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Much of the sociological focus of migration has reoriented the focus from 'migration' or 'immigration' to the issue of 'Transnational Migration.'


Transnational Migration, also called ‘foreign labor’, ‘guest worker’ or ‘expatriate’, refers to people who migrate from one nation to another for the purposes of ‘temporary’ labor, in which they simultaneously participate in social connections in multiple nations. Much of the discourse on transnational migration focuses upon the economic factors which 'push' or 'pull' individuals to abandon their families and familiar surroundings to migrate to another location in due to or in pursuit of employment.


The transnational migrant maintains a sense of self, which is inherently gendered, in the location from which they migrated, as well as a sense of self in the location to which they migrate. In a sense the transnational migrant inhabits two distinct spatial locations. The process of transnational migration creates a multiple-contextual view of self, what Edward Saïd calls a "plural vision."[1]


Transnational migration often involves leaving family members behind thereby creating a rupture in the traditional family structure and gender roles. The majority of the transnational workers from the Philippines are female. Transmigration of female workers is disruptive to traditional gender conventions. Women contest the position of men as breadwinner; however, it begs the question of who fills the void of the mother (i.e. woman) as caregiver?


Rhacel Salazar Parreñas proposes a theoretical framework of emotion to explore implications caused by the rupture of the traditional family structure in transnational families, in particular mothers and their children.[2] She argues that emotions “exist in the context of social structures in society”. As Arlie Hochschild states, "Emotion is a sense that tells about the self-relevance of reality. We infer from it what we must have wanted or expected or how we must have been perceiving the world. Emotion is one way to discover a buried perspective on matters."[3]


Nicole Constable considers the case of transnational workers in light of conceptions of ‘exile’ and the extent to which the transnational worker feels that he/she was compelled to leave ‘home’ for economic or other purposes. Transnational workers are not strictly speaking exiles, however many feel “forced” by economic demands.


Transnational workers, who mother from abroad, see themselves as a modern day economic martyrs, whose sufferings are in order for their children to have improved material items and educational opportunities, believing that the economic advantages for their children are tangible signs of their affection. The Philippines government refers to the Filipinos working outside of the Philippines who remitted their savings back to the Philippines as “Modern Heroes” (bagong bayani) as the remittances provided much needed hard currency, saving the Philippines from defaulting on foreign debt obligations, therefore, national fiscal policy may underlay the push for transnational migration.


Children however, see their mothers’ absence as abandonment and the material items as inadequate compensation for their mothers’ absence. The construction places the transnational family into conflicting binary positions: working away provides economic benefits not possible at home meaning a better living for the family, meaning being a better parent versus a parent who is away is a poor parent whose gifts are inadequate proxies for ‘being there’. Transnational migration contest the question of whether a parent who leaves their children is guilty of child abuse, or simply the lesser of two unpalatable alternatives?


Research of Mexican transnational migrants found that men were more likely to view their relationship with family in economic terms, reinforcing their familial obligations through consistently sending of remittances to their family in Mexico; whereas women viewed their role as a mother through emotional intimacy. So women demonstrated emotional intimacy from a distance through correspondence or telephone calls.[4] The findings disclosed that divorced fathers regularly sent remittances, consistent with the male construction as bread-earner, whereas, mothers were less apt to send remittances, constructing the relationship with family members within an emotional context.





[1] Nicole Constable, “At Home but Not at Home: Filipina Narratives of Ambivalent Returns,” Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 14, No. 2 (May 1999) pp. 206-210. The discussion is captured in the following section in which Constable discusses the scholarship of Edward Saïd and Kenneth Parker. (1984: 172).
[2] Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, “Mothering from a Distance: Emotions, Gender, and Intergenerational Relations in Filipino Transnational Families”. Feminist Studies. 27, 2 (Summer 2001):361-390.
[3] Parreñas, page 362, quoting Arlie Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 85.
[4] Joanna Dreby, “Honor and Virtue: Mexican Parenting in the Transnational Context”, Gender & Society, Vol. 20. No. 1, February 2006, pp. 32-59.


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