The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

The Embodiment of Precarious Migratory Status: How Latina Women Talk About the Social and Health Impact of “Las Puertas Cerradas” (closed doors) When Seeking Asylum in Canada

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 11:00 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon F, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Rupaleem Bhuyan, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Purpose:In this study, we explore how women living with precarious status in Canada inhabit different states of ontological insecurity as a result of violence and migration.  Immigration status has emerged as a central concern in North America with a growing number of people who are undocumented, which promotes what Levers and Hyatt-Burkhart (2012) describe as “ongoing anxiety within family systems”. James (2011) argues that individuals’ understanding about their insecurity is intersubjective and transnational, produced through interactions with social workers, citizens, partners, state authorities and cross border migrations. Following James, we argue that the Latin American women enter into disordered subjective states as a result of their precarious status which interrupts their normal routines, produces deep anxiety, and fosters what Laing (1969) describes as “living in a constant threat” of everyday experience. While there is emerging scholarship in social work with undocumented immigrants in the United States and Europe, there has been less attention to the lived experience of people with precarious migratory status in Canada.  

Methods: This participatory action research project is guided by feminist, anti-oppression and decolonizing principles. Between July 2011 and March 2012, we conducted conversational interviews with 25 Spanish-speaking women from Mexico, Colombia and Central America who were recruited through community-based organizations in Toronto. Post-interview notes and English translations of interview transcripts were entered into HyperRESEARCH qualitative data management software to facilitate data management and analysis. Using semiotic and post-structural theories of discourse, we explore in what ways speakers’ language use produces identities, or rather subject-positions within dominant and counter-narrative discourses (Allen 1995). We also draw from hermeneutic and interpretive phenonmenology to explore how women’s ways of knowing (epistemology) (Benner, 1994) about health and well-being are discursively produced with regard to their migratory status.

Results: Women spoke of “las puertas cerradas” (closed doors) when discussing their inability to enter certain spaces, access health care, and have their needs met due to limitations imposed by their immigration status. We conceptualize in what ways women embodied the ontological insecurity through exploring how women talk about: 1) the psychological impact of facing structural oppression (e.g. institutional racism and policy discrimination), 2) the social and psychological impact of being denied access to services, and 3) the interconnected challenges women experience as a result of facing “closed doors” (e.g. unemployment, exploitation, homelessness, isolation, and violence). Our analysis of the embodiment of “puertas cerradas” seeks to contribute to a deeper understanding of the mental impact that denied access to health, legal and social services has for women with precarious migratory status in North America.