Do Legal-Status Mothers Take On More Responsibility Than Their Unauthorized Spouses?

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Families all around the world have immigrated to the United States for a variety of reasons. My family came into this country during the wave of the 1960s created from the Bracero Program where hundreds of Mexicans entered the US. My grandfather was able to obtain residency and later citizenship for my mother’s family in the late 1970s. My father on the other hand had to enter this country “illegally” in the quest for a better life. He married my mother in the late 80s and had my siblings and I a few short years later. My father was able to obtain a green card through their marriage but still feared the risk of deportation.

My memory will focus on my family dynamics and how their legal-status interplays with distribution of household and family responsibilities. In my paper I am going to argue that legal-status mothers do take on more responsibility than their unauthorized spouses, creating a structural situation where the men are dependent on their spouses.

So, it was a back to school night. I was in the third grade and I was so excited my father was finally going to attend a school function. Given his job and work hours he has always been unable to attend. My mother is a teacher at a local elementary school and was occupied with her students and their parents so my father had to come and fill in her role. So, there I was walking and tugging at my dads hand and pointing to show him all my work and art displayed on the classroom wall. I showed him my desk with my name tag and all my reward stickers.

Then came the time for him to speak with my teacher. Even though my elementary was predominantly latino my teacher spoke no Spanish whatsoever. Throughout the whole tour of my classroom my father seemed happy and content to see where I spent the majority of my day. Then as my teacher approached us I felt his hand start to sweat and his arm get stiff. I have always seen my father calm and collected but today was the first time he had to use me to interpret for him. I felt the pressure of making sure I said all the words correctly because I was a second-language learner and I was still learning English and yet I felt proud that I could help my father. But the interaction was very short. My teacher spoke of my accomplishments and my advancement in mathematics but yet I was having trouble in spelling. Also of the one incident where I had to sit out in recess for talking to my partner during silent reading. My father simply nodded and placed his hand on my shoulder to acknowledge my success but then gave me a look that summed up his disapproval of me because I was misbehaving. When my teacher asked if I had any questions, he simply nodded “no” and thanked him for everything and we said our goodbyes and began to walk out of class.

Then my father turned to me and began to ask, How are you going to improve your spelling? How can your mom help you? Are you being a good student and staying out of trouble? At that moment I remember feeling confused, as to why he didn’t ask my teacher all these questions. But I simply apologized for misbehaving and how it won’t happen anymore. By that time we had made our way to my mother’s classroom. She was already finished talking to her students’ parents and was cleaning up. We then headed home and did our daily routine. My brothers were at home watching TV and opened the door once they heard the car pull up to the driveway. My mother walking in kissed my brothers on the forehead and walked towards the kitchen to started making dinner, my father came in shortly after with my mom’s work bag. He took his boots off and heading straight towards his recliner. My mother looked just as tired as my father, they both work full time and I remember feeling bad for her. Just as I was about to sit down on the couch he tells me “go help your mom”. My brother offered to help, but my dad said, “No, Jessica you go help”. Of course I complied and yet I felt that was so unfair. What I remember the most of this day was seeing how exhausted my mother was, but without a complaint she made dinner and cleaned up on her own. This was an everyday thing but that night I hold in my memories. It was the first time I recognized the division of labor within my own household.

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In the very beginning of my memory I point out that my father had to attend my back to school night because my mother was unable to because of her job. I view my parents’ marriage as transitional, my father was supportive in my mother working. Mainly because they needed the second income to provide for my family. But my father did expect her to carry on a majority of the household work. Just like Pleck’s model of distant breadwinner, my father’s job did provide for us economically and provided security. But his job did require him to travel to Arizona for four months out of the year, he works in agriculture so his job followed the seasons. He works long hours, and hardly sees us throughout the week. This was a result of minimal work opportunities available for undocumented workers.

This yearly transition did put strain in their marriage. My mother faced the triple burdens. Due to my father being undocumented it created a structural situation were my mother took on more responsibility than my father. She has her career and responsibilities as a teacher. She maintained the household, cooking, cleaning, etc. essentially doing the “the second shift”, especially those months my father was away. My mother would constantly get sick and I believe it was the main cause of her stress. She would come home from a long day at school and then have to take care of me and my siblings. Aside of having to take care of us she also took care of my father. She was his main translator, and when it came to documents like bank accounts, loans, bills it all was in her name. This dependency increased the workload of my mother. Just liked stated in Dreby’s reading, “Unauthorized men depend on their legal-status spouses to help out with everything; women with status feel uncomfortable further challenging their unauthorized husbands’ masculinity by asking them to help out at home. As a result they not only do a second shift at home but carry what seems a triple burden” (Dreby, 95). There is so much “machismo” in Latino community that I can understand why my mother did not ask my father for help. The household work can be seen as female work and my mother was brought up to do it all on her own and by asking my dad she would essentially be undermining his masculinity. Which is why my father asked me and not my two older brothers to help her cook. I was a girl and I had to learn to be a good wife one day.

Based on my memory and my childhood I believe I grew up in a patriarchal home, even though my mom was the legal spouse and my father did depend on her for a great significant amount of things, my father did in fact hold the power within the home. Even though my father had a green card, my family did act and feared of my father being deported. He was the main provider but also he was my father, we did not want our family separated. When enforcement policies began to increase it made a lot of immigrants afraid and created this fear among the community, “Mexicans make up approximately 30 percent of foreign born and 58 percent of the unauthorized population. Just the possibility of deportation haunted our family. Which in turn made my father uneasy around school officials or anyone with authority. In my memory, my father did not want to interact with my teacher, not just because of the language barrier but I believe he was afraid of what he would ask or assume about our family. Men are specifically targeted and he chose to keep his distance at all cost. Which is why I believe he hardly attended school functions, or my doctor’s appointments or the reason his hand got sweaty and cramped up that night.

With this sense of fear within my family it trickled down to my siblings and I. When we would all go out as a family, we all became uneasy when we saw a police officer. We were sacred that he could take our father away. Lastly what I noticed in my memory was my father’s dependency on me. I was my father’s translator that evening, and he needed me to interact with my teacher. While it was a very minimal interaction, I enjoyed helping my father. But if I had to do this for my whole family I can see how it can become uncomfortable and stressful for some children.

So like stated above I do believe that legal-status mothers do take on more responsibility than their unauthorized spouses, creating a structural situation where the men are dependent on their spouses. It is something that is very evident within my own family. My mother carries with her the triple burden of taking care of our home, maintaining a career, and lastly helping my father manage his life here in the US. At times my father has also become dependent on us, his children when we have to translate. But being Mexican and a patriarchal family, our culture has made it hard for my father to realize it how much he really is dependent on my mother. The women do a majority of the household work because it is the way we were raised, so they do not ask for help. The father is the provider and holds the power and the women have to take care of the home. But being a legal-mixed family in the US has changed the dynamics of my own family.

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Writingbros. (2020, July, 15) Do Legal-Status Mothers Take On More Responsibility Than Their Unauthorized Spouses? Retrived September 18, 2020, from
"Do Legal-Status Mothers Take On More Responsibility Than Their Unauthorized Spouses?" Writingbros, 15 Jul. 2020, Accessed 18 September 2020.
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