Mexico and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration since 1848

By Tienda, Marta | Americas Quarterly, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Mexico and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration since 1848


Tienda, Marta, Americas Quarterly


Mexico and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration since 1848 Alexandra Délano Cambridge University Press, 2011 Hardcover, 288 pages

The abrupt resignation in mid- March of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico-just as President Barack Obama was embarking on a fi ve-day friendship mission to Latin America- is a stark example of the delicate, often irascible bilateral relationship. A diplomatic cable unearthed by WikiLeaks, in which Ambassador Carlos Pascual characterized Mexican security forces as ineffective and riddled with infi ghting, had ignited President Felipe Calderón's wrath.

Despite public assertions that U.S.- Mexico ties are stronger than ever, the Pascual affair exposed the underside of a thorny bilateral relationship that unfolds on multiple fronts such as the drug war, border security, trade, and migration-each with different political fault lines.

That a Mexican president would dare to openly excoriate a sitting ambassador and publicly criticize the U.S. government refl ects-in part-Mexico's increased capacity to leverage the inherent asymmetry with its powerful northern neighbor since 1980. It appears that Mexico has found its voice in negotiating with the United States. At least that is what Alexandra Délano argues in Mexico and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration since 1848.

Délano, an assistant professor of global studies at The New School in New York City, completed her book well before the Pascual affair, but she bases her conclusion on an analysis of U.S.-bound migration over the past 160 years, which she uses to chronicle the evolution of the relationship and argue that U.S.-bound migration is no longer simply a safety valve for Mexican underemployment. Focusing on emigration policies, she methodically documents how Mexico changed its posture toward the exodus of its citizens from indifference-dubbed "the policy of having no policy" by Manuel Garcia y Griego-to strategic, proactive engagement.

Demography is not destiny, but it can serve as a powerful resource to advance geopolitical agendas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Mexican origin ballooned from 9 million to nearly 32 million between 1980 and 2010. The Mexican-born population increased fi vefold during this period, from 2.2 million to 11.5 million, and witnessed an unprecedented geographic dispersal beyond the traditional southwestern states.

Délano explains how Mexico changed its relationship with its powerful neighbor to the north to better serve its political and economic interests at home and abroad. But the story is more nuanced as it unfolds against the backdrop of globalization, bilateral economic interdependence and the rise of international terrorism.

To frame her argument, Délano describes the labor fl ows between Mexico and the U.S. in early chapters that cover two key periods: 1848-1942, when the United States called all the shots; and 1942-1982, a time of sporadic and lopsided bilateralism that mainly served U.S. economic interests. Because it exposed the depth of U.S. economic interests south of the Rio Grande, Délano claims that the 1982 economic crisis in Mexico was a turning point in the bilateral agenda, but she argues that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was even more signifi cant, despite or perhaps because "Mexico agreed to avoid the issue [of migration] in the process of negotiation and ratifi cation of the free trade agreement."

The presumption that NAFTA would automatically stabilize migration fl ows between two countries with huge wage differentials ignored deep social networks and economic ties. Uncoupling migration policy from the broader bilateral agenda was an important step in Mexico's strategy to reach out to the Mexicanorigin population, targeting both the Mexican expatriate communities and the Mexican-American population.

The migration story during these periods is known mainly from the U.

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