Academic journal article Human Organization

Weak Ties, Strong Ties: Network Principles in Mexican Migration

Academic journal article Human Organization

Weak Ties, Strong Ties: Network Principles in Mexican Migration

Article excerpt

Five network principles are elaborated from literature on Mexican immigrants and from research that I conducted on immigration from a rancho in Jalisco state to a variety of destinations within the United States. These principles are, first, that networks are multilocal, encompassing a number of geographical destinations. The importance of destinations, however, may change over time. Second, the anchoring points at any given geographical location are the work sites where immigrants find employment. Thus, labor market conditions structure where immigrants go and where they stay. Third, new geographical locations are often accessed through the "strength of weak ties," leading to geographic dispersion. Over time, some weak ties may be converted to strong ties though marriage or compadrazgo. Fourth, both dense networks and diffuse, weak-tie, or acquaintance networks constitute "social capital" for their members. Fifth, given the geographical dispersion at the work site and/or work type clustering found among immigrants from any particular source community, the latter can best be explained by job recruitment primarily through dense network members, especially close relatives.

Key words: migration, networks; Mexico, US

Numerous studies of transnational immigration' and internal migration have documented that migration is mediated by kinship and social networks. In order of strength of ties, relatives, friends and paisanos (community members) may offer the potential immigrant housing, loans of money, aid in finding employment, and orientation in the destination community (Massey et al.1987). Once at destination, acquaintances made at work or at sites of leisure expand the information members of any given network have about potential employment opportunities (Massey et al.1987; Massey and Espinosa 1997) and possible future destinations. A brief review of the extensive literature on Mexican migration to the United States, "the strength of weak ties," and "social capital," as well as results obtained from a study of transnational immigration from a rancho in Jalisco state that I conducted in 1989 and 19902 reveal at least five interrelated principles concerning migration networks and their dynamics.3 These are:

Principle 1: Multi.locality of Networks. Networks are multilocal, encompassing a variety of geographical destinations. The importance of destinations in terms of numbers of immigrants received from any one source community may change over time. Once a migration stream has linkages to a destination point, labor market conditions/opportunities become a central variable in explaining the persistence or disappearance of that stream.

Principle 2: Work Sites and Work Types as Anchoring Points of Networks. The magnetic pull of any given destination are the work sites where immigrants manage to find viable employment. Word of mouth information exchange among network members of the first immigrant(s) to land these jobs becomes of primary importance in job placement of later immigrants from the same source community or region.

Principle 3: The "Strength of Weak Ties" in Network Expansion. Networks expand over time to encompass new geographic and work site locations, often through "the strength of weak ties" (Granovetter 1973, 1982), whereby information about employment opportunities is passed from one acquaintance to another. These acquaintances provide an information bridge between more dense network clusters. Alternatively, networks expand to include new members with information about other parts of the transnational social system through the establishment of new strong ties, via, e.g., marriage or compadrazgo (fictive kinship established at the time of marked life cycle changes, such as baptism, marriage, etc.). This type of expansion can occur either at the region of origin or at destination(s).

Principle 4: Diffuse Networks as Social Capital. Due to aid extended, information exchanged, and recruitment to jobs that occur among network members, networks can be seen to constitute "social capital" for their members (Coleman 1988; Gold 1994; Massey et al. …

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