Mexican New York: Transnational Lives of New Immigrants

By Robert Courtney Smith | Go to book overview

3. “Los Ausentes
Siempre Presentes”
Making a Local-Level Transnational
Political Community

The phrase los ausentes siempre presentes (the absent ones always present) beautifully evokes different dimensions of transnational life. As part of the New York Committee seal, stamped onto documents such as receipts for contributions to the water project, it expresses the Committee’s imagined presence in Ticuani and the joint authority it exercises with the municipio. Yet when a municipal president says, “Los ausentes siempre presentes— sounds like a threat, no?” it represents an unwelcome external vigilance and imposition. In these different contexts the expression illustrates the dance of assertion, recognition, and resistance between the Committee and the municipio. The Committee wants to assert its place in Ticuani public life and shares power with the municipio, but the municipal authorities can always redefine their relationship by withholding recognition, thus trying to constrain the power of the Committee.

Tracing the cooperation and power struggles of the Committee and the municipal authorities over the last thirty years shows how a local-level transnational political community is formed. Not only has the Committee become the institution through which Ticuanenses living in New York participate in Ticuani public life, it has also become their advocate with the elected authorities in Ticuani, who are often perceived to work in the interests of Ticuani’s locate elites and to treat migrants as second-class citizens. Yet as the Committee has funded more and more of Ticuani’s public works—providing two-thirds of the funding for the town’s largest project ever, the potable water system—it has demanded a greater say in Ticuani politics. These two structures of power—the Committee in New York and the cacique and municipal authorities in Ticuani—have pounded out a political settlement governing the ways those in New York can participate in Ticuani politics. Understanding the dynamics of membership in Ticuani

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