Academic journal article Human Organization

Problem Drinking among Transnational Mexican Migrants: Exploring Migrant Status and Situational Factors

Academic journal article Human Organization

Problem Drinking among Transnational Mexican Migrants: Exploring Migrant Status and Situational Factors

Article excerpt

We present research findings on problem drinking among transnational Mexican migrants employed in the mushroom industry of southeastern Pennsylvania. Our research explored the relationship between situational factors-living arrangements, social isolation, and peer pressure to drink-and problem drinking. Individual characteristics of the migrants, such as age, education level, migration history, and work experience in the mushroom industry are also considered. The premise of our study is that the migrants' judicial status in the country-as foreign solo men and, at times, undocumented or illegal migrants-places them at a high risk to binge drink. The men mainly live without their families in relatively isolated grower-provided housing or overcrowded apartment units for months, if not years, away from traditional community and kin deterrents to heavy drinking. We employed the ethnographic method in two complementary field studies: a community ethnography, designed to identify the community context of problem drinking, and a series of case studies of migrant drinkers, designed to identify the relationships between situational factors and problem drinking. Focus groups were used to explore and verify the findings generated in the two studies. Our findings reveal that there is an alcohol abuse problem among the migrants as a consequence of situational and other factors, such as festive occasions, bad news from home, and a long work week. Their binge drinking does not always result in negative behavior because the migrants follow drinking norms, and violators of these norms are dealt with accordingly. Nonetheless, binge drinking does place them at a high risk for negative behavior, which results in problems in their housing units and in local communities.

Key words: Mexican farmworkers, transnational migrants, problem drinking, binge drinking


There is a dearth of research on the drinking behavior of transnational migrants in the United States. These migrants work in the United States, often for years, but their permanent home base, where their families remain, is in another country. Specifically, the complexity of their drinking, associated with their migrant status as solo foreign and nonimmigrant workers, has not yet been examined in the alcohol literature in either the United States or Mexico (García and Gondolf 2004). Consequently, we fail to understand that the drinking of these migrants is a result of situational and other stresses in the United States that they may not necessarily share with other farmworkers.

We present our findings on the relationship between situational factors associated with migrant status (e.g., nontraditional living arrangements and isolation) and problem drinking among transnational Mexican migrants. These factors, we argue, place migrants at risk for drinking. We begin by introducing our research problem and our migration and migrant status paradigm, which departs from conventional approaches in alcohol studies. We continue with a discussion of the ethnographic method used in me study, describing our use of a community ethnography, case studies, and focus groups to gather qualitative data. Next, we present our findings. In addition to demonstrating the relationship between situational factors and binge drinking, we consider the relationship between drinking and individual and other contributing factors. We end with recommendations calling for innovative prevention measures that consider migrant drinking a consequence of economic forces and immigration laws that dislocate the migrants from their families and communities in Mexico and isolate them in a stressful living and working environment for years.

Research Problem

The major objectives of our study were to describe the association between situational factors (i.e., living arrangements, peer pressure, and social isolation) and problem drinking, and to explore the role of individual (i.e. …

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