Accepted paper:

Between the American dream and the dream of return: powerful “master narratives” shaping mobile lives in Mexican Chicago

Authors:

Franziska Bedorf (Freie Universität Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

Why, when and how do politics of membership affect changes in belonging in the context of migration? Drawing on fieldwork on elderly Mexican migrants in the greater Chicago area, this paper examines the power of “master narratives” as collective frames of reference that influence people’s considerations of mobility.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, belonging has emerged as a key analytical concept when investigating movements of people from an anthropological perspective. Several studies have shown that examining how notions of connectedness with people, culture and places (belonging) evolve and are reconfigured in the context of migration across the life course is central to understanding the causes, dynamics and consequences of changing global mobility. In a similar vein, much research has explored the role of politics of membership and belonging as a formative factor in migratory regimes. However, although it is widely recognized that structures formally and informally regulating membership (politics of belonging) are tightly linked with the (trans)formation of group memberships and individual affiliations (belonging), knowledge on how exactly these two levels intersect remains scarce. Drawing on empirical data on elderly Mexican migrants living in the Chicago area, their migration trajectories and return intentions, collected during 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper argues that larger discourses and ideologies are tightly linked with how politics of membership shape personal belonging in the context of migration. Such “master narratives” represent powerful collective frames of reference, manifesting both the migrants’ desires and their achievements. For the generation of elderly Mexicans living in and around Chicago the two motives of “el sueño Americano” (the American dream) and “volver” (return) have consistently and at times conflictively framed their lives and continue to work as a major reference for making sense of the present and envisioning possibilities for the future.

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