Migrations Between Spaces in the Americas and Beyond

Barbara Fritz, Ingrid Kummels and Stefan Rinke, ed.,

Freie Universität Berlin

The migrations and mobility of people from different regional provenance, social status and with diverse access to financial and ‘cultural’ capital have for centuries been a determining factor in the history of the Americas. Americans have been and still are peoples on the move. The goods and ideas they took with them from one space to the other within and outside of the continent often determined their travels and migrations, creating and transforming spaces at the departure and the successive arrival regions and countries.

These movements between spaces have not yet been studied sufficiently on the basis of the following approach, which the contributors to this dossier share: They look into concrete spaces such as spaces of interconnection, spaces of the local and spaces of imagination as well as the actors who connect them as an analytical tool. They ask which movements and what actors have changed and transformed such spaces within America and its relations to other parts of the world in the historical longue durée from colonial times to the present. What cognitive, cultural and political concepts have been connected with these entanglements between spaces?

The articles presented here span the time period between the XVII and the XXI century. Certain periods point to a qualitative change in the effects and spaces created by migration, not only due to its quantitative increase or decrease, but because migration movements develop different forms (such as unidirectional, multidirectional and return migration) and because particular migrant groups and individuals have carved out spaces – also via imagination and related social practices – which transform the public sphere as well as social, economic and financial structures.

The articles ponder these questions from different disciplinary backgrounds. Historians, cultural studies scholars, cultural anthropologists, economists have joined forces to present fresh results of research into the problem of “between spaces” in the Americas and beyond. The focus is on the influence of transnational migrations of people, goods and ideas in shaping new spaces that reach beyond the national paradigm.

One approach adopted by the contributors of this volume is that of following the perspective of actors at the local level, since through local negotiations and transactions they are able to substantially contribute to changes in global constellations. These authors show how migrants recreate gender and ethnic identities beyond local, regional or state borders and therefore in relation to different gender and ethnic regimes. They build upon the scholarship of investigators such as Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (1994), who was one of the first to analyze gender as a fundamental social relation shaping migration in the transnational context of Mexico and the USA. Male migration prevalent in this context from the 1940s to 1960s was not a ‘given’, since national migration politics of both countries – as part of the global effort of nation-building in the past and present – first favored male mobility. So called guest-worker programs (directed exclusively to men) are an example of the way nation-states aligned their policies with male migration models. Until today nation-states tend to categorize and judge migration types according to allegedly mutually exclusive gendered categories (for example by opposing allegedly male “work immigration” to allegedly female “marriage immigration”). Migration opportunities are strengthened for those seen as legitimate and restricted for those classified as illegitimate.

As Hondagneu-Sotelo (1994) and others have shown, gendered migration politics favored by nation-states are, however, counteracted by simultaneous processes induced by individual migrants who move through time and space for highly diversified reasons. Conventional categories which rigidly oppose forced from voluntary migration and which discern economically from emotionally motivated migration are not able to render the complex dynamics of race, class, gender, age and sexuality that shape the process of identification experienced by individuals in diverse contexts and stages of migration. Current research by Nancy A. Naples, Salvador Vidal-Ortiz and Lionel Cantú (2009) as well as Laura Velasco Ortiz (2008) point to the ways the process of migration itself is related to the individuals’ gender and ethnic identities and their social status. The articles of Huth and Lidola also demonstrate that the public expression of gender and ethnic identity as well as sexual orientation is highly dependent on each individual’s social context. Gays’ integration in Tijuana and Brazilian migrant womens’ integration in Germany not only depend on acceptance among family and friends, educational degree or cultural background, but also on their degree of integration to the labor market and economic success they are able to attain as an individual. These articles remind us that the categories of ‘gay’ and ‘migrant women’ themselves must therefore not be mistaken with fixed entities, but that they instead have to be understood as part of shifting processes of identification (Anzaldúa 1987, Hall 1996 and Bhabha 1994).

A further approach to migration by the contributors of this volume consists of looking into the ways communities are based on national ‘identities’ and in how their artistic or public expressions are (re)imagined (Anderson 1983) and (re)created on the basis of translocal and transnational movements. Besides the press with its illustrated magazines, media practices such as the live performances of lucha libre exótica are identified as important vehicles used for expressing local, regional and national identities. Arjun Appadurai (1996) coined the concept of mediascapes for landscapes of communication which are deterrioralized since he believed that new forms of imagination of translocal and transnational communities are generated above all by electronic media. A historical perspective on globalization and the use of a broad concept of media which also includes live performance such as lucha libre and the popular press such as the yellow press and cheap novels enables the contributors of this volume to uncover the potentials which actors develop via media in the microspaces of urban contexts of Buenos Aires and Tijuana (see also Kummels 2012). Tossounian and Huth show how actors reimagine(d) gender and collectivities on this basis and how they the adapt(ed) global cultural flows such as the image of ‘the modern US-girl’ and the gay movement to specific local spaces, anchoring them there and embracing certain elements within local matrices of meaning, while rejecting others.

In his article “Ideas demográficas mercantilistas: Problemáticas poblacionales en torno a España y América en los siglos XVII y XVIII” the Argentine historian Mariano Bonilian(Universidad de Córdoba) explores the diffusion of mercantilist demographic thought in Spain and Spanish America in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. This thinking, as Bonialian shows convincingly, lay at the basis of the history of migrations and “non-migrations” in colonial America. In another article, historian Cécilia Tossounian (Freie Universität Berlin) investigates the migrations of images. In her case, the Images of the Modern Girl, from the Flapper to theJoven Moderna in Buenos Aires from 1920-1940 are at the center of interest. She demonstrates the significance of these images in constituting a transitional phase between tradition and modernity in which the Americas came to more closely interact with each other. Yolanda Minerva Campo Garcia’s article “La muñequita millonaria, Dolores del Río en Hollywood, vista por la prensa española especializada” links this notion back to Spain and discusses a triad of flows between Mexico, the US and Spain by analysing the role of the actress Dolores del Rio as exotic other in Hollywood cinema and her reception in the Spanish press in the 1930s and 1940s.

From a contemporary perspective, of course, these kind of interactions have grown considerably as Tabea Huth, a cultural anthropologist (Freie Universität Berlin) states in her article “Becoming La Chiquilla de Tijuana and Staging Contradictions: Ruby Gardenia’s Lucha Libre Exótica in a Mexican Border City”. Huth, who conducted long-term fieldwork in the Mexican border town of Tijuana, took both a close look at one internal migrant’s biography, that is of Fernando Covarrubias, who grew up in a small rural village in the western Mexican state of Nayarit, as well as into an arena which is normally considered to be an imminently national and masculine one in Mexico, lucha libre or Mexican wrestling. She shows how the process of migration implies crossing multiple borders including ethnic, cultural, and regional borders. In the course of these crossings migration not only impacts identification processes connected to cultural identities, but also on those related to gender and sexuality. The case of Fernando Covarrubias demonstrates how on one hand a repressed individual gender identity as gay played an important role as to his migrational process to Tijuana itself, since Covarrubias was forced to migrate because of his gender identity preference. On the other hand, immigration to Tijuana incited Covarrubias to integrate into the city’s vibrant travesty scene by presenting performances in the course of which he developed his performance alter-egos Jenny-Fer and Ruby Gardenia. By accessing venues formerly dedicated exclusively to masculine lucha libre as a gender ambiguous luchador exótico this particular migrant was not only able to acquire agency in a multifaceted interstice, but also contributes to re-imagining Tijuana. Luchador exótico Ruby Gardenia attracts a large and heterogeneous audience, thereby carving hirself (a term Huth prefers for being better suited than “himself” or “herself” to refer to Ruby Gardenia’s ambiguous gender identity) into the city’s public sphere and social structures. Huth’s close reading of the “exotic” wrestling practices of a gay immigrant in the border city Tijuana therefore demonstrate different dimensions of third spaces which only rarely are being systematically analyzed.

Maria Lidola, a cultural anthropologist (Freie Universität Berlin), also considers the interplay between migrants’ trajectories and – in her case – empowerment in the arena of work in a contribution scrutinizing “Changing Boundaries and Redefining Relations: Migration and Work Experiences of Brazilian Women in Germany”. Lidola considers the case of women migrants moving from Brazil to Germany as part of the most recent global phenomenon of a feminization of migration. During the current migration wave from Brazil, members of poorer social classes take advantage of their improved access to physical mobility and of the increasing interconnectedness. Stricter migration policies in certain countries have contributed to the growing diversification of Brazilians’ migratory destinations, leading them to direct themselves to Germany as well. Lidola shows how the lines with regard to what nation-states’ public spheres label as “marriage migration” and as a gate of entry for migrant women in reality are blurred. Two-thirds of the Brazilian migrants in Berlin are women and the majority of women had obtained their legal status through a family reunification visa, whereby these women have predominantly established a bi-national marriage with a German partner. Lidola, however, shows how they basically carve out a social space for the Brazilian diaspora in Germany by accessing the German labor market and succeeding in “having a job” (“Arbeit haben”). They take up the challenge of redefining boundaries in Germany’s gendered and ethnicized work field, where Brazilian women and Latin American women in general are often forced to work in the care and domestic sector since their professional degrees are not recognized by German law. It is through their engagement in such economic niches and by relating to and appropriating the German stereotype of the Brazilian woman who supposedly has an innate vocation for domestic work and child care that these migrant women open up room for agency with Germans. Lidola’s case study points to the gendered aspects and the multiple directions that migrations from Latin America in general have lately gained and the new diasporas that have been unwrapping due to these developments.

Mass migration to the US has deeply changed the societies and economies especially of Central America and the Caribbean. Remittances, which the money migrants send to their families back home, constitute a strong link connecting the Americas. Due to their high volume, these financial flows have turned into a major backbone of the economy especially in smaller and poorer countries of the region. In their article, the economists and political scientists Christian Ambrosius, Barbara Fritz and Ursula Stiegler (Freie Universität Berlin) study the impact of these specific transnational financial links on financial sector development, especially the question if poor families of migrants in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador gain better access to financial services.

In conclusion, this set of articles allow a glimpse into the multi-facetted dimensions in which ideas, images, and human beings and financial flows migrate and circulate between spaces in the Americas and beyond, mainly in Europe.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983. Print.

Anzaldúa, Gloria E. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987. Print.

Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996. Print.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. 1994. Print.

Hall, Stuart. “Who needs Identity?” Ed. Paul Du Gay and Stuart Hall. Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage, 1996. 1-17. Print.

Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette. Gendered Transitions. Mexican Experiences of Immigration. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994. Print.

Kummels, Ingrid , ed. Espacios mediáticos: cultura y representación en México. Berlin: Tranvía, 2012. Print.

Naples, Nancy A., Salvador  Vidal-Ortiz and Lionel Cantú , ed. The Sexuality of Migration: Border Crossings and Mexican Immigrant Men. New York: NY U P, 2009. Print.

Velasco Ortiz, Laura, ed. Migración, fronteras e identidades étnicas transnacionales. Mexico City: El Colegio de la Frontera Norte/Porrúa, 2008. Print.