Oct. 13. Transnational Matters

This short week we discussed the concept of transnational, its matters, and how they matter to gain a better understanding of Latinas and Religion.

In our discussion we considered the significance and meaning of transnational matters to understand the correspondences between Latinas and Religion, and each one of you discussed with several partners what would be a good ethnographic model to speak with Latinas and learn more about their views on transnational movement, role reversal, devotion, and other matters.

By Sunday at 5pm please offer a comment with a) your working definition of transnational matters and how it is central to understanding Latinas and religion; and b) what would be for you THE most important question to include in an ethnographic study of these matters.


  1. My definition of transnational matters is having home in two places. In the context of motherhood, it is more specific to having your family in one place and yourself in another. Personally, I think transnational motherhood is an incredible and extremely terrifying concept. I commend anyone that has ever had to experience being separated from their families, so that their children can have a better life. Transnational motherhood is selfless and full of bravery. It gave me such pride to learn about such a profound subject, because as a third generation American I am very sheltered and distant from the concept of immigrating to America. However, my great grandmother and grandmother would be the people that had to endure transnational motherhood and it allows for me to gain even more respect and love for them. This is a reminder how similar to Black women, Latina women are the backbones of their culture. They carry everything. All of the pain, anxiety, worry, and stress latina women carry it. They carry it as if it is expected of them, as it’s normal. Learning about transnational matters showed me the role of Latina women in the role of family and how religion is something they take with them. As religion is transferrable, they are taking it with them wherever they go. Transnational matters shows how religion is not about the location, but about the person and how/where they choose to bring their religious beliefs with them. The most important question to include in an ethnographic study of these matters, is to ask a woman who does not carry the same burdens/weight that Black and Latina women have to carry in their households. I would ask them if they consider it bad parenting for women to leave their children in another country if it was for the sake of the child to have a better life?

    1. Hi Olivia, your comment makes me think of the role of transferrability and generational tranference both of religion and the emotions you described in relation to transnational motherhood (pain, anxiety, worry, and stress). Further, how could an account of the psychological and religious life of transnational matters impact the question on morality you pose at the end? – Violeta

  2. My working definition of transnational matters is moving across national borders in the search of a new home, out of desperation, as a result of destitution, or in search of a brighter future for oneself or one’s children and family. Transnational matters for Latinas are important to consider because Latinas, and Latina mothers especially, face immense helplessness, and almost feel burdened when they migrate to a new country, because they leave behind every aspect of familiarity and comfort that they know, to be in a foreign space away from their children and families. Latinas and Black women are also forced to accept undesirable employment opportunities, often as a result of prejudice and discrimination, because they have the financial responsibility of putting a roof over their children’s heads, and ensuring that there is enough food on the table. Thus, transnational motherhood is a terrifying, yet, very true and authentic reality for many Latina mothers who make the sacrificial choice to move to a different country in order to help their children have more opportunities than they themselves did, as exhibited in the “Under the Same Moon” movie trailer. Transnational motherhood is an altruistic, selfless, and magnanimous undertaking for Latina and Black mothers, and proves that they are the backbone of their families, their culture, and their traditions. Additionally, the way that Latinas relate to religion is highly affected by their geographic environment, social conditions, and atmosphere. Since religion is dynamic, and transferable, Latinas often choose to carry their religion with them to their new country and their new home, so that they may have a little piece of their homeland, as well as their original home, with them. It is also imperative to note that when Latinas move to foreign spaces, and are unable to find places of worship, their devotion often wanes, because it is strongly tied to the religious culture that they experienced in their homes and homelands. Religion is not tied to a physical place of worship, religious imagery, or familiar iconography, but rather, is tied to the person or the body that practices and adopts it. Thus, although a Latina is able to carry her religion with her to her new home, if she is unable to practice it in the same way that she did back in her homeland, she is forced to adapt her devotional practices. The iconography of the Virgin Mary changing to displaying a tilted head is symbolic of a change in the way that Latinas, especially transnational Latina mothers, express their devotion to her.

    The most important question for me ​​to include in an ethnographic study of transnational matters is “Can Latinas relate to motherly religious figures such as Cachita and Pachamama if they are not physically or emotionally close to their own children, and are not fulfilling the traditional role of a mother, since they are trying to make a living to secure a bright future for their children? Another question that I would ask a Latina about transnational matters is if she believes that the sacrifice that she made by moving to a foreign space was worth it in terms of her future opportunities, and those of her children. I also wonder if moving to the US is a source of shame, and cause of guilt for Latina mothers, since it contradicts the traditional roles that a woman is conditioned to have, namely, a mother and a caregiver. I would be curious to know how the children of Latinas would respond when faced with the choice of either having their mothers physically present with them in financially unstable conditions, or physically away from them with a more financially stable future. Lastly, I am curious about whether the reversal of roles from a mother to that of a provider, while a nanny or another motherly figure is raising their children, affects Latinas? How so?

  3. Based on the lecture and readings, I would say that transnational matters are the connections that Latinas maintain with their family after they immigrate to a new country. Transnational motherhood is when a woman migrates in order to work and provide for her children back home but continues to foster their familial bond. Many Latinas feel compelled to migrate to the United States in order to find jobs to provide for their families. Moving away from your homeland and leaving your children behind is one of the most difficult decisions a Latina mom can make because they take great pride in caring for their families and communities. This is a tough choice to make, but oftentimes migrating is the best choice for one’s family. As we discussed in the lecture, the narratives surrounding the Virgin Mary uphold the image of the “perfect mother,” who is always there for her family. In modern times, though, there is not only one image of the Latina mom because they often need to work to help provide for their families. This is the case of the transnational mother. The transnational mother cannot be present with her children because she needs to go out and make a living away from her homeland.

    If I were to conduct an ethnographic study of transnational mothers, I would ask the following question: Has your religious devotion helped you cope with the challenges of living and working in the U.S?

  4. Following the readings, it seems as though transnational matters consist of those issues which only arise after uprooting from one place and crossing a cultural and literal border into another, in which one must then sacrifice the outward expressions of one’s culture and religion for the acceptance from the other place into which she traveled. For some Latinas, especially Latina mothers, this becomes an unfortunate reality for those who choose to either leave their home and children/family and move to another place in search of work or other means by which to better her’s and her family’s life, or for those who must relocate with their children in search of the same. In the case of those who leave their loved ones, the transnational issues that arise occur in terms of the way a Latina is then perceived in the new land: she’s sexualized or fetishized (sometimes regardless of her status as a mother); she’s subject to racism, sexism, and mother-tongue discrimination; she’s exposed to financial and juridical insecurity; and her cultures, customs, and traditions make her an outcast because of the lack of her original community. This makes it extremely hard for a Latina to not only find work and make money to support herself and/or her family, but it makes raising children especially hard in a new land. By choosing to not assimilate, she further exposes herself and/or her family to scrutiny. Additionally, if she chooses to contest the status quo of what the new society’s expected perception of her is, then she makes herself yet again vulnerable to perpetuations of stigma and stereotype. In the case of religion for Latinas, any practice of religion that doesn’t fit societal expectations may urge these women to hide, lessen, or abandon these traditional practices. The implications of this repression lead to a lack of continuity in the children’s lives, thereby creating a disconnect between the country of origin and the new land. Latinas carry their roots, cultures, religions, histories, and languages with them, alongside any family they may bring with them in search of better opportunities or living environments. However, the ethnographic question I have pertaining to this matter is this: by repressing one’s identities and practices and creating one’s own liminality within the origin county and the new one, a borderlands so to speak, do Latinas perpetuate their own myths as being a wayward demographic, or is it the new country’s own social pressures which force upon these women the need to repress themselves? I suppose a better phrasing would be: do Latinas repress themselves to better assimilate, or are they forced to be repressed (meaning: they’re oppressed by others) in order to fit what the new country expects them to be? What are the implications of this on the children of a “liminal” woman/demographic?

  5. Transnational matters arise when a person moves from one country to another. As we saw this week, for Latinas this is usually to pursue an economic ambition for the sake of their families. Latinas, not exactly being an ethnic and certainly not a racial designation, need to be understood through transnational matters for a number of reasons. “Latina” as a group refers to overall trends seen in women from and descended from South America, but the term “Latino” itself was popularized as a way to categorize migrants from South America. As such, transnationalism is necessary for understanding Latinos as a whole. The question for Latinas then, and the reason religion is also necessary to understanding transnational matters, is why and how they do it. Meaning, we need to understand the cultural, personal, and religious motivations for Latina’s movement across borders.
    When we were answering the first question in class, my first partner, Sophia, brought up how in the reading for last week motherhood was understood in comparison to cultural figures. These figures, La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Llorona, showed the extremes of good and bad motherhood. For the sake of this point I’m going to switch La Virgen de Guadalupe for the Virgin Mary, because as we noted from the picture in class, Mary’s praise as a mother is directly (thought silently) tied to the amount of stress she experienced trying to care for her child. Mary is the supreme figure of motherhood, yet regardless of whether the motherhood is good or bad it is tied to the woman’s lack of control. If anything, good motherhood is tied to a woman’s ability to handle her lack of control. La llorona could not handle her situation, so she killed herself and her children by drowning them, but again, she used one overwhelming force (the flow of the river) to take away another (the responsibility of motherhood). If we can agree on this then Mary simply accepted her responsibility regardless of the pain it gave her. And we are meant to look up to her?
    No ethnographic question I could ask seems good enough. I don’t know what I could possibly ask these women that would feel worthy of their time without causing them more pain. My first instinct was to ask, what would you do, if you weren’t doing this? and that felt like a punch in the gut. The reason I say so is because I know too many women that lost out on their ambition and potential because they prioritized being a mother. My mother included. I am the reason my mother is in the United States, I am the reason she stayed with and put up with my father, I am the reason she learned English and got jobs selling electrical appliances when I was old enough to be left at a friend’s house. She put everything into making me what she thought was a good young lady, and I was an accident. Unfortunately, despite her best efforts I am not “good,” I am barely even a woman and when I had the chance, I, who had been her best friend in the 18 years she’d lived in this country, left to go to college. I did so because I didn’t want to be stuck in a model that didn’t care about the women upholding it. But I still feel like a traitor.
    Perhaps the role of Latinas and motherhood is so pervasive that even when you have no intention of being a mother you are still stuck in those responsibilities. As such, my first question seems like a loss of time. Instead I would ask, what made you give up everything to be a mother, what would make you feel like a good mother, and what did you think would make you feel like a good mother?

  6. “Transnational matters” are issues pertaining to the crossing, erasure, and blurring of national borders. Latinas are frequently forced across borders en masse, and their (gendered) religious and filial roles are forced to change with this movement. There is no moving through all of these different spaces without putting yourself and your moorings in motion. If I had to ask an ethnographic question related to the transnational matter of religion, I guess I would probably ask something like “how have your religious beliefs and practices shifted since crossing borders?”

    Still, that feels limited. So much of religion manifests outside of what are commonly seen as “religious” beliefs and practices. I think of my own mother. She left so much of herself in Panama. Sometimes I want to ask her how she copes, but that assumes a state of suffering that does not necessarily define her experience. I think about how her (our?) culture is routinely erased in North American religious settings, but that assumes that erasure is the defining characteristic of her transnational religiosity, which feels too belittling. I do not know what I would or could ask that would capture her experience. I will never know. I guess the least I can do is be with her and listen, picking up the scraps she leaves between words.

  7. Transnational matters can be defined in a variety ways. My perspective of the definition encompasses when individuals leave their home and navigate how to maintain their connection to their home from afar. Typically this focuses on males but females in this situation who have reshaped social norms that have limited them. Matters encompass mental health, family, economic forces, language, etc. If I were to ask one question, to focus ethnographic work on, it would be “How do you navigate being in a completely new community?”. Transnational matters can highlight a role religion plays in the lives of Latinas. Religion is so intertwined with being a Latina. Church and religion has been shaped as the savior of all people. How has religion been used by Latinas to feel apart of their new community? Has religion empowered their actions? But how does religion help them with their racist experiences? A new form of invisibility has to be learned for Latinas. Before, they couldn’t be a public woman but now are they able to present themselves to their communities and the beyond as strong? They are the constant target for legal matters, on the line for limited jobs, and are hit with racial slurs. For example, a friend of my mom’s is typically a quiet lady who doesn’t speak much English, representative of the new ‘invisible woman’. My mom invited her to spend a day at the beach using a private entrance but she came back to writing on her car: “you don’t belong here”. These words along with the image of the rosary hanging on the rearview mirror popped up in my mind when thinking of the transnational matter intersection with religion. How does one cope with community intolerance after the gathering strength to be the reason for a better life for their family? How does religion play a part in this? Religion, in my life and many others, has been used a way to stay ‘connected’ to your homeland. It would be interesting to observe the percentage of woman who do end up using the church after crossing borders versus the percentage who don’t.

  8. To my understanding, transnational matters are the relationships Latinas maintain beyond borders whilst migrating to create better lives for themselves or for their families. Transnational matters are central to understanding Latinas and religion because of the struggle immigrants face in preserving their familiar relationships and belief systems while moving away from their homeland. Specifically, we focus on Latina mothers, who face the burden of leaving everything behind moving to a new country with the responsibility of raising a child which often leads to undesirable employment. As the image above represents, Latina mothers are faced with this weight due to the expectations presented by the Virgin Mary as mothers to provide for and care for your child without regard for your own happiness. The mother in the image looks helpless and carries a strong worry behind her.

    In conducting an ethnographic study of these matter, I think the most important question to ask is “has your religion or devotion helped you cope with the challenges of living in the US,” because while religious expectations can be the source of unhappiness for Latina mothers who felt obligated to move, religion can also be their source of comfort. I think it’s so important to understand how religion can both negatively and positively impact Latinas often simultaneously. This concept was first presented in an article we read earlier in the semester by Padilla. The article discusses how Catholic Latinas use religion as a source of strength and survival, while also experiencing subordination and oppression. The most striking idea from the article is Latinas’ tendency to accept their fate and suffering both religiously and culturally.

  9. a. The ways in which latinas relate to religion is heavily related to their environment/lifestyle – often times the helplessness/struggle in new countries. The economic forces(poverty) and social forces (like violence in Honduras) that greatly impact the daily life of Latinas around the world drive them to cross transnational borders. Transnationalism forces latinas to view the cultures of their new country and homeland relative to each other and not be as rigid/absolute. Transnationalism refers to the transferal of cultural and religious beliefs across international border-that occurs during immigration.
    b. What new responsibilities and privileges do you feel that you have as a Latina in a different country compared to your home country-and how has the way you view religion changed?

  10. From our class discussion of transnational matters, the working definition that I am left with is that there are challenges that arise with the crossing of borders, particularly as a Latina in the United States. It takes a certain degree of tenacity and strength to maintain one’s devotion to their faith. There is a burden on mothers after crossing borders to continue practice their religion and emulating the role of Virgin Mary as a nurturing figure, even when they are separated from their children. The barriers present while building a home in a new space is so significant in defining transnational matters because the women’s role is so dependent on motherhood so without the children in that space there is still a longing to assume that role and those “duties”.
    The questions that I would ask a Latina regarding transnational matters would vary significantly based on the circumstance of the woman. I would be curious to know at what point/occurrence did the woman decide that the sacrifice and separation from her homeland become worth it. I would also ask about how their familial relationships have changed since crossing borders, specifically how it feels to be a mother despite the distance. Within that same inquiry, I would ask about the impact of religion on their motivation and/or devotion to their purpose.

  11. To me, the definition of transnational matters is not just the act of physically crossing a border, but also how people, and more specifically in the context of this class, women, adapt to their environment. We touched a lot upon women leaving their home country to build a better life for themselves and their family. This brings up the issue of women being shamed for leaving their families because of marianismo. In the eyes of many, women are supposed to tend to their children before all else, and they can’t do that if they are not physically there.

    I think an important question to ask in an ethnographic study about transnational matters is if they have any regrets about moving to a new country. In theory, everything sounds wonderful: you get a better job than you ever could in your home country, so you earn more money and are able to provide for your family. But it is more often that people come to the United States and realize “The American Dream” is no longer a reality, and like is much harder than it seems. I think it would be important to know not only what lead women to come to this country, but also the aftermath and their feelings on it.

  12. Latinas are held to a standard of being like the Virgin Mary in that they should be in the home with children, or they should be like La Virgen de Guadalupe. But, if they want to be financially stable, they must leave. Some Latinas lack the religious connection if they cannot find community. Latinas do not really share their struggles; they live in silence. So often, if they cannot find community, they simply will not find it because that is how many are raised—to be quiet. Living in a country where more women are liberated, there may be a pull between what was and what is. For our class, it is interesting to see the evolution of a Latina’s relationship with herself and with the world as she moves geographically. Religion can stay with a Latina all through her life and can affect her differently depending on where she is. For example, a Latina in Latin America is surrounded primarily by other Catholics and Hispanics, while in the US there is a very large mixture of religions in which one must find community. If they cannot find that, then their devotion more than likely will decrease and there will be a disconnect. In Latinas and Religion, we analyze the many ways in which religion dictates a Latina’s life. Regarding transnationalism, location also plays an important role in how a Latina leads her life.
    For me, the most important question would be do you feel lucky to be in the United States? Though Latinas come to the US to send money back to their families in their homeland, is the separation worth it? In America, they are minorities and undergo many struggles regarding citizenship and other discrimination because of it. Not everyone has the means to migrate to the US and make a living, but some do. So, I would like to know if those who have made it feel lucky to have done so or if the US is just mediocre to them. And, if the US is only mediocre, is that still better than their homeland? In my own experience, everyone has a different opinion; some are grateful to this country while others hate it. In asking this question, we can better understand their circumstances back in Latin America as well as how Hispanic culture translates when they move to the US.

  13. Transnational matters is basically living in two places at the same time. Of course, that is not possible physically, but mentally you can be in multiple places at the same time. As an international student, I am physically in Emory, but my mind is able to go to Italy, where my parents and brother live, to Brazil where the rest of my family is; these places are also my “homes,” I live in a constant blur. In the context of what we discussed in class, it is also living in multiple places at the same time. When a mother puts their child over the border of the U.S., or when they come to the U.S. and leave their child in their homeland, also known as transnational motherhood, they will never be at peace in any of these places, their mind will be split in two. One, thinking about the child or the family they left behind and the other wherever they are physically. Latinas are constantly faced with these choices. We have been raised with the notion that we need to find a better life, protect our children and that often is synonymous with leaving our homes. But nobody talks about how scary that is, the scarce “opportunities” and how dangerous it can be. Marietta, is a town near Atlanta that has a huge Brazilian immigrant population, a significant number of them are illegal, and I don’t know if their lives here are better than in Brazil. Not having family, not knowing the language, working as housekeepers or nannies, and with this constant fear that you are going to loose everything if you say the wrong thing to a wrong person. They practically live with an expiration date. Religion also has an influence as the image of the mother that would do anything for their child is recurring. The Virgin Mary giving up her only son to God, letting him sacrifice himself for the greater good. Latinas grow up preparing themselves to be good daughters, then good wives and good mothers and that means sacrificing yourself and putting other people in front of you. To be a good daughter you need to let go of your wishes to please your parents. To be a good wife you need to give up your ambitions for your husband, and give up your time to take care of the house. And for your kid, you should give up everything for them, including livelihood, sanity and happiness.

    b. What is stopping you from going back? To me, this is an interesting questions because it puts into perspective what are the real reasons you are staying. Everyone is clear on why they immigrated, but why are they staying? What is stopping them from going back?

  14. Transnational matters relate to the migration of a person to a new area and starting a new life while simultaneously hoping to preserve connection with the place, people, and culture they left behind. As I have heard from many women in my own family, transnational motherhood and life is something that they wouldn’t wish upon any mother. When trying to decide whether a mother should leave their child behind in search for a better future or stay and caring for them, Latinas are put in an impossible position. The same decisions occurs when it comes to clothes, sex, silence, devotion, etc. Transnational matters are closely tied to community and devotion as we saw in the readings mothers rely on second mothers and when coming to the US, for example, they hope to find a place of devotion but sometimes that place doesn’t exist. Not only are Latinas alone physically, but they have no one to rely on spiritually and it can be an isolating experience. Their devotion falters and the connection with God weakens.
    When talking to my partners we focused a lot on how transnational motherhood can be a source of shame. In some of the readings women who have their children with them would see transnational mothers as lesser than or as bad mothers for leaving their children behind. There’s also so much guilt associated with leaving a child in the country of origin not the mention the guilt of losing faith. I would ask transnational mothers if their sacrifice was worth it considering the lost time and intimacy with their children but also helping them move forward and if they believe the two could ever come at the same level of importance. Sometimes transnational mothers experience regret but they have no space to voice their true feelings without judgement because one of the two trade-off could be flipped on them and seen as selfish.

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