Abstract This article draws on de-colonial studies to explore an alternative to methodological nationalism. Methodological nationalism has been justly criticized in migration studies for the assumptions it smuggles into social theory. However it is difficult to avoid not only because it is so deeply engrained in the epistemology of the West but also because migration is the consequence of the on-going political importance of nation-states. This paper explores an alternative approach that takes the nation as integral to the study of migration. Drawing on de-colonial studies I suggest analyzing national identity as an inequality regime entangled with other inequality regimes. 1. Introduction There are ‘only Mexicans there.’ I was both taken aback and intrigued when the Salvadoran father of a United States-born boy in Mississippi told me his son had given this as the reason he did not wish to visit his parents’ homeland one summer. Although strictly speaking the statement cannot be true, it is suggestive about his experience of both the United States and El Salvador. In this paper, I use this sentiment expressed by a child resisting his parents’ summer plans as a starting point to probe how we think about the nation in migration studies.1 Since the 1980s, social scientists have criticized the ‘container model’ of society, premised on an isomorphism of place, people, and society or culture. This model presumes the existence of bounded units that can be thought of as existing separately from other such units. One variant of this model of human life is the modern nation-state and people raised in such states often take it for granted as the natural model for society and culture more generally. Under the influence of this model, sedentism is the norm and identities based on national or ethnic groups are treated as natural. This set of implicit assumptions is often discussed under the term ‘methodological nationalism’ in migration studies. However, although a variety of alternative research models and strategies have been proposed, migration scholars continue to work on how to get ‘beyond methodological nationalism’ (e.g. Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002; Glick Schiller 2008; Amelina 2012; Nowicka and Cieslik 2014). I propose that the problem with methodological nationalism is not the nation, but how we conceive of it. The problem is not in placing the nation-state at the center of analysis, but the suite of assumptions smuggled into scholarship with the dominant model of the nation state. It may be fruitful to retain a focus on the nation-state in studies of international migration, but replace the container model to avoid those cultural presuppositions. To develop an alternative model, I step outside of migration studies itself to Latin American de-colonial critiques of Western understandings of global relations and history. In the next section, I dip into de-colonial scholarship to understand why it is so difficult to escape methodological nationalism and then to think through what an alternative approach to understanding national identity in migration might be. First, I briefly review some alternatives to methodological nationalism in migration studies. 2. Methodological nationalism and epistemological occidentalism 2.1 Migration studies and methodological nationalism Wimmer and Glick Schiller (2002) identify three aspects or modes of methodological nationalism: ignoring the nation (‘disregard’ in this essay), naturalization, and territorial limitation. Disregard refers to implicit acceptance of the nation-state as the ground of social life, resulting in social theory that is unwittingly structured with the nation-state as unquestioned and unrecognized backdrop. Naturalization subtly differs from disregard in taking the nation for granted, rather than ignoring it altogether. For example, nation-building has been considered a necessary aspect of modernization. The third modality of methodological nationalism is territorial limitation. This involves the delimitation of the questions and units of analysis so they correspond to the borders of the nation-state. Thus it is common for scholars to frame research in national terms such as ‘Mexican migration to the United States.’ This tends to be true even when they are consciously endeavoring to call into question the container model of the nation. Disregard, naturalization, and territorial limitation work together to create the epistemic structure of methodological nationalism, a way of looking at the world that is problematical for what it hides from us while channeling our research into familiar forms. In the remainder of this section, I briefly discuss a few responses to methodological nationalism within migration studies to review ways in which scholars have worked against those blinders to understand migration in new ways. In migration studies, the critique of methodological nationalism originated with the observation that ‘push-pull’ models of migration assumed the primacy of national borders in immigrants’ social orientation. This framework conceptualizes migration outcomes in terms of the balance of forces that either push people to move or attract (i.e. pull) them to another place. Although there is a degree of logical truth to this framework when thinking about why people move, it led to problematical assumptions about the social and cultural outcomes of migration. In particular, scholarly attention focused on assimilation to such a degree that it obscured the continued maintenance of relationships across borders and forms of migration that did not conform to the unidirectional model of movement and cultural change. In the face of evidence from migrants’ own lives showing more complex patterns of community and identity, scholars (e.g. Glick Schiller et al. 1992; Rouse 1992) proposed the concept of transnationalism. This work directed attention to how migrants (like corporations) organized their relationships and interests in ways that transcended national space. Glick Schiller and her co-authors, for example, defined transmigrants as ‘immigrants whose daily lives depend on multiple and constant interconnections across international borders and whose public identities are configured in relationship to more than one nation-state’ (Glick Schiller et al. 1995: 48). Transnational social formations and identities can take diverse forms and scholars proposed various concepts to describe what they were finding. These included circuits (Rouse 1991), communities (Kearney and Nagengast 1989), social fields (Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004), cosmopolitanism (Hannerz 1990), and diaspora (Clifford 1994). Although often posed as alternative theoretical frameworks at odds with each other, they can be understood as representing different configurations of relationships and identities across space. Thus, for example, ‘circuits’ is suggestive of the ways in which people may cycle between places over time while cosmopolitanism is more likely to suggest a form of identification that transcends nationalism and diaspora highlights identification with an ethnic or national group that is dispersed across multiple borders. Rather than dissect the different emphases these concepts can take or the way in which scholars have elaborated on them, here I want to highlight what they have in common. Rather than treat migration as a disruption of social life, which must then be reestablished in a new place while leaving the old behind, all these conceptual frameworks direct attention to communities and/or identities that have expanded beyond the geographic boundaries of nation-states. These concepts play an important role in disrupting dominant understandings of migration and directing analytical attention to phenomena that are not easily encompassed by the borders between countries. Despite the benefits of these frameworks, it soon seemed as if migration scholars had become mired in a ‘methodological fluidism’ (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2003) that substituted an assumed trans-nationality for the previous methodological nationalism. In practice the scholars most responsible for developing these concepts had subtler analyses. For example, Glick Schiller’s 1995 article not only proposed the concept of transmigrant, but also drew attention to the continued role of hegemonic national discourses in the constitution of transmigrant identities. Even so, the idea that migrants called into question the container model of nation-states by the very act of crossing borders was accepted by many as a self-evident truth rather than a question to be explored. Transnationalism came to seem like a code word attached to all cases of international migration regardless of the spatial practices of immigrants themselves. One problem with this is apparent when I consider the lives of Victor and his family. Although it is true that he wanted to take his children to El Salvador the summer in question, he did not express a marked orientation towards that country either socially or in terms of personal identity. Apart from his mother, he did not feel a strong connection to even family back in El Salvador. The primary tie the family maintained to their country of origin, beyond the mother–child bond, was that they owned a house there. However, Victor’s preference would have been to sell it and invest the money in the United States. He had not done so out of concern that he might lose his legal status and need to return to El Salvador. With migration, the naturalization of the nation becomes a naturalization of ethnicity, since people from the same country are expected to share a cultural essence. The fact that research on migration is most commonly framed in terms of ethnic and national groups therefore reflects the continued importance of methodological nationalism (Glick Schiller 2008). An ethnic focus reflects the same assumptions of bounded cultural identities as methodological nationalism; however, nation and ethnicity are not always isomorphic. In a place where there are relatively few co-nationals, pan-ethnic identities such as Latino may develop. For example, a woman in Mississippi once told me the reason she considered herself Hispanic was because she could not be Bolivian by herself. However, a research focus on ethnicity would miss key social dimensions of Victor’s life in the United States just as surely as one focused on transnationalism would. Although he did maintain some ties with El Salvador and had used his wife’s connections to begin life in Mississippi, the social ties he relied on the most when he needed help in recent years had come from a local, English-speaking, church. Victor’s description of his life suggests the utility of another approach Glick Schiller develops. In a 2008 article, Glick Schiller suggests we move beyond ‘methodological ethnicity’ by focusing instead on localities—the places of departure and settlement of migrants. Rather than generalize about ethnic groups based on localized studies Glick Schiller proposes analyzing significant places with a framework attuned to global hierarchies of power. A focus on place leaves open the possibility that migrants’ social ties are organized by a larger array of principles (for example religious and charitable organizations or business interests) in addition to the ties of kinship and national origins that typically have served as starting points for studies of migration. Glick Schiller notes that small cities are particularly suited for research moving migration studies away from a blinding focus on ethnic groups (Glick Schiller 2008: 3), presumably because with a smaller population it is more likely that people will need to pursue diverse modes of incorporation whereas in large gateway cities ethnic enclaves are more feasible. This framework can illuminate Victor’s life and role in Mississippi more than many alternative frameworks. It directs attention, for example, to the importance he placed on his church involvement linking him to native-born Mississippians, which might have been missed with a focus on a presumed ethnic identity, while not obscuring the role he played in the ethnic community. A global power analysis of localities, as proposed by Glick Schiller, grounds migration studies in a broader theoretical understanding of power relations operating at different spatial scales. Although the starting point is the local city, she deploys the concept of scale to examine how localities are differentiated in terms of their relationship to other localities, regional, national, and global networks and opportunities. A small city, then, is distinguished not solely by the size of its population, but also by the extent to which it accesses networks extending outside of it at the regional, national, and global scales. In a sense this framework extends well established scholarship grounding migration studies in understandings of global capitalism, including world systems, articulation, and dependency theories. The problem that Glick Schiller finds with these frameworks, however, is that they operate at a higher level of abstraction (Glick Schiller 2010: 114), which obscures the operation of power in the lives of individuals. Her solution is that instead of treating the global and local as either hierarchically related or different levels of abstraction, different levels of space should be thought of as mutually constitutive. For example, the projects of global capitalism restructure urban and state space, but state and local policies are also constitutive of globalization (Glick Schiller 2010: 119). These alternatives to methodological nationalism direct our attention to alternative research foci and units of analysis. In doing so, they lead to new insights into patterns of migration and settlement that would be elided or missed with research strategies and questions bounded by the borders of nation-states. With regards to the anecdote opening this paper, it would be easy to write it off as an over-generalized example of ‘groupism,’ a child’s misapplication of an ethnic category, and as such it would not necessitate an alternative unit or frame of analysis at all. However, for me the error points in more interesting directions than a mistake to be ignored. Children do have to learn about nation-states, just as they learn other culturally specific categories. They may make mistakes in the process. My nephews, growing up in Montana, spotted a coin they did not recognize in their grandmother’s driveway one summer. Aware that there are named places with different kinds of money, they were excited to have found some ‘Wisconsin money’—a flawed inference based on a solid understanding of the system. As a cultural anthropologist, the idea that there are too many Mexicans in El Salvador is more interesting to me than a simple mistake. It leads to questions about nation-states that cannot be answered by shifting the research focus to a different unit of analysis and instead directs attention to the cultural presuppositions underlying the error. 2.2 Coloniality and methodological nationalism Methodological nationalism cannot be completely obviated by alternative units of analysis because fundamental assumptions about how the world is organized remain in the background. Indeed, they must remain because the world is organized as a system of nation states even if we choose to focus on an alternative unit of analysis. This system and the naturalization of borders are not only methodological, but also epistemological and ontological because it is a cultural system. The history of this system is linked to the global development of capitalism. Mignolo (2002: 59) argues that the history of capitalism and Western epistemology have run parallel to each other. Wimmer and Glick Schiller (2002, 2003) make a similar point when they describe the relationship between nation-state building, the development of the social sciences, and migration through four stages of nation-state formation, each marked by different political and economic concerns. This helps us to understand how deeply embedded methodological nationalism is in the social sciences of the West. However, their history begins with the 1870s, reflecting the predominant perspective in studies of Western nationalism, which trace it to 19th century Europe. Mignolo criticizes this timeline, and theoretical frameworks such as world systems theory that draw on it, for placing colonialism chronologically after Western modernity. This has the effect of putting the West at the center of the narrative and makes colonialism derivative of the history of Western countries. In fact, as he points out, such histories trace the roots of modernity not just to Europe, but to the time when power shifted from the Mediterranean and Spain to the North Atlantic. An alternative reading of history is made possible from the perspective of trans-modernity (Dussel 2002), which recognizes that coloniality and modernity were co-constitutive rather than the former being derivative of the latter. Grosfoguel (2011) points out that analyzing the expansion of European colonialism from a Eurocentric point of view leads to foregrounding competition between European countries and their motives for expansion. Coloniality differs from colonialism by directing our attention to the on-going effects of the colonial period in the former colonies. Coloniality of power (Quijano 2008) describes the process by which colonialism reconstituted the world, creating spatial and social hierarchies defining people’s positions in a global division of labor and in the process creating new identities. However, one de-colonialist critique of global power frameworks that emphasize capitalism is that they prioritize economic relations although colonialism reshaped entire societies and cultures, not just economies. Asking what the same story would look like from other perspectives, Grosfoguel shifts attention to how the arrival of a European/capitalist/military/Christian/patriarchal/white/heterosexual/male to the Americas created and reshaped other hierarchies besides class relations; for example, it also brought new ideas regarding gender and art. Grosfoguel then conceptualizes the world system in terms of a ‘colonial power matrix’ encompassing diverse dimensions of social existence ranging from the standard structural categories social scientists are accustomed to considering (e.g. race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, rural/urban) to language and understandings of art and nature. He describes 15 different global hierarchies, but emphasizes that they are entangled, not separate. A de-colonial epistemology requires a plural approach that is not based on an abstract universal, but rather results from dialogue among ‘diverse epistemic/ethical/political projects’ and takes seriously the epistemic insights of theorists from the Global South ‘thinking from and with sub-alternized racial/ethnic/sexual spaces and bodies (2011).’ However, the framework of the coloniality of power prioritizes race as the principle that structures other hierarchies. In this it contrasts with most political-economic frameworks, which prioritize class. To find a language for conceptualizing the entanglement of different dimensions of social life, Grosfoguel draws on Kontopoulos’ (1993) concept of heterarchies, rather than social structures. The difference is that heterarchy does not imply a single closed system or logic. Using this idea of heterarchy, we can think in more complex terms of open systems and entanglements of structural levels and logics. In the study of migration, both race and class are important as both play a role in structuring access to resources. Equally important, however, is that the nation-state system is another dimension of social life that was a product of the historical period that led to coloniality and modern structures of inequality. That system, just as surely as race and class, structures access to resources. Arguably it is also the main structure defining migration. Generally only movements across significant, in the contemporary era usually national, borders is considered a form of migration. It is the system of nation-states and the politics of that system that structure the movements that migration scholars study, even as other factors structure who will move and under what circumstances. Entanglement of multiple hierarchies means that no single logic can be considered by itself and the result is not predetermined. Furthermore, not only do we need to consider the entanglement of structures (e.g. race, class, and gender) within nation-states, but between them.2 Elsewhere, Costa (2011) utilizes this distinction between interactions within and between countries. He points out two types of interdependent inequalities that have been the focus of migration studies. On the one hand, there are inequalities between groups in a single place and on the other inequalities between places. These two types of inequality typically have been studied separately with different dimensions of space and time. Inequalities between groups tend to be studied synchronically and at smaller spatial scales (institutions, local, national) while inequalities between places are generally studied diachronically at larger (global, international) scales. Along with other scholars in the Research Network on Interdependent Inequalities in Latin America (www.desigualdades.net), he develops a framework called ‘entangled inequalities’ that integrates these two forms of inequality. In this approach, the unit of analysis is no longer a choice between different levels or forms of spatial organization (local/national/transnational), but rather a relational unit that incorporates the diverse factors that contribute to inequality both within and across places and groups. The relational unit cannot be pre-defined as a spatial unit of analysis, but depends on what is being investigated. In any case, entangled inequalities must be analyzed as ‘a product of interdependencies between different regions as well as between diverse social categorisations’ (Costa 2011: 12). Costa argues that one such relational unit is the inequality regime. Acker (2006) initially developed this concept for studies of how inequality works in organizations, particularly workplaces. Acker defines an inequality regime as ‘loosely interrelated practices, processes, actions, and meanings that result in and maintain’ inequalities within an organization (Acker 2006: 443). Costa also links his formulation of inequality regimes to Foucauldian understandings of power disciplining and normalizing forms of difference and identity. Using his definition, an inequality regime includes the structural logic of stratification/redistribution, the discourses people use to understand those structures, the institutional and legal frameworks and policies, and ‘models of conviviality in everyday life’ (Costa 2011: 13). He uses this framework to examine the shifting forms and meanings of inequality and identity for Afro-descendants in Latin America, interpreting local variation within four relevant inequality regimes (slavery, racist nationalism, mestizo nationalism, and compensatory regimes), each with different structural logics, legal frameworks, and discourses that are at once global and local. I suggest that the nation can be thought of as an inequality regime in this sense, one shaped by the coloniality of power alongside, and entangled with, other forms of difference such as race. Examining the nation as an inequality regime means we cannot think of it as a container that naturally bounds identity. This means that it would not be treated primarily as a unit or level of space. Instead, the entangled inequalities framework entails paying attention to structural (forms of stratification), institutional (legal frameworks and policies), quotidian (models of conviviality), and discursive (structures of meaning) dimensions of the nation and how these intersect and entangle with other inequalities. This leaves open the possibility that the nation, and the nature of those boundaries and identities, may be politically contested. Furthermore, this framework suggests that the nation as inequality regime must be understood within specific historical contexts and that it changes over time and space. Finally, the post-colonial critique underlying this framework reminds us that different subject positions may lead to different understandings of the nation. In the next section, I use this framework to think through Victor’s son’s observation that there are too many Mexicans in El Salvador. 3. The nation as inequality regime The lives of both Victor and his son were shaped from the start by entangled national histories as well as migration. Victor’s own life spanned six countries and two wars. His parents, trying to escape poverty, had moved from El Salvador to Honduras in 1959, but the family returned to El Salvador in 1969 when he was five and war broke out between the countries. His parents were part of a significant migration of rural Salvadorans to the less densely populated Honduras over the course of the 20th century; in 1969 there were approximately 300,000 Salvadorans living in Honduras (Cable 1969: 659; Durham 1979: 59). In his youth, Victor moved several times in pursuit of his education. In 1979 he went to San Salvador for school. In 1980 he left for Costa Rica, where he remained in a seminary for two years after which he spent a year, still studying to be a priest, in Guatemala. When he left the seminary, he returned to El Salvador. Having decided that he wanted to learn English, he applied for and received a short-term visa to the United States, but in 1984 opted instead to go to a language school in England that was recruiting students in El Salvador. From 1985 to 1987 he studied business administration in El Salvador. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s his family was affected by violence in El Salvador. He was kidnapped in 1988 on his way to make a bank deposit, after which he briefly lived in the United States. However, he returned to El Salvador when his visa expired and he did not receive asylum. His father was killed in 1992 and in 1999 his mother-in-law was kidnapped and held for three weeks until the family paid a ransom. Finally, in 2000 as the family still felt unsafe even with bodyguards, they moved to the United States. They settled in Mississippi as Victor’s wife had family there. There he was raising his three children, all born in the United States. It would take a book to disentangle the national histories implicated in this brief synopsis of Victor’s life. I will only do enough to be suggestive of each of the dimensions of inequality regimes in turn. 3.1 Structural logic of distribution The structural logic of distribution in the system of nations is not static. Of particular concern here are models of economic development that impact distribution both within and between countries. Victor was born during an initiative to change the structure of distribution in Central America. Beginning in the 1950s, efforts began to create a unified market and development plan for the region. In December 1960, a General Treaty on Central American Economic Integration was signed. This agreement was ratified by El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua in June of 1961 and Honduras one year later, with Costa Rica joining in 1963. Thus began the Central American Common Market (CACM). A full discussion of this economic arrangement is beyond the scope of this paper; however, two points are suggestive for illustrating entangled inequalities and the nation as inequality regime. First, initial planning for the CACM was led by the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), a United Nations agency headquartered in Chile and led by Latin Americans. ECLA’s plan would have allocated new industries across the region to foster industrialization throughout Central America and minimize competition between countries. In the face of political opposition and pressure from the United States, subsequently planning and support shifted from ECLA to the United States and a model that reflected international business interests in lieu of the original emphasis on a regional market. The agreement that was ultimately implemented excluded agriculture, focused on import substitution industrialization, and depended on external investment (Urquidi 1968; Cox 1994). El Salvador was the strongest supporter of the plan and saw a concentration of industrial investment while Honduras felt that it was disadvantaged because its economy was more dependent on agriculture. This was one factor contributing to the tensions leading up to the 1969 war that sent Victor’s family back to El Salvador (Durham 1979). Second, this economic plan was meant to restructure distribution both between and within the countries of Central America. One goal was that economic growth and industrialization would lead to employment and reduced poverty and inequality within countries. Although the region did see significant economic growth, it exacerbated inequality within El Salvador as economic displacement caused by industrialization exceeded the growth in jobs. This in turn was one factor leading to revolution in the country in the 1980s and the context for the various forms of violence that came to affect Victor’s family and so many others. Structural logics of distribution are also important in understanding the family’s life in the United States. When they arrived in Mississippi, there were not many Latinos in the area. Although the census shows that the population had been increasing, Victor’s experience was that it was rare to encounter another Latin American or hear Spanish. The first business he opened reflected this in that it was a restaurant catering to Mississippians; he described it as ‘Mexican/international’ with a menu that included lasagna and paella in addition to Mexican and Salvadoran dishes. Less than a decade later that had changed to such a degree that he could earn a living providing services and goods to the new immigrant population. This reflects larger shifts in Latin American immigration to the United States, which saw a diversification of destinations and backgrounds over the late twentieth century (Liaw and Frey 2007). Not only were more immigrants arriving in south Mississippi, a larger proportion of Latino immigrants were working class (Borjas 2004). There were several industries in the area employing Latin American immigrant labor; however, one of the more important was the poultry industry. This industry grew in importance in the United States in the late 20th century as beef consumption declined and chicken rose, almost doubling between 1970 and 2000 (Kandel and Parrado 2005: 453). Poultry production is concentrated in the southern states and is one of Mississippi’s most important industries. This shift in consumption was accompanied by shifts in labor practices as Latinos (largely immigrant) workers replaced African American workers, who had replaced white workers before them, in the industry’s efforts to control both labor and costs (Stuesse and Helton 2013). Within a country, the nation state system can act as an inequality regime entangled with other forms of inequality in ways that are not identical with ethnicity. The global division of labor means that national origins were entangled with race and class in structuring inequality and ethnicity in south Mississippi. Victor had a higher class status and more education than most Latin American immigrants in the area. In this he was more like the generation of Latin Americans who came to central and south Mississippi before him, including his wife’s uncle who had come to study English and stayed. These were mainly people who could live relatively unmarked lives, melding into the general population through marriage or work without their foreignness always being the first or most important thing others would note about them. In contrast, the more visible Latino presence is composed of laborers, the majority of whom are Mexican. Reflecting the global racial order created by coloniality, these workers tend to be darker skinned than the middle-class professionals who came from Central and South America. Thus, national origins are entangled with structural logics of class and race. Even without immigration, this can be true. For example, whites (particularly middle class) are often treated as more deserving or exemplary of citizenship than lower class and minority citizens. 3.2 Policies and legal frameworks Policies and legal frameworks are the second dimension to the nation as an inequality regime. Legally, the nation takes the form of citizenship with regards to structuring access to resources internally, but national origins can also be found in how immigrants from different countries are differentially affected by immigration policies. Immigration policies influenced Victor’s decisions early in his migration history when he returned to El Salvador after being denied asylum in the United States in the 1980s. The denial of this request must be understood in the context of the role the United States played in the Salvadoran civil war and the intersection of refugee/asylum and political policies. Prior to 1980, the United States defined refugees as ‘victims of racial, religious, or political persecution fleeing Communist or Communist-occupied or -dominated countries, or a country in the Middle East’ (Zucker and Zucker 1987: 32). This changed in 1980 when the United States adopted the United Nation’s definition; however, in practice refugee and asylum status was largely granted along lines that still favored the old definition. During Reagan’s administration (1981–9), relatively few Salvadorans received asylum status (Zolberg et al. 1989: 281). The United States government understood the revolution in El Salvador through the lens of Cold War politics, backing the government against the Marxist-influenced guerrillas. However, legally the administration could not provide military aid to countries guilty of serious human rights violations, so despite international documentation the United States denied the complicity of the Salvadoran government in human rights atrocities (Broder and Lambek 1988; Gzesh 2006). This fed into immigration policy. The fact that the old refugee definition continued to be the de facto policy after 1980 can be seen in the fact that between 1980 and 1985, the combined approval rate for asylum and refugee status combined for Salvadorans was 2%, while it was 33% for Hungary and 51% for the USSR (Gibney and Stohl 1988: 161). Victor knew he wanted to return to the United States, or at least to have that option, so he risked returning to El Salvador when he was denied asylum during this period. When he did return he was able to benefit from Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to Salvadorans in the 1990s. His children had all been born in the United States so the entire family had legal status, unlike most their Latino neighbors. Entangled with the policies of nation-states are other policies. For example, a language school in England had recruited Victor to study there and one in Mississippi had first brought his wife’s uncle to that state. These opportunities were not available to everyone, but also depended on the availability of a different kind of visa. Legal structures shape opportunities and subject positions; Victor noted that his legal status was an advantage compared to most of the people who had come more recently. On the other hand, he remained tied to El Salvador more than he wished as his plans for improving his situation in the United States were stymied by the uncertainty of that status, which was not permanent. He owned a house in El Salvador that he wished to sell to invest the money in the United States, but did not do so because he feared he would have to return to El Salvador should TPS not be renewed. In this case, although he did not maintain strong ties to anyone in El Salvador apart from his mother and did not participate in transnational social or economic practices, national politics kept him tied to his country of origin. These institutional factors reinforce structures of inequality by constraining or facilitating what resources people can access. They also shape, without fully determining, the spaces people frequent and consequently the social relationships they form. 3.3 Models of conviviality Models of conviviality operate both between and within countries to give shape to the nation as an inequality regime. At the macro-level, the nation-state system includes norms structuring relationships between countries, including expectations of how leaders will act. In addition, borders entail forms of interaction between nations that are their own forms of conviviality. For example, the ease and frequency with which people cross borders varies. In Victor’s childhood there was a shift from relative ease of movement between El Salvador and Honduras in which many Salvadorans lived side-by-side with Honduras of the same class to animosity and a more antagonistic form of nationalism leading up to and following the 1969 war. War and study abroad are distinct models of conviviality that were influential in Victor’s life. These shape relations between countries (e.g. visa requirements, the norms of diplomacy) as well as citizens’ access to, and attitudes towards, each other. Models of conviviality have shaped the experience of Latinos in southern Mississippi and help maintain the status quo of Latino, particularly working class Mexican, immigrants’ low position in the local regime of racial and economic inequality. Perhaps most obviously, Victor spoke English in a place where participation in the larger society required that skill and in which most people consider it only natural that socializing not cross linguistic boundaries. He attended an English-speaking protestant church rather than any of the Spanish-language services in town, and had benefited from church members’ practice of helping their own when he went through a period of economic need. Outside of the church, although Victor said that most people were amiable when his family came to Mississippi, he felt some were bothered. When I asked how, he responded that he could tell some people would not want their children to play with his and they felt a kind of rejection. This example is suggestive beyond other experiences that he suspected were discrimination. In another part of the interview, again commenting on how he thought that Mississippians had come to like Latinos he said ‘they like them, they like them as workers.’ He then added, ‘as husbands or wives of one’s children there are some who do not like them.’ This perception of how some Mississippians might feel echoes the history of segregation between Blacks and whites and the role that fear of miscegenation plays in upholding racial hierarchies (Stoler 2002; Oh 2006). Victor also discussed ways in which models of conviviality were perpetuating a sense that there were two communities where he lived. An absence of pro-active conviviality across the boundaries of citizenship was creating a community of Spanish-speaking newcomers separate from the pre-existing, English-speaking, community already divided by race and class. He argued that the city should organize activities, such as sports teams, to help integrate newcomers into the community. He felt that ‘the Hispanic gets drunk out of loneliness’ and would benefit from organized activities, which would also be a way to integrate the communities and for people to learn English. He commented that he had never seen a 4th of July celebration because no one had ever invited him to one. He observed that nobody invited Latinos to events such as Homecoming at the university or to participate in parades. He argued that they should be invited and the significance of these events explained. Together these examples suggested that what might seem like benign neglect is itself a model of conviviality shaped by national belonging entangled with other inequalities and that this model reinforces the inequality regime. 3.4 Discourses Discourses are the last of the dimensions of inequality regimes. The nation is a structure and a story of belonging that frames understandings of self and other. These understandings give meaning to the other elements of the inequality regime. In this case, when Victor and his son said ‘Mexican’ they did not mean the same thing. They seemed to be using different discursive frameworks for understanding their experiences, ones that reflect the times and places in which they were raised. These discursive frameworks are the key to how I think paying attention to the nation might be useful in our toolkit of ways to avoid methodological nationalism even while focused on a topic inherently configured by the existence of nation states. When I asked Victor about his sense of identity, he was self-critical and reflective in his discussion, which otherwise would have seemed contradictory. He knew he identified as Salvadoran because he did not like it when he was mistaken for Mexican. He did not know why he reacted this way, since he liked Mexican things— for example, mariachis. Notably, however, he did not (as others might) make his sense of being Salvadoran a point of pride. Rather it was a half-acknowledged backdrop. Consciously he considered himself ‘American’ more than Hispanic, understanding American to be a general term and not synonymous with ‘Unitedstatsian’ (estadounidense). He discussed the fact that he has successfully found a way to feel accepted and at home in several different countries. Although he felt some rejection in both Europe and the United States and sometimes faced culture shock, it was not enough to make him feel strange or unwelcome. Victor tried to connect his children to El Salvador and Salvadoran culture, further suggesting a Salvadoran identification co-existed with his more conscious cosmopolitanism. However, when I asked why he why he did this, he provided specific lessons that he hoped to impart to his children, not a general sense of national identity or origins. For example, he believed that Salvadoran culture was more respectful than that of the United States and that marriages were stronger. In El Salvador he took his daughter to the market so that she would see poor people and know her own relative privilege, although he also took the children to more typical tourist sites of El Salvador. His efforts to educate his children reflected a level of social consciousness that may have been rooted in his own relatively poor Salvadoran youth, the religious training he received when he intended to become a Catholic priest, and/or the political climate of El Salvador at the time he came of age in the 1970s and 80s. He considered his children ‘American’ in the narrower sense of being from the United States, as they also did. Growing up American, in this more limited sense of the term, his son interpreted El Salvador through the lens of localized conceptions of race, nationality, and class of the place and time he was being raised. Living in an area with few Salvadorans, his primary reference point for Latinos/Hispanics in the United States were working-class Mexicans. This family was relatively light-skinned and relatively better off than most of the Mexicans in the area, who were thought to be distinguished by their skin-color, language, labor, and poverty. In his comment that there were too many Mexicans in El Salvador, people marked by this same constellation of traits in El Salvador were categorized by Victor’s son, who added that they only speak Spanish in El Salvador, as ‘Mexican.’ Here we can see that discourses or frameworks for interpreting structural factors are important. Local histories and entanglements of inequalities means that we cannot assume people share the same understanding of national labels. In this case, the racialization of Mexican immigrants through their association with low-status labor and language is important (e.g. Gomberg-Muñoz 2010). In this, the son reflected a common practice among non-Latino citizens where he was growing up, many of whom were unlikely to distinguish among Latin American immigrants by national origins and likely to assume all were Mexican. In this case, color (‘race’), national origins, and class are entangled in Mississippi and other parts of the United States in such a way that they become difficult to untangle, at least for a nine-year-old resisting a summer abroad. On the other hand, if the son had been brought to Mississippi in an earlier decade, before the presence of Mexican immigrants had become so pronounced or been raised in a town where his was the only Latino family, he probably would have had a different perspective because this entanglement would have been weaker or non-existent. His father recognized this process of racialization when he commented that if one’s only experience of Mexicans was of rural, indigenous, workers one would assume that all Mexicans were the same. This equation of Latinos with workers and the way in which it underwrites exploitation was reflected in Victor’s observation that Mississippians had come to like Latinos ‘as workers.’ However, he and his son have very different experiences and understandings of the process as a consequence of when and where they were raised. Victor seemed to struggle, at points, to understand his experiences in this country. His interpretation drew on structures of meaning and inequality in El Salvador and the United States as well as his cosmopolitan experience. Sometimes these may exist in a complex tension, creating contradictions in experience and understanding. For example, he, like many other Latin American immigrants, struggled with the idea of discrimination and racism. Sometimes he experienced what he believed was unfair treatment, but was not always certain what had caused it. At the same time, he wanted to do justice to those occasions when he felt he had either been treated well or unequal treatment was felt to be understandable. Although Victor did not give an example of this, some undocumented immigrants have commented to me either that it is only ‘natural’ for people from the United States to favor those who are from their own country or that they need to recognize the fact that they are here illegally and therefore legitimately do not have the same rights (cf. Marrow 2011). It can be unclear if a bad experience is the consequence of what is considered legitimate discrimination (legality), prejudice, or even the individual immigrant’s personality. The son’s comment about Mexicans in El Salvador is no less complex and was also shaped by the lived experiences and understandings of belonging, difference, and nation. The difference between them is indicative of how their lives have been shaped by different entanglements and colonial legacies. They have occupied different borders. 4. Conclusions As I write this, very different understandings of the nation confront each other politically in the United States and Europe. In one, nations are sharply bounded and the system is defined by the need for individual nations to guard their own interests and borders on behalf of citizens. In the other, the boundaries of belonging and responsibility are less strictly drawn and the values that define the nation are not always isomorphic with either citizenship or culture. The nation as container may be effective as ideology, but is not a stable entity in practice as different people interpret the borders of identity and country in different ways. It is not as stable and self-evident as either the container model of methodological nationalism or lines on a map suggest; one alternative, therefore, is to look at the role of the nation in experiences of migration directly. The problem with methodological nationalism is not really the adoption of the nation as a unit of analysis per se. The problem for migration studies has been that the way that assumptions of boundedness, groupism or the primacy of national/ethnic identity, and territorialization (i.e. delimitation of research questions by the territory of the nation-state) accompany the choice of the nation-state as a unit of analysis. In other words, the problem is less in the nation as in the ways in which tacit assumptions about the isomorphism of identity and place are smuggled into the research. Starting from the assumption that one doesn’t necessarily know what the nation is allows the researcher to avoid some of the pitfalls of methodological nationalism. The framework of entangled inequalities proposed by Costa (2011) directs attention towards linkages and inequalities both between places (global, transregional, transnational) and within places to see how these shape inequality within a specific relational context. We can conceive of the global system of nations as one such relational context, an inequality regime. This allows us to consider the nation in more nuanced ways than the traditional container model because it requires that we no longer take for granted that we know what the nation is for the people or contexts we study. Treating it as an inequality regime instead directs attention to the diversity of lived experiences of nations, however people understand them, and the structures, practices, and discourses implicated in those experiences. How are the categories of nations given meaning and mobilized? Because migration brings together inequality regimes from different times and places, entanglement happens not only between inequality regimes from a single time/place (e.g. race and class) and between places, but also over time. Entanglement of inequality regimes can act as a sensitizing concept directing us to look at how people reformulate categories, expand them, and resist them. It can sensitize us to the ways that people from different generations or other subject positions may understand national identity differently. Since inequality regimes include structural logics and practices, discourses, and social action; treating the nation as an inequality regime leads to a more complex understanding of how nations matter in ways that do not always accord with the boundaries of the nation-state. Funding No funding was received for this project. Acknowledgements I thank all those immigrants who generously shared their stories and time with me. Here I am particularly indebted to the man I call ‘Victor.’ I also am very grateful to Julie Reid and the anonymous reviewers for their generous and critical readings. Footnotes 1. I want to note that I do not know Victor’s children and am drawing on this one anecdote. It would not be fair to make any definitive statement about how anyone thinks or feels based on a single incident and context. In this case, the context was a child resisting his parents’ summer plans. Furthermore, this essay is based on a single interview with his father in 2008. However, it is a story that Victor found useful to recount about his children’s understanding of their world and I find it useful for a preliminary exploration of how we might think about the epistemological problem of methodological nationalism. 2. 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Migration Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 15, 2018
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