Credit: Shawna Nelles on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).
(WOMENSENEWS)–Most women in Amatlan consider themselves, their neighbors and their friends to be good mothers.
Almost all the women in the community labor in the domestic sphere–they cook the food, wash the clothes and generally look after the house and children. Making lonches — lunches for the men in the fields and for the school-age children — is an integral part of their mothering. A good mother frets about what she is feeding her children. Though the terms the women use to talk about each other’s mothering are similar to the good-bad dichotomy used by the mainstream, their interpretations and the reasons behind their interpretations are more nuanced.
For the state, good mothers follow the rules, have few children and invest in them emotionally; they are also expected to live in a nuclear family. For the women I met, good motherhood entailed a significant amount of investment, but also drawing from one’s extended-kin network to achieve a child’s success; abuelas and ahuis (grandmothers and aunts) were frequently key to the socialization process of any child . . .
Not Suffering in Silence
In Amatlan, many mothers suffer alongside, or because of, their children. While marianismo – -the all-suffering, passive motherhood epitomized in the Virgin Mary — is very present in many corners of Latin America, it is not much in evidence in this region. The mothers who do struggle with their children neither view themselves as martyrs nor do they suffer in silence.
Esperanza often despaired at the laziness of her son Adrian, one day exclaiming, “He is no use to me here. He should go away to work but he doesn’t want to. I don’t know what to do with him.” I suggested, “You should stop feeding him.” She replied, laughing, “That’s true, then he’ll go away. . . . [If he is here] I worry when he doesn’t get back [or] whether he has been beaten or something. But when he is far away I don’t worry. My head can rest.”
All the mothers I spoke with worried about their children’s future. Emma said, regarding one of her sons who was attending university in the city of Morelia, “A student is a lot of money. My son always asks me for money, 70 pesos, or 50, and it is a lot of money. As he doesn’t work. . . . And when there is money we can [help] but often there is none. I tell [my husband] to go to Mexico and to work in a house, or as a bricklayer, to make some money.” She added with a smile, “But he says he is too old.”
Women in Amatlan were the primary caregivers to children, whether their own or their extended kin; their main duties were domestic. Emma’s eldest daughter, Cristina, irritably pointed out that mothers, and women, had to do everything with never any rest.
She constantly worried about her children and hoped that they would be able to make something of their lives. But her anxiety was exhausting, as she said, extending her emotion to all aspects of motherhood:
“It’s just that as women we have to do everything, get pregnant and be nauseated for the first few months and when everything makes you feel sick. And [cleaning] the pigsty made me feel so sick. And then in the last [months] it is difficult to stand up and do everything. It is so much trouble. And then the pain of the birth, and to breastfeed, and to get up to change the baby in the middle of the night. Your husband is happily asleep but not you. And then to have to control yourself so you don’t get pregnant. We [women] have to do everything. There is only the condom and the vasectomy for men, but they don’t want them. We have to do it if we don’t want to get pregnant. And well, one has to satisfy the husband and also not have so many children.”
This centrality of women as caregivers and men as providers is echoed in the structure of Oportunidades, a federal social assistance program in Mexico. When some of the men of the village on occasion asked to receive the money alongside the women, they were scolded by the authorities and told that it was only for the women. They were told that they should work, not be lazy and support their families. This response somehow implied that women’s natural job at the home could be rewarded and encouraged with money, but men needed to be out in the public sphere without complaint.
Excerpted from the new book, “Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico,” by Vania Smith-Oka, published by Vanderbilt University Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. For more information: www.VanderbiltUniversityPress.com.
Vania Smith-Oka is a assistant professor of anthropology and a fellow of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
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