Migration, Transnational Space, and Social Remittances between Mexican Rural Communities and the United States
The Impact on Democratization and Social Reform
In 2006, more than 30% of all immigrants residing in the United States were Mexicans, accounting for one tenth of the entire Mexican population (Migrationinformation). This makes Mexico the most important and most consistent sending country for immigrants to the U.S. The co-existence of two very different worlds in the geographical space North America, divided by one of the most secure borders in the world, leads not only to cultural influences, but also to the adaptation of socioeconomic and political ideas. Especially the fact that Mexico and the United States have very different political and socioeconomic conditions emphasizes the oppositional relationship between the two countries. In the face of such a strong and powerful neighbour, migration is always an option, a last resort, especially for Mexicans from rural communities that struggle with poor working conditions and low wages. Interestingly, this creates a certain type of migration known as transmigration. This transmigration occurs only due to socioeconomic reasons, especially labour conditions, and allows migrants to frequently travel back and forth between their home- and their host country. Since many of these transmigrants are young men who leave their families behind to earn money that they can then send back home in the form of financial remittances, different patterns of communication between these migrants and their relatives back home can be analyzed.
This paper will first outline the situation of Mexican migrants to the United States, give a brief overview of their backgrounds and the demographic situation, and then turn to the push—factors for migration. It will especially focus on labour rights and working conditions in Mexico and the prospects for migrants arriving in the United States. After that the concept of ‘Social Remittances‘ as a form of cultural diffusion will be introduced and the quality of ideas and experiences that are transmitted through a transnational space from Mexicans residing in the U.S. to their families and community members back home will be explained. The paper will then turn to an analysis of these social remittances and explain how they can influence political participation and activism of individual community members. This analysis serves to support the thesis that migration has a direct influence on the process of democratization from below, especially when it comes to labour rights and other socioeconomic issues.
2. Demographics of migration
The fact that most immigrants, especially from first—time migration communities, are single or married working males (Massey and Durand 1992: 18), who are usually employed in construction, extraction, and transportation (Migrationinformation), indicates that one of the main reasons for migration are better working opportunities and the prospect of earning more money to care for a family (especially in the case of married men). Even though men are usually the initiators for larger community migration flows to the United States, statistics show a demographic shift after a certain amount of time. Massey and Durand (1992: 19) argue that “some communities report substantial participation by women and children and larger numbers of legal immigrants“, a fact that can be explained with the long histories of some migration communities. These migration flows are usually initiated by men, and then established over time, making it safe and attractive enough for women and children to follow their husbands and fathers to the United States:
[...] The participation of women and children typically grows over time. The first migrants are invariably men, and for a long time the flow continues to be dominated by males visiting the United States temporarily for limited periods of wage labor. At this stage, migration is dominated by economic motivations and imperatives. [...] Thus in communities with a long migratory tradition, the average age of migrants tends to fall over time and the proportion of women rises (Massey and Durand 1992: 19).
Furthermore, communities that were not traditional sending communities have started to send immigrants to the United States. The total number of immigrants in the U.S. in 2006 was six times as high as in 1960, making Mexico the largest single immigrant group residing in the country in 2006 (Migrationinformation). This indicates that, over time, transnational community networks have been created to transfer not only money, but also information about the working conditions in the host country to the home country that makes immigration attractive to other community members.
Ludger Pries (2006: 67) distinguishes four major types of immigrants: 1. immigrants, 2. return—migrants, 3. diaspora—migrants, and 4. transmigrants. These transmigrants, he argues, make their decision about going to the United States in a sequential manner and move frequently between their host- and their home country. This frequent moving between two different realities creates a transnational space that is occupied by one community regardless of national borders. The traditional one to one relationship of a geographical and a social space has been abandoned with the rise of globalization, giving way to two different scenarios: first, the occurrence of different social spaces in one geographical space; and second, the occupation of several geographical spaces by one social group, which is an important concept for the understanding of international migration. The fact that more than 83% of the Mexican population in the United States resided in only ten US States in 2006 indicates that the creation of strong Mexican sub—communities was very important for migration flows, making it less hard for migrants to leave their old life behind. Furthermore, most of the immigrants are first—generation immigrants, born in their home country Mexico and then moved to the United States only at an age where they‘re entering the workforce (Migrationinformation).
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- University of Toronto
- migration transnational space social remittances mexican rural communities united states impact democratization reform