Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The bi-national path to immigrant U.S. political incorporation: Chicago's Mexican hometown associations, state projects, and social mobilization in an era of globalization
by Vonderlack-Navarro, Rebecca, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2011, 246; 3460249
Abstract (Summary)

The many first-generation Mexican immigrant hometown associations (HTAs) in U.S. cities have been recognized as important largely for sustaining transnational ties between immigrants and their sending society. Yet recent activities in Chicago, including HTA leadership of the dramatic 2006 marches for immigrant rights, suggest that this kind of organization—and, indeed, mobilization itself—may become a significant agent of political incorporation for U.S. immigrants.

This case study focuses on the evolution of 270 Midwestern HTAs and nine state-level federations into a broader leadership confederation based in Chicago, CONFEMEX, and poses two related questions to guide the study. First, why did CONFEMEX eventually shift from a Mexican-focused to a bi-national Mexico-U.S.-focused agenda and how has this shift affected the political activities of the confederation? Second, why did CONFEMEX and its HTA base come to embrace contentious activism and what have been the impacts of this step for immigration policy and politics, for HTAs as organizations, and for immigrant leaders themselves?

This dissertation argues that recent theories influenced by the "transnationalist" lens, which emphasizes sending-society political ties, do not effectively explain the evolution of Chicago HTAs' activities because they fail to pay adequate attention to the U.S. political environment and how it has come to influence HTA activism. Using a social movement approach, I contend that the growing importance of U.S.-focused activities for CONFEMEX as well as its eventual embrace of popular mobilization strategies resulted from its interaction with multiple government entities in Mexico and, especially, in the United States, including national and state-level actors. By examining how these varied governmental actors worked at different times to support, suppress, or reincorporate CONFEMEX, we can see how the changing form and direction of HTA activism—not only popular mobilization but also, most recently, interest-group consolidation—represent immigrant leaders' responses to shifting and cross-cutting state projects in an era of neoliberal globalization.

To develop this argument, the study begins by investigating the enhanced political legitimacy conferred upon the Midwest HTA confederation—CONFEMEX—by the Mexican government's diaspora reincorporation programs during the 1990s and, in particular, by Chicago-based consular support. The dissertation continues by exploring the contrasting impacts of a threatening post-9/11 U.S. anti-immigrant politics and a quite different—and powerfully legitimating—set of Illinois state-government programs that, starting in 2005, courted Mexican HTAs as attractive voting blocs. The final sections of the dissertation center on the activities of CONFEMEX in the wake of a qualitatively new level of anti-immigrant pressures that emerged in U.S. national politics in 2005. Focusing closely on the response of immigrant organizations to the passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Sensenbrenner bill in late 2005, the study examines how CONFEMEX became one of Chicago's leading sponsors of the 2006 immigrant rights marches as well as how the organization developed closer political relationships with other immigrant groups and with state and local officials in Illinois. By tracing the post-2006 political developments and governmental projects in relation to HTAs' evolving repertoires of action, I demonstrate that CONFEMEX would come to operate as an important interest group and agent of U.S. political incorporation for Chicago's Mexican immigrant community, though not without also creating significant intra-organizational tensions.

The broader conceptual framework for this dissertation draws on theoretical insights from three major scholarly literatures—social movement paradigms, the political economy of globalization, and theories of the state—as well as from the growing body of research on the transnational politics of Mexican immigrant organizations. Empirically, this case study relies on organizational archival data made available to the author by CONFEMEX and consular records and on evidence from two years of participant-observation research within the leadership circles of organization, as well as 31 key informant interviews with CONFEMEX leaders, local grassroots immigrant activists, and Illinois state and Mexican consular officials in Chicago. The study findings provide important insights into how multiple Mexican and U.S. state projects become principal influences on the evolution of HTA organizational strategies that have had significant impacts on the emerging political identities of Mexican immigrants in the United States.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Sites, William
Commitee: Boyer, Christopher, Parks, Virginia
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Social Service Administration
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 72/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social work, International law, Social structure, Hispanic American studies
Keywords: Hometown associations, Illinois, Immigration, Social movements, State projects, Transnationalism
Publication Number: 3460249
ISBN: 978-1-124-71832-3
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