Academic journal article Family Relations

"Trabajando Duro Todos Los Días": Learning from the Life Experiences of Mexican-Origin Migrant Families*

Academic journal article Family Relations

"Trabajando Duro Todos Los Días": Learning from the Life Experiences of Mexican-Origin Migrant Families*

Article excerpt


The agricultural economy in the United States has relied heavily on migrant farmworkers and, in particular, on Latinos. However, migrant families remain one of the most disadvantaged groups in the United States. This research focuses on a subsample of migrant families of Mexican origin (n = 13), who participated in the Rural Families Speak multistate study. Qualitative findings described numerous challenges that Mexican-origin migrant families continue to experience. Results were also illustrative of the resilience of migrant families, which is influenced by specific Latino cultural values and is reflected in the successful adaptation of these families to the challenges associated with a migrant lifestyle.

Key Words: cultural strengths, Latino families, migrant families of Mexican origin, resilience.

The agricultural economy in the United States relies heavily on migrant farmworkers, with Latinos accounting for the largest proportion of this occupational group (Lacar, 2001; Marotta & Garcia, 2003). According to the National Center for Farmworker Health (2002), 81% of all U.S. farmworkers in the Year 2000 were of Latino or foreign origin. Of this group, 95% were of Mexican origin, 2% from Latin America, 1% from Asia, and 2% from other foreign nations. In contrast to seasonal farmworkers settled in one location, Latino migrant workers tend to live in Southern states during the winter and migrate North during planting and harvesting seasons (Hovey & Magana, 2002). Moreover, recent migration patterns consist of entire families rather than individuals (Dalla & Christensen, 2005).

Michigan, as the forth largest employer of migrant labor in the nation, with an agricultural force of approximately 45,000 workers (Gold, 1996), has seen a circular migration of multiple generations among its labor force (Rosenbaum, 2001). Interestingly, although Latinos only represent 3.3% of the total population in Michigan (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005b), migrant families of Mexican origin constitute approximately 95% of Michigan's migrant agricultural labor force (Gold, 2004). Despite the important role of Mexican-origin migrant families to Michigan's economy, these families continue to be one of the most economically disadvantaged and underserved groups in the state (Rosenbaum).

Diverse studies in the social sciences have explored the patterns of migration as well as the challenges experienced by Mexican-origin farmworkers (Griffith & Kissam, 1995; Krissman, 2000; VélezIbáñez, 2004). There is, however, a need for longitudinal studies capable of providing a better understanding of the transitions experienced by Mexican-origin farmworkers and their families over time (Roeder & Millard, 2000), especially studies that focus on the experiences of circular migration that impact or contribute to resiliency. Therefore, the purpose of this qualitative study was to explore die life experiences of a group of migrant families of Mexican origin, who lived in the state of Michigan during harvesting seasons. Specifically, die focus of this study was to reach a better understanding of the challenges that these families perceived to be associated with migrant life, as well as the ways in which Latino cultural values were associated with indicators of resilience in these migrant families. Participants of this study completed three annual interviews, which allowed examination of changes in their life experiences over time.

We recognize that the Latino culture is not monolithic and comprises multiple cultures. Thus, we use the term Latino whenever referring to research conducted with the Latino migrant population in general and use the term Mexican origin whenever referring to studies involving migrant farmworkers whose cultural origins can be traced to Mexico.

Sensitizing Concepts and Theoretical Framework

Challenges Faced by Latino Migrant Families

Research indicates that Latino migrant families face challenges such as financial difficulties, language and cultural barriers, health and mental health needs, legal and documentation issues, and discrimination (Dalla, Villarruel, Cramer, & Gonzalez-Kruger, 2004; Vélez-Ibáñez, 2004; Wirth & Dollar, 2004). …

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