The Ties that Heal: Guatemalan Immigrant Women's Networks and Medical Treatment1


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    This research was supported with a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (supplement to grant R01 HD27361-06S1, Anne Pebley, P.I.). I would like to thank Anne R. Pebley for a range of assistance during fieldwork and invaluable comments on the permutations of this paper. I am also grateful to Victor Agadjanian and Rose Weitz for insightful suggestions, to Malea Chavez for first-rate research assistance, to Mary Fran Draisker at the Publication Assistance Center at Arizona State University for preparing this manuscript, and to the three anonymous reviewers for their excellent comments. The errors remaining are, of course, mine. Direct correspondence to Cecilia Menjívar, School of Justice Studies, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-0403. E-mail:


Using participant observation and in-depth interviews with ladina and indigenous Guatemalan immigrant women, this article examines the intricate social networks - both local and transnational - through which these immigrants obtain treatment for their own and their families' illnesses. Although Guatemalan women also relied on ties with friends, families and acquaintances to obtain a cure in their country, these ties acquire more significance within the broader U.S. politicoeconomic context that restricts their medical choices. Under these conditions, these women's informal networks become key in putting within reach a variety of treatments that include prescription drugs (obtained over the counter) and “traditional” medicines, which are acquired both locally and from contacts back home. Giving and receiving help through these social networks, however, is a negotiated process punctuated by disillusions, tension, and frustration as much as by cohesiveness and support.