Our panel was convened to consider important questions surrounding motherhood and boarder crossing. Each year, millions of women cross national borders, willingly and unwillingly, to provide labor and services to others. In the best cases, migrant women are separated from their families and friends as they endeavor, through their labor abroad, to provide financially for those they love. The personal, parental, and relational costs of such border crossings are profound and difficult to calculate. In the worst cases, women cross borders under threat, deception, and even abduction, often to "work" in the sex industries with little hope of rescue.
The laws of many nations, including our own, fail to protect women who work in these conditions, whether voluntarily or under coercion. Moreover, vulnerable migrant women often bear the burden of the criminal aspect of the law (for example, when they are deported for being undocumented laborers or when they are arrested for prostitution), while the socially empowered persons who exploit women's bodies and labor go without penalty. The problems are far-reaching and require both academic study as well as practical action. Our panel sought to advance conversation around four key topics: sex work, cyber brides, domestic work, and foreign nannies.
I was thrilled to participate on this panel for very personal reasons. My grandmothers were both migrants. Margret came as an orphan child from Hungary, overcoming many obstacles as she struggled to learn a language and a way of life while separated from the remnants of the family she had involuntarily left behind. I never knew this grandmother, but when her home was eventually sold in my adulthood, I came to inherit all her worldly possessions. These consisted of her immigration documents, a lock of someone's hair, a photograph of Margret as a child with another young woman, a tattered Bible, and a few Hungarian language letters. I keenly intuited her losses and struggles, which I know are so common among the silent millions who must also feel, unmoored in their turbulent lives.
My other grandmother, Bertha, migrated to Ohio from the red dirt of Stewart County, Virginia. With barely a grammar school education, she worked tirelessly and singularly to support her four living children, having also buried two young sons. In grade school, I learned that my grandma had, in addition to working full time in a hospital, done "day work" in order to support her children. One of my friends observed that my grandma had cleaned his grandma's home. It felt oddly intimate and shameful to me at the time, but now I understand what one does in the interest of her children.
As a mother myself, I feel indescribable gratitude and a profound sense of witness to the lives of my foremothers and indeed to all women and their bodies and their labor. I think my comments here would be shared in various ways by my co-panelists, and I believe all of us do our work in the hope of making the world a safer and more just place for women and their children.
I had the privilege of speaking with two Ursuline connections: Michele Stopera Freyhauf, an Ursuline alumna in Religious Studies, who now also teaches as an adjunct in our department; and incoming dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies, Dr. Gina Messina-Dysert. Both are excellent colleagues and scholars, and I am so very pleased to have spoken with them. We had a wonderful collaboration at the UN and together also have many great projects in the works. Our panel was well received by an internationally attended audience, and the discussion that followed was illuminating in equal degree to our talks. On the whole, it was a roundly edifying experience!