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Mobile Selves: Race, Migration and Belonging in Peru and the U.S.

Mobile Selves: Race, Migration and Belonging in Peru and the U.S. By Ulla D. Berg. (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2015. Pp. ix, 304. $49.00.)

This study is a deep and engaging anthropological work on race and Peruvian migration. Rather than focus on transnational mobility alone, in Mobile Selves, the author adroitly weaves together the histories and experiences of both internal and external migration of Peruvians, and how both processes are intimately tied to Peruvians' particular understandings of race, class, and social mobility. Utilizing "ambulant ethnography," Ulla Berg follows individuals from sending communities in Peru's Mantaro valley to the receiving communities of Miami, Florida, Paterson, New Jersey, and Washington, DC, in the United States (29). In so doing, Berg "examines the experiences, practices, and imaginaries of transnational migration among Andean Peruvians" (2). Throughout the volume, Berg is attentive to the meanings produced by migration, not simply its patterns or numbers.

In chapter 1, the author focuses on the "ideology of self-improvement" in Peru and the Mantaro valley specifically, by first identifying early precursors to the ideology in the region's history and then revealing contemporary meanings of "getting ahead" through the actions and words of two young women from the region, Ines and Domitilia, whose migration to the United States fulfilled very different visions of upward mobility. In chapter 2, the author provides an ethnographic analysis of the formal and informal institutions of migration--from informal Peruvian "document fixers" to US immigration agents that form part of the global security state--all of which constrain and shape patterns of migration. Again, Berg uses contrasting individual experiences, this time in navigating the migration bureaucracies, to highlight how race, rurality, and social class interact with these technocracies of power to determine individual Peruvians' possibilities of achieving their dreams of migration. More often than not, rural and dark-skinned Peruvians find their dreams denied.

In subsequent chapters, the author explores migrants' lives once they are settled in the United States--from a focus on maintaining affective relations across space though traditional oral and newer, videographic means (chapters 3 and 4) to the performative acts that re-create Peruvian identity in the United States (chapter 5). Each chapter is rich with theoretically informed ethnographic material on how Peruvian migrants in the United States navigate simultaneous hierarchies of race between the United States and Peru and hierarchies within Peru. Examples include the Andean Peruvian nanny finding ways to maintain contact with kin in Peru, despite the surveillance and control of her white US employer, and rural, Andean Peruvians' use of annual Peruvian independence day celebrations in Paterson, New Jersey, to assert equality with their urban and whiter comigrants from Peru's capital, Lima. The author in chapter 6 brings the intertwined experiences of race and migration full circle with an account of how US migrants from the Mantaro valley used their stronger economic and social positions as a result of migration to demand greater respect for themselves and their home community from the Peruvian state by financing a crucial court case.

Mobile Selves provides powerful insight into the ways complex issues such as inequality and sociality contribute to and are reconfigured by the transnational migration process.

Christina Ewig

University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Author:Ewig, Christina
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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