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Transnational Mothers and School Related Decisions


This article addresses the question of how transnational Mexican mothers negotiate and participate in the educational trajectories of children in the United States and in Mexico. It illustrates how mothers in New York City are central decision-makers in school-related issues in Mexico and in the United States, even when there is lengthy separation from the children in Mexico, language and legal status barriers with children in the United States. This article argues that mothers in New York and grandmothers in Mexico go through similar challenges when interacting with teachers and school staff in both countries, as they feel like they have little power or influence to assist children. Theoretically, this article is rooted in an anthropological tradition of transnational migration and advances a discussion of the role of gender in migration and education. This article shows a “split-screen” format, comparing the experiences observed on both sides of the border regarding school interactions. Data from phone calls and text messages, across border are used to show the reach of mothers in New York goes beyond formal boundaries. Thus, this article shows how Internet and Communication Technologies (ICT) foster regular interactions between mothers and grandmothers, between mothers in New York City and teachers in Mexico, and between separated siblings when they are doing homework and/or playing.

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    “Listen,” she told me later when I was in Mexico, “I love my girls and my daughter, but I am tired. Brianna has to come back. I have to enroll the girls in different classes, I have to go talk to the government for oportunidades (cash transfer program), I have to buy them clothes, take them to the doctor, and the worst part: deal with school and the people at the school!” Leila did not enforce school attendance; she found it difficult to coordinate the different times each granddaughter had to be in school and to make breakfast for the girls before they left for school. She said many times, “I am tired.”

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    In the previous year the police had made four arrests in their previous building, all regarding selling and dealing illegal drugs. In addition, the structure of the building had been causing leaks and ruptures on the walls. There were many rats and cockroaches getting into the walls and the city considered the building a safety hazard.

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    See Varenne and McDermott (1998) for a discussion of how American schools are successful at failing students and case studies of students’ interactions in educational settings.


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Correspondence to Gabrielle Oliveira.

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Oliveira, G. Transnational Mothers and School Related Decisions. Urban Rev (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-019-00542-1

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  • Transnational
  • Mothers
  • Immigration
  • Education
  • Ethnography