Migrant Longing: Letter Writing across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Migrant Longing: Letter Writing across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Migrant Longing: Letter Writing across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Migrant Longing: Letter Writing across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Synopsis

Drawing upon a personal collection of more than 300 letters exchanged between her parents and other family members across the U.S.-Mexico border, Miroslava Chavez-Garcia recreates and gives meaning to the hope, fear, and longing migrants experienced in their everyday lives both "here" and "there" ( aqui y alla). As private sources of communication hidden from public consumption and historical research, the letters provide a rare glimpse into the deeply emotional, personal, and social lives of ordinary Mexican men and women as recorded in their immediate, firsthand accounts. Chavez-Garcia demonstrates not only how migrants struggled to maintain their sense of humanity in el norte but also how those remaining at home made sense of their changing identities in response to the loss of loved ones who sometimes left for weeks, months, or years at a time, or simply never returned.
With this richly detailed account, ranging from the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s to the emergence of Silicon Valley in the late 1960s, Chavez-Garcia opens a new window onto the social, economic, political, and cultural developments of the day and recovers the human agency of much maligned migrants in our society today.

Excerpt

Until recently, at the bottom of my closet sat a neatly organized treasure trove of over 300 personal letters written in the 1960s and early 1970s and exchanged among family members across the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Written in Spanish with sprinklings of English, they contain a wealth of insight about the social, familial, and intimate relations built, sustained, and sometimes lost across the vast divide. They underscore that the decision to immigrate to the United States was not without personal and emotional pain, although it could also elicit excitement and eager anticipation. Indeed, migrating invited a host of challenges as well as rewards. the writings depict longing, isolation, and restlessness living between here (aqui) and there (allá) and demonstrate moments of discovery, deep satisfaction, and joy in having made the move, albeit often temporarily. They reveal, too, the creative coping mechanisms and cultural resources migrants devised, adapted, and drew upon to negotiate the daily reality of living relatively alone and facing a host of gender, racial, ethnic, class, and cultural constraints in the new environment.

More than a collection of deeply personal, emotional, and individual selfexpressive experiences, the missives provide a window onto the social, economic, cultural, and political developments of the day in and across Mexico and the United States. the letters, as I have found in my effort to map my family’s history on a broader genealogy of migration across the borderlands, are versatile, open to multiple interpretations, and reflect the hopes and dreams as well as fracasos (failures) of those who sought to improve their lives—and the lives of those they left behind—by migrating to el norte (the United States; literally, the north). Like all sources, the letters are biased, inconsistent (some are missing, undated, illegible, incomplete, or penned sporadically), manipulative, formulaic, and mundane. Without a richly textured historical framework animating and breathing life into them, the missives are anecdotal, irrelevant, and cut off from the ebbs and flows of that region of the globe.

My effort to make meaning of the letters began in 2012, shortly after my tío Paco, my father’s youngest brother, who raised my only brother and me . . .

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