Academic journal article Social Justice

Binational Organizations of Mexican Migrants in the United States

Academic journal article Social Justice

Binational Organizations of Mexican Migrants in the United States

Article excerpt


FOR ACTIVISTS PARTICIPATING IN BINATIONAL NETWORKS AND COALITIONS, IT IS imperative to consider the experiences of various cross-border social organizations of Mexican migrants. These organizations have tried to respond to the complex problems confronting migrants on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, problems that can only be solved through binational actions. This article examines the experiences of several cross-border organizations, such as the federations of civic clubs from several Mexican states and grass-roots orgarnzations of indigenous migrants. Over the past decade, these organizations have carried out actions on both sides of the border and have accumulated a plethora of experiences -- political capital, if you will -- that help illuminate the successes and failures of binational activism. Their experiences also illustrate possible alternatives that may serve other community and grass-roots organizations, given the organic integration being experienced by other social sectors and institutions in both countries since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). F irst, however, it is important to contextualize the experience of these organizations within the particular history of Mexican migration to the United States.

The Changing Profile of Mexican Migration

The issue of immigration has occupied a prominent space in the bilateral relations between Mexico and the United States due to the dimensions of the migrant flow and the fact that Mexico continues to be the number one source of immigration to the United States. In March 1998, there were 7.1 million Mexican-born residents in the United States, which represents 27% of the entire 26.3 million foreign-born population in the United States. In 1996, 236,000 Mexican residents became U.S. citizens, representing 21% of the total number of naturalization cases. Mexico is also the main source of undocumented immigration. In 1996, according to Immigration and Naturalization Service figures, 2.7 million out of five million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States were of Mexican origin, representing 54% of the total undocumented population.

Beyond the significant numbers, the flow of Mexican migrants to the U.S. is also notable because of its socioeconomic impact, having generated novel forms of binational organization and political/cultural expression. Many of the political and cultural expressions developed by the Mexican migrants take on a unique binational character because they are based principally on institutionalized migration circuits. Due to its relatively long history, Mexican migration to the United States has become institutionalized to such an extent that it constitutes a fundamental characteristic of the social and economic fabric of both countries (Massey et al., 1987). There is extensive documentation on the impact and complexity of changes fostered by this migratory flow on individuals, homes, communities, and regions on both sides of the border. [1]

The consolidation of these migrant circuits enormously facilitated not only the flow of people, but also of capital, information, services, and products. In fact, the daily exchange of information between people who go "to the other side" and those who remain in their communities of origin has allowed for the emergence of transnational communities. That is, there are migrant communities that extend from Mexico to the United States by maintaining very close ties that allow for the communities of destination to remain united with the communities of origin. Transnational social relations allow the migrants to maintain and develop multiple relationships -- familial, economic, social, organizational, religious, and political -- that cross many borders (geographic, cultural, linguistic, and political).

Increased linkages between the U.S. and Mexican labor markets have created multiple patterns of migration and settlement, principally in California, which is an important destination of Mexican migrants. …

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