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A Jumble of Needs

Women’s Activism and Neoliberalism in the Colonias of the Southwest

Rebecca Dolhinow

Publication Year: 2010

Many immigrant communities along the U.S. border with Mexico are colonias, border settlements lacking infrastructure or safe housing. A Jumble of Needs examines the leadership of Mexican women immigrants in three colonias in New Mexico, documenting the role of NGOs in shaping women’s activism in these communities. Ethnographer Rebecca Dolhinow, who worked in the colonias, uncovers why such attempts to exercise political agency are so rarely successful.
Central to the relationship between NGOs and women activists in colonias, Dolhinow argues, is the looming presence of the neoliberal political project. In particular, the discourses of caretaking that NGOs use to recruit women into leadership positions simultaneously naturalize and depoliticize the activist work that these women do in their communities. Dolhinow discovers the connections between colonias as isolated communities and colonia leaders as political subjects who unintentionally reinforce neoliberal policy. In the long run, she finds, any politicization that might take place is limited to the women leaders and seldom involves the community as a whole.
Surprisingly, Dolhinow reveals, many NGOs promote neoliberal ideals, resulting in continued disenfranchisement, despite the women’s activism to better their lives, families, and communities.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, In Memoriam

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xi

Many people have shaped this book, and they all have my sincere appreciation. But without the women who organize and bring att ention to their lives in the colonias, there would be no book. The women whose lives are discussed here were much more than just my informants...


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pp. xiii-15

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pp. 1-43

"I hope you’ll describe how the chile feels when it starts to rot!” Estella was clearly excited about the prospect that I might write about our experiences together over the last year, and she had very specific ideas about what I should document. Estella usually had strong ideas about...

I. Neoliberalism on the Border

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pp. 45-61

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1. The Production of Colonias as Neoliberal Spaces

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pp. 47-89

It would be wrong to assume that neither state officials nor colonia residents view the existence of colonias as an offense to resident’s basic rights as citizens. Rather, in many situations, the resource deprivation experienced in the colonias as an issue of basic rights is just not discussed. Yet...

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2. The Production of Women as Neoliberal Leaders

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pp. 91-138

Dile pinche chile.” I knew I was almost as red as the chile I was desperately trying to manipulate into a ristra when Estella made this off-color comment. At this point I had been working in the colonias for almost nine months, and I had a pretty close relationship with Estella. (Or...

II. Women and NGOs

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pp. 139-155

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3. Empowerment and Politicization in the Colonias

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pp. 141-177

While we were walking in the midday sun, Ernie and I were doing some door-to-door visits in the colonia when we decided to see if the new woman was in. We had heard independently that there was a new young mother living in a trailer on the back of a lot in Los Montes and we thought...

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4. The Place of NGOs in Daily Life

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pp. 179-201

Their voices carried clear across the parking lot and nearly out onto the interstate, which ran close by the new community center in which the crowd, mostly women, was sitting. They were enthusiastically practicing the proper response to questioning by La Migra. This was just...

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pp. 203-210

On a hot summer evening, we walked along the edge of a cotton field and then down another hard-packed dirt road that skirted the back side of someone’s lot. As I got that familiar feeling of almost trespassing that one has nearly all the time in a colonia where many lots simply bleed into each...


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pp. 211-217


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pp. 219-227


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pp. 229-237

About the Author

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pp. 239-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780816673407
E-ISBN-10: 0816673403
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816650583

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2010