Academic journal article Social Justice

Historical Perspectives on Mexican Transnationalism: With Notes from Angumacutiro

Academic journal article Social Justice

Historical Perspectives on Mexican Transnationalism: With Notes from Angumacutiro

Article excerpt

"No analysis of human action is complete unless it attends to people's own notions of what they are doing." -- Renato Rosaldo

MY WORK IS BASED ON QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ACTIONS AND INTERACTIONS OF human beings and their relation with the world around them, or in more theoretical parlance, the relation of human agency to structure. That is, to what degree are people shaped by the economic, social, and political conditions they inherit, and to what degree are they able, within these conditions, to shape their own lives? I wish to use these questions as a prism for viewing recent discussions about "transnational" migration, migrants, and communities in the 1990s.

The discussions of transnational capitalism and economic relations severed from exclusive connections to one nation-state have pointed to the accelerated international migration left in its wake. Nina Glick Schiller (1992, 1994), Roger Rouse (1989, 1991), Rob Smith (1994), and others have insisted on the need to look at and understand the human dimension, and have adopted the terminology of the economic phenomenon to discuss "transnational" migration, communities, identities, and "transmigrants." Recognizing the close connection migrants keep to home communities, they argue that these "transnational" communities, while geographically separate, are "imagined" as one. Twentieth-century technologies -- phone, fax, electronic mail, video cameras, and planes -- have accelerated communication. Town leaders can hold group discussions via phone, the Internet, and video, or hop a plane for an important meeting. This enables them, as Nina Glick Schiller (1992) has pointed out "through their daily life activities and social, economic, and political relations [to] create social fields that cross national boundaries...and bring two societies into a single fold." [1] Thus, to Haitians in New York, "Haiti" exists also outside the island. To the people of Ticuani, Mexico, the migrants from their town now living in New York are the "always present absent ones" (Smith, 1994).

For a historian, these developments raise crucial questions about the past and, by implication, about the particular production of history about migration and immigration in the United States. Yet transnationalism in the 1990s should be placed in broader historical perspective, for current migrations are more recent manifestations of a very old process than a fundamentally new phenomenon. [2]

Whither History?

Only recently have some European and U.S. historians begun to ask questions raised by notions of "transnational" migrants, partly in response to the shift in conceptual paradigms brought on by anti-colonialist and neocolonialist struggles (Morawska, 1990). Yet Western conceptual frameworks have encouraged many to ignore the many "transnational" aspects of migration. Our Western constructions of knowledge operate and have operated through expropriation and incorporation of a non-Western and foreign "other." As Robert Young (1990:1-20) points out, U.S. and European concepts assume a past driven by a dialectic based on the relation between the subject, Europeans, and the "other" (the colonized, women, people of color, the working class, etc.). Even Marx, certainly a critic of 19th-century imperialism, was "complicit with and.. .extends" the notion of this Western-centered alterity. You may be correctly mumbling that other peoples also considered themselves in relation to an "other." Yet the difference lies with power and in the fact that Europe and the United States have been able to impose their perception of this alterity on the world through imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism. The historical context of imperialism and colonialism contributed to historical constructions that ignored the human agency of the "other," which, as Michel Trouillot (1995) points out, becomes "unthinkable" history. [3]

Postmodernism and postcolonialism challenge aspects of Western-centered modes of knowledge. …

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