Academic journal article Social Justice

Changing Networks and Alliances in a Transnational Context: Salvadoran and Guatemalan Immigrants in Southern California

Academic journal article Social Justice

Changing Networks and Alliances in a Transnational Context: Salvadoran and Guatemalan Immigrants in Southern California

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

IN LESS THAN TWO DECADES, THE CENTRAL AMERICAN POPULATION IN SOUTHERN California has grown from one that was close to invisible to a significant and apparently permanent presence within the region. While significant numbers are becoming settled, Central American immigrants simultaneously sustain substantial ties with their communities and countries of origin. In addition, they have created new transnational links and networks during the late 1980s and 1990s, reflecting both changes in the situation of the immigrant communities and developments within the international context in which they live.

The relations immigrants create and maintain with their countries and communities of origin have been analyzed through the concept of transnationalism, defined as a process by which migrants through their daily life activities and social, economic, and political relations create social fields that cross national boundaries (Basch et al., 1994). The literature on transnationalism has contributed to a rethinking of transnational migration practices and their implications for national borders and boundaries, social and power relations in communities of origin, and countervailing structures to the globalization of capital (Ibid.; Portes, 1996; Smith, 1998). Recently, some of the literature on transnationalism (and related concepts such as transnational social fields, transnational communities, and transnational migrant circuits) has been criticized for its lack of specificity (Mahler, 1998; Portes, 1996) and failure to take into account historical transnational practices by migrants (Weber, 1999, this issue).

In the following discussion, we briefly outline the components for an analysis of Central American migrant transnational practices in Southern California in the context of a three-way relationship between the globalization of capital, international migration, and transnationalism, taking into account both historical and contemporary dimensions.

II. Transnationalism Past and Present

According to this framework, the process of international migration is embedded in a structural context characterized by the internationalization of capital (i.e., the flow of investments, loans, and trade among different regions and specific nation-states) and often-related geopolitical processes whereby relatively advanced industrial states carve out spheres of influence among less advanced regions. Various studies have analyzed the impact on international migration of the internationalization of capital, and particularly the penetration of capital and geopolitical intervention of advanced industrial states into less developed or precapitalist regions. [1] In general, these processes create linkages between the advanced and less developed regions in which migration from the latter to the former becomes an option. Insofar as such processes are disruptive to the existing local economies, the option of international migration becomes more attractive. [2] The internationalization of capital and of labor (via i nternational migration), in turn, is a factor in the formation and maintenance of transnational contacts between immigrants and their home countries and communities.

These processes -- the globalization of capital, international migration, and transnationalism -- and the relations among them go back at least to the 19th century, when the development of the steamship, railroads, telegraph, and telephone revolutionized communications and transportation. The internationalization of production has roots in transnational investments abroad in agriculture and mining operations and, by the 1920s, assembly plant operations, as well as in the practice of sourcing production at different sites within national boundaries in the search for cheap labor or direct market access.

An understanding of the relationship between internationalization of capital and international migration requires attention to the specific historical situation of both sending and receiving areas as well as of the international context. …

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