Migrants and Migration in Modern North America: Cross-Border Lives, Labor Markets, and Politics

Migrants and Migration in Modern North America: Cross-Border Lives, Labor Markets, and Politics


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Presenting an unprecedented, integrated view of migration in North America, this interdisciplinary collection of essays illuminates the movements of people within and between Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the United States over the past two centuries. Several essays discuss recent migrations from Central America as well. In the introduction, Dirk Hoerder provides a sweeping historical overview of North American societies in the Atlantic world. He also develops and advocates what he and Nora Faires call “transcultural societal studies,” an interdisciplinary approach to migration studies that combines migration research across disciplines and at the local, regional, national, and transnational levels. The contributors examine the movements of diverse populations across North America in relation to changing cultural, political, and economic patterns. They describe the ways that people have fashioned cross-border lives, as well as the effects of shifting labor markets in facilitating or hindering cross-border movement, the place of formal and informal politics in migration processes and migrants’ lives, and the creation and transformation of borderlands economies, societies, and cultures. This collection offers rich new perspectives on migration in North America and on the broader study of migration history.

Jaime R. Aguila
Rodolfo Casillas-R.
Nora Faires
Maria Cristina Garcia
Delia Gonzáles de Reufels
Brian Gratton
Susan E. Gray
James N. Gregory
John Mason Hart
Dirk Hoerder
Dan Killoren
Sarah-Jane (Saje) Mathieu
Catherine O’Donnell
Kerry Preibisch
Lara Putnam
Bruno Ramirez
Angelika Sauer
Melanie Shell-Weiss
Yukari Takai
Omar S. Valerio-Jiménez
Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822350514
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 09/26/2011
Pages: 456
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Dirk Hoerder taught North American social history, the history of global migrations, borderland studies, and the sociology of migrant acculturation at Arizona State University. He is the author of many books, including Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium, also published by Duke University Press. Hoerder lives in Salzburg, Austria.

The late Nora Faires was Professor of History and of Gender and Women’s Studies at Western Michigan University and co-author of A History of Women in America.

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Migrants and Migration in Modern North America

Cross-Border Lives, Labor Markets, and Politics
By Dirk Hoerder Nora Faires

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2011 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5051-4

Chapter One

Mirando atrás

Mexican Immigration from 1876 to 2000

Jaime R. Aguila and Brian Gratton

The study of Mexican immigration to the United States has been au courant since the start of the twentieth century, when government officials on both sides of the border, concerned about the status of labor conditions, began investigating cross-border movements. Even at this early date, each nation recognized the growing interdependence. Economic and human exchange grew still more across the century, and the constant flow of Mexican immigration has had more than economic effects, becoming part and parcel of domestic issues in both countries.

After a brief review of contemporary immigration conditions within the United States, this chapter uses new research sources to study the period from the late nineteenth century to the first half of the twentieth. It begins by explaining how Mexico became the primary sending nation of immigrants to the United States and how this affected the demographic profile of the American Southwest. The Mexican perspective on these demographic events is then analyzed, a view often ignored in treatments of Mexican immigration. Mexican public policy sought to address the causes of a massive exodus of the country's working-age population. Officials initially believed that the loss of a significant portion of its population had a negative impact on Mexico's strength as a nation. From the late 1800s to the 1930s officials tried to dissuade the exodus and to encourage the return of those already in the United States. Such objectives continue to manifest themselves in the twenty-first century as Mexican leaders search for a way to manage the Mexican migration stream. In concluding remarks the same issues are reviewed from the perspective of U.S. immigration policy and its relationship with evolving political, economic, and social factors.

The Current Scene

Today Latin America is the largest sending area for immigrants to the United States; however, the size of the Latino population represents just one element of a complicated story of immigration and settlement. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are 31 million Latinos (including all generations) in the United States, about 11.2 percent of the national population. The Census concluded that this number exceeded that of African Americans for the first time in 2002. The March 2000 Current Population Survey reported that only two of five Latinos were foreign born and, given that a quarter of these were naturalized, only 30 percent were not U.S. citizens. The geographical distribution of Latino groups remains true to the basic history of Latino settlement: Almost half reside in California and Texas. However, one out of eight residents of Illinois is Latino, and the most recent striking trend in Latino settlement has been their arrival in regions in which they had not previously had a presence.

Mexico is the most important source for both legal and illegal Latino immigrants, a circumstance that has held true for nearly ninety years, proving Mexico's intimate linkage to the U.S. labor force. Undocumented immigrants tend to be concentrated in the working-age population and make up about 5 percent of the labor force, mostly in farming, domestic housework, and construction. In 2006 Mexicans represented 30.8 percent of the documented foreign-born population in the United States or over 11.5 million. Although no exact figures for the undocumented exist, estimates claim that Mexicans represent nearly 60 percent of approximately 10.3 million persons. Consequently, a conservative estimate of the total Mexican-born population in the United States is 17.5 million; such a figure implies that a tenth of the population of Mexico lives in the United States. As the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes stated in 2006, "[w]hat is happening now with the Mexican worker cannot be called 'migration' anymore ... It is an exodus. Millions of our people are leaving us ... Out of 120 million, 50 million are unemployed. Poverty forces them to emigrate."

The enduring relationship between the Mexican labor force and the U.S. economy has not dampened controversy over the rights of Mexicans in the United States and that society's responsibility for their social welfare. Since the first mass arrival in the early twentieth century, significant hostility to their presence has been evident in sporadic attempts to restrict their admission and to expel them. While much has been written about nativist reaction to Mexican immigrants, less attention has been given to the impact of immigration on the Mexican/Mexican American community itself, which has created significant advantages and disadvantages for its members. The long duration of Mexican immigration separates the experience of this community from most other ethnic groups in the United States. Although there was a sharp interruption during the 1930s, immigration has refreshed the Mexicanidad of the community regularly, in contrast to every other immigrant group. Moreover, their geographical concentration in areas of the Southwest is greater than the case for most ethnic groups. As a result, foreign-born Mexicans coexist alongside Mexican Americans who have lived in the United States for multiple generations.

Concerns about the Mexican population's foreignness appeared in the reaction of many Americans to the massive pro-immigrant demonstrations throughout the United States in 2006. These manifestations revealed the magnitude of the population and its deep location within not simply the economy, but American society. The use of Mexican flags and the manifest demands for rights for persons who were neither citizens nor legally resident, but who were laboring hard in its factories, hotels, and fields, provoked, instead of sympathy, a negative reaction. This empowered anti-immigrant leaders who touted the massive protests as additional proof that more stringent border regulation was required. The former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, perhaps the most prominent restrictionist, stated: "All these folks who are here illegally know they can protest brazenly. It's really a mockery of our immigration system." Even moderates such as Senator John Cornyn of Texas believed that the marches would only inflame the issue.

The marches, like the recent reaction against anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and other states, were just the most recent statement in the long debate over whether or not civil and social rights ought to extend to all people who contribute and labor on behalf of our society, regardless of their legal status or citizenship. The debate over "what to do" with Mexican immigrants, especially those who have arrived illegally, has been a vexing one for decades, as a review of earlier periods reveals.

Immigration, 1900 to 1930

One major crisis over Mexican immigration occurred in the early 1930s, when the Great Depression led to public schemes to repatriate Mexicans, as well as extensive voluntary repatriation on the part of Mexican immigrants. This crisis had as its demographic foundation an equally massive and unprecedented immigration between 1900 and 1930. Before 1900 most growth in the Mexican-origin population in the United States had come from a natural increase in the population long resident in the Southwest, such as the major centers of South Texas and Northern New Mexico. Map 1.1 shows the limited settlement areas and small density of this ethnic group.

But by the turn of the century a powerful process was under way that led to a much greater increase in the Mexican-origin population and its settlement in almost all sections of the Southwest. Immigration was the chief engine of this broader transformation. In the late nineteenth century fewer than five thousand immigrants from Mexico arrived in the United States per year, largely, and ironically, because of the lack of economic development in Mexico. As was the case with Europe, immigrants tended to come from regions opened up to transportation systems and economic opportunity. At the turn of the century, mining, commercial agriculture, and the railroad networks needed to serve these enterprises had arisen simultaneously under the Porfirian regime in northern Mexico as well as in the southwestern United States, creating a unified economic system. Both sides of the border saw a dramatic rise in migration as poor agricultural populations sought better income; substantially higher wages in the United States made the northern side more alluring. Formal and informal mechanisms emerged to move labor across the border, systems quite like those for European immigrants to the United States. After 1910 annual immigration rates exceeded twenty thousand Mexicans per year and, during the First World War, regularly exceeded forty thousand per year. Figure 1.1 shows the modest level of immigration from Mexico in the late nineteenth century, the clear upward trend after 1900, and the acceleration after about 1910.

During the 1920s Mexicans became the largest foreign group still entering the United States, with an average of about 57,000 per year from 1924 to 1929. While the Mexican Revolution had some effect in pushing workers north, even more critical was the disruption of European immigration streams, first by the First World War and next by the success of nativist restrictions, which prohibited most European sources while excepting Mexicans from the law. Congressmen representing the economic system that had arisen in the Southwest provided their votes for European restriction so long as Mexicans were not affected. Heavy immigration led to rapid increases in the Mexican-origin population, and a strong shift toward foreign birth. In the late nineteenth century, most of the growth in the Mexican origin population in the United States had been by natural increase, but after 1900, immigration drove it. Between 1900 and 1910 the population jumped from 400,000 to nearly 640,000, and in 1920 it stood close to one million. In 1930 it was 1,789,000. The proportion born in Mexico rose from 32 percent in 1900 to 36 percent in 1910 and to 50 percent in 1920. This proportion fell across the 1920s to about 35 percent, revealing, as will be shown below, more permanent settlement patterns.

Not only were these migrants born in Mexico, but they followed routes that native-born Americans and European immigrants had been taking, routes that did not lead toward traditional Hispanic settlements. Like migrants and other immigrants, they sought regions of economic development and high-wage urban settings. For example, Mexican immigrants largely ignored the once imposing Hispanic zone of Northern New Mexico. As map 1.1 shows, persons of Mexican origin rapidly filled in the once-vacant spaces, and now had a visible presence in nearly all of California, all of Arizona and New Mexico, most of Colorado, and nearly everywhere in Texas.

By 1930 the impact of immigration was manifest; Mexican origin persons now had a presence in nearly all regions in the Southwest, and had established significant outposts in Kansas, Nevada, Missouri, Illinois, and Michigan. In certain areas they had become a very large part of the population. In parts of South Texas the group was not only the majority, but also constituted more than two-thirds of the total population. Thus not only had the absolute population risen over time, but the relative proportion of the Mexican-origin population increased as well, rising from about 7 percent of the five southwestern states in 1900 to 16 percent in 1930.

Moreover, like other immigrants Mexicans sought high-paying jobs away from traditional agriculture. In 1920, when immigrants made up 50 percent of the entire Mexican-origin population of the Southwest, they were 65 percent in the Phoenix area, 56 percent in the Los Angeles region, and 63 percent in San Figure 1.1 Raw and smoothed estimates of Mexican migration to the United States by Francisco. In contrast, in the northern New Mexico homeland they were less than 10 percent. In 1880, 14 percent of foreign-born Mexicans lived in urban places (defined as those with 2,500 or more residents), well behind the national average of 24 percent. In 1910, as immigration from Mexico began to rise, 29 percent lived in urban places, and 10 percent lived in the central core of metropolitan areas. By 1950 the majority of immigrants and their children lived in metropolitan areas, and nearly a third resided in the central city. Measures of occupational status confirm that they sought places where better jobs were offered. Northern and southwestern New Mexico, which immigrants avoided, had low occupational ratings, joined by the poor agricultural regions in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Cities in Arizona and California, conversely, offered ethnic Mexicans better job prospects, as did El Paso and San Antonio in Texas. Better wages were found in cities, and better wages attracted immigrants. The eminent scholar Manuel Gamio chronicled the same phenomenon in his path-breaking studies of immigrants in the 1920s. His maps on remittances provide very similar evidence of the geographical and occupational choices Mexican immigrants made in the United States (for example, indicating high levels of remittances from high-wage states like Illinois), while also suggesting that most of the immigrants in this period had homes not in the northern parts of Mexico but came from west central states such as Michoacán.

After 1930 immigration stalled, not to resume in a major way again until the 1970s, except for the guest workers in the Bracero Program. But in that year, their presence made itself felt in a new racial category in the U.S. Census. The sudden appearance of Mexican immigrants in new places in the early twentieth century, their direct competition with native-born Mexican-American and other workers, and a rising racialized antipathy led to their identification as the new immigrant threat. Although the precise reason for the institution of a Mexican racial category in the 1930 U.S. Census has yet to be identified (nor have we a good explanation of its equally sudden removal), it likely reflected the belief among many Americans that Mexicans constituted a racial problem. 14 Evidence for such attitudes can also be seen in the brief repatriation campaigns of the early 1930s, when local governmental authorities, joined by private charities, service organizations and, curiously, the Mexican government itself, urged Mexicans to return to their home country and provided financial assistance to do so. On the whole, however, repatriation was voluntary, following a common practice among Mexican migrants in previous eras and, in fact, the customary practice of most immigrants in the early twentieth century. Large numbers of Mexicans left between 1930 and 1934, although the total numbers of returnees has been greatly exaggerated by some scholars. Alanís Enciso, in an incisive argument, provides the best analysis using Mexican government records. Alanís suggests that repatriation in the critical period between 1930 and 1934 amounted to about 350,000.

Few Mexicans, or immigrants of any nationality, entered the United States in the remainder of the 1930s, and the Second World War interrupted immigration again, save for the Bracero Program discussed earlier. This meant that the resident Mexican-American population in the United States after 1930 was based largely upon the immigrants of the period 1900–1930 without subsequent replenishment from Mexico. As Arturo Rosales has shown, the immigrant population of the early twentieth century, the México Lindo generation, differed strikingly from the original settlers in the nineteenth century, and differed as well from its children and grandchildren, who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the characteristics he identifies—such as intense attachment to homeland and hoped for and achieved return to the homeland—are the characteristics of Italians, Poles, and other immigrants in the same period. But, as we have shown, their children became intensely American, and intensely conscious of their rights and privileges as American citizens.

Mexican Emigration Policy, 1876–1930s

Porfirio Díaz's thirty-five-year dictatorship, from 1876 to 1911, modernized and disrupted traditional conditions and eventually provoked the Mexican Revolution. When the populist president Lázaro Cárdenas peacefully transferred power to his successor, Manuel Avila Camacho, Mexico became a one-party state. Mexican emigration public policy orientation reflected these major social and political shifts. From 1876 to 1915 policies were inconsistent and reactive to economic and political conditions. After 1916 emigration policy became more assertive. Mexican government officials promoted the ideals of the post-Revolutionary state, but also hoped to exploit the resources of the expatriate community and, when necessary, to protect that community, including assisting in repatriation.


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Table of Contents

List of Maps xi

Preface / Dirk Hoerder and Nora Faires xiii

Introduction. Migration, People's Lives, Shifting and Permeable Borders: The North American and Caribbean Societies in the Atlantic World / Dirk Hoerder 1

Part I. Intersocietal Migrations

1. Mirando atrás: Mexican Immigration from 1876 to 2000 / Jaime R. Aguila and Brian Gratton 49

2. Through the Northern Borderlands: Canada-U.S. Migrations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries / Bruno Ramirez 76

3. The Making and Unmaking of the Circum-Caribbean Migratory Sphere: Mobility, Sex across Boundaries, and Collective Destinies, 1840–1940 / Lara Putnam 99

Part II. Connecting Borderlands, Littorals, and Regions

4. Population Movements and the Making of Canada-U.S. Not-So-Foreign Relations / Nora Faires 129

5. Greater Southwest North America: A Region of Historical Integration, Disjunction, and Imposition / Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez with Dirk Hoerder 150

6. Independence and Interdependence: Caribbean-North American Migration in the Modern Era / Melanie Shell-Weiss 174

7. Migration to Mexico, Migration in Mexico: A Special Case on the North American Continent / Delia González de Ruefels with Dirk Hoerder 188

8. The Construction of Borders: Building North American Nations, Building a Continental Perimeter, 1890s–1920s / Angelika E. Sauer 210

9. The United States-Mexican Border as Material and Cultural Barrier / Omar S. Valerio-Jiménez 228

Part III. Complicating Narratives

10. Migration and the Seasonal Round: An Odawa Family's Story / Susan E. Gray 253

11. Market Interactions in a Borderland Setting: A Case Study of the Gila River Pima of Arizona, 1846–1862 / Dan Killoren 264

12. Paying Attention to Moving Americans: Migration Knowledge in the Age of Internal Migration, 1930s–1970s / James N. Gregory 277

13. The Black Experience in Canada Revisited / Sarah-Jane (Saje) Mathieu 297

14. Circumnavigating Controls: Transborder Migration of Asian-Origin Migrants during the Period of Exclusion / Yukari Takai 313

15. Migration and Capitalism: The Rise of the U.S.-Mexican Border / John Mason Hart 333

Part IV. Contemporary and Applied Perspectives

16. Central American Migration and the Shaping of Refugee Policy / María Cristina Garcia 347

17. Central American Transmigrants: Migratory Movement of Special Interest to Different Sectors within and outside Mexico / Rodolfo Casillas-R. 364

18. Interrogating Managed Migration's Model: A Counternarrative of Canada's Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program / Kerry Preibisch 377

19. 1867 and All That . . .: Teaching the American Survey as Continental North American History / Angelika Sauer and Catherine O'Donnell 391

About the Contributors 399

Index 401

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