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Navigating Multidimensional Borderlands: How Spatial Politics and Inequalities Shape the Working Conditions and Lived Experiences of Mexican Women Farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley


California’s San Joaquin Valley is one of the most fertile agricultural expanses in the United States, producing nearly 40 percent of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables. The agricultural abundance, however, belies the challenges that exist for some of the nation’s most impoverished and vulnerable populations. My dissertation examines how intersecting inequalities based on gender, race, class, and citizenship interact with spatial politics to shape the working and living conditions of Mexican women farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley.

Based on an analysis of 35 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with Mexican women farmworkers, this dissertation focuses on three key domains of women farmworkers’ lives, including paid labor conditions, unpaid reproductive labor in their homes, and community conditions. I bridge multiple theoretical frameworks, including intersectionality, feminist geography, and Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldua’s (1987) ‘Borderlands’ theory to develop a concept called multidimensional borderlands. This concept provides a framework for understanding the social, political, and spatial inequalities affecting this region, where a farmworker labor structure stratified by gender and citizenship status exists in an isolated rural geographic context where many residents, most of whom are Latinx, lack access to basic services, and which has been heavily impacted by climate change.

My research finds that the intersection of sexism and anti-immigrant policies impact women farmworkers’ experience in the workplace through exploitative labor practices and vulnerability to sexual harassment and assault in the male-dominated agricultural industry, particularly for undocumented women. Women farmworkers also face inequalities in their communities through residential segregation, subpar housing conditions, and lack of access to clean air and water, which have serious health implications for this community. In addition, low incomes combined with spatial inequalities that result from living in isolated, rural communities, often leave farmworking women without access to affordable, reliable transportation to work, grocery stores, healthcare providers, and their children’s schools. Finally, women face added challenges at home with their families due to the grueling nature of farmwork, while volatile work schedules and labor precarity make it challenging for mothers to attend to their children and their gendered domestic responsibilities, including facilitating childcare and housework.

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