Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
As border crossings become more difficult and more expensive, Kaqchikel Maya families are becoming transnational. Men’s extended absences are reshaping the roles of wives and (grand)mothers. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the Tecpán area, this paper explores the shifts in family dynamics and gendered expectations of women. For women who remain in Guatemala, being a “good” wife and mother now involves the affective work of both mothers and fathers. Women describe being ill-prepared to carry out this emotional labor, feelings that are often compounded by local perceptions of indigenous women as “vessels of culture,” responsible for socializing children in Kaqchikel-ness. As such, “proper” mothering in transnational contexts serves as an additional source of stress and offers community members the opportunity to critique mothers. While wives of transnational migrants navigate new expectations for mothers, they simultaneous must navigate shifting ways of demonstrating they are “good” wives. Increasingly, performance of Kaqchikel femininity in transnational spaces involves the use of social media platforms like Facebook. However, it is not only wives and mothers that find their roles redefined. Grandmothers now find themselves mothering grandchildren and their daughters-in-law in the extended absence of their migrant sons. Grandmothers’ increasing power, vis-à-vis remittances, may be mobilized to protect their daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Conversely, migrants’ wives also report how jealous mothers-in-law demean and subjugate them. This paper demonstrates how the work of (grand)mothering can simultaneously be a source of care and control in transnational families.