Latinx immigrant experiences with chronic illness in Central Texas: Reframing the narrative with nepantla


In this presentation*, I discuss my anthropological research exploring how Latinx immigrants have managed their chronic illness(es) in the United States, while taking into account the marginalization of Latinx immigrants in the U.S. healthcare system. Researchers and healthcare providers have faced challenges in studying and caring for chronic illness among immigrant groups due to limited approaches that do not assess one’s conditions throughout the entire experience with displacement: before, during, and after migration. Using ethnographic methods during my time working at a free healthcare clinic in Central Texas between 2016 and 2019, I explore how the collection of life histories through illness narratives can be useful in overcoming some of these methodological challenges by allowing migrants to share life histories and experiences with health and illness. In this presentation, I particularly focus on the illness narrative of Sayda, a Honduran migrant who lives with diabetes, revealing the ways in which her illness narrative becomes inextricable from her migrant narrative. Chronic illness spans multiple temporalities – in this case, the progression of the illness and care across the arc of migration – so I show how illness narratives can help reveal knowledge, understanding, and emotions involved in recalling life experiences, as well as some of the social and historical forces that contribute to marginalization in the U.S. healthcare system for Latinx immigrants. I then briefly draw from Gloria Anzaldúa’s theory of nepantla to reframe the migrant and illness narrative. First, I use the theory to argue that the unique positionality of Latinx immigrants challenges linear expectations for illnesses to be ‘cured’ and immigrants to become ‘citizens’. Second, I argue that paying attention to these narratives can help others in similar situations, encourage more inclusive and comprehensive social reform, and provide an opportunity for empowerment among this particular marginalized group.

* Names of the field site and participants were pseudonymized for this presentation.

Scott Spivey Provencio

Scott J. Spivey Provencio is a proud Mexican-American and fronterizo, having grown up on the U.S./Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. He has used medical anthropology to examine migrant health both in his undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin and now in his masters at the University of Cambridge, currently in the context of gentrification in London. He will be starting medical school this summer as he strives for a career as a physician, social scientist, activist, and storyteller.

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