Society for Cultural Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
In this paper, I extend research on gendered processes of social integration and belonging for Latina immigrant mothers in the United States (Menjívar 2000; Schmalzbauer 2014; Dyrness 2011). I argue that schools provide an important avenue for civic participation and inclusion for Latina immigrant mothers. Using observations and in-depth interviews in a northeastern city, I explore how schools may create openings for belonging and integration, and how my participants perceive and negotiate these spaces. In doing so, I contribute to scholarship on the meaning and experience of citizenship beyond binary legal definitions of citizen and non-citizen (Coutin 2013; Coll 2010; Rosaldo 1997). Throughout, I seek to document how schools as possible spaces of belonging are affected by the dual, and sometimes competing paradigms of an ostensibly welcoming Sanctuary City and exclusionary, anti-immigrant national policies and discourses.
Preliminary findings suggest that opportunities for informal connection and leadership are critical to mothers’ perceptions of participation, advocacy, and belonging. However, the district’s inclusionary efforts are limited by state mandates to undergo background checks before participating in classroom activities. This requires a Social Security number, producing unequal access to school-based participation for immigrant mothers. Schools, then, may help shift symbolic and social boundaries, enabling Latina immigrant mothers to claim their right to belong and participate in their communities even in a virulently anti-immigrant moment. Yet, as this study reveals, this inclusion and engagement is precisely what makes the exclusion from their children’s schools rendered by lack of a Social Security number so difficult.