Academic journal article Human Organization

Mobilizing Communities through International Study Tours: Project Mexico Immersion and New Immigrants in the Midwest

Academic journal article Human Organization

Mobilizing Communities through International Study Tours: Project Mexico Immersion and New Immigrants in the Midwest

Article excerpt

As immigration reform in the United States devolved to states and municipalities, some community organizations in the Midwest and South adopted strategies that utilize cultural immersion visits to 'sending communities' in Mexico. This paper examines how one such initiative Project Mexico Immersion, contributed to positive engagement between Anglos and Latinos. The immediate outcome was increased responsiveness of the local health care system toward new Latino immigrants. Short-term travel study programs such as Project Mexico Immersion, the New Iowans Program and Latino Initiative have clearly demonstrated their potential value, and continued research of these programs will help communities enact more realistic and compassionate policies affecting immigrant newcomers.

Key words: experiential learning, cultural immersion, travel study, migration, Mexico, community reaction, immigrant integration, transnationalism, immigration policy

Introduction

To Santiago Capitiro came a group of tourists,

they came from the United States

to support the migrants,

people of Heart and Hands,

you carry with you a cloak to protect a heart,

your mission was to help from the heart...'

For the visiting Hoosiers and the people of Capitiro, the most memorable incident during the week's immersion experience was the simple and unexpected song written by Rosa Rosas Garcia. Sung during the ceremony celebrating the sister city relationship between Plymouth, Indiana and Santiago Capitiro, Guanajuato, the emotive lyrics expressed sadness, tragedy, hope, beauty, and friendship. As Rosa clasped her hands together, and put them on her heart she said, "People of Corazón y Manos, we entrust you with our people, the migrants, and thank you for looking after them, for they are suffering" (Barry and Crane 2007; Garcia 2006).

This moment embodied all the good and bad of the groups' experience. It contained the painful realizations that the "sister-city" relationship between the two towns came at a human cost - to the families who were separated, to the grandparents whose children were not sitting on their laps, and for the sons and daughters whose lives were lost to border crossing accidents. It also expressed the feelings of friendship and understanding that had emerged in the five short days the group from Plymouth had lived with the Capy families. It was that moment that the visiting Hoosiers would remember most vividly.

Santiago Capitiro is a pueblito (small rural town) of approximately 4,0003 in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, and is nicknamed 'Capy Ranch' by its expatriates living abroad. The actual population on any given day depends on how many are working jobs in Naples, Florida, Dallas, Texas, and Plymouth, Indiana. Santiago Capitiro is located in one of the major sending states of the migrant network (others being Michoacán, Zacatecas, Jalisco, and Aguascalientes), providing an opportunity to understand the broader immigration issues between Mexico and the United States.

Migration to Plymouth from Capitiro, as the story is told by its Latino pioneers, began with Elias Moreno, who began making trips to the United States in the early 1970's to deal with his sixth child's medical problems. Today, according to former delegado (mayor) Fernando Ruiz Villa Gomez, every Capy family has a relative living in Plymouth (Griffey n.d.).

Plymouth, Indiana is located in the north-central part of the state and has a population of about 10,000 (Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce 2008). Plymouth's main employers are various manufacturers that feed into the auto and RV industries, as well as some agro-businesses such as Pioneer Seed and various food processing plants. Originally Latinos worked the tomato farms in the area as part of the migrant circuit from South Texas and Florida. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s the Latino population throughout the Midwest began to shift out of agricultural jobs which were migratory, to year round industrial jobs (Chapa et al. …

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