankshear, 2002; Guillen, 2014; Kress, 2005). However these depend on the “affordances” that are available to people, including their capacities, networks, and resources. Affordance theory focuses on opportunities to engage in particular social behaviors such as the availability to speak, as well as resources, and aptitudes (Gibson, 1979; Gaver, 1991; Bradner, 2001; Madiniou & Miller, 2012). This blog draws on affordance theory to frame the creative communicative systems that immigrants and their families develop within an ICT-based context filled with constraints and opportunities. The phone cards that Josefina purchased to make voice calls abroad and the data plans that Mariana paid for to access the Internet, for example were one type of affordance.

The TICC framework also draws from the human communications literature, which focuses on small group communication patterns (Galvin, 2014; Segrin & Flora, 2005; Steinberg, 2007). Four types have been identified. There is the “Line” which represents a grapevine, whereby one group member tells another something, while the “Star” contains a central member who controls information to individuals in a group. The “All-Channel” comprises group members who engage in numerous simultaneous interactions while the “Circle” is for circulating news in a roundabout way through many reference group members. Although these chains may seem oversimplified they assist in conceptualizing ICT-based transnational family communication.

I used ethnographic methods including interviews, observations, documentary analysis of emails and informant material such as journals because I wanted to capture the experiences of the participants in their communicative contexts; using their own words imbued with their meanings (Denzin, 2001). The interviews, half of which were conducted in Spanish, were designed to focus on the participants’ stories of family communication (Riesmann, 1993). Observations and video were made of one participant over several months in addition to gathering several participant-generated audio and video recordings of family conversations as well as journals. Through these methods, together with a sensory analysis of the findings, I was able to develop a richly textured picture of the socio-emotional and material worlds of the participants and their “perception, place, knowing, memory, and imagination” (Pink, 2009, p. 23) surrounding their transnational family communication.

Data Source
The participants were all Latinas, primarily from Mexico, representing the dominant immigrant nationality in Washington (Brown & Lopez, 2013). Participants also migrated from Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Honduras, and El Salvador. They were recruited through community gatekeepers and staff in Latino organizations throughout Washington and selected in a snowball sample. About half of the participants like Josefina were in their late 30s, undocumented, married with children, and settled while the other half like Mariana were in their 20s, single, without children, and in the U.S. for less time. Mariana’s group possessed tertiary education and came from small, urban, middle-class families most of whom did not previously migrate while Josefina’s group, had primary levels of education and came from agrarian backgrounds, with members migrating and then sponsoring one another to secure greater income distribution across a larger group. Their demographic characteristics translated to their communicative patterns. Josefina, who was dealing with crises and had few resources of her own, relied on the domestic landline to communicate abroad and used the Line as an efficient means, while Mariana used free computer and phone applications in a Circle pattern of communication to contact her family abroad.

My findings focus on four different TICCs that highlight digital literacy and language issues and paint a complex picture of transnational family communication that fills a gap in the literature on immigrants, transnational families, and ICTs:

• The Rescue Chain (Line) provided emergency support for a family member in need. Like a grapevine, one member tells another and they remit to the person in need at a just-in-time rate. Voice calls were used to determine the felt need. Yet because of the step-by-step oral/aural calls, those members at the end of the chain could receive confusing messages. This was Josefina’s case

• Mother Tongue (Star) is when members of a family who do not converse with one another communicate with a key person in the middle, whom I call the “operator.” S/he negotiates interactions, filters information and gives advice. The conversations, often oral/aural, may include exchanges of visual artifacts and text-based messages and follow vernacular scripts

• The Family Dinner Table (All-Channel) is multi-vocal and textual, relying on oral speech, images, and literacy-based interactions. Several family members interact in real time in order to ‘be’ together from afar. Therefore it is ‘noisy’ because no one mediates interactions. It can also promote performing because it is highly visual. It occurs over video conference calls that allow members to display expressions and eat while talking. They may pause to write chat messages and send pictures

• The Walls (Circle) are short text-based messages exchanged through social media. While this chain accommodates a greater volume of information that can be added and replaced, messages are deferred and have an anonymous quality. Examples are Facebook Walls and Newsfeeds. The communication is indirect, which may threaten members’ perceptions. This chain illustrates Mariana’s case

The TICC model focuses first and foremost on the fact that most immigrants like the participants in the study cannot cross borders to physically be with their families and they rely on new technologies as the primary way to be together, share news, and deliver support. Letters and gifts are often considered to be too unreliable and delayed. TICCs, then, are a response to political constraints and they carry implications for immigration, welfare, and school reform, especially for the intergenerational repercussions of family separation. Consider Josefina’s son. The tension resulting from his mother’s separation from his grandmother affects his wellbeing. Second, the TICC model highlights the ingenuity of immigrants in accessing (or not) the new technologies. This has implications for equitability within national and international communications and development policies. Third, the TICC model demonstrates different ways that immigrants communicate with their families and for different reasons, based on their affordances and social classes. Altogether the findings demonstrate that some groups, with greater social affordances, have clear advantages and that the digital divide is indicative of larger social structures.

Twitter’s Misguided Approach to Poverty and Homelessness

Digital Literacy=SuccessIn a misguided notion that homeless people need tech skills to become self-sufficient,  Twitter is doubling with a non-profit that serves 5,000 families (majority single mothers and children), at risk and homeless–to establish a learning center in San Francisco, “The NeighborNest.” Twitter employees will tutor homeless adults, so as to “learn, connect, and grow together”. It just opened. This is happening despite a new Bridge at Main center that opened just this winter nearby at the San Francisco Public Library which has numerous computer literacy opportunities for homeless adults and other groups. The library, a civic engagement institution has a very different approach, seeing learning in multiple modalities, and including different forms of literacy and integrating populations. According to Project Read Director, Randy Weaver, there are over 100 tutors and numerous digital literacy, financial literacy and health literacy projects in this city and county funded program.  There are also other great long-term tech programs for the homeless that are run by non-profits such as the Tenderloin Technology Lab, with digital inclusion as its aim. Yet Twitter is trying to build its reputation as a more effective online ramp for the city’s poor.

Twitter has been pressured since they opened in San Francisco to “give back” to city residents “by contributing to the neighborhood” (only one article needs to be read since most say the same thing aside from Kurt Wagner’s piece—see as an example of puff pieces— written after I sent the Gate this blog) as a deal to compensate for the years of receiving millions in tax breaks from the city. As the Twitter blog promotes, they have a “commitment to San Francisco.” But so does practically every company in San Francisco (for example, real estate firm, Transwestern,) much of this  “relationship marketing” as part of trying to own public spaces. Twitter in fact relies on this notion of “commitment” to ensure that all customers return to tweet, which in turn, is a marketing strategy for all of those users too. This trust branding makes it seem as if Twitter is a public institution serving, what Twitter hopes to showcase as a “force for good.” In other words, a “public good” that is in Twitter’s private interest.

They have a BFF community benefit agreement that will offer “the nest” a computer lab, classes and resources  “to help them [homeless adults] on their path to a bright hopeful future” and which is considered a type of pilot for wider outreach to youth, school-based groups, and other members of the community. The CEO of Twitter announced: that he is “committed to transforming lives right here in the neighborhood where we work” (SF Gate)—that is, where Twitter was given property rights and passed the burden on to its employees.  These employees, and perhaps other volunteers will be expected to tutor these homeless adults.  Instead of a scenario, like one Business Insider article cited: “San Francisco’s Twitter Employees Must Step Past All These Homeless People To Get To Work” they will have to tutor them. BTW although these employees are said to get catered breakfasts and lunches as well as yoga classes, Twitter has a terrible record on diversity-so bad there is currently a class action law suit and Twitter’s response. These employees may wonder if their community engagement will lead to promotions. Probably not. Perhaps Twitter expects its women employees to do most of the “service” work—this wouldn’t be surprising…

Since I can’t help but wonder how the mostly entitled male workforce (mostly white) at Twitter — will “buy into”  or be able, with their long hours and unfamiliarity with the population, to tutor the majority women (and persons of color) that the non-profit serves on a long-term basis,  even after it’s been dubbed as a “safe place” for Twitter workers (rather than for the clients).  Twitter’s gentrified presence in the neighborhood will probably not only make it safer, but a more costly area.

Without a full range of comprehensive training, these employees will be late-night operators transmitting mostly technical skills (such as an informational navigation session). Although I have attempted to find out more about Twitter’s program, the Twitter press office has been quiet. This is what they told me: “I can point you to what we’ve said publicly, but we aren’t releasing any details about the programming until we open, since we are still working out the details. ” The questions I asked a few weeks ago were:

  1. Who is in charge of the programming (of the NeighborNest) and can I have their contact information to interview that person(s)?
  2. How will you get volunteers from Twitter to tutor at the Learning Center (what is your recruiting going to be like, if at all) and the requirements for tutoring?
  3. What will be the approach to tutoring/learning and what exactly will tutors and the adults do with one another for example, will it be 1-1 or group learning?
  4. Why isn’t there childcare provided, and just a “play area? (you can see a bias here!)
  5. In what ways will it pose a threat or compliment the community technology type programs existing around the city, including the public library? (Yemila Alvarez, Community Engagement head of the SFPL told me Twitter did check out library programs)
  6. Is there going to be an evaluation of the program?

My sense is that Twitter will be getting the nest programming together by its coat tails at the last minute. Most likely they’ll tweet curriculum, like this nieghbornest “community navigation” powerpoint for poor families–with the over-repeated informational and technical advice such as “search for thousands of community resources in your neighborhood–get the help you need:”

neighbornest tweet

neighbornest tweet


Wait a minute, don’t libraries do this?  And if Twitter is not totally successful here (after all, homeless families need more than information from privatized sources), the company may change directions depending on the initial outcomes— their accountability is limited, and although there is now a building, it could easily be turned into another Twitter “nest” for employees in the future.

The corporate approach of using computer technical skills for poverty reduction is not wholly dissimilar to government sponsored welfare-to-work programs since the 1990s focused on individual skill improvement through technology to “level the playing field” and foster self-sufficiency. This belief in digital literacy as a magic button that in being pressed will rocket poor people into the new economy and society is omnipresent.

Yet research has proven this perception wrong. Virgina Eubanks, in a case study of low-income women in a non-profit  in her book, Digital Dead-ends, showed that the women already had digital literacy skills but lacked social capital and opportunities to earn much more than the minimum wage. Their low wages, not their skills, prevented them from reaching their potential as they were cycling in survival mode. Likewise in a study by Lorna Rivera, illustrated in, Laboring to Learn, she found that racism and sexism were prevalent as obstacles to the homeless women in her study transitioning into mainstream society than skills alone.

Recent research has shown that what is most effective for homeless people are not these individual skills, but a stable home-see importantly this article. In fact housing the homeless is a better foundation for developing a sense of security and social and economic mobility (see for example, the Low-income Housing Institute in Seattle which offers the homeless homes and social and educational services). While I don’t want to pose solutions or even one solution over another and it’s clear that a multi-pronged approach is important to homelessness (the Compass Clara House program houses only 13 families for up to 2 years) , it is also clear that asking homeless people what they want and designing opportunities around these needs is essential. Clearly the biggest thing homeless people need is a place to live. In Salt Lake City and in other cities around the country, they are indeed designing housing for the homeless (see Mother Jones).

Therefore Twitter, with city government sponsorship, should consider using its new  3 million dollar project to house the people it has displaced, that is poor families in San Francisco—which to no surprise, would be more expensive than a learning center. Or, they should hire these newly trained poor female clients, at Twitter, at the same salaries as their powerful young white male tutors, so they can actually afford a home in the inflated housing market in SF.

While telecommunication/social media giants are fascinated by how highly mobile and very marginalized populations like homeless adults and teens or migrant workers use technology (for example here here, and here )  as part of finding new markets, the focus should instead be on their stability. Although attempting to develop, what one recent article characterized as a “comfortable” and “homier space” the new learning center is called a “nest” as if people, like birds, are supposed to move in and out, after laying their virtual golden eggs. See for example the branding with the bird house and the twitter bird:

Twitter NeighborNest branding-jpg

But is this really enough?

Care and Emotional Work Across Borders Through ICTs

Here’s my newest research and writing!

This case study of fifty women immigrants in Washington state focuses on the ingenious emotional strategies they engaged in with their left-behind families to care at a distance and the problematic ways the information and communication technology (ICTs) mediated these relationships across space and time. The study draws on a feminist transnational framework and an extended case method approach to understand the emotional dimensions and meanings of care by separated members and the ways the social technologies, and other factors, shaped these transnational spaces and interactions.

The study utilizes ethnographic methods (interviews, informants, journals, focus groups, documentary analysis, and informal observations) and both a thematic and narrative analyses to glean patterns across the women’s experiences as well as unique qualities. The themes and narratives of the participants demonstrated that these ICT-mediated interactions contained “conundrums:” 1) ICTs enabled “communication chains” that were essential for women immigrants caring for their families but which did not resolve problems; 2) Transnational family who interacted more regularly and through multiple modalities experienced an “embodied social presence” that made the care, more real, from afar but didn’t resolve emotional tensions inherent in relationships; 3) The existence of ‘hidden emotions” that resulted from the unacknowledged affective work of caring through ICTs; and, 4) the important roles mothers played as agents in their daughter’s migration.

In its simplest terms “care at a distance constitutes practices that often last for longer periods, sometimes for years and even semi-permanently, and that tend to transform as a result of their protracted duration” (Leifsen & Tymczuk, 2012, p. 220). Although a myriad of care practices are involved (for example sending financial remittances or giving information), I highlight the ICT-based contact and the rituals around giving and receiving emotional support and help (Leifsen & Tymczuk, 2012; Levitt & Lambe, 2011). When I refer to “distance” I include the differences of geographic locations and time zones (so many miles away and across national borders), but I emphasize emotions and link these to family members’ degree of relatedness.

This “relatedness” is based on the emotion work (such as attentiveness) that members put in to maintain the relationships and any outcomes associated with it, such as a sense of belonging, or, like in Ana’s case, a sense of exclusion (Licccoppe, 2004). In this sense, “distance” constitutes members’ shared understanding of the nature of the participant’s migration, and whether or not it was unpredicted and forced or expected and voluntary and the effect of this understanding on the relationship. Furthermore, members also have a shared understanding that the separation between them is either temporary or permanent and which also translates to the world of emotions. Resultantly, members may invest less or more emotionally depending on these circumstances and consciously or unconsciously achieve more or less “affective distance.” For example, the au pairs in this study were expected by their middle-class parents to leave the “nest” in their 20s in order to become more cosmopolitan and accrue cultural cache in the U.S. and they excitedly and warmly engaged with their parents who encouraged them to fly the roost, while some of the house cleaners never expected to leave their families, migration imposed on them as a necessity for the family’s collective survival. Many of their calls tended to be scripted to contain the complex emotions of being so far away and for so long and ended sadly for the loss of the physical relationships.

Perhaps the most evocative sense of distance within transnational families is styled in Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us. Through symbols, she illustrates both a sense of brokenness and connection of family relationships especially during periods of not communicating—the protagonist reflects on something her sister told her: She said that my umbilical cord was like a ribbon that connected me to Mami. She said, “it doesn’t matter that there’s distance between us now. That cord is there forever.” In this book and in others, the ICT-based communication is viewed literally as a type of umbilical cord, what Lippoccope (2004), calls, a “nurturing link” keeping separated families together, and it certainly is romanticized by sending countries who export their citizens (Parrenas, 2005). Yet this link can just as easily be severed and may be more capricious, as Reyna learned soon after her mother left for, “al otra lado (the “other side”), not seeing her for many years.

Members may experience moments rather than permanent states of “virtual intimacies (Wilding, 2006), depending on the quality of relatedness and the circumstances surround their distance and separation, but also logistical factors like full and reliable access to ICTs.

Theme 1: Communication Chains Transnational families had “communication chains” that were essential for caring at a distance, but which did not resolve problems. These communication chains however were different than “chain migration,” which concentrates on migration decisions within people’s personal networks; although in many instances, participants and their family members recruited one another to migrate, the focus here is on passing on family news in the post-migration stage, within and across borders. This act was a form of “social insurance” to tell everyone that everything was OK (or not) on the other side and it provided a sense of “being” in the family. However it was not an insurance policy to the degree that it guaranteed safety, wellbeing and recovery of losses. The communication chains were evident during health crises and also for cultural transmission of traditions and family values, which made each member feel, as one participant explained, “to be united,” but also for transmitting new values. Passing on critical family information was a way for members to stay informed and (virtually) close-at-hand. During health crises family members depended on the news being delivered by a trusted member. I call these trusted members of family news and information, “operators.” An analysis of operators showed that they tended to be women, often, older siblings, on both sides of the border who had some available resources or had worked out ingenious systems of placing themselves in key informational roles so that members contacted them and/or responded to them first. They were also viewed as reliable. Although their social status in the family was solid, their own feelings about their role as operator could be conflicted; an example is Ana who had the resources to stay in touch with everyone in the family, passed on news and did far more, even though she felt her emotion work was unappreciated and, even with all her contact, did not ultimately resolve problems associated with the intimacy she so desired. With one entrusted member, families could consolidate and pass on important information from afar, knowing it would be received and accurate. Not only that, but, the practice of communicating this news, along with family remittances could save lives. For immigrant operators, those siblings left behind taking care of elderly parents were critical in terms of exchanging news about their parents’ health conditions. They also gave information to the operator about the contexts and conditions in which they were living, the effects of remittances and other issues. It would be important to also see these operators, too, as responsibilized individuals bearing the burdens of global inequities, that is, the immigration policies that immobilize and separate families.

Theme 2: An Embodied Social Presence Transnational family who interacted more regularly and through multiple modalities experienced a type of “embodied social presence” (Mennecke et al, 2014) that made the interactions seem more real, from afar but didn’t resolve distance or tensions inherent in the relationships. The in-built audio-visual dimensions enabled the parties to more easily establish cues than through phones, although not always, as Octavia’s case shows—she could detect her mother’s breathing as evidence of her withholding of emotions. The transparency of this cueing enabled each party to “care about” (demonstrate interest, attention and inquire about someone’s problem) each other more easily as well as “care for” (providing direct help) (Tronto, 1993). For example a number of the participants and their families back home used webcams to show areas of their bodies that were hurt, healed or, showed strain, or, even more subtle issues, such as exhaustion in the eyes and face, that enabled the other party to have a clearer understanding of their problems. They could keep their webcams on and develop a type of continuous “transconnectivity” across borders (King, 2015). This enabled a responsiveness that kept each member in the present moment; in other words, it gave each person more of a sense of psychological immersion in the virtual care space. In a sense, they could have a sense of: “being there, being with another body, and having a feeling of self-presence” despite being so far away (Biocca, 1997). What’s important though, is that it did not resolve emotional tensions that were pre-existing or had developed after the person or other family members migrated. In other words, a greater social presence did not necessarily lead to a greater emotional presence. This was because the expressive actions with family through heavy use of online communication appeared to weaken the density of their ties (Lin, 2001). This was most evident through the participants’ and their families’ uses of Facebook. It was easy for family networks to flow into friend networks on Facebook and for much of the communication to be in a similar vein with a similar tone of announcing events and posting news that was informational that actually decreased emotional involvement. Time after time the participants, who were in relationships that seemed to be dissolving, or significantly weakening, ended up on Facebook, with the intention only to share photographs, check in, and make announcements. This effect of achieving an embodied social presence but not an emotional presence is evident in research showing that streaming Skype on webcam all day and all night long, as some transnational couples do, has been found to actually de-intensify emotional connections (King, 2015).  

Theme 3: The Existence Of Hidden Emotions There were hidden emotions involved in caregiving by family members through ICTs that were not always rewarded or reciprocated. These hidden emotions were often ones that participants couldn’t or didn’t always articulate but existed in the background of their narratives. These resulted from the difficulties of having to exert extra emotion work to care through ICTs to care for family. The ICTs required the participants to be engaged in more regular as well as intensive emotion work to make the intimacy and care robust, but which was not considered by the participants, as “work.” Instead it could be considered the “hidden curriculum” of being in a transnational family. Unpaid work that is done in a wage economy, which is not “counted”, has been normalized in society to the extent that it usurps so many daily activities. This hidden labor for the general public now includes everything from checking out groceries to commuting to work—making it more of a no-service economy than one of “self-service” or, public service—the burden of work being passed on to individuals (Lambert, 2011). It is additional work for those like the immigrants in the study, who lack many individual resources and were “outsiders” (that made asking for help even more difficult) and so they had to rely on themselves. A new area of “work” is, “digital labor” (Schotz, 2012) because the public’s engagement with ICTs is an unpaid commodity within a digital capital society, although it is rarely considered to be “work.” In this study, the participants engaged their digital labor to care for their separated families at a distance through ICTs. Maintaining and managing family connections are done as part of women’s felt responsibility, which through ICT based practices, “amplifies local practices of what it means to be intimate” (Horth, 2012, p. 38). Jennifer Hjorth (2012, p. 38) reminds us that “while domestic technologies can physically leave the home, they are still symbolic of sociocultural notions of what constitutes a household economy and the attendant forms of intimacy.” Yet the participants who were engaged the most discounted their labor, and instead of feeling like “net slaves” they tended to see the “internet as magic” (Francisco, 2015) for its connective properties across the miles—not surprising with the discourse of creativity and appreciation that surrounds the political economy of this technology (King, 2010; Fuchs & Sevignani, 2013). What’s important is that although ICTs have been dubbed as, “affective technologies” (see, Silva, 2012), in fact it is the emotional displays performed by the participants—in other words, their electronic emotion work— that make these ICT devices—phones and computers work. In emphasizing the machines, the social agents who maintain them exist in the hidden depths.

Theme 4: The Important Roles of Left Behind Mothers The “left behind mothers” in the study were active agents in the migration experience of their immigrant daughters regardless of the level and depth of their contact. Their mother-adult child relationship differed across the participants dramatically, as we’ve seen, but these mothers were not, what is commonly thought of as, “left-behind baggage” (Goulborne, et al., 2010; White, et al, 2011), on the receiving end of care. Most of the calls made to left behind family members were usually directed to the participants’ mothers. This was because they were often implicated in their initial decisions to migrate, as one participant described: “The situation is bad and tough…she supported me to come here.” The participants felt that calling their mothers was very important to help them maintain their connection overall to their families, even if she was the only one with whom they spoke. The content of their conversations was often secondary: “It’s more of the relationship and talk, just talk and share our week or whatever talk about our plans, what is happening in our lives.” Another said: “I call her two times a day using Facetime. I need it to talk to her.” Talking everyday could become a yardstick of the relationship, like one participant who said: “I talk to my mom every day, Email, are you okay, are you still there? If I do not communicate for a couple of days,”mom are you alive, are you still there?” They needed to keep family relations strong and by talking specifically to their mothers who were the centerpieces of the family (although not necessarily the operators), it made it more meaningful. Reversely, it was important for parents who were left-behind to provide long distance support to their adult children, especially those who were younger and single. One participant said, “When I need support, they are always there. To make myself stronger, if I am having a hard time I know they are there and they will be there for me. I know they are far. However, the communications at times left them feeling sad especially when there were celebrations that they could not attend, like one participant who said, “If it is bad or good I feel sad I miss it, I am not there. Weddings, birthdays, lots of things.” The mothers on the other hand, might tell their daughters everything or they might not divulge details, with sibling “operators” telling the participants more. For those without extensive ICT-based contact, mothers still played important roles, especially in sustaining their children’s settlement in the U.S. They may, as Yolanda and Octavia’s mothers suggested, return or visit, with daughter and mother knowing this would probably never happen—many of these being sentiments of love rather than actual plans.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to graduate research assistants at WWU, Melina Zahalka and Mariam Rashid for their assistance with the data analysis for this research.

Birthdays, Transnational Families and ICTs

Having a 4-year old girl who is fascinated by birthday parties, I rarely see a children’s book on this topicprincess joy that isn’t sickly sweet and pink–most are miniature barbies.  Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash by Monica Brown/Sara Palcios (illustrator) isn’t one of those. The main protagonist dresses in soccer, pirate, and princess clothes destroying all gender stereotypes in one fell swoop. Although the clothes theme and the birthday theme are paramount here (when interviewed on NPR and other places Brown talks extensively about this), the real focus is on family, cultural transmission, with the computer technology functioning in the background of these relationships. Here Marisol, a U.S. born inter-racial girl is so tired of talking to her grandmother in Peru on the phone because the “telephone connection breaks up, and I can’t even hear her voice”  and she finally gets a chance to “see” her grandmother after two years on her birthday. Here Marisol hugs the computer screen:

Marisol hugging computer screen copy

“¡Feliz compleaños Marisol,” she says and we both laugh. “I’m still waiting for my visa, but I used some of the money you sent to buy my very first computer and get an internet connection. Now we can talk and sing together and I can see your pretty face all the time.” “Te quiero mucho,” I tell aburelita, “I love you so much.” Then I give the computer screen a great big abrazo” 

This new view of intimacy through ICTs for grandchildren that is shared among transnational families who, separated by immigration policies, have to find creative ways to communicate, share feelings, and love one another across the miles, even if it seems to us like salty “seconds.” Marisol’s experience however is unlike anything I’ve seen or heard.

In my study, the children of parents who migrated often fail to develop close relationships with grandparents left behind because of the lack of communication, language, and shared daily lives that no amount of computers or phones can compensate. A number of these children have never actually seen their grandparents although they do see pictures and hear their parents talk about them. More than one mother in my study told me her children pass back the phone quickly to her or refuse to talk in the first place. These parents feel hurt when this happens. Yet they are adamant about their children speaking Spanish in the home not because they plan to return but because they believe it is the right thing to do in terms of cultural transmission and it has the potential to create better bonds across the generations. When asked, many mothers however confessed that their school-age children knew how to speak, read a bit, but not write in Spanish, leaving oral transmission through information and communication technologies one of a very few options for these children. In addition, none of their schools taught Spanish language literacy. Birthdays were often opportunities to call and talk to parents and sometimes, as some participants told me, they would discuss traditional foods they ate.

Unlike, Marisol, few of the parents who were low-skilled (of these, most had an elementary level of education) used Skype or web-based services to communicate with their family  because of either not knowing how to use it or not having access in their home due to resources or an internet connections inside or on the other end–across the border. For the ones who depended on these mostly for their communication, they admitted it could feel a bit empty—much of this connected to the device itself–computers were much less depended on for family communication than phones. One father I spoke with lived in a shelter in Seattle. He admitted he didn’t want a computer because it would be “too heavy” and would prefer facebooking his 14-year old son in Mexico on his smartphone that uses the wifi signal of the Home Depot he stands in front of regularly trying to get a construction job. He says good morning and good night to him and when his son facebooks back, he knows that he is “there.” This migrant worker can’t afford any more than this type of communication and he has “settled” for this level of intimacy. Any more might mean his son could learn in fact he wasn’t just renting a room in a boarding house. Marisol, like the other children I’ve seen while I do interviews in people’s homes, seem acutely aware of the emotional distance between themselves and these far-away family members in a way that the parents, who are forcing the ties from a long way away, make themselves believe are relevant. The social presence, of just letting someone know they are still alive seems like where the ICTs best function.

skyping a reindeer

skyping a reindeer

These women’s ICT interactions were significantly different from the high-skilled immigrants I interviewed who used Skype often and frequently to talk to their families, even having dinner conversations with one another across the miles–as I did when I lived in England. I’ve found that high-skilled migrants make myriad digital connections, and rarely use one format. But there are some differences too. I rely on email for personal messages to friends as if they were letters, with greetings and endearments—and this may be because as an academic, I spend a general large amount of time on the computer itself. In my research hardly any of the women who were low-skilled— care givers or house cleaners or farmworkers used emailing to friends and family members, but instead used it only for business purposes as a part of a ‘record’, and this went for those women who were highly skilled and frequent and advanced users of digital media making me wonder if emailing is a strictly American thing or a ‘professional’ behavior of people, who are on the computer a lot.  One woman said she had an email account but never really checked it, and this was something echoed by a number of other women, high-skilled and low-skilled. The other issue is that when a computer exists in a home, children often use it and this was the case for many women who owned a computer, even if they knew how to use it.

Back to the children, in fact I’m on Skype so much my daughter drew a picture of her favorite stuffy (of the week), “reindeer” and me skyping her on my computer. The children in my study who I had the chance to meet while interviewing their parents in their homes wanted to use Skype to communicate even if their parents never did. Yet their birthdays, for better or worse, were defined more by who was immediately in front of them.

“Think Like a Job!” An Education for Au Pairs in the U.S.

domestica jpg

Picture from the cover of Domestica, by Hondagneu-Sotelo

Any search for “au pairs” online produces a mix of companies advertising to middle and upper-class parents in the U.S. or ones recruiting overseas young female recent graduates, promising a win-win match. For example one website reassures that:

“Au pair” means “on par” or equal. Au pairs and Educare companions are international visitors who   travel to the United States on a J-1 Visitor Exchange Visa to acquire a better understanding and appreciation of American life while living with an American family and caring for their young children…Au pairs and companions become full-fledged family members, sharing a cultural exchange experience that often leads to a lasting relationship with the host family.

Many of these companies, promise childcare that is highly skilled (young educated women) but that is, cheap, disposable, bonded labor, paying significantly under most state laws for minimum wage: for example thereby exploiting the social problem of inaccessible childcare in society and enabling the flow of a feminized skilled migrant labor force through the U.S. visa system for the professional classes. au pair image

Further down the google search starts the sexy stories of middle-class families and au pairs, for example, how one parent came out of the closet through her au pair and silly fillms like, Au Pair: Adventures in Paradise

Then, of course, there is the research, much of it focused on the EU, for example, Rosie Cox’s provacative study, The Servant Problem: Domestic Employment in a Global Economy and her highly recommended forthcoming edited book: Au Pairs’ Lives in Global Contexts: Sisters or Servants. There are also U.S. perspectives on au pairs, many of these on the Eastern seaboard for example the recent study of Cameron Macdonald’s called: Shadow Mothers.  And although caregivers and cleaners have been focused on together in the 1990s, for example the classic study in California by Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo, Domestica and Rhacel Parrenas’ Servants of Globalization also focuses on the LA area (as well as Rome), my research focuses on the Pacific Northwest specifically Washington state which is known as a “gateway” for high-skilled immigrants and yet with little information specifically on women immigrants’  experiences. While these studies focus on the exploitative labor of these women, spotlighting globalization pressures and the ways this group become disposable in the new economy (see for example, Grace Chang’s famous, Disposable Domestics)  this study moves beyond this perspective to examine the women’s capabilities, educational trajectories, career strategies and social mobilities, within a framework of skilled female migration theory (see, Parvati Raghuram and Eleanor Kofman’s work for example).

This blog is about the problematic ways higher education, migration systems, and global labor markets intertwine in immigrant women’s career trajectories. Using a case study that began in 2014 of ten au pairs, I illustrate their struggles as they attempted to gain opportunities but lost ground. Valerie, a new au pair to Seattle, Skypes her parents daily in Mexico City. She speaks softly because her room is next to the children’s. Their advice helps her adapt to her difficult situation—they say, “Valerie, It’s a job. It’s not like you’re going to have fun. You have to deal with them. Think like a job.”

“Them” refers to her host-parents. Valerie initially believed that her doctor employers were her parents-away-from-home —terminology that her recruiters used to reinforce au pairs’ cultural exchange, their status as students and ‘big sisters’ to other people’s children (Pai, 2004; Cox, 2006; forthcoming). Although Valerie ate dinner with this family she questioned their working relationship when they left her dirty dishes and ignored her aching back. Valerie is not an, ‘employee’ under her J-1 visa making her work-based problems invisible. What I mean by “skilled” immigrants are those having tertiary education and professional occupations like Valerie. Yet highly skilled women immigrant’s stories have yet to be told.

All participants were either from Mexico or South American countries  and they either had university degrees or were working towards these in their home countries. Moreover, their disciplines were in non-feminized areas (industrial design, graphic design, law, journalism medicine, science, and engineering). They believed they needed leverage to compete in the “global auction” of professional jobs (Stromquist and Monkman 2000); learning English could tip the scales to being hired by multinational corporations as one participant articulated. Feminist transnational migration theorists (Kofman et al, 2000 Pratt, 2004, Raghuram, 2004; Mahler & Pessar, 2006) see female skilled migration as an invisible stream of labor from south to north whereupon women become deskilled in doing dirty, dangerous, domestic labor in the “global care chain” (Hochschild, 2000). These jobs prevent their advancement (author, 2013). Gender selectivity is the tendency for women over men to receive higher education and migrate to make returns on it (Feliciano, 2008; Jubany, 2009; Kanaiaupuni, 2000). However they often get stuck in dead end jobs in social reproductive fields. All of the au pairs represented skilled migration chains that begin with higher education degrees that raise expectations and create debt, involve personal network influences, and recruiters who promise opportunities.

Three patterns have been found so far: 1) au pair work, viewed initially as a career launching pad was often experienced as a dead end that led to participants’ deskilling. The J-1 visa is limited to six non-credit courses worth $500, leaving au pairs to reapply for international F-1 student visas within bonded labor positions; their employers determining their opportunity structures 2) Women studying in non-feminized subject specialties had limited career opportunities and support in their home countries and were pulled into feminized areas upon becoming au pairs, for example childcare and social work 3) Technology played an important role in the migration of these women and their experiences in the U.S. including the ways they communicated with their biological and host families in addition to the ways it was used for information-seeking and strategizing.

Why is this research important? Highly educated women often become deskilled when they migrate as illustrated in a 2012 report of the International Organization for Migation, called, Crushed Hopes: Underemployment and Deskilling Among Skilled Migrant Women. The au pair participants were paid only $197.00 for 45 hours of work which is less than half of the minimum wage in Washington state, leaving them without support to advance. The commodification of their lives is unmistakeable. The au pairs exercised their agency by becoming strategic with their visas. However this did not transform their situations. Larger structural reforms are needed at the international level to turnaround the dead ends that skilled immigrant women experience upon migrating.

“I Wish I was a Bird:” Migrant Workers Communicating with Their Transnational Families

Skagit Valley - Migrant Farm Workers At a recent symposium I developed with a team of adult educators on food justice and popular education, immigrant labor rights activist, Rosalinda Guillen, (Executive Director of Community to Community), talked about the various flower festivals happening on the west coast and across the world in the spring time but without credit to the exploited workers picking and processing them. Their invisibility, as she put it, makes it safe for agribusiness to carry on and even criminalize workers who try to make themselves known through protest or unionizing, for example,see the Sakuma Brothers strike led by Familias Unidas

For readers who return after a long day to clean homes with fresh flowers and bowls of fruit, it’s important to consider the ‘broken bodies’ behind them as Seth Holmes illustrates in:  Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies:Migrant Farmworkers in the United States —- how unsafe it is for migrant workers in both farms and service industries–it is their wrath. This is the plight of many immigrants I am currently interviewing today about their lives and struggles, as they carry the burdens of American society as well as those of their families back home.  Through my research and advocacy I hope to support their struggles, and be part of ‘harvesting justice’ and stopping wage theft.

This blog follows from my study (2006-2010) of highly skilled migrants who were low-paid care workers in England communicating at a distance with their families for support,  based mainly in India, Poland, and the Philippines but also in the states, Canada, Australia and throughout the EU.

None of the participants in this English study had family living in Mexico and none of these workers had anything less than a Bachelor’s degree and all of them had professional qualifications and careers before migrating. However, like the Philippines, Mexico is a very large care labor exporter country of women (to the U.S.) due to similar structural adjustment policies and the impacts of underemployment, poverty, and debt in families. International Migrants Day- Flash Mob

While this feminization of migration may be normalized from these selective countries, it still changes dynamics in these families and often feels to them, as anything but normal. This is especially true at a time when back and forth migration is prohibitive among Mexican workers leaving phones and computers as the only way to communicate with family back home. This feeling is exaggerated in a virtual space, where ‘social presence’ is demanded but with a lack nonverbal cues. I’ll come back to this.

My current U.S. pilot study, focuses on those migrant workers  (documented and undocumented) with less education, and their communication strategies with their transnational families living in Mexico and around the U.S.—how they communicate and why, the ways their families changed after they emigrated, the effects of their work on their communication, as well as what they learn from their away-families, and the supports they offer for their adaptation and mobility. Family separation and reunification are headlined now with recent stories of Mexican and Central American children crossing the border to search for their emigrant parents.

I’ve interviewed fifteen women so far, all of whom only have a primary education, and work in house cleaning or small factories (in Seattle) or in agriculture or restaurants (in rural and semi-rural areas) in Whatcom county—both areas having high percentages of Mexican immigrants. I’ve also interviewed stay-at-home moms who have a number of children but want to work.

The history of Mexican migrant workers in Washington has almost always been associated with working in the fields and this study offers an array of pictures of migration in this state (http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=7901 and http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/farmwk_intro.htm). Washington has had a long history of Mexican migration but has recently had a surge, and which is Washington’s largest minority. However there are other Latino populations and in some areas like Yakima Valley, Latinos make up majority populations–there are over 600,000 Latinos in Washington state currently  and that number is expected to rise (http://www.k12.wa.us/CISL/pubdocs/historylatinopacificnorthwest.pdf). Washington state however has been hit like many other states by record level deportations and hunger strikes have occurred in detention centers (see: http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/2014/05/12/undocumented-leaders-of-nwdc-resistance-meet-with-members-of-house-judiciary-committee-and-homeland-security-officials-in-dc-lawsuit-withdrawn-organizing-continues/).

The deportations have struck fear and intimidation in many of the participants in my study who worry about their livelihoods and those of their families. One of the women participants’ husband was deported to Mexico 3 years ago leaving her with four children, one of whom is a 15-year old who watches them while their mother works both as a hotel maid and a berry picker. Although the husband tried to return, he was injured while crossing the border and now is disabled and can hardly work. She does not know where he lives or how to get in touch with him.

There are also many barriers to their economic and social mobility including a segregated labor market, high housing prices, not to mention institutionalized racism and exclusion.

The sample for this study comes entirely from community-based organizations located in and around Seattle and Bellingham. In addition, I gave two workshops and focus groups in these organizations on communication with transnational familes to test the concepts in the interview protocol and to further select participants. These focus groups and workshops, consisting of a total of  15 participants were conducted in Spanish by myself and interpreters with notes and discussions after about what was learned  (thanks to Brenna Uzcategui and Ivette Bayo).

The focus group and workshop demonstrated that women migrants are active communicators with family abroad, using ingenious methods to give help, support and receive it, as well as to be in touch with them. Their methods of communicating are not only verbal but include sending gifts, cards, money, and other things plus visits (although more infrequent for those who are undocumented), in addition to phone calls. texts, emails, and facebook interactions. The local Mexican stores might dictate how much they could send with the discounts they offered. When things were sent through the mail, however, they might not know if in fact it was delivered intact but that its receipt was important, especially children’s items which were extremely expensive to buy (even if it was produced in Mexico).

The interview instrument is in Spanish, which I give and the interpreters explain to me the women’s responses and assist with follow-up questions. It is essential that the interviews are in Spanish because it encourages the women to express themselves better, even if they understand a little English. Their English fluency is relatively low in comparison to the British migrant sample. The interviews revealed more in-depth information.

Economics dominated most of the transnational family communication. It starts with the phone which offers a number of cheaper options than other  communication channels. The phone is the primary means of verbal communication, preferred also for the emotionality of voice but also immediacy and trust-worthiness for information. Yet the phone reduces visual emotional markers as would the internet. Phone calls were made through phone cards and were longer when the migrant worker called Mexico. Some phone calls in Mexico were picked up by what the women called, ‘public phones.’ These phones were in people’s homes and required payment in order to use them. Texts were used less often and could also be expensive to send and receive from Mexico. This was especially the case for families living in southern Mexico states like Oaxaca. There was a stark difference in opportunity structures and communication channels of the women who originally came from more rural areas in the south vs. those who came from, or had family living in or around Mexico City and in a couple of the industrial northern states.

Computers were not used as much due mainly to their Mexican families not having access to wifi and broadband, especially in small towns. It was also due to the fact that a number of women had  few opportunities to actively use computers—even ones that owned them. The interviews have revealed that the communication channels and strategies are more complex than just one person calling another across borders.

Transnational families develop communication chains through phone calling, with one trusted member in the states or in Mexico revealing information across distributed settings, and all over the world. This especially happens when a family experiences a crisis such as health problems, car accidents, or deaths.  A crisis could bring a family together or, without any communication, or, the wrong type,  fall apart. Also the amount of calls and the contact is predicated on the type of relationship that was established in the pre-migration stage, much of that related to psycho-social factors. One woman felt alienated from her family as a young girl and which continued into adulthood, when members refused her phone calls to them, and only ‘liked’ her on Facebook.

Many of the women had big families with adult siblings divided between Mexico and California and Washington as well as other states. A number of the women came to Washington state through California, where their immediate and extended family lived in agricultural areas, and were current or former farm workers. These families were often more in touch, being on the same time zone and not as far from one another although they did not see one another as much because of their work schedules and the resources needed for travel. Others had families in the midwest and a few on the East Coast. A few women had no family at all in the states and were pioneers in their families but did not encourage their siblings to follow them, due to the hard circumstances they endured when they first emigrated. Without being asked, one woman told her brutal story of crossing the border and the angst and upset associated with not being able to cross again, especially to see her ailing parents.

Talking about their parents, many of the women, broke down in tears because their communication was very limited, due to where the parents lived (for example small towns ruled out good internet infrastructure) and couldn’t actually see them ‘live’. They sent home money, called when they could, and tried to establish good relations from far away. One woman’s mother said she wished she could be a ‘bird’ who could fly across to see her daughter. Her mother was caring for her very ill husband and couldn’t be in “two places at once.”

This woman participant lived in the middle of berry fields with her children and a large extended family, many of whom were or currently are, farm workers, in a farm house. As I drove away, with Brenna, from one interview, we noticed a large white truck parked next to her house with a man covered completely in protective gear, and wondered to what extent this woman and her children sacrificed to be in  the U.S.

Thank you goes to Araceli Hernandez  of Casa Latina.