by Gina Perez

EDIT – Nov 19, 2008

I had ended up rewriting this post for actual publication earlier this year. Somehow I just never got around to posting that version. I guess this is a good example of how you can take something random written for class and actually turn it into something useful. The original entry is in blue:

In The Near Northwest Side Story: Migration, Displacement, and Puerto Rican Families, Gina Perez uses the backdrop of Chicago, Illinois and San Sebastian, Puerto Rico to explore the transnational lives of Puerto Ricans and how movement between two cities that have “a long transnational history of circulating people, capital, information and ideologies” affects their identity, sense of belonging, and economic status. Using ethnographies and historical research, Perez reveals how immigration by Puerto Ricans and migration in general is “about power relations – between countries, economies, and individuals – and it raises important questions about the nature and scope of power hierarchies, including those of race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation”. Perez is specifically interested in gendered power relations and how they affect issues of migration, labor, and access to resources such as education, housing, and kin networks.

The Near Northwest Side Storydescribes the lives of people who lead highly mobile and transnational lives. Perez is open about her methodological techniques and keenly aware of her insider/outsider status as a researcher. She follows the tracks of her subject, first as a GED instructor to a mixed-age group of students at a cultural center in Chicago’s Near Northwest Side, and second as a worker in her aunt’s neighborhood store in San Sebastian where she had the opportunity to observe, conduct interviews, and converse with the local populace. By the end of the book, it is apparent that Perez has formed long lasting relationships with her subjects and deeply cares about them and the Puerto Rican community in general. In fact, one could read in The Near Northwest Side Story an argument for urgent alteration in policies that hurt Puerto Ricans in Chicago: her clear prose, written both for an academic and a popular audience, lends her work the aura of activist scholarship even though Perez never actively lobbies for policy change in this book.

Perez makes several interventions in key theoretical debates concerning Puerto Ricans and migration through this book by considering the effects of state policies on immigration and industrialization on the lives of Puerto Ricans. She criticizes the outlook that “uncritically celebrate[s] transmigrants’ nomadism, hybridity, and resistance to the global economy,” and challenges underclass theorists who blame immigrants’ poverty on their supposed lack of organization and inability to assimilate. Perez also disrupts some of the usual theories about why people migrate. In Puerto Rico’s case, she shows us how migration was initially encouraged actively by both the sending and the receiving states and how this policy caused Puerto Ricans to catch a “fever” of migration that still has not subsided. She also shows how women’s migration was especially encouraged by the Puerto Rican government under presumptions that this would reduce the population growth rate on the island. Perez contends, against popular belief, that most Puerto Ricans live a highly localized life and, thus, cannot be labeled as circular migrants. In fact, according to Perez, transnational lives are not always necessarily mobile. In this, her findings reinforce Arjun Appadurai’s contention that people’s lives are shaped by the imaginings of possibilities rather than actual migration.

One of the most striking things about Perez’s book is that it shows how entering the U.S. with legal citizenship status does not prevent Puerto Ricans from sinking into poverty and from becoming the underclass of Chicago. Perez shows how Puerto Ricans are consistently racially marginalized and denied economic and housing opportunities because of their image as a crime-ridden community. This is one area where Perez’s discussions of citizenship and the politics of statehood in Puerto Rico leave much to be desired. While one often thinks that illegal immigrants are exploited because of their lack of legal status, it is curious that even though Puerto Ricans are American citizens and have all the fabled rights that come with that citizenship, they are unable to leverage this fact to their advantage or to avoid harassment by the city or the police and remain at the lowest wrung of society. After finishing reading Perez’s book, one is forced to question the value of citizenship for non-white peoples living in poverty within the United States.

The Near Northwest Side Story is a valuable read for those students of diaspora studies and transnationalism theories who are looking for an example of a multi-sited ethnography that maintains throughout a significant focus on women and on how gender has affected the history of migration, particularly in Puerto Rico. Perez’s work creates a space for Puerto Rican women’s voices to be heard and shows how they daily negotiate gender roles and create kinship networks that benefit the Puerto Rican community at large. Ultimately, The Near Northwest Side Story is an eloquent account of what strategies migrants, especially women, use to sustain themselves in an increasingly globalized, yet economically disparate world.

Another review/summary written for class. This book is a much better example of ethnography than Ignacio’s and Ong’s. A good easy read and well historically grounded. Enjoy!

The Near Northwest Side Story: Migration, Displacement, and Puerto Rican Families by Gina Perez

In this book, Perez uses the backdrop of Chicago and San Sebastian, Puerto Rico to explore the transnational lives of Puerto Ricans and how immigration between the two cities affects their identity, sense of belonging, and economic standings. Using ethnography and also by digging through history, Perez reveals how immigration by Puerto Ricans and migration in general “is fundamentally about power relations – between countries, economies, and individuals – and it raises important questions about the nature and scope of power hierarchies, including those of race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation” (7). Perez is also very interested in how issues of gender shaped immigration and Puerto Rican history by their “embededness in development ideologies, labor history, place-making, and ethnic identity construction in a transnational context” (7).

This book is similar to Aihwa Ong’s Flexible Citizenship in that both books describe the lives of people who lead highly mobile and transnational lives. This is, however, where most of similarity ends. Perez, unlike Ong, is much more open about her methodological techniques and keenly aware of her insider/outsider status as a researcher. She is also considerable of the effect of historical processes concerning state policies on immigration and industrialization on the lives of Puerto Ricans. By the end of the book, it is apparent that Perez has formed long lasting relationships with her subjects and deeply cares about them and the Puerto Rican community in general. In fact, one could see Near Northwest Side Story poised in a manner that could affect policies surrounding Puerto Ricans in Chicago: her clear prose, written both for an academic and a popular audience, lends her book the aura of activist scholarship even though Perez never actively lobbies for policy change in her book.

Perez makes several interventions in key theoretical debates concerning Puerto Ricans and migration through her book. She catalogues some of these in her conclusion: criticizing an outlook that “uncritically celebrate transmigrants’ nomadism, hybridity, and resistance to the global economy” (200); challenging underclass theorists who blame immigrants’ poverty on their supposed lack of organization and inability to assimilate; etc. Perez also disrupts some of the usual theories about why people migrate. In Puerto Rico’s case, she shows us how migration was initially encouraged actively by both the sending and the receiving states and how this policy caused Puerto Ricans to catch the “fever” of migration that still hasn’t subsided. She also shows how, against popular belief, most Puerto Ricans live a highly localized life and cannot be labeled circular migrants. In fact, according to Perez, transnational lives are not always necessarily mobile. Her findings concerning transnationality are vaguely reminiscent of Appadurai in that both talk about how people’s lives are shaped by the imaginings of possibilities rather than actual migration.

The biggest intervention that Perez makes in all the texts that we have read till now is her focus on women and how gender has affected the history of migration in Puerto Rico. While most scholars make recommendations that more research needs to be conducted on women and immigration, Perez actually goes ahead and does it. She shows how Puerto Rican women’s migration was especially encouraged by the government under the belief that this would reduce the population growth rate on the island. Perez’s ethnographies create a space for Puerto Rican women’s voices to be heard and show how they daily negotiate gender roles and create kinship networks that benefit the Puerto Rican community at large.

One of the most striking things about Perez’s book is that she shows how entering the country with legal citizenship status does not prevent Puerto Ricans from sinking into poverty and from becoming the underclass of Chicago. Perez shows how Puerto Ricans are consistently racially marginalized and denied economic and housing opportunities because of their image as a crime-ridden community. I wish Perez had gone deeper into issues of citizenship and the politics of statehood in Puerto Rico. While one often thinks of illegal immigrants and their exploitation because of their lack of legal status, it is curious that even though Puerto Ricans are American citizens and have all the fabled rights that come with the citizenship, they are unable to bend this fact to their advantage or to avoid harassment by the city or the police and remain at the lowest wrungs of society. All of a sudden, I am forced to question the value of citizenship for non-white poor people in America who will always be looked upon as racial others and never truly assimilated with the American society.

About these ads