Intimate Migrations

Gender, Family, and Illegality among Transnational Mexicans

188 pages

April, 2012

ISBN: 9780814789834



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Deborah A. Boehm is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies and a faculty associate in the Gender, Race, and Identity Studies program at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is co-editor of Everyday Ruptures: Children, Youth, and Migration in Global Perspective.

All books by Deborah A. Boehm

In her research with transnational Mexicans, Deborah A. Boehm has often asked individuals: if there were no barriers to your movement between Mexico and the United States, where would you choose to live? Almost always, they desire the freedom to “come and go.” Yet the barriers preventing such movement are many. Because of the United States’ rigid immigration policies, Mexican immigrants often find themselves living long distances from family members and unable to easily cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Transnational Mexicans experience what Boehm calls “intimate migrations,” flows that both shape and are structured by gendered and familial actions and interactions, but are always defined by the presence of the U.S. state.
Intimate Migrations is based on over a decade of ethnographic research, focusing on Mexican immigrants with ties to a small, rural community in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí and several states in the U.S. West. By showing how intimate relations direct migration, and by looking at kin and gender relationships through the lens of illegality, Boehm sheds new light on the study of gender and kinship, as well as understandings of the state and transnational migration.


  • "With an ethnographer’s eye for detail, Boehm shows us the hopes, dreams, frustrations, tensions, divisions, and enduring qualities of lives among families connected and split by the U.S.-Mexico border. Intimate Migrations puts a human face on the reasons why people migrate, changing gender relations, and how children experience these dynamic and fluid processes, all of which are subject to increasingly restrictionist U.S. immigration laws. . . . A must read for anyone interested in understanding our complex, transnational world."

    —Leo Chavez, University of California, Irvine

  • "Intimate Migrations explores the human side of immigration, vividly portraying everyday lives on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border. Drawing on interviews and field work in Albuquerque and the small rancho of San Marcos in San Luis Potosi, Boehm outlines the sharp differences between male and female migration. Young men follow in the footsteps of their fathers, brothers, and uncles and migrate to become adults and providers, while women and children remain in the rancho or migrate much later, often to care for households of male kin rather than to enter the work force. These gender differences are in turn shaped by the potency and reach of U.S. policy that constructs 'illegal' and 'legal' persons, constrains movement, conveys citizenship, and allows for family reunification- policies that fall unevenly on kin networks…. A moving panorama of how these contradictions play out in personal lives.”

    —Louise Lamphere, University of New Mexico

  • "Recommended for all levels/libraries."


  • "Boehm crafts an enthralling piece of feminist, anthropological writing that weaves the human side of immigration into her scholarship."

    Journal of Youth and Adolescence

  • "[A] wonderful book that demonstrates that combining interviews with participant observation—and doing it well—can produce multiple benefits....There is a lot to learn from this timely book, and it should be read widely. I particularly recommend it to anyone interested in immigrant families, immigration law, citizenship, and families in general, but its appeal should go beyond academia. This book would be ideal for helping politicians and pundits to understand that political decisions regarding immigration law have broad and deep consequences, often beyond the territory in which laws are enacted."

    —Cecilia Menjivar, Journal of Latin American Studies

  • "Fortuitously published just as the U.S enters new discussions about what to do with the legal status (and, thus, lives) of the very undocumented Mexicans she studied. Hopefully policymakers will read it and hear voices not likely to be at the negotiating tables. It is precisely this type of serious yet humane and deeply human scholarship that might change a few minds."

    —Sarah J. Mahler, International Migration Review

  • "Boehm's monograph is a poignant ethnographic account of displacement and resilience among Mexican transnationals who feel that they are 'neither from here nor from there.' It's also a critical review of current US border enforcement policies which exacerbate illegality and precariousness among migrants."

    Border Criminologies