An Intersectional Approach to Assimilation and Mental Health among Mexican-origin Women in the United States
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Anti-immigrant sentiment against Mexicans in the United States has had a dramatic influence on the lives of the Mexican-origin population (or those presumed Mexican) and on how they perceive the host society. Until now, little research has addressed the extent to which this hostility has affected their mental health. Drawing on 90 face-to-face interviews with undocumented, documented, and U.S.-born Mexican American women from Houston, Texas, I adopt an intersectional approach to examine how a negative context of reception shapes their susceptibility to depressive symptoms. There are four major findings. First, undocumented Mexican immigrant women experience a deportation threat directly. They experience: constant fear of deportation; family fragmentation; and economic uncertainty, making them susceptible to depressive symptoms. Second, the consequences of undocumented status extend beyond the undocumented population to the Mexican-origin community (or those that appear to be Mexicans) through what I call undocumented vicariousness. Therefore, both documented Mexican immigrant and Mexican American women experience a deportation threat indirectly, also making them susceptible to depressive symptoms. Third, documented Mexican immigrant women experience undocumented vicariousness if they have: mixed-status families; and/or experiential knowledge having once been undocumented immigrants themselves. Mexican American women experience undocumented vicariousness if they have: mixed-status families; a romantic partner or husband that is undocumented; and/or identify with the immigrant plight. The major differences between how undocumented vicariousness plays out for these two groups relates to the: lack of dating/marriage partners that are undocumented for the documented Mexican immigrant women compared to the Mexican American women; and the experiential knowledge associated with Mexican Americans not living as undocumented immigrants themselves. Fourth, a racialization process exists where immigrants, regardless of legal status, nativity and ties with the undocumented community, are perceived and treated as undocumented immigrants. This contributes towards how Mexican-origin women negotiate and understand their intersectional identities, feelings of belonging, and exclusion, particularly in today’s deportation regime and anti-immigrant climate. These findings highlight the salience of undocumented status as another marker of inequality and stratification and add to the growing interest on “illegality” and its impacts on mental health disparities by using an intersectionality approach.
Garcia, San Juanita E. (2014). An Intersectional Approach to Assimilation and Mental Health among Mexican-origin Women in the United States. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from