A Mother’s Heart is Weighed Down with Stones: A Phenomenological Approach to the Experience of Transnational Motherhood

  • Sarah HortonEmail author
Original Paper


Although recent scholarship on transnational mothers has rigorously examined the effect of migration on gender constructs and ideologies, it neglects analysis of the lived experience of separated mothers and children. In privileging the exploration of transnational separations through the single analytical lens of gender, such research reduces the embodied distress of mothers and children to mere “gender false consciousness.” This paper calls upon anthropologists to redress this oversight by undertaking a phenomenological analysis of the lived experience of transnational motherhood. Eschewing an analysis of mothers and children as isolated social roles, I show that the suffering of mothers and children is profoundly relational. Through analysis of the narratives of undocumented Salvadoran mothers residing in the U.S., I show how the strain of such mothers’ undocumented status is lived and shouldered within the intersubjective space of the family.


Migration Transnational families Phenomenology Gender Illegality 



Previous versions of this paper benefited from the helpful comments of the Friday Morning Seminar in Medical Anthropology at Harvard University, and from Arthur Kleinman, Mary-Jo Good and Sarah Pinto, in particular. I am also grateful for the helpful comments and encouragement of Cecilia Menjivar, Daniel Linger, Cecilia Rivas, Gina Nuñez, and the 2006 fellows at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego. The three anonymous reviewers for Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry also helped me refine this paper. This research was supported by a NIMH postdoctoral fellowship on Anthropology and Mental Health Services at the Department of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School (NIMH Grant T32MH18006).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Colorado, DenverDenverUSA

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