- Marriage After Migration: An Ethnography of Money, Romance, and Gender in Globalizing Mexico by Nora Haenn
In marriage after migration, nora Haenn explores the pleasures and dangers of migration through a richly ethnographic examination in the transformation of marriage in a transnational community. Each chapter opens and closes with an extensive ethnographic account and is dedicated to the experience of one woman in Calakmul (southeast Mexico) that highlights the opportunities and risks of marriage and migration. What could come across as a linear and dated narrative – male labor migrants and women who passively stay behind – instead emerges as a beautifully nuanced narrative about the frictions of marriage and migration. In this sense, the book speaks both to broader scholarship on transnational family life, particularly on the interplay of gender and generation in shaping migrant lives and trajectories, as well as to scholarship on feminist kinship studies, and work on globalization and the impact of NAFTA in Mexican communities.
Haenn's analysis of marriage documents the emergence of male labor migration to the United States from Calakmul in the wake of NAFTA (1994). She situates Calakmul's global engagements within a deep history of conflict and exploitation of both the land and people – from its history as a refuge for Indigenous people fleeing Spanish rule, to the exportation of timber and chicle for chewing gum, to the twentieth century internal migration of poor farmers from elsewhere in Mexico. The disruption of agricultural livelihoods post-NAFTA in the late 1990s resulted in a series of involuntary migrations within Mexico that brought families to the region, before further economic disruptions pushed them towards international migration to the United States after 2000. Haenn's long-standing engagement with the region and previous work on environmental issues there comes through clearly in this detailed history.
Haenn distinguishes between what she sees as the invisible side of globalization and the visible personal side – the family moves, disruptions, and conflicts she examines. Both, she argues, are intertwined as two sides of the same global processes. Both men and women play with local gender norms and roles in attempts to assert their agency in the face of bewildering changes, through gossip, enacting [End Page 267] the role of the good wife, and breaking rules about women's participation outside the home. While the women she interviews are sometimes unaware of the dynamics of global capitalism driving families apart, they turn to the otherworldly and traditional healers to heal the invisible fractures and disconnections global forces have wrought within families. In a more destructive vein, migrant men turn to excessive alcohol consumption and domestic violence. Even these intimate conflicts are entangled with deep histories of global inequality. For example, Haenn ties men's alcohol consumption not with stereotypical ideas about machismo, but rather to the historical use of alcohol as a means of labor control, tax revenue raising, as well as asserting social standing.
Haenn also grounds her analysis of trans-national family-life in a detailed understanding of local kinship configurations. First, and most interestingly for me as a researcher of transnational families, people in Calakmul discuss migration through the lens of marriage because they see marriage as the fundamental family relationship. This is, for example, in contrast to the communities where I work in Nicaragua, where transnational family members defined parent-child bonds as primary, while marriage bonds were much more breakable. The institution of marriage in Calakmul, Haenn suggests, is part of the friction of global migration – against which globalization chafes.
In Calakmul, the primacy of marriage informs and is informed by highly differentiated gender norms, patrilocal residence patterns, and strict control over young women's sexuality, time, and movement. For young newlywed couples, migration is both a tool to reconfigure marriage and results in unforeseen reconfigurations that challenge and reinforce traditional gender rules.
Haenn situates the contradictory consequences of migration for these families within a continuum of pleasures and dangers. In terms...