Elevate Difference

Violence Against Latina Immigrants: Citizenship, Inequality, and Community

I generally do not start reviews with blanket statements, but I simply cannot say enough positive comments about this book. As a student of Gender & Sexuality studies, as well as community activism and Hispanic studies, I was greatly interested and inspired by this thoughtful, critical, theory-meets-activism approach to the difficult and devastating reality of violence against Latina immigrants.

The author, Roberta Villalón, is a professor of Sociology at St. John’s University in New York City, where she is active with both the Committee for Latin American and Caribbean studies and the Women and Gender Studies Program. According to her author biography, Villalón was inspired by the corrupt, and often deadly, political regime of her childhood in Argentina, and has since dedicated her professional career to studying the harms and realities of inequality on multiple levels from institutionalized corruption to domestic abuse. With her academic grounding in political science, international relations, and sociology, as well as her Latin American/Latina focus and affiliation with various immigrants and women’s rights organizations, Villalón brings a fresh, critical perspective to the discussions of resistance in social movements, particularly activist feminist grassroots discourse and efforts.

In Violence Against Latina Immigrants: Citizenship, Inequality, and Community, Villalón’s writing/research process was mainly based on her work on the ground as an activist researcher with a legal nonprofit organization that offers free services to individuals who have suffered from domestic abuse. The clients were typically female, undocumented immigrants, a population she notes as particularly vulnerable to violence: domestic, structural, cultural, and symbolic. In her book Violence Against Latina Immigrants, Villalón combines her observations and struggles with individual clients and their processes with the complicated bureaucracy of our national immigration system, with personal interviews with staff. Even though well intentioned, the staff and general organization were often limited by funding and legal restrictions. They were therefore, as Villalón claims, forced to work within and, unfortunately often perpetuated, the oppressive cycles and systems of structural inequality, specifically in their construction of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ clients. Although the organization started from a radical, revolutionary grassroots project, many of the employees seem to be jaded, and accepted the limitations, an unfortunate although (arguably) sometimes necessary common ideological shift for non-profits when the practical issues such as funding, staff, and helping people in the immediate present are realistically addressed.

Villalón notes these frustrating contradictions and dilemmas that further the cycle and reproduction of inequality, and calls for more advocacy, networking between community organizations and policy changes that would aid this particularly vulnerable population. She calls for people, especially those with the desire and power to change policy, to “focus on the ways in which (these women) experience exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence” in order to make the “invisible, visible," while also avoiding the equally oppressive victimization narrative that would further deny their agency.

Overall, the text proves to be a critical study into the complex intersection between immigration, citizenship and violence, particularly in regards to race, gender, heterosexuality, and nationality, and I would recommend to all interested in women’s, immigrant, Hispanic, or general sociopolitical studies.

Written by: Abigail Chance, August 6th 2010