Friday, April 25, 2014

Crossing borders: my experience of the effects of trade policy through the eyes of returned migrants in Teotitlán del Valle

By: Adrienne Calotta
I think I attended the Roots of Migration Delegation to Oaxaca, Mexico at the perfect time.  Since my return to the US at the end of February, there has been a decent amount of media coverage regarding many different aspects of immigration.  One of the most salient has been NPR’s recent piece on life along the US-Mexico border.  Journalist Steve Inskeep has driven from El Paso/Juarez to San Diego/Tijuana with a team to explore the flow of goods, people, and culture that occurs on a daily basis in both directions across the border.  While we were thousands of kilometers from there in Oaxaca, I felt bits and pieces of the bicultural, binational, and bilingual nature of the area.
Unlike many of my fellow delegates, I had never met someone who I knew definitively had crossed into the United States without papers.  I am sure I encountered such individuals during my upbringing in New Jersey, but it was never something that was openly discussed.  Thus, traveling to Teotitlán and listening to the stories of men and women who migrated to the United States and have since returned was very eye opening to me.  It is one thing to watch a documentary or read case studies of strangers, but it is quite another to actually shake hands with and listen, in person, to someone articulate his or her experience.  I learned much more from them about things like the crossing of the border, finding work, and what it means to “make it” in the US than I would by reading any amount of articles. 
Two quotes from the speakers in Teotitlán stand out to me.  The first, uttered by a man named Andrés who spent many years of his life in the US, explained that, “migration sometimes is not an option- it is a necessity.”  If immigration critics along the border and elsewhere in the United States could somehow be transplanted to the parts of Mexico where there are few, if any, economic opportunities, I am willing to bet that they would make the same arrangements that many Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans make each day to attempt to cross to “el norte.”  Another quote came from a man named Mario, referring to the United States, where he lived and worked for over a decade: “If you don’t have job [sic], if you don’t have money, you’re nothing there.” Thus, even after the tremendous sacrifices made, there is still the chance that things will not work out.  While I am sure that other migrants would agree with him, I think this statement transcends immigration status.  The societal pressure to obtain and retain a good job and make enough money to show others that you’re doing alright is tremendous in the United States.
I truly hope that the next generation is more understanding of the situations of migrants like Andrés and Mario, and that they are able to create meaningful changes to current immigration laws.  As a teacher, I feel like I have a very small part in making that happen.  I recall how I felt on the last day of the delegation in beautiful Capulálpam: this task is wicked daunting, but so worth it in the end.

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