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Women’s Political Engagement in a Mexican Sending Community


Early research suggested that migration changed gender roles by offering women new wages and exposing them to norms of gender equity. Increasingly, however, scholars have drawn attention to the role of structural factors, such as poverty and undocumented status, in mediating the relationship between migration and gender. This article takes such insights a step further by showing that migrant communities’ reactions to structural marginality—and their efforts to build alternatives in their home villages—may also draw women into new gender roles. I demonstrate this mechanism through the case of San Miguel, a Mixtec sending community in Southern Mexico where, in the context of U.S. migration, once-excluded women came to predominate in civic affairs. In response to harsh conditions in the United States, migrants from San Miguel returned to their village. To make this economically feasible, they sought state development resources. Men, who often stayed in the United States as breadwinners, relied on sympathetic women back in the sending community to advocate on their behalf. Meanwhile, women’s own rejection of migrant life gave them new interest in sustaining their village. For both, incorporating women into politics offered a strategy to secure needed resources and avoid assimilating into an undocumented underclass.

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