Mexicans


A NY Times article on emerging patterns of migration shows that illegal immigrants are more likely to stay, in part because of better wages to be found farther from the border in the northeast, but more importantly, because security and vigilantism makes seasonal migration expensive and more dangerous.

Returning Mexicans, researchers say, have generally been divided between “sojourners,” those with temporary or seasonal jobs in the United States who cross once or more a year, and “settlers,” those who move to the United States for an extended period but at some point choose to return home.

“The Mexican migration was always round trip,” said Jorge Durand, director of the Mexican Migration Project at the University of Guadalajara, a research program in conjunction with the Office of Population Research at Princeton. “It was a migration of workers, not immigrants.”

But several factors are causing more illegal immigrants to stay in the United States. Increasingly, immigrants are finding jobs away from the agricultural sector, meaning they have more stable employment that is not subject to seasonal ups and downs, researchers say. More immigrants have also moved to destinations beyond the border states of the Southwest, making the journey back home longer, more expensive and less convenient.

Most important, some researchers say, increased vigilance along the border has led to higher costs and risks associated with crossing back into the United States, disrupting what had been the traditional circular movement of the migrants. Border enforcement began to tighten in the mid-1980s, but has become much more vigorous since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Having run the gantlet of enforcement resources at the border, migrants grew reluctant to repeat the experience and hunkered down to stay, causing rates of return migration to fall sharply,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist who directs the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton.

Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, said that “the primary effect of hardening the border has been one of locking people in.”

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When I was ten years old in 1980, Los Angeles reached an important milestone: it supplanted Chicago as America’s second city.  No longer a nation whose energy came from the East Coast, the United States counted on the influx of goods, ideas, and people from Central and South America and Asia. Los Angeles was this country’s second gateway, and it could claim to be the only city in the world with someone from every country in the world.

The LA Times has several articles that look at the reasons why people moved to Los Angeles.  The story is complex, one that focuses on demographic and migration trends of Twentieth Century America, but also on America’s ethnic make-up, both of natural citizens and immigrants.

Surprisingly, a city of Hispanic name and origin was considered a place to get away from the ethnic stew of eastern and mid-western cities:

As McWilliams writes, “[t]he first wave of migration brought wealth, enterprise, and culture to Southern California,” this second influx delivered a more Midwestern sensibility, domestic and traditional. What set it apart from other, similar movements in American history was that members of the middle-class uprooted themselves by choice, moving west to a more pleasing landscape that seemed to offer endless space and light.

Beneath this optimism, of course, there dwelt a nativist impulse; when Times city editor Charles Fletcher Lummis called Los Angeles the “new Eden of the Saxon home-seeker,” he was speaking to every so-called homegrown American frightened by the immigrants who had transformed cities such as Chicago and New York. Such a sensibility represents the underside of the Southern California mythos, and it would become part of the bedrock on which the region developed, helping fuel its essential conservatism while setting the stage for its most bitter legacies, from racial housing covenants to the John Birch Society, the Watts Riots to Rodney King.

In the early 1900s, however, Los Angeles sought to present itself as a blank slate, outside history or consequence, a three-dimensional template for a brand-new life. This was what Southern California had to offer, its attraction, its appeal to America and, indeed, the world. Come west, boosters like Lummis urged — and come these middle-class migrants did. From 1900 to 1930, the population of L.A. County grew from 170,298 to 2,208,492. The enormous village’s status as a promised land was assured.

However, by tradition and location Los Angeles would remain a magnet for Latin American migration.  By the 1920s, the Mexican Revolution would cast off enough dispossessed bourgeoisie and disappointed peasants to fortify the city’s Mexican population.  That movement continued throughout the century, turningLos Angeles into a center for Latino/Chicano struggle in the US, as Gustavo Arellano remembers:

My father arrived in a Los Angeles under siege. The Latino community, beset by decades of discrimination and harassment, was angry. Calling themselves Chicanos, Latinos demanded better schools, a fairer government and less police brutality. There were protest rallies and marches. The city leaders responded with violence — arrests and beatings. In 1970, Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar was killed by a tear-gas projectile fired by police during an East L.A. protest against the Vietnam War. Yet for all the turmoil, Papi was oblivious to this chaos. He was 19 years old and ready to work. So were millions of his countrymen who would follow him across the border in the coming weeks, years and decades, all ready to change America for good.

Pundits have predicted the Latinization of America for years, often in apocalyptic terms — witness the fulminations of radio and television talk shows. Many people can’t accept the fact that the heirs to imperial Spain, the scions of Pancho Villa, are the nation’s largest minority, and increasingly a majority in communities across los Estados Unidos.

Some call this reconquista— the idea (born from a bizarre fusion of pre-Columbian Aztec, medieval Spanish and post-revolutionary Mexican mythologies) that Mexicans are intent on reclaiming ancestral lands “stolen” by the Yankee imperialists. But this theory pays no heed to the centuries-old yells of America’s Latinos. All they’ve ever wanted is acceptance, the right to live as Americans while keeping some semblance of their ancestral culture. Latinos assimilate, but many Americans just don’t want to believe it.

More than in Miami, New York or Texas, Los Angeles is where Latinos’ struggle for acceptance finds its truest expression in the United States. Californios became foreigners in their own lands after the 1848 Mexican-American War, and a nuisance for nearly a century afterward. The hometown film industry reduced them to stock characters — the spicy señorita, the greasy bandito — and exported the images across the country. Segregation and discrimination was the rule.

Influx of immigrants, from Asia as well as from Latin America, broadened the reach of the city as its residents networked with their home countries.

Outside Hollywood, Asian Americans have long added a global dimension to Los Angeles. Since 1960, immigration has been the main impetus of Asian population growth in the United States. With almost 5 million Asian Pacific residents, California has the largest such population in the country. This includes Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Asian Indian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Laotian, Cambodian, Hmong and Thai. It’s not surprising that L.A. County has the largest percentage of Asian Americans in the state — more than a million people, according to the U.S. Census, of whom 70% are immigrants. Any map of L.A. would reveal “Asian global ethno-hubs” in the central city (Koreatown, Thai Town, Chinatown, Little Tokyo) and in the San Gabriel Valley, where Little Taipei includes ethnic Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as native-born American Chinese. Farther south, Cambodians in Long Beach are organizing for a Little Cambodia not far from Little India in Artesia, or Little Saigon in Garden Grove.

What do the ethno-hubs mean for the future? How do they connect Los Angeles to the world? These nexuses of Asian residents and commercial and cultural activities have developed a complicated network of institutions, including churches and temples, language schools, banks, book and video stores, markets, factories and other businesses, linked with like institutions across the United States and Asia, as well. Much like the lotus garden that blooms in Echo Park lake, the roots of L.A.’s Asian ethno-hubs traverse the city and spiral across the Pacific to Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, New Dehli, Manila and Singapore.

Pushing the apocalyptic visions of Blade Runner aside, much of the city’s growth–political, cultural and economic, not just demographic–can be attributed to migration.

One (among many) of the problems I have with Minutemen-like movements is that their claim the enforce American law just covers for breaking the law.  Not just passive watchers over the landscape with binoculars and cellphones in hand, they come with guns, prepared to confront and threaten those who dare cross the border.  The NY Times looks at one of these vigilantes, Roger Barnett, and the effort to bring him to justice.

Immigrant rights groups have filed lawsuits, accusing him of harassing and unlawfully imprisoning people he has confronted on his ranch near Douglas. One suit pending in federal court accuses him, his wife and his brother of pointing guns at 16 illegal immigrants they intercepted, threatening them with dogs and kicking one woman in the group.

Another suit, accusing Mr. Barnett of threatening two Mexican-American hunters and three young children with an assault rifle and insulting them with racial epithets, ended Wednesday night in Bisbee with a jury awarding the hunters $98,750 in damages. …
A few years ago, however, the Border Action Network and its allied groups began collecting testimony from illegal immigrants and others who had had confrontations with Mr. Barnett.

They included the hunters, who sued Mr. Barnett for unlawful detention, emotional distress and other claims, and sought at least $200,000. Ronald Morales; his father, Arturo; Ronald Morales’s two daughters, ages 9 and 11; and an 11-year-old friend said Mr. Barnett, his brother Donald and his wife, Barbara, confronted them Oct. 30, 2004.

Ronald Morales testified that Mr. Barnett used expletives and ethnically derogatory remarks as he sought to kick them off state-owned property he leases. Then, Mr. Morales said, Mr. Barnett pulled an AR-15 assault rifle from his truck and pointed it at them as they drove off, traumatizing the girls.

Barnett’s own mentality betrays  any recourse to claim to act in the name of the law:

For your children, for our future, that’s why we need to stop them.  If we don’t step in for your children, I don’t know who is expected to step in.

For our children–this has overtones of eugenics and racial science.  He is claiming that illegal immigration will create an inheritable problem.  It is a problem that, as he sees it, is worth controvening law, even morality, in order to stop.

Power of the Purse: Some immigrants in the US are attempting a “remittance boycott” to force the Mexican government to change is approach to Oaxaca. If successful, will immigrants become a voice for reform in their former country?

“Our voice is our money! Stop the repression!” Written on Spanish-language fliers distributed in downtown Los Angeles, the slogans urged Mexicans working in the United States to stop sending money home for three days to protest the Mexican government’s crackdown on dissenters in the southern state of Oaxaca.

If money talks, the Saturday-to-Monday boycott has the potential to speak volumes. Workers in the U.S. who are from Latin America send their relatives back home an average of $300 a month, or about 10 percent of their incomes, according to an October study by the Inter-American Development Bank.

(more…)

Who is an immigrant? Earl Shorris, in Life and Times of Mexico, says that the greatest pressure to move, socially, are the poorest Mexicans–mostly the Indians. Now, movement can mean transition from rural life to urban life, a fact that is reflected in the population growth of Mexico City. However, social mobility does not translate into upward mobility: the Europeanized elites maintain control of power over natives, and the urbanized natives remain in poverty. Equally risky, but more advantageous, is migrating to the United States.

Vincenzo Caponi (Institute for the Study of Labor) looked at the relationship between education and migration to US from Mexico (link to abstract: Heterogeneous Human Capital and Migration: Who Migrates from Mexico to the US?). What he finds is interesting: the least and the most educated leave; those with some education remain. By some education, he means primary and some secondary education. But that group seems to be able to make the most out of the education it receives. The least educated find that they have no opportunities, while the most educated find that opportunities are not commensurate with their education.

Caponi reads these trends as a U-curve: those with some educated are most stable, those outside that group have the most incentive to leave. Improvements in education don’t seem to affect the trend.

The U-CurveSo, what to make of recent job growth in Mexico: will it keep people home? Doubtful. Most of the 950,000 jobs created are in sectors that require some education: construction and manufacturing. It may be true that “one job ends … and there’s another,” but the fact that job creation is not reaching the poorest Mexicans probably means nothing will change. Nor should it be expected. Investment will go to those parts of the economy that create the most exports, thus demand more skilled, industrial labor. The poorest Mexicans will remain where they are … or come to the US.

Most Americans probably are not aware of the hostility that indigenous Mexicans and Mestizos feel at home. Integrating into American society is no less difficult, but probably more rewarding, than what they face at home.

After centuries of near-total neglect of those “Indios” who maintained their indigenous language and traditions, the Mexican educational system established in the 1920s, after the Revolution, officially recognized that these languages existed and declared that they needed to be wiped out.Called “castellanización,” or “Spanishization,” this policy called for a system of Spanish-only schools in indigenous communities that would ease the assimilation of these poorest and most marginalized of Mexico’s peasants into the Mestizo culture.

According to Sylvia Schmelkes, head of the Department of Bilingual and Intercultural Education for Mexico’s federal education system, this educational model gave way, roughly in the middle of the 20th century, to a different approach.

“Teachers started to work with the indigenous language as a tool to help them achieve speaking Spanish,” she said. By the 1970s, Schmelkes said, a separate system of bilingual schools was created, whose objective was “to achieve an integral bilingualism, a fluency in both languages.”

“But many teachers still follow the old philosophies,” she said.