With a subtle yet penetrating understanding of the intricate interplay of gender, race, and class, Sheba George examines an unusual immigration pattern to analyze what happens when women who migrate before men become the breadwinners in the family. Focusing on a group of female nurses who moved from India to the United States before their husbands, she shows that this story of economic mobility and professional achievement conceals underlying conditions of upheaval not only in the families and immigrant community but also in the sending community in India. This richly textured and impeccably researched study deftly illustrates the complex reconfigurations of gender and class relations concealed behind a quintessential American success story.
When Women Come First explains how men who lost social status in the immigration process attempted to reclaim ground by creating new roles for themselves in their church. Ironically, they were stigmatized by other upper class immigrants as men who needed to "play in the church" because the "nurses were the bosses" in their homes. At the same time, the nurses were stigmatized as lower class, sexually loose women with too much independence. George's absorbing story of how these women and men negotiate this complicated network provides a groundbreaking perspective on the shifting interactions of two nations and two cultures.
List of Illustrations and Tables
1. Contradictions of Gender When Women Immigrate First
2. Work: Nursing, Women’s Networks, and Men "Tied to a Stake"
3. Home: Redoing Gender in Immigrant Households
4. Community: Creating Little Kerala and the Paradox of "Men Who Play" in the Church
5. Transnational Connections: The Janus-Faced Reproduction of an Immigrant Community
Appendix 1: Interview Participants by Household Type
Appendix 2: Types of Nursing Jobs
Appendix 3: Transnational Organizational Structure of the Indian Orthodox Church
Sheba Mariam George is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Assistant Professor at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. She is coauthor of Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections, and Imaginations in a Postmodern World (California, 2000).
"In this highly insightful and clearly written book, Sheba George gives us a portrait of immigration from two ends of the globe. She traces the experience of nurses from Kerala, India, who migrate to the United States while tracing, also, the challenges to notions of manhood faced by their follower-husbands-a challenge some resolve by elevating roles at church. She shows how notions of gender can thus ricochet from one institution to another. Original, important, and a very good read."—Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Commercialization of Intimate Life and co-editor, with Barbara Ehrenreich of Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy
"Beautifully written, When Women Come First sensitively exposes the emotional and psychic costs that are part and parcel of the immigrant pursuit of the American dream. It is an outstanding contribution to the burgeoning field of gender and migration."—Yen Le Espiritu, author of Home Bound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities, and Countries
"With remarkable scope and vivid insight, Sheba George describes the daily lives of a community of Christian immigrants with continuing ties to Kerala, India. George's analysis of the immigrants' struggles around issues of gender and class links experiences at work, at home, and in the church. An important and engaging contribution to the literature on immigration, transnationalism, work, family, gender, and class."—Barrie Thorne, Professor of Sociology and Gender and Women's Studies, University of California, Berkeley
"As countries like the United States move towards post-industrial, service-based economies, immigrant women are recruited for all sorts of jobs. In this timely study, Sheba George examines the case of immigrant nurses from India. With lively ethnography and astute theoretical insights, George's book complicates our understandings of the relations between migrant women's work and earnings to autonomy and power, and to the remaking of family, community, congregation and self. This is a powerful book, sure to inspire new questions and directions for the next generation of gender and migration research."—Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, author of Doméstica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence