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Labor and Legality

An Ethnography of a Mexican Immigrant Network

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz

Publication Date - 25 August 2010

ISBN: 9780199739387

184 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

A brief, engaging ethnography on undocumented Mexican workers in America that engages contemporary debates on immigration policy


Winner of the 2011 ALLA Book Award honorable mention!

Labor and Legality: An Ethnography of a Mexican Immigrant Network is an ethnography of undocumented immigrants who work as busboys at a Chicago-area restaurant. Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz introduces readers to the Lions, ten friends from Mexico committed to improving their fortunes and the lives of their families. Set in and around "Il Vino," a restaurant that could stand in for many places that employ undocumented workers, Labor and Legality reveals the faces behind the war being waged over "illegal aliens" in America. Gomberg-Muñoz focuses on how undocumented workers develop a wide range of social strategies to cultivate financial security, nurture emotional well-being, and promote their dignity and self-esteem. She also reviews the political and historical circumstances of undocumented migration, with an emphasis on post-1970 socioeconomic and political conditions in the United States and Mexico.

Labor and Legality is one of several volumes in the Issues of Globalization: Case Studies in Contemporary Anthropology series, which examines the experiences of individual communities in our contemporary world. Each volume offers a brief and engaging exploration of a particular issue arising from globalization and its cultural, political, and economic effects on certain peoples or groups. Ideal for introductory anthropology courses-and as supplements for a variety of upper-level courses-these texts seamlessly combine portraits of an interconnected and globalized world with narratives that emphasize the agency of their subjects.

About the Author(s)

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her work has been published in American Anthropologist, Human Organization, and The DuBois Review.

Table of Contents

    Chapter One: Meet the Lions
    A Dog's Life: Luis
    I Want Respect at My Job: Rene
    Meet the Lions
    The Lions
    Il Vino Buono
    What Does a Busboy Do?
    How Do The Lions Compare to Other Groups of Workers?
    Chapter Two: Why is There Undocumented Migration?
    Migration in the mid-20th Century: Papa Juan's Story
    An Anthropology of Mexican Labor Migration to the U.S.
    The Beginnings of Borders in North America
    The Seeds of Globalization
    The Roots Take Hold: The Breadbasket and the Bracero Program
    Reaping the Harvest: The Political Production of "Illegal Immigration"
    Politics of Marginalization
    Politics of Labor Reproduction
    Chapter Three: Jumping and Adjusting to Life Under the Radar
    Migration: Chuy's Story
    Life in León
    Family Strategies
    The Price of Crossing
    Life Under the Radar: Papers
    Life Under the Radar: Getting Adjusted
    Changing Ideas of Home: Return Migration and Return-Return Migration
    Chapter Four: Múy Unidos: Friends, Networks, and Households
    Having Friends Makes Things Easier: Alejandro
    Utilizing a Social Network: Finding Work
    Money and Respect: Assessing Jobs and Bosses
    Getting Paid and Managing Money
    Utilizing a Social Network: Households
    Chapter Five: Echándole Ganas: Working Hard
    A Little Extra: Roberto
    Extra Work, Flexible Work
    A Hypothetical Day in the Work Life of an Il Vino Busboy
    Learning the Ropes: Humor and Hazing
    Working as a Team
    Covering and Criticizing: Protecting the Group and Enforcing the Norms
    Consent and Contradiction
    Chapter Six: Los Número Uno: Identity, Dignity, and Esteem
    They're good people: Lalo
    Race, Class, and Illegality: Structural Dimensions of Mexican Immigrant Identity
    The Dignity of Hard Work
    On the Margins of the "American Dream"
    Gendered Identity and the Honor of Family Men
    Chapter Seven: Illegals and Criminals: Racism, Nationalism, and the Criminalization of Low-Wage Labor
    We wetbacks are people who like to work: Leonardo
    Myths and Realities
    Illegals and Criminals
    Toward an Anti-Nationalist, Anti-Racist Perspective on Immigration

    Appendix: Interview Outline
    Student Resource Guide

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