The Envios of San Pablo Huixtepec, Oaxaca: Food, Home, and Transnationalism
Grieshop, James I., Human Organization
Transnationalism has been a major organizing theme for hundreds of immigration related studies, many of which have targeted Mexican migration to the United States economic remittances, and entrepreneurism. This case study is based on research carried out in Oaxaca with immigrants from the community of San Pablo Huixtepec and the flow of "remittance" from South to North. This study focuses on home to California sociocultural activities that serve to maintain family, community and cultural connections between the two. The major focus is on the business/entrepreneurial practice of envios, or family scale package services that move food and other cultural remittances from South to North. The system is not only economic but reflects transnational sociocultural activities that directly impact the immigrants' ties back to home and life in California. This case study of the system of envios illustrates a unique dimension of transnational migration and living.
Key words: Migration, transnational migration, entrepreneurship, cultural remittances, cultural capital, Oaxaca, Mexico, food, envios
On the northern perimeter of the San Pablo Huixtepec municipal plaza stands an impressive fifteen meters tall, square, red brick clock tower. Although the clock itself is less than reliable in telling the hour, the plaque affixed to the face of the tower tells several stories. The words on the plaque (translated) say: "This clock was donated by citizens of this community located in the cities of San Jose, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Santa Cruz, Devenport (sic), Half Moon Bay, La Selva Beach and Seaside, all in the state of California, U.S.A., in coordination with the Honorable City Council and the Committee for Moral Civic, and Material Improvement. San Pablo Huixtepec, Oaxaca, Sept, 1988." The plaque's words communicate significant messages about both the municipality s immigration history, and the long-standing value of giving back to the community. Engraved within these words are other messages about importance of maintaining connections with the home community even while working and living far away in the United States, as well as the history and civic importance of financial support by immigrants.
The message of the plaque creates the framework for the following case study focused on previously undocumented transnational migration links between the Oaxacan community of San Pablo Huixtepec and the Seaside-Monterey, California area. The study uncovers some new realities of transnational migration and transnational entrepreneurs. The unique system of envios (or small scale, international but family level, package services) that operates in the unexpected direction of South to North (in contrast to the North to South remittances) provides the basis for the following story.
In the past decade the topic of transnational migration has attracted significant academic attention among researchers. This attention has not been limited to Mexico but has been world-wide (Vertovec 1999; Kearney and Besserer 2004). Hundreds of studies, reports, and papers have been produced adding to the understanding and application of the concept of transnationalism and transnational migration. The transnational paradigm, in contrast to the assimilation model, advances the idea that immigrants do not break their home country ties although they often are re-defined. In spite of the extensive body of literature, this concept is not universally or unquestionably accepted.
In 1999 Portes, Guarnizo, and Landolt (1999:218) proposed that if transnational migration studies were to go beyond being a "highly fragmented, emergent field" and to develop a "well-defined theoretical framework," a set of conceptual guidelines had to be defined, created and tested. Conway (2000) raised similar concerns and questions, arguing for the need of clarification on what is meant by transnational migration. Although this study does not answer the questions raised by these and others, it does add to the understanding of the realities of transnational migration, the power of home, the power of cultural remittances, and dimensions of transnational economies. …