This thesis explores constructions of home, belonging, and female migrant identity among West Indian women living in Baltimore, Maryland, on the East Coast of the United States. Through an analysis of diverse cultural practices, light is shed on the creation of new, transnational urban space in which female migrant identities are articulated, betwixt and between established hegemonic structures.
This thesis explores the relation- and tension- between individual and society, in light of dichotomies such as male and female and modern and traditional, in addition to exploring the tension between theoretical frameworks such as cultural citizenship and imagined communities, and technical limited rationality versus a rationality of care/gift.
The connections and potential conflicts between the production of female identities and feelings of belonging within a hegemonic moral context of respectability coupled with modernity s ideological demands of individual freedom and female liberation is discussed in particular. Througout this thesis, expansion and reproduction of traditional classifications of womanhood are analyzed as the result of negotiation and positioning taking place within an idealized emic framework of respectability / reputation , as first presented by Peter Wilson. This framework refers to the juxtaposition of two opposing value systems in the Afro-Caribbean region; the first, respectability, is anchored in the European colonial tradition, stressing hierarchical ranking and conformity to middle-class morality, the latter is a creole innovation, developed in the New World though rooted in African traditions, stressing equality, individualism and adherence to lower- and working-class values.
Home for these women is a dynamic, contextual, emotional and relational notion. Transnational and locally based migrant networks are crucial to these women s perceptions of Self, expressions of life style, and feelings of belonging in the United States. Through a variety of practices that serve to underscore inclusion and exclusion from variously understood fields of belonging , the women create a sense of home. Furthermore, I show how new spaces for the expansion, re-creation and rejection of hegemonic female roles are created and opened up through migration. Both stability and change in the psychological gender is explored as it is expressed through different generations migration stories composed as a biographies of the self , and in role experimentations and negotiations of a modern , female independence as well as fulfillment of more traditionally defined female respectability.