We consider cross-space consumption as a form of transnational practice among international migrants. In this paper, we develop the idea of the social value of consumption and use it to explain this particular form of transnationalism. We consider the act of consumption to have not only functional value that satisfies material needs but also a set of nonfunctional values, social value included, that confer symbolic meanings and social status. We argue that cross-space consumption enables international migrants to take advantage of differences in economic development, currency exchange rates, and social structures between countries of destination and origin to maximize their expression of social status and to perform or regain social status. Drawing on a multisited ethnographic study of consumption patterns in migrant hometowns in Fuzhou, China, and in-depth interviews with undocumented Chinese immigrants in New York and their left-behind family members, we find that, despite the vulnerabilities and precarious circumstances associated with the lack of citizenship rights in the host society, undocumented immigrants manage to realize the social value of consumption across national borders and do so through conspicuous consumption, reciprocal consumption, and vicarious consumption in their hometowns even without being physically present there. We conclude that, while cross-space consumption benefits individual migrants, left-behind families, and their hometowns, it serves to revive tradition in ways that fuel extravagant rituals, drive up costs of living, reinforce existing social inequality, and create pressure for continual emigration.

INTRODUCTION

International migrants are simultaneously able-bodied workers and consumers. Existing research has paid ample attention to their role as workers, generating rich knowledge about the impacts of remittances on the well-being of left-behind families and hometown development (Cohen 2004; Mahmud 2015; Massey et al. 1998; Roberts and Morris 2003; Stark 1991; Taylor, Rozelle, and de Brauw 2003; Thai 2014). However, the role of migrants as consumers has received less attention. The past studies that focus on migrant consumer behavior often assume migrant consumers to be either full citizens or the marginalized other in the host society. As full citizens, migrant consumers are viewed as similar to their native-born peers, who can exercise their consumer rights according to their purchasing power and freely express their identity, lifestyle, and social status via consumption and acculturation (Abizadeh and Ghalam 1994; Hsu and Yang 2013; S. Lee 2000; W. Lee and Tse 1994; Morrison 1980; O'Guinn, Lee, and Faber 1986; Peñaloza 1994). As the marginalized other, by contrast, migrant consumers are perceived to be constrained not only by their economic means but also by their disadvantaged racial/ethnic, class, gender, and citizenship statuses (Hanser 2008; Ong 1999; Schler 2003).

There are significant gaps in the existing research on migrant consumption. First, consumption is often conceptualized as occurring in a single space, either in the migrant's host society or in his or her hometown, but seldom across spaces. Second, migrant consumers are generally assumed to be physically mobile. Those who are unable, or without legal rights, to move freely across national borders have not been given sufficient attention. Third, prior research finds that migrants often cope with social marginalization and overcome structural barriers to express or regain social status through conspicuous consumption, but it has not fully unpacked the causal mechanisms and strategies that enable them to succeed in doing so. We fill the gaps by examining the means by which immigrants engage in consumption across national borders to maximize their consumption values.

Drawing on a multisited ethnographic study of consumption patterns in migrant hometowns in Fuzhou, China, that includes in-depth interviews with undocumented Chinese immigrants in New York and their left-behind family members, we address three main questions: (1) What causes the unique pattern of consumption among undocumented immigrants? (2) How do undocumented immigrants engage in cross-space consumption when their physical mobility is highly constrained? (3) What impacts does cross-space consumption have on migrants, their left-behind families, and local communities in the country of origin? We argue that cross-space consumption is a form of transnationalism similar to the sending of monetary remittances but that its impacts on hometown development are more complicated. Cross-space consumption enables international migrants to take advantage of the uneven development, currency exchange rates, and different social structures between countries of destination and origin to maximize their expression of social status and to perform or regain social status in their hometowns. However, this type of transnationalism has varied effects on individual migrants, left-behind families, and hometowns.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND AND FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSIS

Our study of cross-space consumption concerns migrants, their monetary remittances, and their symbolic expression of social status or actual performance of social status. To develop an analytical framework, we draw on three bodies of the theoretical literature: migration and development, immigrant transnationalism, and the social value of consumption.

Migration and Development

Migration and development are treated as cause-and-effect processes in the study of international migration, and monetary remittances as the intermediate driving force arising from migration to affect development in sending countries. The new economics of migration theory reconciles agency and structure to consider international migration as a household strategy, rather than an individual's rational choice, for maximizing incomes, minimizing risks, and overcoming problems arising from market failures (de Haas 2010; Massey et al. 1998; Stark 1991). From this approach, migration serves to diversify and improve household incomes because it increases the migrant's earning capacity or potential and facilitates a constant flow of monetary remittances. Monetary remittances in turn encourage consumption, improve the standard of living, and stimulate new consumer demands among members of left-behind families. Even as consumption is in nonproductive activity, it still yields positive multiplier effects because most of the goods and services are produced and purchased locally or domestically (Lowell and de la Garza 2000; Massey and Parrado 1998; Thai 2014). For instance, remittances used for renovating old or building new houses can directly contribute to the well-being, health, and safety of family members while creating business and employment opportunities related to housing construction in the local economy, which in turn benefit the often poorer nonmigrants (Castles and Miller 2003; Cohen 2004; Guarnizo 2003; Massey et al. 1998; Pessar and Mahler 2003; Roberts and Morris 2003). In the process of migration, moreover, migration networks are formed and maintained to perpetuate future emigration in ways that help offset the high costs and uncertainty of cross-border movements (Massey et al. 1998). On the whole, large-scale free migration is highly beneficial for local development in sending communities (Durand, Parrado, and Massey 1996; Massey and Parrado 1998; Stark 1991; Taylor et al. 2003).

However, international migration involves cumulative processes leading to divergent outcomes. In a critique of the new economics of migration theory, Portes (2009) argues that whether migration is conducive to development depends on the nature and timing of the cross-border movements. Only cyclical flows lead to positive development outcomes predicted by the new economics of migration theory because migrants sojourn abroad for a short period of time and eventually return home. Permanent flows, in contrast, result in weakening incentives to send remittances and depopulation in the places of origin, because migrants move elsewhere to work and eventually get resettled there with their families (Diaz-Briquets and Weintraub 1991; Portes 2009; Portes and Walton 1981).

Existing research that focuses on migrant remittances has identified several main negative effects on development. First, migrant remittances reinforce income inequality in sending communities. International migrants seldom hail from the poorest segment of their places of origin. The constant flows of remittances further increase the economic status of migrant households, making them much better off than other households without migrants (Adams 1998). Second, migrant remittances often provide an external source of income for left-behind families (Durand et al. 1996; Mahler 1995; Mahmud 2015). Family members initially rely on remittances to meet their basic needs, such as food, housing, health, and education, but they gradually become dependent and even shift their consumption beyond subsistence, which contributes little to local productive development. Third, migrant remittances disrupt stable peasant societies by uprooting their populations and further stimulating out-migrations (de Haas 2010; Jones 1998; Portes 2009).

In sum, research on migration and development centers disproportionately on left-behind families and sending communities as direct or indirect beneficiaries of migrant remittances. It overlooks the more intriguing questions about how migrants, especially the low-skilled and socioeconomically disadvantaged, possibly save a substantial amount of money to send home and what sustains them in doing so. Our current study on cross-space consumption attempts to address these questions.

Immigrant Transnationalism

Immigrant transnationalism reflects a reality of continuing fluid contacts between migrants in the host society and their communities of origin in sending countries (Glick-Schiller, Basch, and Blanc-Szanton 1992). These contacts are not haphazard but are highly regular, involving occupations and activities that require sustained interactions over time across national borders for their implementation (Portes, Guarnizo, and Landolt 1999). This new school of transnational studies has proliferated to document the diverse, and sometimes surprising, forms that these cross-border activities take, such as cash remittances, homeland trips, long-distance calls or cyberspace communication, and occasional activities (Portes et al. 1999). The most salient feature of transnationalism is monetary remittances for supporting migrant families left behind (Cohen 2004; Durand et al. 1996; Goldring 2002; Guarnizo Sanchez, and Roach 1999; Itzigsohn et al. 1999; Landolt 2001; Mahler 1995; Portes, Guarnizo, and Haller 2002). Other forms of transnationalism include religious remittances (Levitt 2007); political remittances, such as the transfer of egalitarian ideology and leadership styles, activism, and advocacy for migrant rights (Piper 2009); and social remittances, including ideas, behaviors, identities, and social capital that flow from communities between countries of destination and origin (Levitt 1998; Levitt and Lamba-Nieves 2011).

The various types of transnational practices via remittance sending have profound development implications for sending communities. Remittances in hard currency support the basic subsistence of left-behind families while helping these families to achieve self-sufficiency and social mobility by financing such ventures as family businesses, land acquisition, and construction of new homes for family members and for migrants’ own transnational living or retirement needs as well (Durand et al. 1996; Goldring 2002). Moreover, monetary remittances, even those used for household economics, generate the “multiplier effect” to benefit nonmigrant households as well as local and regional developments in migrants’ ancestral villages or towns (Durand et al. 1996; Massey and Parrado 1998; Stark 1991; Taylor et al. 2003; Zhou and Lee 2015).

Transnationalism also has significant implications for immigrants’ own social mobility. Current studies have shown that contemporary immigrants are now found to achieve economic success and social status, depending not exclusively on rapid acculturation and entrance into mainstream circles of the host society but on the mobilization of ethnic resources within diasporic communities, as well as (at least for some) on the cultivation of strong social networks across national borders. In this sense, transnationalism can serve as an alternative means to social mobility in the host society (Zhou and Lee 2013, 2015). Immigrants of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds have been found to engage in varied forms of transnational practices. Highly acculturated and highly educated immigrants have been found quitting their well-paid salaried jobs to engage in economic activities across borders because they can better utilize their skills, bicultural literacy, and social networks to reap material gains. Less acculturated and low-skilled immigrants also engage in transnationalism, but their practices are limited to sending remittances regularly to support families and kin, buying land or building houses for their own transnational lives, and establishing small, sustainable businesses in their homelands. In either case, the immigrants proactively adopt transnationalism as an alternative path to social mobility. It enables the highly skilled to maximize their human capital returns and the low skilled to effectively convert the wages earned in the host countries to material gains and social status recognition in their countries of origin (Goldring 2002; Guarnizo, Portes, and Halle 2003; Itzigsohn et al. 1999; Zhou and Lee 2013).

Much understudied in research on transnationalism are the undocumented immigrants who are of disadvantaged social status, who are marginalized in both their own ethnic community and the mainstream society in the host country, and whose mobility is legally constrained. Empirical observations indicate that transnational practices among undocumented immigrants are not uncommon and that undocumented migrants are as likely as their legal compatriots to participate in transnational practices via the sending of monetary remittances. Take Chinese undocumented immigrants from Fuzhou, for example. Our fieldwork reveals that the remittances sent from undocumented immigrants are no less than those from legal migrants. Their monetary remittances have left an indelible imprint on the landscape of migrant hometowns or sending villages in Fuzhou, most visibly seen are many grandiose houses built in villages. Their remittances have also influenced economic and sociocultural developments, which have in turn nurtured a more open environment to sustain further immigrant transnationalism (Gan and Deng 2012).

The Social Value of Consumption

Consumption is associated not only with consumers’ basic needs to reproduce themselves as able-bodied workers but also with their symbolic and sociocultural needs in society. The existing literature identifies various values of consumption that measure the levels and dimensions of satisfaction of the consumer's demands brought by a particular product or service. These values include the functional value and a set of nonfunctional values beyond the functional value (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Sheth, Newman, and Gross 1991). The most basic value of consumption is the functional value, which is for satisfying the consumer's immediate demand for labor reproduction. Nonfunctional values are subjective and relative, and confer particular cultural or social meanings to consumer products beyond individual consumers’ immediate or basic needs (Hsu and Yang 2013; McCracken 1986).

The social value of consumption occurs when the individual consumer purchases goods and services and uses them for creating, confirming, or expressing a social identity or social status. The concept refers to the association of a particular consumer choice with a particular social group whose social status the consumer expects to match or mimic (Sheth et al. 1991). It is also closely related to the idea of conspicuous consumption. Veblen (1899) used the concept of conspicuous consumption to describe an increasingly visible phenomenon in modern society in which individuals consume for the sole purpose of displaying their wealth and status rather than for meeting their basic and real needs. While conspicuous consumption is characteristic of higher classes in society, it has a profound influence over other classes, as lower classes seek to emulate the behavior of the elite. As a result, modern society becomes a society of luxury consumption and wasted time (Veblen 1899). Along with the rapid commercialization of modern consumer society, more and more consumer goods are produced to provide nonfunctional values, which confer social status and prestige.

Existing studies on migrant consumption patterns focus either on how migrants change their consumer behavior to adapt to that of the host society in order to acculturate or on how migrants change their consumption in space to maximize nonfunctional values. In a study of lifestyle in New Zealand, Hsu and Yang (2013) found that the consumption of a particular practice, such as engaging in outdoor activities, conferred the symbolic value of a healthy lifestyle and made a statement of social class position in the host society, to which immigrants were adapting. However, many international migrants often limit their consumption to satisfying basic material needs without fully realizing the social value of consumption because of their disadvantaged statuses in the class and racial hierarchies of the host society. In their study of rural-to-urban female migrants in service industries in urban China, Ning Wang and Yan (2011) showed that female migrants were extremely thrifty and abstained from any consumption beyond basic needs in the city where they worked but that they became extremely extravagant in their spending when they returned to their home village during holidays. They found that migrant workers adopted this particular consumption pattern in order to express or perform social status lost in the city (N. Wang and Yan 2011).

Both studies cited above assume that migrant consumers can exercise their agency in making rational consumer choices and that they are physically present in a particular place to pursue nonfunctional values via conspicuous consumption. However, few studies have looked at situations in which migrants are either structurally constrained by the host stratification system or spatially constrained because of legal barriers (Hanser 2008; Lan 2006).

Cross-space Consumption: An Analytical Framework

Under normal circumstances, an individual's consumption behavior happens within a certain time and geographical space and is constrained by the individual's socioeconomic characteristics, such as education, occupation, income, race/ethnicity, gender, and citizenship (Hanser 2008; Hsu and Yang 2013; Lan 2006; Schler 2003; N. Wang and Yan 2011; Yeh and Huang 2009). Cross-space consumption is a strategy adopted by migrants that refers to means by which individual migrants compress the values of consumption in one geographical space in order to maximize the social value of consumption in a different geographical space (N. Wang and Yan 2011). Immigrants often live a frugal life in the host country and return to their home country to unleash their consumption desires because they find it difficult to realize the social value of consumption in the host society (M. Li 1999; Pries 2001). To feel good and to improve their social reputation, they also send monetary remittances to their hometowns to be consumed by members of left-behind families in order to show “face” and boost their own social status and reputation. Whether returning home to consume or having someone else consume for them, immigrants are thrifty consumers in one space where they are structurally constrained in order to be extravagant in another space where they are free from these structural constraints.

How are undocumented immigrants engaged in cross-space consumption when they cannot be transnationally mobile? In this study, we develop a framework to analyze the mechanisms through which sociocultural meaning and social status are transferred from one location to another and the consequences of such transfer.

In the process of consumption, the association between the individual or family income and the regular expenditure of different sorts of material and nonmaterial goods is called consumption structure. Each item in the regular daily expenses is for the achievement of one certain value. As individual income increases to exceed the level needed for labor reproduction, the marginal effect of achievement of labor reproduction tends to decrease, thereby improving the consumers’ achievement of nonfunctional values (N. Wang 2005).

Figure 1 sketches our analytical framework of cross-space consumption. We analytically simplify consumer needs into two ideal types, basic consumer needs and symbolic consumer needs, that form the consumption structure of the international migrant. Immigrants generally can achieve the functional value and some nonfunctional values of consumption in their host societies, but they have difficulty achieving the social value because they are blocked by their marginalized social positions in their host societies on account of their disadvantaged racial/ethnic or social class statuses. So in their adaptation they often adopt the cross-space consumption strategy to transfer the social value of consumption back to their hometowns.

FIGURE 1.

Cross-space Consumption: An Analytical Framework

FIGURE 1.

Cross-space Consumption: An Analytical Framework

Even undocumented migrants, who cannot move freely across geographical spaces, do so. The question is how. From our observations, three means of consumption serve as effective mechanisms: conspicuous consumption, reciprocal consumption, and vicarious consumption. These mechanisms can enable physically absent migrants to regain their lost social status and reputation back in their hometowns and help transfer part of the social value of consumption to left-behind family members. But different consumption patterns have varying impacts on hometown development.

Next, we unfold the process of cross-space consumption, mechanisms of social status expression or performance, and development implications for hometowns.

DATA AND METHODS

In this study, we adopted a multipronged approach to data collection and conducted transnational multisited fieldwork during the summers of 2011 and 2012. We traced the steady flow of emigration from Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China, to New York, USA. Most of the undocumented Chinese immigrants to the United States hail from Fun County and River County (pseudonyms) in the eastern part of Fuzhou.1 We conducted intensive observations in a town and six villages of River County and Fun County and two Chinatowns in New York (East Broadway in Manhattan and Eighth Avenue in Brooklyn), including Fuzhounese-owned restaurants elsewhere in New York.2 We interviewed Fuzhounese migrants in New York and their relatives in their hometowns as well as local government officials in Fuzhou.

We focus on undocumented Chinese immigrants (including a few who had their status legalized at the time of the interview) from Fuzhou for two reasons. First, among undocumented Chinese immigrants, the Fuzhounese constitute a majority, and most of them are concentrated in New York (Zhao 2010). Such a focus allows us to explore in greater detail the mechanisms of cross-space consumption among those whose mobility is highly constrained. Second, ethnicity, class, and citizenship are found to affect consumer behavior. The focus on the Fuzhounese allows us to examine further how these factors affect legal and undocumented immigrants differently and how they interact with one another (Ong 1999; L. Wang and Lo 2007). The Fuzhounese are socially marginalized by ethnic minority status, disadvantaged socioeconomic status, and undocumented status. The ethnic, socioeconomic, and legal barriers limit their consumer choices and constrain their expression of social status through conspicuous consumption in their host society. We believe that the study of this most disadvantaged labor migrant group and their consumption patterns can shed light on how undocumented immigrants make sense of their lives on the margins of their host society, how they can practice transnationalism without being physically present in the transnational fields, and what they gain, or lose, across spaces.

FINDINGS

Undocumented Chinese Immigrants from Fuzhou, China

The passage of the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965 was undoubtedly critical in accelerating Chinese immigration to the United States. However, the surge in contemporary Chinese immigration began only after the late 1970s, when China launched its massive open-door economic reform and relaxed its emigration restrictions and when the United States and China normalized diplomatic relations. The changes made it possible for relatives of U.S. citizens or longtime U.S. resident aliens to apply for U.S. immigrant visas in China. Initially, most of the U.S.-bound emigrants were from the historically important sending regions in Guangdong Province. Later on, newly established migration networks, including human smuggling networks, facilitated emigration from other parts of China (Zhou 2013). As a result, the number of legal immigrants from mainland China and Hong Kong to the United States grew from 283,000 in the 1980s to 650,000 in the 2000s, and it has continued to grow at an average of more than 75,000 annually since 2010 without any sign of slowing down. As of 2010, Chinese immigrants to New York City accounted for 20 percent of all Chinese immigrants legally admitted to the United States, and New York City had the largest Chinese population of any city outside Asia (Zhou 2013).

Chinese immigrants from the Fuzhou region have come to the United States in droves since the 1980s, and New York has been their most preferred destination. The accurate number of Fuzhounese in the United States is hard to obtain because of the high disproportion of undocumented immigrants. A major Fuzhounese association in New York City puts the number at nearly half a million (cited in Zhuang 2003). Compared to other Chinese immigrants, Fuzhounese immigrants have several unique characteristics that affect their patterns of consumption. First, they speak a distinct dialect that is incomprehensible to other Mandarin- or Cantonese-speaking Chinese who live or work in Chinatown or in dormitories provided by their employers. The linguistic difference and residential segregation are barriers to their absorption into the existing ethnic community. They thus organize themselves in the form of hometown or clan associations for self-help, just like the old-timers in the old days. Second, most of them are of rural or low-skilled background with little proficiency in English. Like other low-skilled Chinese immigrants, they are highly dependent on low-paying work in the Chinese enclave economy and they cluster in crowded housing in Chinatowns. But they are more willing to accept lower wages and poorer housing than other Chinese immigrants, thereby creating both distance from and resentment among coethnics in the existing ethnic community. Third, a significant portion of them are undocumented; only a fortunate few have been able to have their immigration status legalized (M. Li 2005). As undocumented immigrants, the Fuzhounese experience tremendous hardships and multiple social dislocations. Prior to arrival, they must pay enormous fees to smugglers—from $18,000 in the mid-1980s to about $80,000 per person in 2012—in order to make the journey to New York (Chin 1999; Chu 2010; Guest 2011; Kwong 1999; Liang et al. 2008). So they are heavily in debt upon arrival and must work harder and spend less than other immigrants of similar socioeconomic status. Moreover, they are sojourners who have left their families behind in Fuzhou, hoping to make and save the money they earn and eventually to return home if they cannot get their status legalized. Without families around, they lead a lifestyle very different from that of their low-skilled counterparts who are settlers. Furthermore, they are stigmatized and socially marginalized not only by mainstream American society but also by the ethnic Chinese community (Guest 2011; Zhao 2010).

Despite their precarious circumstances, the Fuzhounese are generally optimistic, resilient, and entrepreneurial. While most work at 3D (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) jobs in restaurants, fast-food takeouts, garment factories, and home renovation sites in the ethnic economy, they expect to make much more money than they did at home and to become business owners in the near future. According to the calculation of the Fuzhounese, once their smuggling debts are repaid, the money they earn in a Chinese restaurant in New York in one year would equal the amount from “at least 12 years” of working in factories in Fuzhou (Guest 2011:33). By the late 1990s, the Fuzhounese have carved out a significant niche dominated by the restaurant trade of all-you-can-eat buffets and fast-food takeouts seen in middle-class as well as low-income neighborhoods in New York City and suburban shopping malls, as well as along interstate exits up and down the East Coast. The Fuzhounese-owned restaurants hire both coethnic workers and other noncoethnic workers and cater to a clientele beyond ethnicity (Guest 2011; Zhao 2010). Fuzhounese entrepreneurs in New York, except for a few who occupy leadership positions in hometown associations, have not been given a social recognition and status commensurate with their economic success in the Chinese immigrant community and are even less recognized or respected in mainstream society, yet they have become celebrities or legendary figures in Fuzhou. The lack of social space in the United States for the Fuzhounese to express and perform social status derived from their successful endeavors (including safe landing on the U.S. shore) has prompted them to adopt a strategy of cross-space consumption (X. Li and Zhou 2012; Zhou and Li 2016).

Living on the Margins: The Twisted Consumption Structure

The term consumption structure refers to the ratio of income to different types of consumption needs. As we have discussed, the functional value of consumption is for meeting the material requisites of individual consumers toward the fulfillment of their basic needs, such as the need for labor reproduction. New immigrants, especially low-skilled labor migrants, initially encounter financial difficulties upon arrival in their new country, partly because the cost of living is higher than in their country of origin and partly because they earn lower wages than their native counterparts. They deal with these difficulties by twisting the consumption structure. Specifically, they either reduce the level of consumption for meeting basic needs or refrain from any consumption deemed unnecessary (W. Lee and Tse 1994). For low-income immigrants, the marginal propensity to consume is relatively low, and the proportion of their income that goes to basic consumption expenditure for food and housing is relatively high. Although they must prioritize the functional value of consumption, they must reduce their basic consumer needs to the minimum.

This is especially the case for undocumented immigrants for two additional reasons. Undocumented immigrants are debt-ridden upon arrival. They are forced-choice sojourners who cannot do any long-term planning for future resettlement in the host society. Most of the Fuzhounese pay heavy fees to be smuggled into the United States (Guest 2011; Kwong 1999). In order to pay off their transit debts as soon as possible, they have to accept whatever jobs are available even at substandard wages while restricting their consumption to the level of what is absolutely necessary for their own reproduction. Most undocumented Fuzhounese immigrants work in the restaurant trade operated by other Fuzhounese (Guest 2011; Zhao 2010). Many live in crowded group housing provided by coethnic restaurant owners as part of their employment agreement. Some rent “sleeping places” from other immigrant Chinese home owners. The lives of these workers are simple and monotonous. Here is a description given by Mr. Chen, an undocumented Fuzhounese who had been in the United States for four years and who worked in a buffet restaurant in Newark, New Jersey, at the time of the interview:

We get up around 9:00 a.m. The van takes us to the restaurant at 9:30 a.m. We then work all day until the restaurant closes at 10:00 p.m. By the time we get back to our dormitory, we are already dead tired with little energy even to watch TV. The next day is the same, and the day after … seven days a week…. Well, I couldn't work six days a week anyway, I'd rather work seven days because there is nothing else to do here.3 

When asked what he did for leisure, Mr. Chen gave a bitter smile, “Leisure? Cannot afford to waste [emphasis added] money. I would have to wait for another five years to think about it.” Mr. Chen had never been to a movie theater since his arrival in the United States and had very few weekend days. A large portion of his income went to pay debt and the rest he saved to build a house in his home village. He said his plan was to pay off his debt in another year or two and then finish building his house at home. A few other Fuzhounese whom we interviewed indicated that they had similar plans and said they were able to save more money working outside New York City, where “there is nothing much to do beside work,” than in the city, where “everything is too expensive” and where “there are many compatriots you could hang out with on your day off.”

Left-behind family members also expect immigrants to work and save money rather than to spend time having fun and “wasting” money. Ms. Zou lived in a village in River County, Fuzhou. She had two sons smuggled out of Fuzhou to New York. Both her sons worked in restaurants, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Connecticut. She said in the interview:

Most of them [Fuzhounese] in America do not want to live and work in downtown New York City, because there are a lot compatriots living there, and the rent and cost of living are very high. Also, if you work downtown, you are frequently asked by your friends to take them out for dim sum or dinner—then you spend all that money you've earned, and you never save any money. Thus a lot of people prefer to live and work in the suburbs or more remote areas. If you live in those places, you see only white and black people, and you won't even see any Chinese people for a few months. But then you can focus on your work and save money.4 

The daily routine of many Fuzhounese in New York is typically “all work and no play.” Immigrants barely have days off and leisure time. Generally, they are allowed to ask for only one day off per month. During that cherished “one day,” they take time to go to New York's Chinatown to shop for personal items not provided in their dormitories, such as cigarettes and shaving cream, or to get a cheap haircut. They have no extra leisure time, nor do they want to spend any money beyond what is basic.5 While this extremely frugal lifestyle helps Fuzhounese accomplish a long-term goal, it heightens their visibility as undocumented and unassimilable immigrants among other Chinese immigrants living in segregated ethnic enclaves, leading to dual marginalization in the ethnic community and the host society.

Double Exclusion and the Increased Desire for Social Recognition

Undocumented Chinese immigrants must suppress their basic and symbolic consumer needs in order to balance out low wages, heavy debts, and a long-term mobility plan. From our field observations, we find that although outwardly these immigrants consciously reduce their symbolic consumer needs to nearly zero, their desire for social recognition becomes stronger in their minds than it did before migration. This increased desire is a reaction to their double exclusion—from their own ethnic community and from the larger host society in which their ethnic community is marginalized . While it is difficult for Chinese immigrants, especially the less acculturated and the residentially segregated, to express and perform social status in the larger society, it is possible for them to do so in the ethnic space. However, this ethnic space is limited for the undocumented in several respects. First, it is too small to offer a significant stage for social status performance. Second, people within it are bounded by the internal status hierarchy and informal social networks, which make it hard for those in the lower ranks to move up. Third, there are severe internal divisions within this ethnic space based on the place of origin. In the Chinese immigrant community, the Fuzhounese are looked down upon as undocumented migrants and are stigmatized by other Chinese coethnics as “stowaways” and “rats on the streets.” Thus it is difficult for them to express their symbolic needs, let alone achieve the social values of consumption, even inside the ethnic Chinese community. Mr. Huang, who was smuggled into United States in 2007 and remained undocumented, said,

In the beginning, what I did in restaurants was to fetch and carry things, at $1,500 per month with meals and housing included. I had no leisure time at all, as I needed to work around the clock. Since I didn't spend much, I could save pretty much all of this amount of money. But I need it to pay my debt. Even after I pay off my debt, I would never waste my money in America—because this little money cannot change how people look at you here. You are still a stowaway. I have no social status at all, even if I am dying to show that I have made it.6 

Many Fuzhounese immigrants, including some of the undocumented, move up to the rank of business owners who make good money, but they are still constrained by the internal social structures of the Chinese immigrant community and by the ethnic stratification system of the host society, and they are still blocked, to varying degrees, from achieving the full values of consumption and full expression of social status. Within the ethnic community, the distinction between workers and business owners among the Fuzhounese is less visible to other Chinese in the ethnic community. Fuzhounese business owners are often called “stowaways,” “low quality,” “illiterate,” “barbarian,” and uncultured and are treated just like their fellow Fuzhounese of working-class status. Their achieved wealth and economic status are overshadowed by their stigmatized undocumented status. Since they are discriminated against as a subethnic group within the ethnic community, the ethnic space in which they can express and perform social status shrinks even more. For example, Mr. Yang was an undocumented immigrant from Fuzhou. He has now attained legal status and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He owns two restaurants and two homes in New York City with a net worth of nearly $100 million . He should be in the upper middle class on economic terms. But because he is a Fuzhounese, he is still regarded as a low-class stowaway by other Chinese who judge him by his accent. The inability to receive respect further increases his desire to satisfy his symbolic consumer needs. But even if he engages in conspicuous consumption, driving a fancy car and wearing name-brand clothing, he is still frustrated by being “mistaken” and “unnoticeable.” So he has decided to build a deluxe villa back in his hometown. He said, “Buying houses in the United States does not bring you any ‘dignity’ or ‘respect,’ but doing so back in China can.”7 

Realization of the Social Value of Consumption in Transnational Spaces

Unable to satisfy their symbolic consumer needs in the host society, Fuzhounese immigrants adopt the strategy of cross-space consumption and shift their consumption to their hometowns. How do they do it when they are economically so disadvantaged and when they cannot physically cross national borders? One enabling factor is the differential values of currencies. The favorable rate of currency exchange of the U.S. dollar to the Chinese yuan makes the dollar more than six times stronger, though exchange rates have fluctuated in recent years.8 The American dollar is of high status symbolically as well. In River County, those living on migrant remittances tell you, “In America, they earn mei yuan [dollars], beautiful yuan! Many times better than what we earn here. It really doesn't matter what you do there. You send a lot of money home.”9 Although undocumented Fuzhounese make much less in hourly wages than other low-skilled Chinese immigrants in New York, their earnings are still several times higher than the average personal disposable income in their hometowns because of the differences between levels of development and between exchange rates of the countries of destination and origin.10 Also, being in America or having some relatives in America makes individuals highly respected in Fuzhou.

Another enabling factor is the differential values in consumption. In migrant hometowns, the same consumer products cost less in cash but produce more social utilities. Such “inflation” in transnational spaces creates possibilities for immigrants to maximize the value of their meager savings from the entrenchment consumption strategy and allows them to achieve their symbolic needs and express or perform social status to the greatest extent. Ms. Cai stated that she had spent $14,000 when she first returned home to her village in River County:

The beautiful yuan [U.S. dollar] is always very strong and valuable back home. The amount of $14,000 was equal to 120,000 yuan then, which was a great sum in my hometown. I could use the money to buy lots of gifts for my relatives. Not that they needed these gifts, but they expected the gifts when you were home. I must show them our better life in America, and they would have face when talking to other folks in the village too. I cannot afford to go home often, but when I go I must spend money and bring gifts.11 

A third enabling factor is the positive image of immigrants in their hometowns in Fuzhou. Prior to World War II, Chinese immigrants were considered “guests of the gold mountain” (Zhou 1992). Now Fuzhounese are viewed as “guests from America.” Back in their hometowns, undocumented Fuzhounese immigrants bear this respectful name rather than the stigmatized name of “stowaways.” In River County, illegal border-crossing is actually not a particularly negative act; rather, it is considered a heroic adventure undertaken in a self-sacrificing spirit. This positive image makes immigrants and their fellow villagers at home expect a glorious return. When immigrants send remittances home or when they eventually return, their relatives, friends, and fellow villagers give them social recognition. Their new identity as “guests from America” is constructed by their home villagers but is superior to that of left-behind nonmigrant villagers. The identity construction cuts across national and class lines and is reinforced by migrants’ cross-space consumption. For reasons of social dislocation and double marginalization, undocumented Fuzhounese immigrants actually look forward to the day when they can return home and consume in their hometown like rich people to achieve extra social values. Next we analyze how the Fuzhou immigrants achieve their social value of consumption and compensate for or regain their lost or suppressed social status in their hometowns.

Conspicuous Consumption and the Performance of Social Status

Most Fuzhounese immigrants in the United States lived in a close-knit society of kin, friends, and acquaintances before migration. In such an acquaintance society where people know one another, the existing system of power and social status is generally maintained through informal social networks and mechanisms of support and control. Individuals in hometowns are entrenched in the existing system, and it is hard for them to reconstruct and change their own social statuses and identity in a short period of time (Gan and Deng 2012; N. Wang 2012). However, migrants who have been physically absent from the hometown social system can make such a change with relative ease across social spaces, and most effectively through conspicuous consumption upon their return to the hometown.

For both legal and undocumented immigrants, the most important expenditure involves building a home in their home village. A home has both functional utility and culturally defined meanings. The Chinese notion of home is an extension of kinship. The “ancestral house” in the place of origin serves to anchor the extend family and carry on the familial lineage, while also signifying lifelong accomplishment and socioeconomic success (Chen 2008).

Although many undocumented immigrants cannot physically return home to build houses, they send remittances for home construction in stages. Many send money at the end of their first year to simply launch the construction and build the foundation of their homes. This way, left-behind families and fellow villagers know that they are making it in America. Some of the homes take five to seven years to complete. Houses are at first built to improve the living conditions of left-behind family members, such as migrants’ parents, spouses, and children. During the long process of house construction, some of the adult members of the family also migrate overseas, mostly via smuggling networks.

In recent years, the rural areas of Fuzhou have witnessed this distinctive scene: various types of multistoried, oversized mansions standing or being built in the middle of the rice paddies or in odd locations in a village. From the distance, these homes look grandiose, Western, and out of place. In closer view, most of these large luxury mansions are either locked without visibly routine maintenance or are nearly empty. Of the homes that are occupied, most have just an elderly person, or an elderly couple, with a housekeeper living there. Most of the home owners are emigrants overseas who are physically absent. From our field observation, the Western-style mansions in River County are utilized only occasionally when the immigrants (the legal ones) return home.

However, the houses that migrants build and maintain in their hometowns are status symbols, which also represent a familial obligation to keep and maintain family relations, even when family members are thousands of miles apart, and an imagined home to which migrants will someday return. In describing this empty-mansion landscape, a village cadre Mr. Gao stated:

Your house is a most visible statement of success. You want to show success as soon as possible in order to justify your move and to make your family here feel proud. So everybody is doing it because no one wants to lag behind. I cannot think of any family with relatives in the United States that I know who has not done it.12 

Thus sending remittances home to be consumed in the construction of luxury houses is less for utility and more for the realization of symbolic or sign values. The empty or much underutilized mansions allow absentee owners to display their newly attained social status or compensate for their status loss in the United States. By such cross-space consumption, even undocumented immigrants are able to gain social status recognition at home within a relatively short period of time.

Reciprocal Consumption and the Maintenance of Social Ties

Reciprocal consumption is a second mechanism by which undocumented Chinese immigrants practice cross-space consumption. The luxurious and conspicuous consumption of migrants and their families in hometowns can cause jealousy and resentment among nonmigrants and families without overseas relatives, which can cloud the positive image of the “guest from America” and disrupt social relations in a close-knit hometown society. To balance social relations, migrants’ consumption in their hometowns also takes on the character of “reciprocity,” spending to show off while simultaneously maintaining social ties that may be disrupted through the process of migration and conspicuous consumption. Reciprocal consumption takes place primarily through wedding and funeral rituals.

Ritual is a regular means to consolidate the relations among members of a social group (Durkheim [1912] 1976). Weddings and funerals in Fuzhou are not just family events but communal events that involve the whole village in a close-knit society. In migrant hometowns of Fuzhou, the basic cost of a funeral is at least $16,000 (or 100,000 yuan), and may go up to $80,000 (or half a million yuan). There are also million-yuan funerals. Funeral expenditures include not only the necessary costs directly related to the funeral but also social costs associated with funeral rituals. In Fuzhou, the rituals include a communal banquet, to which the whole village is expected to be invited. In traditional practice, the invitees give the mourning family red packets with cash as donations to help defray the costs of the funeral, and the mourning family give each invitee a thank-you red packet with a symbolic amount of cash at the end of the funeral banquet. For families without regular incomes and migrant remittances, these rituals can be so costly that these families detach from the social network to avoid being invited and having to pay money. To reverse this potential social disruption, migrants use this ritual to give money out rather than to take money in. Mr. Zheng described,

These days, you make money by attending someone else's funeral. You give 100 yuan in a red packet but get back a “thank-you” red packet that contains at least 200 yuan. It wasn't like that before 1980. Now a lot of people go overseas, and they make big money. So they want to show a good face to the family and the whole village.13 

Mr. Lin, a Fuzhounese immigrant in New York, explained,

Basically it is a family face-saving feat. Few families in Fuzhou can afford such funerals without money sent back by overseas Chinese.14 

When Mr. Lin's father passed away two years prior to our interview, Mr. Lin spent more than a million Chinese yuan on his funeral. At that time, he held an extravagant funeral banquet of 70 tables with nearly 700 participants and gave a thank-you red packet of 500 yuan to each participant. In the past, funeral participants needed to bring cash gifts; in the present, they receive a significant amount of cash instead. Both the mourning family and the migrants who send remittances to pay for the costs receive social recognition from the participants, who constitute the community. After each funeral, people always gossip about how much this family spent on building the tomb and hiring monks to perform the burial ritual, how many tables this family set up for the guests, what kind of food was offered on the tables, and how much money the family gave out in the thank-you red packets. “Well, nowadays you wouldn't mind going to more of these funerals. You have a good meal, hang out with friends, and, most importantly, get paid. The mourning family have ‘face’ when a lot of people show up.”15 

Like funerals, weddings are ritualistic. Wedding banquets are generally more glamorous and more expensive than funeral banquets, for they include entertainment programs and in-kind takeaway gifts in addition to thank-you cash red packets. Guests attending the wedding are given tangible gifts to take away, such as a bag of rice, a bottle of cooking oil, a carton of cigarettes, a bottle of liquor, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, and detergent.16 

Weddings include many more expenses than funerals, such as pre-wedding betrothal gifts from the groom's family, a dowry from the bride's family, and meeting gifts from guests. In Fuzhou, the basic price of a betrothal gift should be at least 53,000 yuan ($8,500). If the groom is a migrant overseas, the price is much higher, but the bride's family may return a good portion of the betrothal gift in the hope that the groom will take the bride overseas and help her family migrate later.17 The rate of dowry varies, but it can go up as high as one million yuan if the groom is a migrant overseas. In Fuzhou, the high-priced dowry is actually in exchange for the bride and her family to move to America in the future, while compensating for the groom's travel expenses when he was smuggled into the United States earlier. So compared to the smuggling fee of $80,000, one million yuan for the prospect of a safe journey to America for the bride's family is “a good deal.”18 

Meeting gifts, or wedding gifts, are given by the guests to the newlyweds and are usually in the preferred form of cash rather than gifts in-kind. The cost of meeting gifts varies, based on the status of the host family, the participant, and the closeness of relations with the newlyweds. From our fieldwork in Fuzhou, the norm is a minimum of 500 yuan.19 The uniqueness of the practice is that the meeting gifts are announced at the wedding. At the beginning of the wedding banquet, the matchmaker reads aloud the cost of the meeting gift of each guest. In a close-knit society, no one gives less than the normative amount. Those who give higher-priced meeting gifts are normally close family members. On this occasion, relatives or best friends overseas usually give much more, with a norm of twice as much to more than ten times as much. Such publicly known gift giving boosts the status and social recognition of the most generous givers. At a wedding, the newlyweds can reap a large amount of money in gifts.20 But newlyweds are sometimes expected to donate part of the money to communal welfare and for philanthropic purposes (Portes and Zhou 2012).

Both funeral and wedding rituals are major family events. Further, when immigrants pay visits home, they are expected to give their relatives and friends homecoming meeting gifts. The expenses incurred are borne primarily by international migrants to promote reciprocity in a close-knit society in a migrant hometown. While reciprocal consumption serves as communal welfare while helping to maintain kinship ties and social relations, it also drives up costs of communal rituals. As a result, young family members are pushed to go overseas by any means possible, because, in the words of a villager, “Without relatives overseas, people in Fuzhou cannot afford to get married, and they cannot even afford to die.”21 

Vicarious Consumption and the Reinforcement of Social Inequality

Vicarious consumption is a third mechanism by which undocumented Chinese immigrants express or perform social status. This mechanism involves left-behind families, who are actual consumers and live off migrants’ monetary remittances. Migrants send remittances home to their families, and the constant flow of remittances has not only created a class of dependents but also stimulated conspicuous consumption among relatives in migrant hometowns. While out-migration causes the population of migrant-sending communities to decline, remittances and cross-space consumption help foster a culture of migration that not only functions to push people out but also breeds a “parasite” class (Fei 2006:96). This parasite class lives on migrant remittances, acting as agents to help remittance senders realize the social values of consumption in hometowns. In an interview, Mr. Li, who worked in the government office of River County, depicted vividly how this parasite class was formed:

In our town, most people work overseas but buy things here. The backbreaking pains of one person overseas can bring happiness to the whole family here at home. Although migrants lead a tough life out there [in the United States], they are also rewarded when they send money back to their families. They are hesitant to spend one extra dime out there, and they will try their best to save every single penny they make. For example, if they earn $3,000, they would like to send all of this money back to their family. They uphold a spirit of sacrifice. They keep thinking that there is still a family back in their hometown; so they work hard and suppress their desire for any unnecessary consumption, in order to send the money back to their family members…. Their family members, on the other hand, are living a comfortable and even luxurious life—just enjoying spending money and consuming on behalf of their overseas relatives. They let others know that they have rich overseas relatives. The overseas relatives get the pleasure of being looked up to and being depended upon.22 

Stay-behind family members and relatives are so dependent upon remittances that they become important agents for the migrants overseas by consuming for them. Because they spend easy money, members of this parasite class inadvertently contribute to rising prices of consumer goods in the hometown as well as the rising value of land and prices of real estate in Fuzhou. In fact, it cost us more to conduct fieldwork in Fuzhou than in some of the most expensive cities in China, such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Mr. Li explained,

People in Fuzhou don't seem to care about the price of food. In the supermarket, they just grab whatever they think is good and put it into their baskets without looking at it or asking for the price first. All the good food is grabbed at whatever price is offered. Even fish cost several hundred yuan per kilogram, when you can get the same fish in the city for just under 100 yuan. These people spend and spend like there is no tomorrow while their relatives overseas save and save and send.23 

What Mr. Li expressed may be exaggerated, but it does capture the fact that without migrant remittances no one in town can afford such a high level of consumption. Migrant remittances enable left-behind family members and relatives to lead a more comfortable and luxurious life than others without remittance incomes in the hometown. These dependents and relatives who rely on the oversea remittances are actually adopting “vicarious leisure” and “vicarious consumption” (Veblen 1899). What they do reflects well on the success of migrants overseas, reinforcing migrants’ positive image and high status. Overseas remittances also take left-behind family members out of the labor force, enabling them to spend and “enjoy life” rather than work. Left-behind families consume in ways that help achieve the social values of consumption for the remittance senders. Consequently, vicarious consumption reinforces income inequality in migrant-sending communities. Families without a migrant in the United States cannot afford the sharp increase in the prices of land, real estate, and even rental housing or the overall cost of living in Fuzhou. This in turn creates pressure for out-migration, making migrant hometowns even more dependent.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

Drawing on a multisited ethnographic study of undocumented Chinese immigrants in the United States and their left-behind families in Fuzhou, China, we analyze the causes, mechanisms, and consequences of cross-space consumption. We find that Fuzhounese immigrants in the United States face double exclusion by the ethnic Chinese community and mainstream American society. Their precarious circumstances as ethnic minorities, low-skilled workers, and undocumented migrants force them into a life of “all work and no play.” As consumers, they cope with their socioeconomic disadvantages in the host society by reducing their basic consumer needs to a minimum in order to maximize cash savings to support their left-behind families. But in their hometowns, they spend their savings lavishly, imagining a life of “all play and no work.” Through cross-space consumption, they manage to fulfill their own symbolic consumer needs and achieve noticeable success in realizing the social value of consumption, primarily through the mechanisms of conspicuous consumption, reciprocal consumption, and vicarious consumption. While reciprocal consumption contributes to social capital accumulation by strengthening kinship ties that are being dispersed and disrupted in the processes of internal and international migrations, however, conspicuous consumption and vicarious consumption revive tradition in ways that fuel extravagant rituals, drive up the cost of living, reinforce existing social inequality, and create pressure for continual emigration.

The development impacts vary. On the positive side, monetary remittances for cross-space consumption provide much-needed material resources to sustain and stimulate the local economy. For example, home construction, which is fed by migrants’ desire to display “face,” social reputation, and social status, stimulates the development of construction and other real estate–related industries. Revived rituals also boost retail, entertainment, and hospitality industries. These developments in turn add jobs to the local labor market. However, randomly constructed housing with nearly empty occupancy in migrant villages may deteriorate over the long run. Over time, empty and poorly maintained mansions and other built structures may become nuisances and obstacles to future development.

Moreover, monetary remittances for cross-space consumption contribute to the reconstruction of a close-knit hometown community and accumulation of social capital. Reciprocal consumption, in particular, significantly helps maintain and strengthen kinship ties that are being dispersed and disrupted by internal and international migration and urbanization. Rituals attract big crowds. Participants do not have to bear much of a financial burden because their participation is paid for by migrants via thank-you packets. In return, participants give “face” to the “guests from America” and their families at home. The size and extravagance of communal fanfare confer social reputation and status and help migrants realize the social value of consumption while facilitating the constant circulation of remittances to keep and expand kinship ties, social networks, and the system of mutual support.

Negative outcomes are also noticeable. First, monetary remittances for cross-space consumption reinforce the economic dependency of left-behind families while fostering an emergent “parasitic” lifestyle and class in hometowns. Part of the social value of consumption among international migrants is transferred to left-behind family members, who act as vicarious consumers to show off their overseas relatives’ social status and reputation via vicarious consumption. Because money comes in handy, left-behind family members spend not only extravagantly but also irresponsibly. They gradually form a “parasitic class” and remain unproductive, not attracted to the new jobs created in the local labor market.

Second, the increase in disposable incomes through remittances jacks up the cost of living in hometown communities and further widens the existing income gap between left-behind families and families without overseas relatives. Families without relatives overseas and remittances not only are trapped in the lower income strata, but also must bear the sharp increase in the prices of land, housing, and goods and services in Fuzhou caused by cross-space consumption. They are also expected by people in the local community to conduct weddings, funerals, and other rituals at the same extravagant level as that attained by families of migrants. Experiencing relative deprivation and cash shortage, they too are unlikely to take up local jobs and are instead pressured to emigrate illegally in order to afford the increased cost of living and local consumption pattern.

Third, as locals look to out-migration to ameliorate their economic circumstances and “wait” to emigrate through legal or illegal means, internal migrants from other parts of China begin to move in to fill vacancies in the local labor market. Both out- and in-migration flows can tear the social fabric of the local community. As hometown societies, which have served as an important institutional basis for cross-space consumption, age and shrink, they lose the vitality to serve as a viable platform for migrants’ social status performance.

We should also point out that, while members of left-behind families, informal social networks, local businesses, and local governments play an important role in promoting migrants’ cross-space consumption, they also inadvertently help preserve the existing structure of power (X. Li and Zhou 2012; Zhou and Lee 2015). For example, local government officials are gatekeepers and authorities who approve development, by granting licenses and permits for construction and business. Local business leaders are also distinguished members of close-knit rural hometown communities. These local elites are distinguished invitees to rituals, and their presence in community events confers face, reputation, and social status. This existing system of power reinforced by intertwining formal and informal networks privileges families with migrants overseas to the exclusion of families without international migrants or families of internal migrants, whose number is growing. This is a topic of concern that should be explored further in future research.

Moreover, for undocumented immigrants, cross-space consumption improves their social reputation and status only within the existing social structures of a close-knit society in their hometowns and only up to a certain point. The existing social structures of their hometowns offer a valuable platform on which migrants express and perform social status in person or via agents and local social institutions. Through various forms of remittance-drive consumption, migrants and their left-behind families contribute to maintaining and strengthening the traditional social structures and social ties that bind them. However, once the social structures and families are transformed through continuous in- or out-migration, the platform for social status performance can deteriorate and break down.

Nonetheless, positive outcomes of cross-space consumption generally outweigh negative ones, given the persistence of the precarious circumstances that undocumented immigrants face and the level of development in their rural hometown communities. There is still room for policy intervention to nurture a more productive cultural environment and promote the kind of cross-space consumption that provides identity and social status symbolism for migrants overseas, sustains local economic development, and strengthens local social ties. Meanwhile, local governments and informal social institutions should cooperate to control artificially inflated prices, regulate wasteful consumer behavior, and curb the parasitic lifestyle.

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NOTES

NOTES
  We acknowledge the generous funding support for this research, including the Chang Jiang Scholar Chair Professorship, a grant (GD13YHQ01) on “The Study on Segmented Assimilation Pattern of Chinese Return Migrants” by the 2013 Guangdong Province Philosophy Social Sciences Youth Project, and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities of China, Sun Yat-sen University, China; the Walter and Shirley Wang Endowed Chair's Fund, University of California, Los Angeles, USA; and a faculty research grant (M4081238) from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The authors also thank the special-issue editor Matthew Sanderson, four anonymous reviewers, and Ning Wang for their insightful comments and constructive critiques that have helped strengthen the paper, but we bear full responsibility for the contents.
1.
Fuzhou is the capital of Fujian Province. The municipality encompasses five urban districts, two county-level cities, and six counties. Fun County and River County are on the east coast of Fuzhou, from which most of the undocumented immigrants in United States hail. Most of the overseas compatriots from Fun County and River County are new immigrants, emigrating from China after the mid-1980s. We use pseudonyms for people and places.
2.
Intensive fieldwork was conducted in several time periods: July to August 2011 and June 2012 in Fuzhou; December 2011 to February 2012 and July 2012 in New York and New Jersey. We collected data mainly through participant observation, in-depth interviews, and random chats with participants in local facilities, such as cultural centers, reading rooms and libraries, restaurants, and neighborhood shops in both New York–New Jersey and Fuzhou. We also observed events, such as weddings and funerals, in Fuzhou.
3.
Mr. Chen, in Brooklyn's Chinatown when he visited a friend there, interview, July 5, 2011.
4.
Ms. Zou, a village official of River County, Fuzhou, interview, August 2, 2011.
5.
Ms. Wu, a Fuzhou immigrant and a lobby manager in a restaurant of Chinatown, New York City, interview, January 8, 2011.
6.
Mr. Huang, an undocumented Fuzhounese immigrant, in Manhattan's Chinatown in New York City, interview, December 25, 2011.
7.
Mr. Yang, a formerly undocumented and now a naturalized US citizen, in his house “Qingzhi Villa” in a village in River County, Fuzhou, interview, August 6, 2011.
8.
The exchange rate in 2012 was $1 to ¥6.35.
9.
Conversation with a group of elderly people in a village reading room during fieldwork in Fun County, Fuzhou, June 25, 2012.
10.
According to official statistics in 2012, annual personal disposable incomes were $4,757 (urban) and $2,096 (rural) in Fun County and $3,943 (urban) and $1,627 (rural) in River County. Our own fieldwork shows that the average annual income of Fuzhou immigrants in New York was around $24,000, which was 5 to 15 times as high as the average annual income in Fuzhou (Fuzhou Municipal Statistics Bureau 2013).
11.
Ms. Cai, formerly undocumented and now a naturalized US citizen, in Manhattan's Chinatown in New York City, interview, December 12, 2011.
12.
Mr. Gao, in a village of Fun County, Fuzhou, interview, June 25, 2012.
13.
Mr. Zheng, formerly undocumented and now a naturalized US citizen, at his house in New York City, interview, December 13, 2011.
14.
Mr. Lin, at his house in a village in River County, Fuzhou, interview, August 6, 2011.
15.
Ms Peng, Fun County, Fuzhou, interview, June 25, 2012.
16.
Ms. Zou, a village official in River County, Fuzhou, interview, August 2, 2011.
17.
Mr. Dong, a villager in River County, Fuzhou, interview, August 3, 2011.
18.
Casual chat with participants at a wedding in Fun County, Fuzhou, June 24, 2012.
19.
Mr. Dong, a villager in River County, Fuzhou, interview, August 3, 2011.
20.
Mr. Li, an official working in a town government office of River County, Fuzhou, interview, July 25, 2011.
21.
Ms. Zou, a village official in River County, Fuzhou, interview, August 2, 2011.
22.
Mr. Li, an official working in a town government office of River County, Fuzhou, interview August 4, 2011.
23.
Mr. Li, an official working in a town government office of River County, Fuzhou, interview, July 30, 2011.