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Immigration and Women

Understanding the American Experience

Susan Pearce, Elizabeth Clifford, Reena Tandon

Publication Year: 2011

The popular debate around contemporary U.S. immigration tends to conjure images of men waiting on the side of the road for construction jobs, working in kitchens or delis, driving taxis, and sending money to their wives and families in their home countries, while women are often left out of these pictures. Immigration and Women is a national portrait of immigrant women who live in the United States today, featuring the voices of these women as they describe their contributions to work, culture, and activism.

Through an examination of U.S. Census data and interviews with women across nationalities, we hear the poignant, humorous, hopeful, and defiant words of these women as they describe the often confusing terrain where they are starting new lives, creating architecture firms, building urban high-rises, caring for children, cleaning offices, producing creative works, and organizing for social change. Highlighting the gendered quality of the immigration process, Immigration and Women interrogates how human agency and societal structures interact within the intersecting social locations of gender and migration. The authors recommend changes for public policy to address the constraints these women face, insisting that new policy must be attentive to the diverse profile of today's immigrating woman: she is both potentially vulnerable to exploitative conditions and forging new avenues of societal leadership.

Published by: NYU Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication Page

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The authors would first and foremost like to thank the many women who were gracious and generous enough to share their stories with us; without these “immigrating women,” there would have been no Immigration and Women. While some are named in this book, others chose anonymity, and we use pseudonyms to refer to them. We thank all equally. Second, we gratefully...

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1. “We Can’t Go Back”: Immigrant Women, Intersections, and Agency

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pp. 1-15

In 1836, a young Polish woman named Ernestine Susmond Potowski Rose made her way across the Atlantic to her chosen destination, the United States. Her exit from Poland was prompted by her adamant refusal to agree to an arranged marriage. Ernestine had filed a lawsuit against her father, a Jewish rabbi, over control of her inheritance; she arrived, consequently,...


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2. “Your Story Drops on You”: Who Are These Women?

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pp. 19-43

It is 1774, in Great Britain. A woman named Ann Lee has finally convinced her brothers and husband to migrate with her to the American colonies. Although illiterate, Ann is nonetheless familiar with the legal philosophy of English judge William Blackstone, who insisted that “[t]he very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during marriage, or at...


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3. “I Had to Start Over”: Entering through the Front Door

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pp. 47-75

In 1970, Anica and her family left Romania, fleeing the persecution they experienced there as Jews. After spending a few months in Vienna, they arrived in the United States, settling in Baltimore. On a stopover in New York City, Anica saw the Statue of Liberty, which, she said, is the symbol of hope for every soul that can breathe behind the Iron Curtain. . . . It stands for freedom; you can go anywhere you want. It stands for...

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4. “I Had to Leave My Country One Day”: Entering through the Back Door

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pp. 77-100

Reyna Gómez was perched on a cozy sofa in her small Miami, Florida, apartment, eagerly and passionately reciting the details of her biography: “It was hard to come here. I had a good life in Honduras, working in a school. It was a rushed decision; I had to leave my country one day. They tried to run me over, kill me, so I had to leave. I didn’t want to come.” Her...


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5. “I Am Not Only a Domestic Worker; I Am a Woman”: Immigrant Women and Domestic Service

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pp. 103-127

Sarla, an immigrant from Nepal who worked there as an accountant, spoke contemplatively of her entrance into domestic service through an unexpected route and the dilemmas and questions she faced after coming to the United States in 2003: What do I tell you? We got trapped coming here. Our name came in the diversity lottery. Everyone said we were lucky. We gave up our life...

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6. “Mighty Oaks”: The Entrepreneurs

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pp. 129-158

On a sunny March afternoon, Los Angeles–area architect Rita Kalwani presents the offices of KAL Architects, the firm that she built, owns, and manages. Rita moves glowingly from room to room, describing the models and drawings on display that feature both past and current KAL projects; she pauses to introduce her father, a member of her firm, who is intensely...

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7. “There Is Still Work to Do”: Immigrant Women in Gender-Atypical Occupations

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pp. 159-175

Sitting in a café near the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, New York, Femi Agana explains how she became a carpenter. When she arrived in this country from England in 1983, she was originally pursuing a career in fashion. She had a fair amount of success, working first as a designer’s assistant and then on her own. One thing about going to a new place where I didn’t know the rules is that...

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8. “Always in Life, We Are Ripping”: Culture Work

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pp. 177-203

It is a balmy June evening in Miami, Florida. The monthly art walk offers the occasion for art enthusiasts to stroll leisurely from gallery to gallery, touring the latest works of Miami-area artists as they sip glasses of complimentary wine. On this evening’s self-guided tour but slightly off the beaten path is the GIL Gallery, where Cuban-born artist Lilian Fernandez,...


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9. “Misbehaving Women”: The Agency of Activism

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pp. 207-234

Haitian-born Marleine Bastien sits behind a desk in her busy Miami office of the organization Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami/Haitian Women of Miami (FANM), which she founded and directs. She has just finished an interview with a newspaper journalist, and her assistant reminds her of an upcoming meeting—signs of the many demands on her schedule. Posted behind her on...

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10. “Making History”: Drawing Conclusions, Looking Forward

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pp. 235-254

One of the final questions that we asked the women we interviewed was whether they consider themselves to be members of a community of immigrant women. We were struck by the number of women who said no or “I never thought about it.” Several women did say yes—and said it quite adamantly and proudly. And yet those repeated hesitations that we noticed offer...

Appendix A: Notes on Research Methods

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pp. 255-257

Appendix B: List of Interviewed Women

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pp. 259-261

Appendix C: Timeline: U.S. Immigration Policy and Women, 1875–2009

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pp. 263-264


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pp. 265-280


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pp. 281-299


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pp. 301-307

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About the Authors

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p. 309

Susan C. Pearce is Assistant Professor of Sociology at East Carolina University and coeditor of Reformulations: Markets, Policy, and Identities in Central and Eastern Europe and Mosaics of Change: The First Decade of Life in the New Eastern Europe. Elizabeth J. Clifford is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of American Studies at Towson University, where she is also the...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814768266
E-ISBN-10: 0814768261
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814767382
Print-ISBN-10: 0814767389

Page Count: 319
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 744333871
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Immigration and Women

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Immigrants -- Government policy -- United States.
  • Women immigrants -- United States.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration
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