- Flexible Technologies of Subjectivity and Mobility across the Americas
With Mexican men . . . they don't like that the woman improves herself.—Jessica, Cowboy del Amor 1
Jessica, a thirty-three-year-old dermatologist from Chiapas, Mexico, explains her reasons for searching for a U.S. husband in Cowboy del Amor, a recent documentary that follows, over a period of sixteen years, the tactics used by an Anglo-American cowboy to match U.S. men with Mexican women. Jessica's middle-class background is evident as she shares how her father was killed defending his large ranch from the Zapatista guerilla fighting that began during the 1994 uprising of the landless poor in Chiapas. Her pragmatic approach to finding a U.S. husband reflects her philosophy of survival more generally: "Rather than dream, I set goals. I am a person who works toward feasible goals not dreams." Like Jessica, many women from Mexico and Colombia depict Latin men—as well as the economic, social, and political situation in Mexico more broadly—as curbing their desire for social and economic security and mobility. Many of these women turn not only to U.S. men but also to communication technologies to access transnational mobility and opportunities they find lacking in their local milieu. These women articulate their desire for U.S. men alongside the language of professionalism and the marketplace, as they recount the process of finding romance and/or marriage through ideals of hard work, self sacrifice, and individual struggle that afford them the opportunity to express their desire for self-improvement, to superarse, to better themselves and the lives of their families. This form of moral mobility justifies personal gain in the face of collective struggles for resource distribution, such as articulated by the Zapatistas.
Through interviews with Mexican and Colombian women, I found connections among unlikely technological couplings, such as how participants used both the Internet and cosmetic surgery to find what they defined as their "true" self by flexibly altering the inner and outer meanings of their subjectivity. Women who rely on Internet dating described unraveling their inner selves [End Page 891] with foreign-minded others as a more authentic expression of their identity that contrasted with their local meanings and opportunities. Some women from Cali, Colombia, capitalized on cosmetic surgery to improve their chances of finding a foreign partner and emphasized the importance of the visual rendering of their bodies (as reflective of their inner essence) in accessing dreams of a foreign lifestyle and pliable citizenship, regardless of language, class, or race. The inequalities of mobility, invisible in corporate marketing narratives, are quite apparent in the transnational marriage industry. While many men's global class status is assumed to be at least middle-class, some Latin American women participating in this transnational search for spouses feel that they have to play up the ways they are attractive within the global economy of desire on Web sites, in their e-mail descriptions, interviews, and practices.
In this essay, I connect women's discourses of self-improvement with the larger landscape of corporate advertising of technologies that promise modernity and mobility. For the middle classes of Latin America (or those aspiring to be middle class), modern subjectivity is increasingly imagined through representations of global class mobility offered by values of the free marketplace. Corporate marketing of business, leisure, and travel depict the ideal moral citizen as one who shuttles around the world, taking risks while capitalizing on global opportunities. As women explore Internet communication with others far away, they practice their desire for flexible subjectivity. As promised by Internet advertising, they find they can become someone new in the crevice of global opportunities conveniently at one's fingertips. For more than a decade, Internet marketing campaigns have celebrated the unfettered mobility of identity and travel in cyberspace, invoking the idea that one can leave behind the drudgery of life and enter cyber-worlds where bodies, race, gender, and class no longer matter. Some Internet and technology scholars replicate this corporate marketing ethos by arguing that the transgressive qualities of electronic mediation reside in the ability of individuals to flexibly recombine their identity and social power in...