Connected maternal migrants and imagined maternal communities
Maria is a Colombian 39-year-old mother of two and runs the group for Spanish-speaking mothers in Melbourne. She met her Brazilian husband in Australia when they were both on student visas. Maria struggled with becoming a mother away from home, contrasting it with the family and community support she imagines she would have had in Colombia. She didn't feel able to confide in her mother about her worries around pregnancy, birth, and child-raising. Now her children are older (5 and 2), she video calls her mother and involves her in their daily routine: "I put her on and [...] I’m doing lunch boxes and doing this and doing that, and she’s just, as if she were in there and I'm just talking and running from one side to the other and the kids as well... not like a phone call... she's just in there, present in there, and she just sees what happens. ”
As a new mother, Maria wrestled with conflicting advice from healthcare professionals, her mother and mother-in-law, her state-run mothers' group, and the Australian!US baby books she read. She remembers, “in Colombia you put a lot of clothing on baby. You keep them extremely warm, and here is like you don’t cover the babies at all! So normally my mothers’ group used to tell me, you put a lot of clothing on your baby, and I was like ‘argh, just let me alone! It’s the iray I do it.’ When her daughter was six months’ old, Maria met the woman who created the Spanish-speaking mothers group through their local health centre. They became close friends and Maria took over running the group when her friend moved to Sydney.
Maria has been a bit disappointed in the Facebook group, although she notes that the spin-off WhatsApp group seems to be more active, driven by close personal connections and quick responses to questions. She compares it to the Brazilian mothers' group, of which she is also a member, and suggests the Spanish-speaking group might be hindered by the lack of a common origin or identity. While she doesn't feel she gets much personal benefit out of the group anymore, she is committed to her role in it, viewing it as a kind of community service.
In Chapter 2, 1 showed how national identity acts as a key organising principle for the online migrant maternal groups and can overlap or intersect with ethnic, linguistic, or regional identities. In this chapter, national identity is conceived as a collection of historical practices, a spatially based community, and a socially constructed - and imagined - solidarity. Migrant mothers carry their connections to these practices, community, and solidarity with them. Those who become mothers in migration may find those attachments are activated, or re-activated, by their new maternal role. Drawing on Diminescu’s concept of “connected migrants” (2008), 1 suggest they are connected maternal migrants'. connected contemporaneously to their networks of friends and family, as Diminescu argues, and also connected across space and time to their imagined maternal communities. Their connections to those imagined communities, like their connections to their digitally enabled networks of family and friends, may be disrupted, re-imagined, or jeopardised by the process of migration.
Motherhood scholars have demonstrated the many ways in which motherhood is contextual, contingent, and shaped by gender ideologies and “good mother” discourses (for example, Collins 2000; Goodwin & Huppatz 2010; Thurer 1995 ). Scholars of migrant motherhood have shown how the experience of migration can change notions of “good motherhood” and maternal practices, whether migration involves mothers being apart from their children (Hondagneu-Sotelo & Avila 1997; Madianou 2012; Meyers & Rugunanan 2020) or being co-located with their children in a migrant context (Ho 2006; Liamputtong 2006; Manohar 2013a; Manohar & Busse-Cardenas 2011; Utomo 2014; Ziaian 2000). This chapter is framed by an understanding that migrant mothering of co-located children can involve “complex reinventions of everyday practices to produce a sense of identity and belonging that is never fixed and taken for granted” (Gedalof 2009, p. 89). One example of this reinvention of everyday practice is the ethnic socialisation of children, undertaken by mothers in their role as keepers of culture and described by Manohar as “mothering for ethnicity” (Manohar 2013a). It is important to note that all families, migrant and non-migrant, in both marginalised and dominant groups, attempt to instil a sense of ethnic-cultural identity. While non-migrant families from culturally dominant groups may do this largely unconsciously, leaning on mainstream media representations, institutions, and discourse, migrant and marginalised families must do this explicitly and intentionally, drawing on personal, familial, and national narratives (Keller 2010). While this chapter draws on Manohar’s concept of “mothering for ethnicity,” it places it within a broader perspective, which explores the role of personal narratives and imagined maternal communities in migrant mothers’ approaches to motherhood. Central to the analysis is Manohar’s finding that “women are not passive performers of cultural norms regarding motherhood, but active creators of it” (2013a, p. 180).
In addition to migration and mothering scholarship, this chapter draws on Kanno and Norton’s re-working of the concept of “imagined communities,” proposed by Benedict Anderson to conceptualise a sense of belonging in nation-states, which transcends tangible and immediate personal connections (Anderson 2006 ; Kanno & Norton 2003). Kanno and Norton re-work the notion of imagined communities to provide “a theoretical framework for the exploration of creativity, hope, and desire in identity construction” (2003, p. 248). They argue that the community (or communities) people imagine themselves to belong to influences their choices and can (re)frame their interpretation of their action. Imagined communities, they suggest, “expand our range of possible selves” (2003, p. 246). Although imagination implies hope and possibility, Kanno and Norton also note that the imaginary that is available to a person or group may be limited by “social ideologies and hegemonies” (p. 247).
As well as being central to identity and emotion, the imagination can also be a decision-making tool or coping mechanism for migrants, as Adams (2004) shows in her study of cross-national couples’ discussions about where they should live. In a context dominated by Western dualism, in which 'reality’ and ‘rationality’ are accorded more validity than imagination or emotion, framing another person’s imaginings as “mere fantasy” serves to undermine them. Adams suggests that a person with less power may be more likely to have their imagination dismissed in this way, and more likely to use imagination as a “refuge” to assuage the sadness they feel about a situation they cannot change (pp. 289-290). In relation to motherhood, Baraitser has suggested that motherhood “creates a commons that is the endurance of communality across time” (2012, p. 121). For Baraitser, motherhood generates “the potential for new and unexpected social bonds” that are not limited to the present moment or immediate locality. Drawing these concepts together, I explore how migrant mothers imagine themselves within local, national, and diasporic maternal communities, how their attachment to these maternal communities may be experienced as “new and unexpected,” how these imagined connections can be deployed as decision-making tools or coping mechanisms, and how they relate to identity construction, hope, and desire. The migrant maternal imaginary, as it is used in this chapter, is not so much a means by which specific national or ethnic models of motherhood are (re)produced; rather, it is a framework for thinking about the experiential and abstract resources on which mothers draw as they try to make sense of their identity as a mother ‘away from home' and try to navigate what it means to be a good mother in this context.
As women move into motherhood as migrants, or move into migration as mothers, a powerful but mostly unexamined narrative surfaces and is challenged by the new context. This narrative is individual, relating to childhood memories and self-identity, and is imbued with hopes for their own future. It is also relational and familial, formed through memories, family stories, interactions with family members, with her partner, with her baby, and it shapes her hopes for her children’s future. The narrative also is social and cultural, shaped by popular discourses and interactions with institutions and other mothers, and framed by state legislation and national or ethnic identities. It is a narrative of what she knows about motherhood, what she understands about herself and her nation or
Connected maternal migrants 107 culture, what it means to be a German mother, an Indian mother, or a Brazilian mother, how her child’s life should unfold and her role in that process. In Maria’s words, “it’s all the culture, like the things that you have seen that are done, and what you heard, that they need to be done.” Migration challenges the cohesion of that narrative. This challenge may be experienced as rupture, as conflict, as autonomy, as loss. This chapter examines women’s responses to the challenge presented to their maternal narrative. In migration, maternal practices become a site of increased intentionality, charged with meaning about identity, connection, and hope. In discussing their decisionmaking and emotions around maternal practices, the migrant mothers in this study appeared to draw on imagined communities of maternal practice and identity, which shaped their choices and how they framed them.
In the rest of the chapter, I analyse how these maternal narratives become activated as women move into migrant motherhood and imagine themselves as inside, outside, or between imagined maternal communities, which are underpinned by different values and logics. For example, I explore how the Swedish mothers drew on values of gender equality, which they defined as national values, to explain their attachment to gender-equal or shared parenting. 1 analyse how everyday decisions about maternal practices, such as swaddling or discipline, are made in relation to an imagined maternal community, leading to comments such as “we don't swaddle babies in Germany.”
There is an important temporal element to these imagined communities. Women draw on individual narratives based on memories of their own childhood, of being mothered, to anchor themselves within their imagined maternal community. Past and present policies shape personal experiences, and women draw on historical and national specificities to contextualise their own maternal practices. The imagined communities also have a future into which women project themselves and their children. Migration troubles the temporal continuity of women’s maternal narratives, introducing rupture and discontinuity. In response, women choose to draw on attachments and connections to frame, understand, and reconcile themselves to these challenges. The migrant maternal online communities are sites in which these connections are forged. While other attachments and networks remain salient, 1 suggest the migrant maternal online communities constitute a metonymic representation of their diasporic maternal community.