Politics of Citizenship: Mexican Migrants in the United States
This dissertation aims at bridging the divide between a critique of a state-centered notion of citizenship and the recognition of Mexican migrants as political actors, as well as subjects of the law. I underscore how migrants’ stories and the transnational space they inhabit is always already political. Here, struggles for belonging, for citizenship––whether legal or cultural or both––are taking place in migrants’ everyday lives. Based on the data derived from my multisited ethnographic research with politically active Mexican migrants, and in the migrant community of Aguililla (México) and Redwood City (the United States), I argue that for migrants, citizenship lies at the crossroads of legal definitions of membership and senses of belonging. I review three domains of citizenship––law, belonging, and politics––and the culture of citizenship that their interaction produces. This dissertation can be viewed as an ethnography of belonging, an ethnography of law, and/or an ethnography of politics of citizenship. First, I describe the specific space of Aguililla-Redwood City, and the culture of citizenship it produces to have a perspective of how migrants’ situated cultural practices create a sense of belonging. To approach the second culture of citizenship, I review several legal changes that took place in the 1990’s to understand how México and the U.S. as nation-states define and limit migrants’ membership. I focus on the 1996 Mexican non-loss of nationality law, the reform to article 36 of the Mexican Constitution that opened the possibility for the vote abroad, the U.S. 1996 Immigration law, California’s Proposition 187, and the 1996 welfare reform legislation. Finally, in the third culture of citizenship I address migrants’ practices of citizenship in the formal political arena, practices that are also permeated by senses of belonging. A politics of citizenship can be understood as the different strategies and practices that people and nation-states use to handle issues of inclusions and exclusion, recognition, respect, and the struggle over rights. Mexican migrants and the nation-states they inhabit, configure a politics of citizenship where belonging to the nation, to the community, is a constant question.
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