Everyday Restriction: Central American Women and the State in the Mexico-Guatemala Border City of Tapachula


  • I am grateful for the National Science Foundation's Doctoral Dissertation Improvement grant (Award #1031777) and the Society of Women Geographers' Pruitt National Fellowship for Dissertation Research, which financially supported this research. I also extend thanks to Rebecca M. Torres, Vanessa Martinez, Marina Islas, Ellen Percy Kraly and the three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback on earlier drafts of this article. I offer my deepest appreciation to Rosa Icela Cigarroa who provided her assistance in the field and to the women and men who participated in this study.


Media coverage and emerging scholarship have brought increasing international attention to the urgent humanitarian crisis facing Central American transmigrants as they navigate landscapes of violence in Mexico. While stories of Central American immigrants who remain in Mexico are largely absent from this coverage, there is arguably a “Central Americanization” occurring on the southern border through this permanent settlement. Central Americans choosing to establish themselves in the border state of Chiapas do so in a socio-spatial and political context defined by the introduction of “progressive” state- and national-level migration policies on the one hand and the persistence of discrimination and violence on the other. We know little about the implementation of these policies on the ground, namely how they are applied and the impacts they have on the immigrant experience in Mexico. To begin to fill this gap, this paper focuses on the experiences of Central American immigrant women living in the Mexico-Guatemala border city of Tapachula. Employing a feminist geopolitical lens, which encourages conducting research and analysis at diverse scales, it examines their everyday interactions with low- to mid-level representatives of the Mexican state as they seek to avail themselves of their legal and social citizenship rights, and the impacts of these interactions on their livelihoods. This article argues that low- to mid-level officials’ actions reveal the importance of a form of extra-official, subtle, yet pervasive regulation through which immigrant women are denied rights they are entitled to, inducing negative impacts to their livelihoods, which I term everyday restriction.