The Qualities of a Citizen traces the application of U.S. immigration and naturalization law to women from the 1870s to the late 1960s. Like no other book before, it explores how racialized, gendered, and historical anxieties shaped our current understandings of the histories of immigrant women. The book takes us from the first federal immigration restrictions against Asian prostitutes in the 1870s to the immigration "reform" measures of the late 1960s. Throughout this period, topics such as morality, family, marriage, poverty, and nationality structured historical debates over women's immigration and citizenship.
At the border, women immigrants, immigration officials, social service providers, and federal judges argued the grounds on which women would be included within the nation. As interview transcripts and court documents reveal, when, where, and how women were welcomed into the country depended on their racial status, their roles in the family, and their work skills. Gender and race mattered.
The book emphasizes the comparative nature of racial ideologies in which the inclusion of one group often came with the exclusion of another. It explores how U.S. officials insisted on the link between race and gender in understanding America's peculiar brand of nationalism. It also serves as a social history of the law, detailing women's experiences and strategies, successes and failures, to belong to the nation.
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Princeton University Press
April 03, 2005
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Excerpt from The Qualities of a Citizen by Martha Gardner
IN THE SHADOW OF THE LAW
Hoping to exchange the instability of 1918 revolutionary Mexico for the economic possibilities in New Mexico, Concepci�n de la Cruz and her family traveled from Sierra Mojada to the United States in search of work and peace. At the border, while her mother and her younger siblings had their clothing removed and disinfected, their scalps probed for lice, their bodies bathed and then inspected for disease and defect, and their intentions scrutinized during the arduous and demoralizing process of legal immigration, de la Cruz and her father were spared. "We all came together to the bridge, and they let my father and me pass and stopped my mother and the children and made them immigrate." "My father and I were never immigrated," she explained to United States immigration authorities.1 How was that possible, officials queried? How had de la Cruz and her father managed to pass over the bridge that marked the border between the United States and Mexico without passing through the rigors of legal inspection?
Neither de la Cruz, nor the New Mexico immigration authorities, nor the records left behind offer an explanation for why de la Cruz crossed easily over a legal and geographic border her mother found daunting and prohibitive. Both women were subject to early twentieth-century immigration laws controlling the arrival of immigrants from Mexico, but in important ways their cases differed. De la Cruz sought work as a housekeeper, while her mother was responsible for the care of two young children. De la Cruz's work fit within a privileged space in the law reserved for women willing to work as domestic servants, while her mother appeared an unlikely candidate to immigration officials wary of new, economically dependent arrivals. Under United States immigration law, it has mattered whether a woman was a maid or a mother. "In the main, in the eyes of the law," a critical observer noted in 1922, "a man is a man, while a woman is a maid, wife, widow, or mother."2
Women immigrants endeavored to enter and to become citizens of the United States in the shadow of the law.3 Immigrants like Concepci�n de la Cruz experienced arrival as a legal process, and many immigrants arrived at the border cognizant of the law and their place within it.4 Just as it is a process of geographic, social, and economic mobility and cultural change, the process of leaving one nation and arriving in another is an experience of the law.5 Mobility requires an intimate encounter of immigrants and the state acted through legal procedures. In this encounter, some immigrants become residents, some aliens become citizens, some non-Americans become Americans, and some do not.
Helping to delineate the membership of a nation state, immigration and naturalization laws create a system of belonging and not belonging.6 The place of immigrant women in this system has been judged by their work, their sexuality, their role in the family, and their race. By restricting how, why, when, and where women could enter, immigration law has protected a racially exclusive image of the American family, promoted a racially and sexually segmented labor force, and tied women's role in the nation to their domestic responsibilities in the American home. In defining the civic rights of aliens, immigrants, residents, and nationals, naturalization law tied race and gender to shifting understandings of the significance of moral character, family responsibility, and personal independence to citizenship. Historical debate over the law and its application make visible how Americans and would-be Americans, policy makers and immigrants, assessed the implications of women immigrants for the nation--their moral character, family status, race, poverty, marriage, citizenship, and alienage.
Over the twentieth century changing ideas of race difference were mapped onto those of gender to construct the walls and portals that governed immigrant women's arrival. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, fluctuations in laws governing the arrival and citizenship of immigrant women were symptomatic of the major changes that punctuated this period--the growing concern about the nuclear family, the increased participation of women in wage labor, the shift from an industrial to a service economy, the increase in migration to the United States of nonwhite, non-European peoples, and the growth of the United States as a global power. The perception of immigrant women and their citizen daughters either as assets or as threats to assimilation and nation building is linked to these important shifts in social, economic, and international power relationships.