Student Resource Guide

Questions for Discussion

The following questions are intended to enrich students’ reading of the book by promoting discussion and connecting some of the issues raised in the text with broader social science problems.

Chapter One

    1. In the preface, I mention that I became friends with the Lions over the course of our acquaintance. Do you think that it is desirable for ethnographers to establish personal relationships with their study participants? Do friendships between ethnographer and participant enhance or diminish the quality of ethnographic research?

    2. This ethnographic study took place just outside the city of Chicago—an area that is plagued by racial segregation and inequality. What do working-class U.S. citizens have in common with undocumented immigrants like the Lions? In what ways are their situations meaningfully different?

Chapter Two

    3. In this chapter, I point out that the U.S.–Mexico border was established by a war of conquest (and not, for example, by vote or mutual agreement). Should nation-states establish borders and control the movement of people over them? Who should get to decide such questions, and how?

    4. This chapter presents historical material that shows how concepts of citizenship have shifted over time in relation to prevailing ideologies and needs in the United States. Do you think that there are parallels between the political exclusion of African-descended people in the United States—who formed a large segment of the U.S. workforce but were denied full citizenship rights—and undocumented immigrants? How are the experiences of African Americans and undocumented immigrants meaningfully similar? How are they meaningfully different?

Chapter Three

    5. Among other things, this chapter examines how illegal status makes the Lions vulnerable and contributes to their marginalization. How does this affect our understanding of workers’ agency? To what degree are poor, disenfranchised, or otherwise marginalized people able to affect their world? How is their agency limited? Is it appropriate to speak of meaningful human agency among people who have very little political or economic power?

    6. Many Mexican workers like the Lions are not driven to migrate by extreme poverty but rather by a host of social and economic considerations. Do you agree with their Mexican family members that decisions to migrate without authorization are morally justified, or are you inclined to agree with those who believe that there is no justifiable reason for breaking immigration law? What kinds of criteria would you use to examine this question?

Chapter Four

    7. Anthropologists have traditionally studied small-scale, non-Western “cultures.” Increasingly, anthropologists of globalization have focused on the interconnections between groups of people around the world and particularly on how “cultures” themselves are being continuously created within broader political, economic, and social landscapes. Do the Lions have a “culture”? If so, is it different from Mexican culture? Is it different from American culture?

    8. In the absence of their families and without the support of a broader community, the Lions became very reliant on each other for material and nonmaterial resources. In essence, friendships became very important for them. Are there parallels between the Lions’ social networks and those of other alienated or isolated social groups that you can think of?

Chapter Five

    9. When they work, the Lions remind me of a competitive team in which members pressure each other to perform. In what other situations are individuals encouraged or pressured to conform to group expectations? What are the advantages of belonging to a group or team? What are the drawbacks?

    10. At the end of this chapter, I argue that insofar as the Lions reproduce racialized perceptions of their labor, they perpetuate categorical inequalities that ultimately constrain them. Do you agree with this conclusion? Do you think that by working really hard, the Lions become complicit in their own subordination or is this “blaming the victim”?

Chapter Six

    11. In their conversations about race, the Lions both reproduce and resist racial stereotypes of themselves and others. What are racial stereotypes, and how do they function? What impact do stereotypes about Mexican workers have on the Lions’ behaviors and their social identities?

    12. When I asked the Lions to rate the things that were most important in their lives, only Alberto gave religion a high rating (although they all self-identify as Catholic). Is this consistent with other things that you have heard or read about Mexicans and Mexican culture? What are some possible explanations for the relative lack of importance of religion in the Lions’ lives?

Chapter Seven

    13. In this chapter, I mention but do not discuss in depth the idea that the anti-immigrant movement is racist. Is it? How can we tell?

    14. If it could be shown that deporting all undocumented immigrants would have an overall beneficial impact on U.S. citizens, should it be done? Who should get to decide, and on what grounds?

Suggestions for Further Reading

Ábrego, Leisy. 2014. Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Casteñeda, Heide. 2019. Borders of Belonging: Struggle and Solidarity in Mixed-Status Immigrant Families. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Chang, Grace. 2000. Disposable Domestics: Immigrant Women Workers in the Global Economy. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Chavez, Leo R. 1992. Shadowed Lives: Undocumented Immigrants in American Society. New York: Wadsworth.

Coutin, Susan. 2016. Exiled Home: Transnational Salvadoran Youth in the Aftermath of Violence. Durham: Duke University Press.

De Genova, Nicholas. 2005. Working the Boundaries: Race, Space, and “Illegality” in Mexican Chicago. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

De León, Jason. 2015. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fernandez-Kelly, Maria Patricia. 1983. For We Are Sold, I and My People: Women and Industry in Mexico’s Frontier. Albany: University of New York Press.

Fine, Gary Alan. 1996. Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gomberg-Muñoz, Ruth. 2016. Becoming Legal: Immigration Law and Mixed Status Families. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gonzáles, Roberto. 2015. Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette. 2001. Doméstica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Horton, Sarah Bronwen. 2016. They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields: Illness, Injury, and Illegality among U.S. Farmworkers. Berkeley: University of California Press.

López, William D. 2019. Separated: Family and Community in the Aftermath of an immigration Raid. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Massey, Douglas, Jorge Durand, and Nolan J. Malone. 2002. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Ngai, Mae. 2004. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Pallares, Amalia. 2014. Family Activism: Immigrant Struggle and the Politics of Noncitizenship. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Romero, Mary. 2002. Maid in the U.S.A. New York: Routledge.

Stephen, Lynn. 2007. Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Stuesse, Angela. 2016. Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Vogt, Wendy. 2018. Lives in Transit: Violence and Intimacy on the Migrant Journey. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Zlolniski, Christian. 2006. Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists: The Lives of Mexican Immigrants in Silicon Valley. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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