by El Camarada
Since first contact and throughout the last five hundred years, the colonial west has continued to exploit the people of the Americas. From the first conquistador to the latest capitalist, these oppressors have raped the land and its inhabitants in the interest of capital. Colonial apologists and “Patriotic Socialists” like to say these histories of colonialism and imperialism are things of the past; chapters in the book of history that have no relevance to the present. In reality, the current material conditions of people are dialectically and historically connected to the past. Immigrant Latina women and mothers are subjected to untold levels of continuing oppression and exploitation that exploits their labor, and simultaneously criminalizes their existence, to this day.
Colonialism, and its further development of capitalism, sustain themselves through the exploitation of land and labor. According to sociologist Joe R. Feagin and Kimberley Ducey, it is the matrix of oppression in which systemic racism, sexism, and classism form a “Triple Helix of Oppression” that has allowed Colonialism and Capitalism to maintain their hold in society for over 500 years. The oppression and its various manifestations can be understood through this context.
On the Origins of Female Oppression
The private ownership of property began not only with the land but with that of women as well. Monogamy was the first form of the family not founded on natural, but on economic conditions, viz.: the victory of private property over primitive and natural collectivism. As land was privatized, men needed a way to pass on their wealth to keep it within their families, and to pass it down to their male heirs in order to have claim to and consolidate their property. In this way, monogamous marriage came to be, as it allowed men to claim ownership of women and their reproductive capabilities. Tied to her reproductive ability was her economic autonomy; her children had belonged to her. The products of her labor in the fields belonged to her and were passed on to her children. In this way, patriarchy was consolidated and rearticulated through each generation. It became institutionalized, part of everyday life. Marriage laws forbade women from divorcing their husbands, and chastity laws and customs helped “reign in” women’s seductiveness.
Parallels are found throughout the Americas as they were in Europe; with the creation of the Virgin myth in Christianity, the Church legitimized the control of women’s reproductive capabilities by the decree of a heavenly Father. With the “transgendering” of the Nahuatl religion in Mesoamerica, the focus was shifted away from the divinity of femininity to the divine might of masculinity. As societies move towards more militaristic states, an ideology must form to justify their violent accumulation of wealth. As stated by Latin American feminist author Ana Castillo, “[women’s continued oppression] has been intrinsically tied to men’s fear of her creatrix ability. It was a conquest of her wisdom, her cultivated knowledge of propagation, and her knowledge of organically regulating the population based on the needs of her particular social groupings. This knowledge was antithetical to the greed on which patriarchy is based.” In essence, by controlling the narrative around the women question since colonization, modern states have continued to oppress Latina women.
Ideology alone is not enough to completely and resolutely establish control over a population. To establish colonial control over land and people, a settler colonial state needs to establish its borders. Many see these borders as neutral and natural, with which I and many other immigrants would disagree. Borders are violence. They are the colonialism manifest; borders are productive regimes both generated by and reproducing racialized social relations, further imbued by gender, sexuality, class, ability, and nationality. The US-Mexico border wall was constructed to keep out the “other,” the ones responsible for all of America’s working class’s woes: “illegal” Latin American immigrants. It was also these “unwanted” that sustained the wants of this consumerist populous; as neoliberalism took hold across the world, the walling project was born out of a tension between the needs of North American capital and popular antagonism toward migration incited by those needs, especially their effect on wages, employment, and the demographics and cultures composing and, in some eyes, decomposing the nation.
The funny part is that the “border wall” isn’t even functional in what it sets out to do. It stages a sovereign power and control that it does not exercise and is built from the fabric of a suspended rule of law and fiscal non-accountability which has multiplied and intensified criminal industries. The US-Mexico wall exists as an icon of the combination of sovereign erosion and heightened xenophobia and nationalism prevalent in the US today. As previously stated, borders allow capitalists to divide the population between “us” and “the other.” As such, immigrants, specifically, women, present a threat to the nation-state. By classifying Latin American immigrants as criminals, rapists, murderers, or even as people trying to steal your job (and at times women), the border justifies itself as a barrier of protection from those that would mean to bring us harm. As we will cover later in this article, immigrant mothers are often targeted by laws to prevent the rearing of “anchor babies” as they would bring about disarray and sap the nation of its resources.
On the Racialization and Feminization of Labor
All these forms of oppression have resulted in the labor of Latina women becoming racialized and feminized; the labor of these women is worth less and thus becomes more exploitable. According to feminist and anti-capitalist author Harsha Walia, this “exploitative division of labor cements the hierarchies between middle- and upper-class white women in the so-called productive economy and low-income racialized migrant women in the undervalued and underpaid economy of domestic labor.” This cementation of racialized and genderized social relations lends itself to the creation of the myth of disposable third-world women, which according to Melissa Wright, Professor of Geography and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State, are “women from the third world whose labor is disposable and yet embody a form of labor crucial for the materialization of global capitalism around the world.” This myth, in a way, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It becomes a “socially useful lie” which allows for the perpetuation of symbolic oppression into institutional oppression – a “superstructure” in the Marxist sense. At times, these conditions manifest from “official indifference,” as “unintended consequences.” But as colonial states do, these conditions usually manifest through the code of law.
On Motherhood and Legality
Latina immigrant mothers experience the enforcement of current immigration laws and their various and complex “unintended consequences” as violence; according to sociologist Leisy J. Abrego and Cecilia Menjívar, “through the convergence of criminal and immigration laws, as well as through the repeated use of discourses that portray immigrants as criminals, the current immigration regime makes exploitation not only possible but uneventful and even normalized.” This discrimination based on race and legal status leads to further instability and a lack of resources.
When it comes to the identity of the United States- and many other European nations- it is often ethnosexualized to be a white, blonde woman. This conception of the nation is influenced by notions of white supremacy, but what this personification of femininity does is create an image of what the “perfect” mother looks like and can be. In this way, immigrant mothers become dangerous to the identity of the nation. A good immigrant mother does not raise their own family, no. According to sociologist Lisa Sun-Hee Park, “A good immigrant is one who provides particular kinds of necessary but many times denigrated labor at below market value and does not expect the same access, protections, or privileges of a full national member.” It is the neoliberalist political-economic formation that “institutionalizes”, as political theorist Sara R. Farris states, “[class/gender/racial relations] as part of the functioning of the state apparatuses in order to (re)organize the productive and particularly the socially reproductive sphere”. Thus, these mothers are often barred from social services like healthcare, social security, food stamps, etc. as was done in the 1990s following the 1996 Welfare and Immigration reforms.
As previously mentioned, the current immigration regime makes exploitation not only possible but uneventful and even normalized. Legal status confides rights onto individuals which allow them to move about through a given nation. Undocumented workers are granted economic membership but not formal recognition as full civic members of the polity. This creates a cognitive dilemma whereby undocumented immigrants lack the right to live here yet are told that they have the right to be protected, and so are left wondering if, indeed, they have the right to have rights. According to sociologist Shannon Gleeson, this is accomplished in 3 specific ways. Primarily, the intensification and aversion to conflict due not only to a fear of job loss but also the looming risk of discovery and deportation often prevent migrant working mothers from fighting for and appealing for protection and rights. This also applies to their decreased use of local social services, such as medical services. This in turn injects substantial uncertainty into life in the United States, framing their current work experiences as temporary and endurable. Harkening back to the myth of the disposable third-world women, undocumented Latina immigrant mothers often take the first job they are offered, continue to work in jobs even if the pay is low, or accept exploitative or illegal work conditions out of fear that they will be exposed, such as maquiladoras, homemakers, maids, etc., etc.
There can be only one solution to this oppression faced by not only Latina women and others throughout the world. I bet you can guess what it is – Proletarian Revolution.
What happens in life after the “solution?” Let’s say we have transitioned past a class-based, profit-driven society. What then? Do racial and gender antagonisms just magically fade away? Of course not. All socialism does is deprive man the power to appropriate the products of society and to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriation. Structures such as monogamous marriage must end, abolition of concepts such as gender and sex must occur, and self-determination granted to the specific people that occupy the lands, indigenous or otherwise. Beyond that, I can provide no more answers, no more solutions. When the time comes, which it will, we must hope that the people are willing to make the change, not just for the salvation of Latina women, but for the salvation of all who consider this blessed planet our mother.
“In striving for socialism, however, we are convinced that it will develop into communism and, therefore, that the need for violence against people in general, for the subordination of one man to another, and of one section of the population to another, will vanish altogether since people will become accustomed to observing the elementary conditions of social life without violence and without subordination.”– V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution
 Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
 Castillo, Massacre of the Dreamers
 Walia, Border and Rule
 Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty
 Wright, Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism
 Abrego & Menjivar, IMMIGRANT LATINA MOTHERS AS TARGETS OF LEGAL VIOLENCE.
 Hall et. al, Legal Status and Wage Disparities for Mexican Immigrants
 The Communist Party Manifesto, Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels.
- Abrego, Leisy J., and Cecilia Menjívar. “IMMIGRANT LATINA MOTHERS AS TARGETS OF LEGAL VIOLENCE.” International Journal of Sociology of the Family, vol. 37, no. 1, International Journals, 2011, pp. 9–26, doi:10.2307/23029784.
- Brown, Wendy. Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. MIT Press, 2014, pp. 7–42.
- Castillo, Ana. Massacre of the Dreamers : Essays on Xicanisma / Ana Castillo. Twentieth Anniversary updated edition, University of New Mexico Press, 2014, pp. 17–37.
- Farris, Sara R. In the Name of Women’s Rights. Duke University Press, 2017, pp. 1–21.
- Feagin, Joe R., and Kimberley Ducey. Elite White Men Ruling. 2017, pp. 1–44.
- Gleeson, Shannon. “Labor Rights for All? The Role of Undocumented Immigrant Status for Worker Claims Making.” Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 35, no. 3, [American Bar Foundation, Wiley], pp. 561–602, doi:10.2307/40783684. Accessed 17 Nov. 2022.
- Hall, Matthew, et al. “Legal Status and Wage Disparities for Mexican Immigrants.” Social Forces, vol. 89, no. 2, Oxford University Press, pp. 491–513, doi:10.2307/40984544. Accessed 17 Nov. 2022.
- Park, Lisa Sun-Hee. “CRIMINALIZING IMMIGRANT MOTHERS: Public Charge, Health Care, and Welfare Reform.” International Journal of Sociology of the Family, vol. 37, no. 1, International Journals, pp. 27–47, doi:10.2307/23029785. Accessed 17 Nov. 2022.
- Walia, Harsha. Border and Rule. Haymarket Books, 2021, pp. 131–45.
- Winegarden, C. R., and Lay Boon Khor. “Undocumented Immigration and Unemployment of U.S. Youth and Minority Workers: Econometric Evidence.” The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 73, no. 1, The MIT Press, pp. 105–12, doi:10.2307/2109692. Accessed 17 Nov. 2022.
- Wright, Melissa W. Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism. Routledge, 2006.
1 thought on “Oppression and Exploitation of Immigrant Latina Women and Mothers”
Thank you for your essential contribution to leftist discourses. As a Latinx individual, I was not aware of Latina struggle. Please explain how you came to these conclusions from the perspective of an educated man. Love the article!