This chapter situates the stories of these four women, which will unfold in the following chapters. It does so in the context of the concepts of structural violence and structured agency; a brief discussion of Nicaraguan history; the phenomena of emigration from Nicaragua, immigration to Italy, and domestic work; and debates about the connections between emigration and social mobility. The chapter also describes the research methodology I employed and the organization of the subsequent chapters of the book.
Chapter 2 describes the lives of Andrea, Silvia, Ana, and Pamela from birth onward, illuminating the class inequalities inherent in the structural violence that so dramatically impacted them, as well as some situations in which these inequalities were compounded by gender (and, more subtly, racial/ethnic) inequalities. We learn about the ways it affected their home lives, their schooling, their work trajectories, and their health. Yet the social structure that imposed these inequalities was not stable. The Sandinista revolution modified it—opening up opportunities for these women and their families—and then further alterations to the social structure occurred with the country's turn to the right starting in 1990. Therefore, the ways that each of these shifts affected them is part of their story.
Chapter 3 focuses on the sexual and physical violence that characterized the lives of Andrea, Silvia, and Ana. Sexual violence is a product of the gender inequalities that are the essence of patriarchy, and they were an integral part of structural violence experienced by the three women. Both sexual and physical violence were inflicted upon them from a very young age. Despite being subjected to this violence, they expressed agency by confronting the perpetrators, removing themselves from their parents' homes—where they had experienced it—and acting consciously to ensure that there would be no repetition of these patterns of violence in the lives of their own children. I argue that signs of the lasting effects of this violence were evident for some time. Finally, I analyze the role their mothers played in the two types of violence and why they might have played that role.
Chapter 4 discusses the process Andrea, Ana, and Pamela went through in deciding that going overseas was the best way to ensure their children's future well-being. As their children were getting older, Andrea, Ana, and Pamela found themselves having to figure out, alone, how to achieve their dream of seeing their children attend college. The fathers of their children had proven themselves unwilling or unable to contribute to this project. These dynamics were another manifestation of the class and gender inequalities the women experienced. Silvia went through this decision-making process as well, as she sought a means to support her parents as they aged and became infirm. This chapter also examines the network the four women relied on to emigrate, the jobs and legal situation that awaited them when they did, the social context they encountered in Italy, and their thoughts about where their future lies.
Chapter 5 focuses on the multiple ways in which the lives of these women's children have been distinct from their own. These differences defined the homes in which they were raised, their educational opportunities, and the fact that they were not forced to leave school to go to work. Moreover, children mostly came later for this next generation, their work options were broader than those of their parents, and they were protected from the sexual and physical violence that their mothers had faced. Although none of the women's children has yet to move into the middle class, those who are working have found jobs that they like and that provide them with an income that, by and large, allows them to support themselves and their own children. Hence, they have achieved a notable degree of social mobility from where their mothers were at that stage of their lives.
The Conclusion briefly reviews how structural violence, in its varied and intersecting forms, conditioned the lives of Andrea, Silvia, Ana, and Pamela. It also analyses the extent to which their histories—and the preceding account of them—coincide with and diverge from what the literature tells us about the experiences of poor women in Latin America as a whole, whether or not they engage in emigration. Finally, it considers the implications of those coincidences and divergences for our understanding of structural violence and distinct efforts to redress it.