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The Culture of Migration in Southern Mexico

Jeffrey H. Cohen
Copyright Date: 2004
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/705708
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  • Book Info
    The Culture of Migration in Southern Mexico
    Book Description:

    Migration is a way of life for many individuals and even families in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Some who leave their rural communities go only as far as the state capital, while others migrate to other parts of Mexico and to the United States. Most send money back to their communities, and many return to their homes after a few years. Migration offers Oaxacans economic opportunities that are not always available locally-but it also creates burdens for those who stay behind.

    This book explores the complex constellation of factors that cause rural Oaxacans to migrate, the historical and contemporary patterns of their migration, the effects of migration on families and communities, and the economic, cultural, and social reasons why many Oaxacans choose not to migrate. Jeffrey Cohen draws on fieldwork and survey data from twelve communities in the central valleys of Oaxaca to give an encompassing view of the factors that drive migration and determine its outcomes. He demonstrates conclusively that, while migration is an effective way to make a living, no single model can explain the patterns of migration in southern Mexico.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79733-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. Introduction STUDYING MIGRATION IN OAXACA’S CENTRAL VALLEYS
    (pp. 1-29)

    There are many ways to approach the study of migration. In this ethnography of migration in the central valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico (the intermontane region surrounding the state’s capital), I will argue that a cultural model—that is, a model in which the decision to migrate is rooted in the everyday experiences of rural Oaxacans—is most useful. However, before I describe that model, I want to begin by offering two views of migration that come from two Mexican folk songs. The first is “Llegan los norteños” (“The Norteños Arrive”), by Guillermo Velázquez y los Leones de la Sierra de...

  5. One THE HOUSEHOLD AND MIGRATION
    (pp. 30-48)

    To understand the importance and meaning of migration for rural Oaxacans, we cannot begin on the Mexican-U.S. border. Migration is not about arriving in Southern California, and as I argued in the introduction, it is not about migrants who live in some in-between world, with one foot in Mexico and the other firmly entrenched in the United States. Oaxacan migration begins in the decisions made by members of rural households. The decision to migrate takes account of that household’s resources, the abilities of its members (both migrant and nonmigrant), the traditions of the community (including the history of migration), and...

  6. Two HISTORY, TRAJECTORY, AND PROCESS IN OAXACAN MIGRATION
    (pp. 49-71)

    Migration is not a decision made in haste. Families and households plan for the migrations of their members and anticipate the outcomes of the moves. Migration is a part of local history, and as was outlined in the introduction, it is one way in which a household is able to meet the challenges of daily life. Migration has a history, and movement follows a trajectory, building slowly over time, spiking during economic crisis at home, and declining in response to changes in opportunity, reception, and need. To understand migration in the present, we must follow its development over time. To...

  7. Three CONTEMPORARY MIGRATION
    (pp. 72-98)

    Why Oaxacans migrate is not an easy question to answer. Many factors influence the decision to migrate, including a household’s size, the age of its heads, and its location in relation to Oaxaca City. Before we try to understand the variation in rural Oaxacan migration, it is useful first to have a basic idea of what a typical or average migrant looks like.

    Oaxacan migrants are most likely men crossing into the United States (see table 2.1). In fact, 65% of all migrations from the central valleys are destined for the United States. The majority of the migrants moving to...

  8. Four MIGRATION, SOCIOECONOMIC CHANGE, AND DEVELOPMENT
    (pp. 99-123)

    In chapter 3 we explored what migration and circuit moves looked like in the central valleys, and we noted household patterns and community variation as rural Oaxacans head for destinations in Mexico and in the United States. In this chapter we ask, what motivates the moves. Why are so many rural Oaxacans ready to sacrifice their home life and family in order to migrate? The obvious answer is that most Oaxacan migrants take to the road because they cannot find well-paid wage labor at home. To cover the costs of daily life, people leave their hometowns and head for the...

  9. Five NONMIGRANT HOUSEHOLDS
    (pp. 124-141)

    A focus on migration patterns and remittance uses in the central valleys can make it appear that these communities are rapidly depopulating as people leave for national and international destinations. Newspaper, radio, and television reports, talk on the street, even the casual comment at a professional meeting, typically focus on migration and suggest that Mexico is becoming a country whose rural communities act as nurseries on the one hand or senior centers on the other. Although there are communities throughout the country where this is the case, many rural Mexicans choose to remain in their hometowns.

    Given the pull of...

  10. Conclusion MIGRATION IN OAXACA’S CENTRAL VALLEYS AND ANTHROPOLOGY
    (pp. 142-152)

    Understanding Oaxacan migration is not easy. The variability that exists between communities and the diversity that characterizes area households make this process extremely hard to pin down. Add in the human dimension—that people are unpredictable and that we never act with perfect knowledge—and the goal of understanding migration can seem daunting indeed.

    There are moments when our informants let us know just how odd our questions and concerns can be. When I interviewed Patricia Melchor in her home in San Martín Tilcajete in January 2002, we spent about an hour working together on my consensus survey that asked...

  11. Appendix A CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POPULATION BY COMMUNITY
    (pp. 153-155)
  12. Appendix B HOUSEHOLD SURVEY
    (pp. 156-163)
  13. Appendix C CULTURAL CONSENSUS
    (pp. 164-170)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 171-178)
  15. REFERENCES CITED
    (pp. 179-188)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 189-195)