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(Be)laboring Childhoods in Postville, Iowa

From: Anthropological Quarterly
Volume 86, Number 3, Summer 2013
pp. 851-889 | 10.1353/anq.2013.0044

Abstract

Abstract:

By examining a flagrant case of “child” migrant labor in a meatpacking facility, this article addresses the cultural politics of global childhood. Conflicting constructions of childhood first emerged informally within kin and community networks. Community-based constructions were later overshadowed and delimited in a child labor trial that took place two years after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE) raided Agriprocessors, the town’s major employer. I trace the shifting contours of cultural and legal battles over childhood and forms of citizenship that, in microcosm, speak to on-going debates over immigration and economic policies tying the United States to Guatemala.

During a year of political campaigning, the Guatemalan president is assailed by reporters who hurl questions at him asking why he thinks he deserves to be re-elected. “You failed to keep your promise about improving the economy,” one reporter accused. The president, looking shocked and offended, replies, “What do you mean!?! Since I took office the economy has grown; now everyone has a job. Look!” he exclaimed, indicating a niño de la calle (street child) busily washing a parked car nearby. (Guatemalan political satire, originally circulated via a major Guatemalan national newspaper)