Monday, July 3, 2023

Asad L. Asad's "Engage and Evade"

Asad L. Asad is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stanford University and a faculty affiliate at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. His scholarly interests encompass social stratification; race, ethnicity, and immigration; surveillance and social control; and health. Asad's current research agenda considers how institutional categories—in particular, citizenship and legal status—matter for multiple forms of inequality.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Engage and Evade: How Latino Immigrant Families Manage Surveillance in Everyday Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is part of the opening anecdote for Chapter 3, entitled “Good Immigrants, or Good Parents?” It summarizes the experiences of two partners, Samuel and Selena, who are both undocumented immigrants and who share several U.S.-born children. It describes Selena’s trip to a nearby emergency room in Dallas, Texas, where a nurse offered her a pregnancy test and determined that Selena was pregnant. That nurse encouraged Selena to sign up for various forms of public assistance immediately thereafter and brought in a hospital social worker to facilitate that process. I note how Selena described herself as hesitant to apply for this support because, as an undocumented immigrant, she is excluded from most forms of public assistance. Yet Selena is more than just an undocumented immigrant in the United States; as a parent to a future U.S. citizen, she wanted to show the nurse and the social worker that she and Samuel were “doing everything we can so our kids can do better than us.” These efforts became more important a few years after the couple’s third child was born, whom doctors eventually diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer. The couple, already struggling to make ends meet because of the multiple and overlapping hardships associated with being undocumented in the United States, began receiving more public assistance on behalf of their child to keep their family afloat during the child’s treatment. The page ends with Samuel’s response to my question as to whether he worries about receiving so many public goods as an undocumented immigrant; he corrects me to note that he and Selena receive nothing; only their U.S.-born children do.

Overall, I think this page would offer a casual browser of the book a solid idea of its central tensions. Broadly, the book documents the different ways that undocumented immigrants with young children must engage with or evade relatively-empowered authorities in societal institutions that monitor them every day. Whereas the preceding chapter focuses on how they manage their relationships with the police, employers, and tax authorities (which a reader would not realize by turning only to page 99), the chapter introduced on page 99 focuses on authorities the undocumented immigrants I interviewed had long sought to avoid: among them, medical personnel, as well as teachers and social workers and caseworkers. For much of their lives in the United States, they could and did do that, even at great personal cost to their own health and well-being. But, when they went on to have children, such avoidance became riskier. It is true that the federal government and many state governments exclude undocumented immigrants from public assistance, and the people I talked with were aware of these exclusions. These exclusions did not apply to their U.S.-born children, though. And, even when undocumented immigrants would have preferred to not receive public assistance for their children, those in my study recognized that they were not just undocumented but also poor, racialized minorities facing undue scrutiny of their parenting from authorities who regularly monitor their children’s well-being. Therein emerges the book’s central point: that undocumented immigrants with young children do not avoid mainstream institutions wholesale; rather, they avoid particular interactions with them as they try to meet the multiple and sometimes competing expectations that they believe institutional authorities hold them to in their daily lives.
Visit Asad L. Asad's website.

--Marshal Zeringue