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THE GUANAJUATO-FLORIDA CONNECTION:
A BINATIONAL STUDY ON HEALTH STATUS AND UNITED STATES-
ALAYNE G. UNTERBERGER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Alayne G. Unterberger
To the people of Urireo, Guanajuato, wherever you presently reside.
There are numerous people in both Mexico and the United States who have helped
me over the years it has taken to frame the research, pick the site, work in Mexico and
continue research here in Wimauma, Florida. I am forever grateful to the Urireanos on
both sides of the border who shared their history, culture, food and themselves with me.
People from Urireo who live in Wimauma deserve a great deal of the credit that this
research was conducted at all. While most of them are related in some ways they opened
their families, and their homes, to me on both sides of the border. They also convinced
me that their town was "special," deserving of attention and respect. David Mejia, MD,
who served as my research assistant in Urireo, had great patience with me and taught me
a great deal about Urireo, health and well-being in general.
I will always remember the numerous hours I spent learning how to peel cactus and
to make tortillas over the wood fire. Traveling to nearby pueblos to celebrate their patron
saint fiestas with my adoptive families was truly enlightening, even if it was also
exhausting. The following families were especially kind to me: Mejia, Avila, Rocha,
Rodriguez, Hernandez, Parra, Galicia and Pizano.
Arturo Zepeda, AKA Mr. MBA Urireano, kept me focused, challenged me and
supported me throughout this long ordeal. I only hope that someday I can repay him for
reading, re-reading and talking me through some of the major points in the study.
Ken Sturrock has been a great friend for many years and helped me analyze the t-
tests. I thank my mother, now deceased, for her unending support of my interest in
migration and migration studies, even though she did not share it.
Carmen Cebada, Luis Miguel Rionda, Mari Rodriguez and everyone at the Centro
de Investigaciones de Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad de Guanajuato (CICSUG)
opened their offices and knowledge to me and were tremendously helpful throughout the
phases of the research. Nelly Salgado de Snyder helped me to better define my research
questions, while simultaneously giving me important pointers, even though at first I may
not have understood nor taken them. Likewise, my advisor, Allan Burns, shared his
knowledge and expertise with me.
Jessica Noel provided support and some editing while being fun at the same time.
Merrill Singer made sure I never forgot that I had a dissertation due, no matter how much
I wanted him to forget.
This research was funded by two grants. The Latin American Studies Center at the
University of Florida provided me with much needed pre-dissertation funding in the
summer of 1999 so that I could go to various pueblos in Guanajuato and Jalisco in search
of a suitable "sending community." The field research was funded by a grant from the
University of South Florida's Sunshine Environmental Research Center (Sunshine ERC)
in 2001-2. Without this funding, the research would not have been as extensive.
Last but not least, I would like to thank my staff, board members, volunteers and
supporters of the Florida Institute for Community Studies, who had to endure my over-
stressed and sometimes impatient nature during the writing of this dissertation. I promise
I will be more "sane" from now on.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L ED G M EN T S ............................ ........ ....................................................... iv
LIST OF TABLES ............................... ............ ..... .. ..... .. ............ ix
LIST OF FIGURES ......... ........................................... ............ xi
A B STR A C T ................................................. ............. ......... ............. xiii
1 INTRODUCTION: THE GUANAJUATO-FLORIDA CONNECTION ..................1
C ontext of the Study .................. .........4.................... ......... .. .... ... .............. ...4
Anthropological Contributions to the Study of Health and Folk Beliefs ................... 13
Critical Medical Anthropology: A Framework for Health Disparities.....................14
A Comparison of US and Mexican Health Systems ............................................26
Defining M grants: NAW S and other Data..................................... ............... 29
Migration Patterns, Farmworkers and Immigration ....................................... 41
Transnationalism and Translocalities ...................................................... 46
Anthropological Views on Community and Community Studies ...........................49
T oolbox for the D issertation ............................................................ .....................54
2 THE PLACES AND PEOPLE: URIREO AND WIMAUMA...............................58
Sim ilarities and D differences ............................................................ .....................60
U rireo de la A suci6n, G uanajuato ........................ ................ ............... .... 67
Beyond the Mexican Revolution: Braceros and Maquilas...............................73
Economic and Psychological Impact of Migrant Remittances to Mexico ..........77
Urireo Today......................................................... 8 ............... 80
W ork, Fiestas and M igration ..................................... ............................ ........ 81
La Cristiada and U rireo's U nique Past .................................... ...................... 92
It's All About the Land La Revolucion Mexicana and Hope .................................95
W im aum a: T he P lace............................................................... .. ................... 102
W imauma Today .................. ................... ...... .. ...... ....... ............ 107
Hometown Associations Between Mexico and Transnational Communities...........116
C o n clu sio n s.................................................... ................ 1 19
3 EXPERIENCES OF M IGRATION ...................................... ........................ 121
U S-M exican Relations: Changes Since 2001 ..........................................................122
Trabajadoras y M adres: Gender Roles for Urireanas ..............................................128
The Persistence of Women's and Men's Traditional Roles ................................... 133
R ole Loss in U rireo ..................................................... ...... .. ........ .. .. 37
C o n clu sio n s.................................................... ................ 14 5
4 HEALTH IN TWO COMMUNITIES ....................................... ...............149
O organization of the C hapter........................................................................ ....... 150
U S and M exican H health Priorities ........................................................................ .. 152
Health Provider Key Informant Interviews: Urireo and Ruskin Health Center .......157
Environmental Health and Risk: Pesticides, Cancer and Developmental Delays.... 167
Environmental and Social Health Status Issues............................................174
Chronic Disease and Health Status Issues.............................................. .......... 178
O their H health Status Issues ........... .................................................. ............... 181
H health and H health Status ................................................ .............................. 187
Mental Health and Health Status .................. .............. .....................192
Folk Illnesses, Folk Beliefs and Curanderos .................................... ............... 197
Gender Differences in Perceptions of Health................................... ... ..................198
A nsw ering the R research Questions ....................... .............. ................. .... 203
How Does Migration Affect Traditional Roles, Responsibilities and
Expectations, Vis A Vis Gender, Age and Social Class, and How Does
This Affect People's Health In Both a Sending Community (Urireo) and a
Receiving Com m unity (W im uam a)? ............................................ ...........203
Whom Do Urireanos Think Is Healthier Those in The US Or Those in
M exico?............... ......... .......... ....... ........ ............... 206
Are The Health Behaviors Of Urireanos In Their Sending Community
Different Than Those In The Receiving Community? ...............................208
H health in Context ......... ..... ............... ... .. .......... ......... .. 216
C o n clu sio n s.................................................... ................ 2 18
5 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ................................................222
Factors Affecting Urireanos' Health Status: Rewards and Consequences.............223
Context of the Conclusions and Recommendations................................................228
Them es from the R research ............................................... ............................ 233
Recommendations for Urireo and W imauma..........................................................242
R ecom m endations for U rireo ........................................... ............................ 242
Recommendations from Health Providers.............................. ............... 243
Recom m endations from U rireanos................................................................. 244
H health. ............. ............................... .................................. 245
Infrastructure Improvements: Roads and Water.................................... 246
Economic Development and Opportunities...................................249
Education and Youth Development ............... .......................................249
Security and Safety ................................................ ......... ........ .... 249
R ecom m endations for W im aum a ........................................................ ..................251
Recommendations from Health Providers and Key Informants........................251
Recom m endations from U rireanos................................................................ 252
H health .......................................... ... ..... ...... .... .......................... 2 53
Infrastructure Improvements Such as Lighting, Sidewalks and Traffic Lights.253
Economic Development and Opportunities.................... .................254
Education and Youth Development................... .......................... 255
Security and Safety ............... ... .... .... ....... ........ .... ................. 256
Better and More Affordable Housing................... .... ... ............ 257
Transportation, either public or private ...................... ... .............. ......... 258
Legal and immigration policy changes................................. ............... 258
Summary of Recommendations..............................................259
Recommendations: Structural Changes and Policy Implications......................261
Policy Changes and Im plications ........................................... ............... 267
Recommendations: Educational approaches............................................. 273
Applied Anthropology and Critical Medical Anthropology.............. .......... 276
F in al T h o u g h ts ..................................................... ............. ................ 2 8 1
A IN STR U M E N T S U SE D ................................................................ .....................283
B LIST OF SPANISH WORDS USED IN THIS DISSERTATION ........................294
C GLO SSAR Y O F A CR ON YM S .................................................... .....................296
LIST OF REFEREN CES ........................................................... .. ............... 297
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .................................. ...............................314
LIST OF TABLES
1-1. Typology of Urireanos in the Study. ................ .................................
1-2. Undocumented Workers in the US ..................... .............. ............... 43
1-3. Perceptions of Mexican "Migrants" in the US and Mexico............................... 52
2-1. Key Institutions in W imauma and Urireo....................................... ............... 59
2-2. Poverty Status, W im aum a, FL ......................................... ............................ 108
2-3. Distribution of Latinos in W im aum a................................. ........................ 108
2-4. Comparison of Migrant versus Seasonal Farmworker Estimates for Florida ..........109
3-1. Selected Characteristics of Deported Aliens, Reported by the US Border Patrol,
1997 T through 2003 .................................................................. ........124
3-2. Comparison of US and Mexican Estimates on Border Deaths, 1995 to 2004..........126
4-1. US and M exican National Health Priorities. ................................... ..................... 153
4-2. Comparison of Health Problems in Urireo and Salvatierra (2002). ......................160
4-3. Ruskin Health Center Utilization Data, 2003 ........... .............................. 166
4-4. Social and Environmental Health Status Indicators for Mexico and US. ...............175
4-5. Chronic Disease and Health Status Indicators for Mexico and US......................179
4-6. Non Disease Health Status Indicators, US and Mexico. .......................................182
4-7. Demographic Overview of Respondents........... .... .............. ........ ........... 187
4-8. Health Related Quality of Life Data ............... .............................. 188
4-9. Question 1: How Would You Rate Your General State of Health, by Gender and
P la c e ...................... .. .. ......... .. .. ...................................................1 9 9
5-1. Factors Affecting Health Status in Binational Context. .........................................225
5-2. Recommended Changes by the Levels of Interventions Needed. .........................261
LIST OF FIGURES
1-1. Map of Urireo and Route of Migration to the US. ........................... ..................34
1-2. Transnational Urireano Family with Members in Both Wimauma and Urireo..........36
1-3. Wimauma-based Urireanos Back on Vacation, Playing Soccer, 2000.....................38
2-1. Urireo Decorated for the Fiesta of Patron Saint, Asunci6n, July 2001 ....................59
2-2. Aguas Negras or Dirty Waters, Urireo's Open Sewer Along Calle Hidalgo,
U rireo' s M ain R oad .................. ...................................... .. ............ 61
2-3. Entrance to W imauma, State Road 674, 2002 .............. .. ............... ......... ..............62
2-4. Urireo, an Ejido that is Comprised of Urireo, C6poro and Rancho Los Garcias,
Illustrated with Institutions M mentioned in Chapter 2. ............................................ 66
2-5. Location of Urireo. ......................... ......... .. .. ...... .. ............. 69
2-6. Wimauma-based Urireanos Playing Soccer in Urireo, Summer 2000 .....................91
2-7. Chicago-based Urireanos Playing Soccer in Urireo, Summer 2000 ........................91
2-8. Mexican Dancers at Wimauma's Annual Mexican Independence Day Celebration. 112
2-9. Promotional Materials for the Entrance to Valencia Lakes, a 1500-home
Development on the Corner of Highway 301 and State Road 674, the Outer
Lim its of W im aum a. .............................................. .... .... ... ........ .. .. 113
2-10. Women at Wimauma Civic Center During a Health Fair. ...................................115
3-1. Cover of the Guide for the Mexican Migrant (2004). ........................................... 122
3-2. Desert Crossing Scene from Guide for the Mexican Migrant, 2004.....................126
3-3. Two Tortilleras in Urireo Whose Sons Live in Wimauma.................................... 136
3-4. Scene Depicting Drinking, from the Guide for the Mexican Migrant, 2004............142
3-5. Substandard Trailers Powered by Electrical Cords in a Grower-run Migrant
C am p in W im aum a, 1998............................................... ............. ............... 145
3-6. W oman Resting During Strawberry Harvest........................................................ 146
4-1. Scene Depicting Prostitution from the Guide for the Mexican Migrant, 2004 ........165
4-2. Scene Depicting the Hazards of Driving Without a License from Guide for the
M exican M grant, 2004. ........... ......................... ................... ...............183
5-1. Flowchart of Family Conditions, Mediators and Outcomes............................. 226
5-2. Advertising for Valencia Lakes, 1500-home Development Opening in Wimauma,
F a ll 2 0 0 5 ...................................................................... 2 3 3
5-3. Sign in Wimauma Offering Daily Return Trips to Many Areas in Guanajuato,
such as Celaya, Apaseo el Alto, Salvatierra and Yuriria. ......................................265
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE GUANAJUATO-FLORIDA CONNECTION:
A BINATIONAL STUDY ON HEALTH STATUS AND UNITED STATES-MEXICAN
Alayne G. Unterberger
Chair: Allan Burns
Major Department: Anthropology
Migration from the Mexican state of Guanajuato to rural Florida dates to about
1970. However, little is known about how this migration affects transnational Mexicans
living in either the United States or Mexico. Urireo, Guanajuato, was identified as a
migrant sending community through research conducted in Wimauma, Florida. This
study was conducted with Mexicans from Urireo, Guanajuato, in both Urireo and
Wimauma, Florida, to assess their physical and mental health status utilizing a mixture of
qualitative and quantitative methods, including Health Status Quality of Life
questionnaires (CDC HRQOL) with 45 transnational Urireanos and a focus group with
health providers in Ruskin, Florida. The underdevelopment of Wimauma and Urireo
proved to be important to health status.
This research is important for three reasons. First, it provides context to
understanding the lives of Mexicans and their health seeking. Second, it shows that
transnational immigrants are not ahistorical but rather they bring their history with them
and it helps to define their worldview. Third, it offers practical recommendations to
health professionals and policy makers in both countries. Urireanos living on both sides
of the border provided their recommendations for improving both Wimauma and Urireo.
Seven themes emerged from this research: 1). Health status has been affected by
agrarian reform in Mexico, 2). The healthy worker effect operates at multiple levels, 3).
Migration has affected traditional gender roles and rule fulfillment expectations, affecting
mental health status, 4). Despite migration to Wimauma, Urireanos report no change in
health seeking behaviors, 5). The overall quality of life is seen as better in Mexico than in
Florida, 6). Urireanos in both countries recognized that those in Florida were physically
healthier due to cleaner water and better hygiene in the US, and 7). Despite 50 years of
migration and remittance, Urireo has seen no infrastructure-building that would improve
the overall health and well-being of those left behind.
In both the US and Mexico, women reported more mental health problems,
especially in Urireo. Qualitative data suggest that Urireanos consider health to be only
one part of well-being, and future binational research should explore this topic in greater
THE GUANAJUATO-FLORIDA CONNECTION
Guanajuato, Mexico, was the dream fulfilled for Spaniards in the 16th century: it
had a great deal of silver and mineral resources that the Crown had long hoped for as well
as an indigenous population to work the mines (Hernandez 2002). By 1810, Guanajuato
become known as Spain's enemy, as Padre Hidalgo, a Creole (half Spanish) priest,
became the leader for the revolt that became the Mexican Revolution. The history of the
region between the 16th and 19th centuries is complex and fascinating, while at times
extremely unique and/or extremely common across Mexico (Hernandez 2002). Unique
because no other state has been so violently and passionately involved in church, state
and land reform issues. Common because so many other states share Guanajuato's long
history of sending migrants north to work in the United States.
Guanajuato is diverse geographically and demographically, with the northern and
southern parts of the state resembling more of their respective northern (Zacatecas,
Queretaro) and southern (Michoacan) neighbors. Today, Guanajuato is known for its
long tradition as a migrant sending state, one of the largest suppliers of immigrant
Mexican labor to the US since the Bracero Program was instituted in Irapuato (1942-
1964). Now 60 years later, migration is such a large part of life that it is not a question
whether a young man will migrate, it is only when he will migrate. As one religious
leader told me upon my arrival, "You cannot get the idea of migrating out of their minds;
that would be impossible. We should try to prepare them better for it."
Urireo, Guanajuato, the Mexican site of this binational study, is located in the
southern Bajio region of Guanajuato and, since about 1980, has continually sent migrants
to Wimauma, Florida. Why is migration so attractive to Urireanos? Critical antecedents
to mass outmigration include the historical lack of access to either money or land by the
vast majority of the inhabitants, the ensuing Mexican Revolution, followed by the Guerra
Cristera and the repercussions of the on-going tensions between those who took part in
agrarian reform and became communal farmers or ejiditarios and those who did not and
followed the church, known as cristeros. All of these historical and social upheavals,
taken together, mean that landless Urireanos who want to make a living and achieve a
better quality of life have few options besides migration.
Following a Critical Medical Anthropology framework, this study begins by
asking, "Do Urireo's unique history and present-day social, political and economic
structures affect the health of her people? If so, in what ways do these historical, social
and economic factors affect them in both Urireo and Wimauma?"
This study goes on to answer the question, "How does migration affect traditional
roles, responsibilities and expectations (mediated by gender, age and social class) and
how does this affect people's health in both a sending community (Urireo) and a
receiving community (Wimauma, Florida)?" My goal is to combine qualitative and
quantitative research to capture the context of work and daily life in both communities as
it shapes and reshapes health as a result of migration and the resulting isolation, changing
household composition, access to resources and social support. The idea is to gain
insight into how people in both places negotiate life and how it migration affects their
overall well-being, and health, in a more holistic perspective.
Toward that end, this dissertation explores the impact of migration on health and
health status, utilizing multiple methods: a binational ethnographic study, key informant
interviews and quality of life questionnaires (N=45) to compare health and health status,
culture, change and quality of life of Urireanos in both Florida and Guanajuato. Taking
Critical Medical Anthropology as the framework or lens through which we can view
transnational immigrants, in 1998, I began to explore and dissect the complex
relationship between migration and health status of binational Mexicans and Mexican
Americans from Urireo, Guanajuato.
Operationalized as the identification of"the political, economic, social, structural
and environmental conditions in all societies that contribute to the etiology of disease,"
Critical Medical Anthropology views class, gender and unequal power relations between
individuals, groups or nations as coming from capitalist world systems, which further
exacerbate their combined effects in an era of globalization and dependency (Baer,
Singer and Susser 1997: 35).
Health is defined as "access to and control over the basic material and nonmaterial
resources that sustain and promote life at a high level of satisfaction" (1997: 21).
Breaking from more traditional definitions of health as the absence of illness, Baer,
Singer and Susser (1997) reframe it to encompass issues of access and control over both
the tangible and intangible this approach is at once structural and materialist. An
important contribution of this approach is that it transforms health into a concept that can
be viewed as a continuous instead of an absolute or dichotomous variable. For example,
Baer, Singer and Susser (1997) set out to reframe medical anthropology from a study of
folk illnesses to encompass the structural, cultural, social and material features impacting
on the quality of life and health status. Our understanding of health status and how
Urireanos define health and well-being are informed by the Critical Medical
Anthropology perspective throughout this study.
Context of the Study
US-Mexico migration is now long established. However, the types of migrants
coming to the US have changed. Over the past ten years, more immigrants come from
indigenous and/or remote areas that previously were not migrant sending. The latest data
from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (Carroll et al. 2005) show that 17.4% of
all US farmworkers come from the state of Guanajuato. Compared to the vast literature
on social and legal impacts on US-Mexican migration, health has received relatively little
attention. Explanations for why researchers have paid less attention to health status may
be related to the complexity of both topics, health and migration, as well as the
insufficiency of current explanatory models (Rust 1991). The roles of ethnicity and
culture on health have long been studied by anthropologists (Trotter et al. 1984,
Harwood 1981, Kleinman 1980, Rubel, O'Neill and Collado-Ardon 1984). Today, one
of the central issues in medical anthropology relates to how larger social, political,
global-local articulations affect health (Farmer 1992; Scheper-Hughes 1995, Singer 1992;
Baer, Singer and Susser 1997). By examining health status binationally, the role of
migration on health status can be better explored and described in its dynamic global
It is important to contextualize this discussion of migration between Urireo and
Wimauma. First, there are historical, cultural, social and structural processes that affect
all Urireanos in this study. However, this study also seeks to highlight the diversity of
situations, strategies and perspectives that families and individuals employ on a daily
basis. This is a testament to their continual hope and sense of human agency. As they say
in Mexico, "Cada cabeza es un mundo" which roughly translates to "Everyone is
different." While it might seem intuitive to most people, it is worth noting that not
everyone in Urireo migrates to the US, nor do they want to.
Second, not all migrants or immigrants are from Mexico, although this study
focuses on this group. Whenever appropriate, I have cited literature and examples from
immigrant groups other than Mexicans. Third, I recognize that not all immigrant
Mexicans work in farmwork and that, in fact, immigrants often work in a variety of
settings that do not define them. This point will be reiterated throughout the literature
review and findings presented here. Immigrant Mexicans are highly represented in low-
skilled and dangerous occupations, such as farmwork and they depend on agriculture as a
primary means of sustenance. National data show that 80% of all farmworkers are
Mexican, Mexican-American or Chicano (Carroll et al. 2005: 4) and farmwork has been
cited as the second most dangerous occupation in the US (Myers and Hard 1995). As the
National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) consistently shows, because they often
do not have legal working papers or their English language skills are lacking,
farmworkers are extremely vulnerable (Mehta et al. 2000, Carroll et al. 2005). They do
not report their injuries, putting them at even higher health risks (Carroll et al. 2005).
Rust conducted an extensive literature review of the health status of farmworkers that
was published in the American Journal of Public Health (1991). Rust's analysis
influenced others, including me, to explore better ways to study health status within
mobile populations, for he concludes that (1991: 1213):
Migrant farmworker families are believed to experience poor health compared to
the general population. However, their health status has not been well measured,
and many studies have not been published in peer reviewed journals. As a result,
large gaps exist in the data on basic health status indicators in the migrant
Table 1-1. Typology of Urireanos in the Study.
Type of immigrant and Urireo Wimauma
T Agricultural Day laborer works other Farmworker
R peoples' land Seasonal
A o Nursery
N Ejiditario participated in o In seasons
S agrarian reform and works Migratory
N his/her own land
A Non- Tortilleras make and sell Immigrant workers
T agricultural tortillas Store tenders,
O Health care providers Construction workers
N Salubridad, Pharmacists, Restaurant workers
A doctors, etc. Nannies for children
L Personal care of
Mil Usos Males who work as elderly
Undocumented "jacks of all trades" for day Mil usos-males who
Documented, labor work as "jacks of all
regularized trades" for day labor
Cristeros-shop keepers or sellers
in the market
This study found similarities and differences within the group I refer to as
Urireanos, or those from Urireo who live in either the US or Mexico, as depicted in Table
1-1. There are distinct groups that will be discussed throughout the study. All of the
people described in Wimauma can be considered transnational migrants, because they
have gone back and forth between Urireo and Wimauma at least three times. Some of the
people in Urireo, like former Braceros and some of the men who were interviewed while
on "vacation," are also transnationals. Urireanos use the term "Bracero" to mean anyone,
usually an older male, who works or worked in the US, remitted and is now living back
in Urireo. As will be discussed later in this chapter, Braceros get their title from a
binational US-Mexican program to import Mexican Workers between 1942 and 1964.
This study views Braceros as returned transnational migrants who live in Urireo. Many
ejiditarios have also been Braceros, which means that they are also transnationals.
While the majority of Urireanos who leave do not return to live permanently in
Mexico, there are variations of how transnational Urireano families are composed. For
example, there were few but important examples of the "strategic transnational migrant."
These males, one or two ejiditarios, were successful at being able to migrate to the US,
work, save money for a specific cause, such as a truck or tractor, and come back to Urireo
to increase the productivity of their lands or invest the money in small stores. On the
other end of the spectrum, there were one or two entire families that migrated together
and became successful in the US. This is best exemplified by a large family in Wimauma
that operates a vegetable stand in Wimauma while also successfully cultivates their ejido
lands in Urireo through wise investments in implements, fertilizers and personnel.
Extended family members in Urireo, usually cousins or uncles, whom they hire to
cultivate and harvest their parcels, work the lands while the majority of the profit comes
back to the Wimauma-based family.
In 1996, President Clinton signed the Immigration Reform Act (IRA), which
tightened controls at border crossing points, restricted immigration, especially for
Mexicans, and established a "deeming clause," so that immigrants or visitors had to
prove they were financially able to survive during their time in the US without becoming
dependent upon the state for public benefits. Immigration status, documented or
undocumented, became a new criteria for immigrants to access any number of services,
such as hospitals, food stamps and Medicare.
After 2001, and passage of the Patriot Act, which created the Department of
Homeland Security, immigration laws, and their enforcement, have become stricter. It
was much easier for Urireo's transnational migrants to regularize their immigration status
prior tol996, and most of those people now have documents, or citizenship. This group
continues to travel easily back and forth between Urireo and Wimauma. However, those
who did not regularize continue to be undocumented and cannot easily travel. Newer
undocumented immigrants have not had an opportunity to regularlize their status because
there has been no amnesty for undocumented workers since the IRCA. It is worth noting
that, despite the high financial and personal costs involved in border crossing, many of
these undocumented transnationals continue to visit family back home. For those without
documents or "papers," border crossing is illegal. Illegal border crossing is dangerous
and there is an entire economy tied to this endeavor. Those who facilitate illegal border
crossing are referred to in various ways: coyote, pollero (one who cares for chickens), or
smugglers. Fees for their services have directly increased in relation to the intensification
of border and immigration restrictions.
The second category is tortilleras, or the tortilla-makers, a group of women who
make and sell tortillas in Urireo and throughout the region of Guanajuato known as the
Bajio. In another place, these women could be thought of as entrepreneurs; however,
traditional gender roles posit that women should not work outside the home, and certainly
should not be as visible as they are. For this reason, the tortilleras tend to be the objects
of much gossip and face other forms of social control.
The third category is farmworker, whether seasonal or migrant. Farmworkers are
those who live in the US and work in agricultural work in nurseries or fields, readying the
ground, planting, picking/harvesting, cultivating, packing and shipping agricultural
produce. When I refer to immigrant workers, the fourth category, I am referring to the
vast majority of Urireanos who participated in this study. They not only work in
farmwork but also in construction, house-cleaning or even caring for elderly retirees.
These people self-identify as workers and are not tied to working in farmwork, although
they often engage in seasonal agricultural work.
There is a gender aspect to Table 1-1. Agricultural workers in Urireo are mainly
males while, in Wimauma, both genders work in the fields or packing houses. Non-
agricultural work in both places tends to be done by both males and females, however
there are important differences in the culturally held beliefs about the norms and
appropriate roles regulating women's work, depending upon where the family resides. In
Urireo, the only socially sanctioned roles for women to work outside the home are for
single women as teachers, health care workers and shop keepers/sellers. Wives in Urireo
can only engage in these professions if husbands allow them to work. Life in Wimauma
is completely different, since the labor of immigrant women is in high demand, especially
as caretakers of children or the elderly. Some of the women in this study were overly
employed in Wimauma. Conversely, many of the males in Urireo were under- or un-
Methodologically, then, it is important for this study to recognize the role of
farmwork in the health status of the immigrant Mexicans who participated in this study.
But I also recognize that migration is a family/household strategy which affects the health
status of farmworkers, their family members and former farmworkers in order to better
gage long-term and community effects of migration. Since the National Agricultural
Workers Survey (NAWS) only interviews current farmworkers, research limited only to
current farmworkers could suffer from the healthy worker effect. The healthy worker
effect, an occupational health term which refers to the tendency for any sample of current
workers to be the healthiest, since those who are infirm or older tend to drop out of the
labor force, operates on two levels. First, those who are older or would not be able to
withstand the physical or mental stress of crossing illegally (or with a coyote) are less
likely to migrate. Second, migration is not feasible for those who would have trouble
being employed here in the US because they could not then pay off the debt for crossing
afterwards. Therefore, those who would be sicker, injure themselves or otherwise
become ill simply are not represented in NAWS data. Nonetheless, this dataset is the
most complete sample of farmworkers available, and for this reason these data will serve
as a reference point to the primary data presented here.
This research is instead concerned with capturing the overall context of the lives of
Mexicans both at home and abroad so that we can gain a more complete understanding of
their health and mental health status. Mixed methods were utilized, including
ethnography, interviews, a focus group and health status questionnaires in both countries.
At this juncture, it is important to make two comments. First, I collected
qualitative and quantitative data utilizing a mixture of methods in a binational context.
The strength of this study rests on the qualitative data more than the quantitative data,
chiefly due to the small number of respondents in my dataset, a total of 23 in Wimauma
and only 22 in Urireo. For this reason, although I have included the data analyses of the
quantitative data in this dissertation, they should be viewed as illustrative rather than
definitive statistics on this non-random sample. Second, I believe that future studies
should strive to gather robust samples upon which statistically valid tests could be run on
a binational group such as this.
This study contributes to our knowledge of immigrant and migrant health in three
ways. First, it brings a focus on health through the lens of a Critical Medical
Anthropology perspective to inform the existing literature on migration, gender and
acculturation. Second, Guanajuato has been a sending state for almost 70 years;
however, relatively little research has been conducted on the impact of this migration
binationally with only one notable study to date (Durand 1994). Third, this study
illustrates how binational research is needed in order to better understand, and, from that
understanding, make informed recommendations for improving health on both sides of
the border, as summarized in Chapter 5.
This dissertation explores the inter-relationships between migration, gender and
health of transnational Mexicans in both Urireo, Guanajuato and Wimauma, Florida.
Religion, politics, access to resources and knowledge, and power relations in general play
large roles that will be explored through the framework or lens of Critical Medical
Anthropology throughout these discussions. While this dissertation focuses on primary
and secondary research findings, it is written in the spirit of applied anthropology, so that
conclusions and problems will be balanced with practical considerations and
recommendations whenever possible. It is hoped that the findings, conclusions and
recommendations are utilized by a wide range of audiences, including policymakers,
students, farmworkers, immigrants' rights advocates, researchers, health providers and
This study contextualizes, describes and explains health status within a fluid
transnational migration of people from one sending community and one receiving
community. In order to capture this fluidity, the overarching research question is multi-
faceted: How does migration affect traditional roles, responsibilities and expectations,
vis a vis gender, age and social class, and how does this affect people's health in both a
sending community (Urireo) and a receiving community (Wimauma)?
This question must be parsed into several smaller questions. These are as follows:
1. Whom do Urireanos think is healthier those in the US or those in Mexico?
2. In what ways have 60 years of migration to the US changed people's expectations
of traditional roles when they are in the US or in Mexico?
a. Specifically, do women in Urireo see their gender roles expand as males
remain absent, working in the US?
b. As males' roles change, how do women's roles change?
c. How do changing roles affect mental health and health status of both the
males and females?
3. Are the health behaviors of Urireanos in their sending community different than
those in the receiving community?
There were other questions that also interested me; however, they need to be studied at
another point in greater depth. These include "How does age at first migration relate to
health and mental health status at the individual level?" and "Do returned migrants have
different behaviors and what are the health consequences of these behaviors?"
This research is framed within the context of unequal economic and political power
relations in Guanajuato, which I argue caused ongoing poverty in rural Mexico and a
subsequent inability of many Urireanos to find economically viable options other than
migration due to historical and social realities. The next section explores the history of
US-Mexican migration, issues related to how anthropologists traditionally viewed
communities, binational studies, health and health status. Binational health studies, with
a focus in medical anthropology, are rare. A detailed description of the contributions
from anthropology and Critical Medical Anthropology follows.
Anthropological Contributions to the Study of Health and Folk Beliefs
Baer, Singer and Susser (1997: 14) point out that anthropologists have focused on
health concerns since at least the 1920s but that medical anthropology became a subfield
in the 1950s. Anthropologists have long studied folk beliefs and illnesses, such as susto,
empacho and malde ojo (Trotter et al. 1984, Trotter 1985a, 1985b, Baer and Penzell
1993, Rubel, O'Neill and Collado-Ardon 1984). Folk illnesses can be categorized as
Destino (fate) or Castigo de Dios (God's punishment), which are tied to deeply held
beliefs about religion and trust in God as a supreme being who knows what is best
(Trotter 1984; Salgado de Snyder et al. 1998, Rubel, O'Neill and Collado-Ardon 1984).
The majority of rural Mexicans have strong religious beliefs and they reinforce and are
reinforced by ethnomedical systems and folk healers such as curanderos (curers),
yerberos (herbalists), sobadores (massaging healers) and brujos (witches/warlocks)
Since they are the caretakers of the family's health, mothers are acquainted with
folk healing practices and often begin treatments, teas or massages in the home at the first
sign of illness (Trotter 1984, Reinert 1986). Healers can be male or female, curanderos
and brujos use prayer and are believed to have God-given spiritual healing powers (Dean
1998: 46). Dean (1998) reports that many curanderos refer patients for biomedical care
if they recognize a serious medical condition. Mexicans often choose between, and
combine, these dual systems of care depending on the illness.
In 1992, there was a large pesticide poisoning in Ruskin Florida, reported on by
Baer and Penzell (1993). While clinicians verified the symptoms and blood levels to be
consistent with pesticide intoxication, research with farmworkers revealed the power of
ethnomedical versus biomedical beliefs. Baer and Penzell (1993) found that most
workers attributed their symptoms to susto, a folk illness in which the affected person
suffers from soul loss due to a startling or frightening event. In this case, the fright of
being sprayed with pesticides displaced their souls, leading them to have an imbalance in
their body. Respondents identified the cause of illness as susto, due to having been
frightened at being sprayed by the pesticide. In other words, the researchers found that it
was not the toxicity of the pesticide but rather the act of spraying itself that caused the
illness susto (Baer and Penzell 1993). The authors report that pesticide susto is treated in
the same way as all susto cases, by a curandero/a who uses prayer, candles, eggs and
other materials to restore the soul. While this approach fits the ethnomedical worldview
of causation of the respondents, the authors point out that it does not affect the toxicity of
the chemicals involved (1993). Pesticide exposure has been explored by epidemiologists
and anthropologists alike, and will be reviewed later in Chapter 4.
Urireo has sobadores, curanderos, and one brujo at Rancho Los Garcias. While I
spoke with one sobador and a curandera, they did not consent to be interviewed for this
study. I was able to interview their patients and this data is included here.
Critical Medical Anthropology: A Framework for Health Disparities
Anthropologists in the 1990s worried about the future of our discipline, fearing
either that we would become overly self-absorbed and post-modem (Harris 1999) or
focus so narrowly that we would become obsolete in a fast-paced, technologically
advanced world full of scientific discovery and new data (Moore 1994, Singer 1992).
Anthropologists looked for ways to unify the four fields of the discipline that were
increasingly distancing themselves from each other. Singer (1992: 90) observed that "the
anthropology of the 1990s is self-absorbed in a crise de conscience over its very purpose
and dominant method." Citing fragmentation within the discipline, Moore (1994)
suggested that the Human Genome Project would bring a new dataset to anthropology,
which in turn needed to find more effective theory that would focus on processes referred
to as ethnogenesis. Ethnogenesis was presented as a good alternative to the status quo,
referred to as cladistics. Moore explains that cladistics essentially lock ethnic groups into
cultural types. Recognizing that technological advances would give an edge to biological
anthropologists, Moore (1994: 96) envisioned that geneticists, linguists, archeaologists
and cultural anthropologists could collaborate toward theory-building by integrating the
new data and discoveries of the Human Geneome Project. In this way, ethnogenesis
could "build bridges" between the four fields.
At the same time, medical anthropology underwent a similar questioning with
Critical Medical Anthropology, which charged that
conventional medical anthropology suffers from several notable limitations ...
including: a narrow understanding of social relations, inattention to the political
structuring of meaning in the clinical setting; a desocialized approach to the
human/environment relationship and far-reaching medicalization (Singer 1990).
Critical Medical Anthropology is concerned with structural and global processes
related to capitalism and inequality: "it understands health issues within the context of
encompassing political and economic forces including forces of institutional, national,
and global scale that pattern human relationships, shape social behaviors, condition
collective experiences, reorder local ecologies and situate cultural meanings" (Baer et al
Baer, Singer and Susser (1997: 50) posit that agrarian states, which are highly
stratified both socially and culturally, create "an inherently unstable societal-
environmental dynamic" which leads to malnutrition, infectious disease and mortality.
Political and social structures are seen as directly influencing the health of the population.
In the case of Urireo, and the entire state of Guanajuato for that matter, agrarian
reform and the uneven distribution and participation in the process can be seen as playing
a major role in the construction of social class. Social class stagnation and the
distribution of wealth continue to distinguish the "haves" from the "have-nots" which
also influences their health status. The argument is not that these structural constructions
wholly determine health status, but rather that they create the conditions that make it
harder for those on the lower end of the social class continuum to achieve the same health
status as those on the higher end.
Citing McNeil (1977), Baer, Singer and Susser point out that "epidemics have
played a major role in the expansion of agrarian states throughout history, especially in
their incorporation of indigenous societies" (1997:49), which can be seen as
macroparasitism, defined as "large organisms, including humans, that expropriate food
and labor from conquered or low-status groups" (1997: 50). Guanajuato is actually a
good case study in macroparasitism. First, Spanish conquistadores enslaved and
expropriated the indigenous populations' labor in the silver mines of Guanajuato
(Guerrero 1998). Next, we know from the history of the region that the hacendados,
having received a land grant from Spain, extracted labor from the indigenous populations
and also charged them tributes (fees to the crown). As time went on, the indigenous
population suffered great debts from a lack of ability to pay the ever growing tributes,
which meant that they had to find additional resources or work harder to comply (Wolf
1982, Guerrero 1998, Hernandez 2000). As the population grew, there were less
resources and an ever growing instability. This topic will be explored in greater detail in
Migration is the latest extension of this unequal relationship, as some researchers
have pointed out that Mexico is actually exporting its labor through out-migration (Passel
2005, Massey 1998). Migrants remit money back to Mexican family members, which
provides a net income to the rural working poor, taking the burden off the state to provide
jobs, services or continued agrarian reforms.
This section will utilize Critical Medical Anthropology to explain some of the
literature within their legal, social and political contexts that serve as the political ecology
of health in rural Mexico and in rural Florida. Baer, Singer and Susser (1997: 52)
highlight the importance of action within Critical Medical Anthropology, "political
ecology is committed to praxis the merger of theory and action" (Baer, Singer and
Susser 1997:52), and this perspective will be utilized in Chapter 5: Conclusions and
There are few studies that have examined the relationship between land reform and
health status. One notable example was conducted by epidemiologists in the state of
Chiapas, Mexico. Ochoa-Diaz et al. looked at the health of rural children in Chiapas
within the context of agarian reform:
there is strong evidence to suggest that the low standard of living and poor health
and nutritional status in Chiapas, particularly amongst the peasant population, are
partially due to the fact that this State did not participate in agrarian reforms
initiated after the Mexican Revolution. This has prolonged an unequal social
structure focused on the land tenure system. (1999: 262)
Authors compared land tenure and maize production among the ejiditarios and private
farmers. As in the case of Urireo, the authors found that medical interventions may be
able to prevent some childhood health problems but that the real key to decreasing health
disparities requires structural changes beyond medical science:
there is much evidence to show that social changes are more effective than medical
interventions in reducing health inequalities. Thus to reduce health inequalities and
improve health status among poorer population groups from rural Chiapas it is
essential to ensure that the campesinos and indigenous population have equitable
access to power and resources, once of the central demands of the Zapatista rebels.
(Ochoa-Diaz et al. 1999: 269)
Mexico and the US have different health systems, as will be explored in further
depth in Chapter 4. Two issues are important to note at this juncture. First, as Oehmke
and Sanchez-Bane (1999: 9) point out, Mexico considers healthcare a right while, in the
US, "care seems more of a privilege." Second, each country must prioritize its own
health needs while simultaneously working binationally to curb diseases that cross
There are health problems that are more prevalent on one side of the border than on
the other side. It can thus be observed that some border priorities are based on
problems that are relevant to one side of the border but not to the other side. For
example, the prevalence of high rates of diarrheal disease on the Mexican side is
one of the major concerns of the Mexican communities because of associated
problems of high mortality among children under 5 years of age, malnutrition and
potential complications for the development of other more severe diseases with life
threatening consequences. On the other hand, the US side is more concerned with
suicides than the Mexican side. (Oehmke and Sanchez-Bane 1999: 10)
Baer, Singer and Susser (1998: 28) observe "at all levels the health care systems of
advanced capitalist nations reproduce the structures of class relations." This is clearly
seen in Mexico, where there is great disparity between the types of care one receives,
even though Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution guarantees health care to all citizens
(Canak and Swanson 1998:163). Mexico's health system is organized by occupational
status, with public/government employees being covered by a national system of ISSTE,
Institute de Seguro Social de Trabajadores del Estado, encompassing clinics, pharmacies
and hospitals. Employees in the private sector, including those who are self-employed,
are covered under the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social (IMSS), the largest of all the
health systems (Canak and Swanson 1998).
Those who do not participate in either of these formal sectors can obtain healthcare,
guaranteed under the Mexican Constitution (1917), under the system of Seguro Social
(Social Insurance or SS). Since the devaluation of the Mexican peso in 1994, health
services have been decreased at every level; however, the impact is most pronounced
under the IMSS. With the growth of foreign assembly plants, known as maquiladoras or
maquilas, across Mexico, employment increased. These new employees' healthcare was
to be paid into and covered under the IMSS system. Further complicating this situation,
Mexico's labor laws allow employers to specify gender, age and skill level as mandatory
requirements for employment. Maquilas tend to favor younger females for a wide range
of jobs, from electronics to garment assembly. Employers are required to report their
employees to the federal government and to pay their corresponding part of health care to
IMSS; however, this system is not enforced and tends to be voluntary. Since 1996, IMSS
has been in crisis, offering little in the way of prescriptions or tertiary care that it once
offered to the "working class."
In contrast, health services under Seguro Social were never exceptionally good.
Mexico has always had a large population of rural and poor people who are either
ejiditarios, peasants, children or elderly. These rural people are also highly indigenous,
and rural areas often lack infrastructure such as sewage, secondary schools, paved roads
or dentists. In order to bring healthcare to these rural villages, the Mexican government
requires that all medical students, as a mandatory part of their training, staff the Seguro
Social clinics, known as Salubridad (Healthiness), for at least one year (Canak and
Swanson 1998: 164). These medical residents are known aspasantes.
Charged with special projects on top of attending to the health of the community,
pasantes are assigned to a clinic and are usually from a different region of Mexico. This
was the case in Urireo, where the pasante, a female doctor, was from a city in the state of
Jalisco. In her key informant interview, she noted the differences between her life and
life in the Urireo: "Yesterday I saw 51 people, today I saw 21. I would say the consults
are primarily in this order: childhood infections, especially respiratory, then we see many
pregnant women, then chronic disease (diabetes, cancer, heart disease)." She listed
childhood malnutrition, a lack of hygiene, contaminated water, leprosy, brucelosis and a
"genetic predisposition" for neural tube defects, mental retardation and neurological
disorders as major problems. These kinds of problems were not things her family would
face, she observed, because they lived in the city, would never have farm animals like
goats, who transmit brucelosis, living with them, and were not genetically predisposed
for birth defects.
Thepasante, who was fairly popular with the community, had been assigned health
education for her project named Progresa, aimed at alleviating poverty. Progress
replaced Pronasal, a program created in 1989 under then-President Carlos Salinas de
Gortari entitled Programa Nacional de Solidaridad (Pronasol), described as "a
programme driven by political considerations" (Rocha 2001: 515). In fact, Rocha and
others concluded that "it has by now become widely accepted that Pronasol, or
'PRInasol' as the program came to be known in popular usage, played an important role
in facilitating the party's remarkable recovery during the Salinas years." President
Zedillo, in an effort to distance himself from Salinas, introduced the Progama de
Educaci6n, Saludy Alimentaci6n, which became known as Progresa, in 1997 (Rocha
2001: 516). Progresa was meant to be apolitical, divorced from the problems faced by its
predecessor Pronasal, and was committed to nothing less than helping the most
marginalized "to meet their basic necessities in the areas of education, health and
nutrition so that the household members can develop the qualifications and skills they
need to break the cycle of poverty" (Rocha 2001: 520).
In an effort to be fairer, Progresa began with a house to house survey, conducted by
students and government officials from Salvatierra, to identify eligible families.
According to Department of Infants and Families (DIF) officials in Salvatierra, "many
people in Urireo do not trust. Either they would not open the door or they would simply
not give us the information we needed." While this might be true, many of the women
who participated in the Progresa program with thepasante expressed confusion about
why they had been selected. Some stated that they did not remember answering any
survey but that they were told by Salubridad that they were going to participate, which
for them meant the following: 1. 50 pesos for food per week; 2. having to attend classes
at Salubridad every month; and 3. obtaining childhood vaccines and regular well-child
visits at the Salubridad.
These participants did not complain about being in the program. In fact, the
pasante was rather good at presenting the information in an interactive and fun manner;
however, the topics were sometimes redundant or just irrelevant to the women involved.
Thepasante had no control over the curriculum and was told to only present the
information that she was sent from Mexico City's office of Progresa. I remember that
one of the topics was the importance of prenatal care. However, some of the women
were already grandmothers who felt that this was something for which apartera, or
midwife, would be best qualified.
Most disconcerting was that families with children with special needs, such as the
family with whom I stayed, were not selected for this program nor were several of the
most vulnerable families in Urireo, causing much speculation on the part of the
community as to the intentions of the government and it's representatives toward them.
Rocha analyzed whether Progresa played the same role as Pronasal had in garnering
votes for the PRI, and she concluded that "while the techniques of manipulating social
services and their delivery may have changed from Pronasal to Progresa, the intentions of
the executive in politicizing these programmes remained very similar for the most part"
since the money spent by Progresa statistically translated to votes for the PRI, even in
states like Guanajuato which voted for the rival party, known as the PAN (Rocha 2001:
Even though the ejiditarios had more access to land and to health services through
governmental interventions such as agrarian reform and Progresa, issues of trust and
manipulation, politics and a lack of true access continue to play major roles in the
ongoing drama of rural Mexico. Health disparities are interwoven into this drama,
sometimes as a cause and sometimes as a result of the larger processes.
The take-home lesson is that the health disparities are still extreme. As illustrated
in the case of the pasante, an upper middle class urban dweller, and her patients in rural
Urireo, the political ecology of a place like Urireo remains a powerful tool in explaining
why preventable health problems continue to plague poor communities. As cited above,
Ochoa-Diaz et al. (1999), in their study in rural Chiapas, found a similar situation. In both
cases, since agrarian reform did little to dramatically change the power or class structure,
the structure allowed for various and interrelated health problems to persist within the
most vulnerable of the society. Structural, not medical, reforms are needed in order to
bring more equity to the health of the population. Critical Medical Anthropology views
this discussion as part of the micro-macro level analysis of health and well-being (Baer,
Singer and Susser 1997: 32).
Singer introduced the term syndemic in 1994, and it has become a focus for public
health within the US Centers for Disease Control, which has established a Syndemic
Prevention Network (2004), who now define syndemic as
SYNDEMIC Isyn-dem-icl (noun): two or more afflictions, interacting
synergistically, contributing to excess burden of disease in a population. Related
concepts include: linked epidemics, interacting epidemics, connected epidemics,
co-occurring epidemics, comorbidities, and clusters of health-related crises.
The Syndemics Prevention Network states that the medical model is inadequate for
improving community and public health problems, because many of these problems are
rooted in social and structural inequalities (Syndemic Prevention Network 2004). They
offer the following as the potential advantages of utilizing a syndemic approach
(Syndemic Prevention Network 2004): "Part of the promise inherent in a syndemic
orientation, however, lies in its ability to provide a mandate for
* disrupting forces that cause multiple health-related problems to cluster
* repairing fragmentation of the infrastructure needed to protect the public's health
* expanding research and action agendas by more explicitly linking health and social
* introducing new methods of analysis and synthesis
* establishing a science base for a "community health bill of rights"
Much of the theory supporting syndemics was modeled on Singer's long history of
research and activism with the AIDS epidemic (1992, 1994, 1995, 2003). AIDS
disproportionately affects minorities who live in urban clusters that also face epidemic
rates of violence, substance abuse and environmental hazards (Baer, Singer and Susser
1997; Singer 1992, 2003). However, other health issues lend themselves equally well to
a syndemic approach, as reflected in the example of Progresa above. Syndemics also
help to explain part of the reasons for the poorer mental health of undocumented
immigrants such as those in this study. In the United States, undocumented immigrants -
either because they perceive they cannot access services or because legislation bars them
from doing so do not qualify for federal means tested public benefits such as Food
Stamps, insurance, housing or, in some cases, healthcare.
Since 2001, undocumented immigrants in all but four states (North Carolina, Utah,
Virginia and Tennessee) are banned from obtaining Driver's Licenses, which in turn
affects their ability to acquire car insurance, produce valid identification or open bank
accounts (Waslin 2002). This added stress is synergistically interacting with other risk
factors to create the conditions ripe for more acute health problems. One area that could
be investigated would be the synergistic health effects of immigrants' level of
environmental hazards due to living in overcrowded substandard housing that is often
located in proximity to chemical hazards, either in rural areas with pesticide spraying or
in urban areas where there are toxic waste sites.
The difficulties with a Critical Medical Anthropology approach, including a
syndemic approach, lie in not in identifying the problems or contradictions, but in finding
solutions to the complex and interrelated problems of health disparities. Of particular
interest is finding the right leadership to make change occur, a topic that is addressed in
Chapter 5. Fifteen years ago, Singer initially proposed six areas as examples for praxis
related to a "new" critical medical anthropology (1990: 185): "1. designing health related
studies to help community groups in challenging the medical establishment... 2.
participating in the "liberation" of existing medical or other health-related knowledge for
use by community-based and national health advocacy groups... 3. developing databanks
on health issues to arm unions, women's organizations, civil rights groups, tenants'
associations, patient's rights groups, environmentalists, and community agencies in their
struggle with medical, governmental and corporate bodies. 4. working with health
advocacy and social change organizations to develop programs directed at empowering
patients in their encounters with the medical system. 5. sharing knowledge, resources,
skills with anti-imperialist national liberation movements and underdeveloped socialist
countries initiating society-wide health improvement campaigns. 6. investing and
exposing what McKinlay calls the "manufacturers of illness."
Singer documents how a Critical Medical Anthropology perspective was used to
design programs and create social change in a 1992 article comparing three AIDS
prevention projects. The anthropologists, together with community activists and health
promoters, worked together to incorporate research findings into interventions and
training for community members (Singer 1992: 93). He stresses the need to hold
meetings, or reuniones, with participants and to form volunteer groups to carry out the
change (1992: 94). Weeks et al. (1995: 262) conclude, from one of the same Critical
Medical Anthropology projects described by Singer (1992), that ethnic and cultural
groups can empower themselves "to create an environment of support for its infected or
at-risk members by controlling its own prevention messages and strategies."
A Comparison of US and Mexican Health Systems
Unlike Mexico, the US health system has never technically had a system of
coverage tied to employment sector. The health system is not a system, per se, as much
as it is a private insurance driven business model. Biomedicine and US healthcare have
been characterized as hegemonic because they reflect "social class, racial/ethnic and
gender relations" (Baer, Singer and Susser 1997: 214).
The US has a public health system which is comprised of federal, state and local
levels of health care. This public system is governed under a series of government
sponsored entitlement programs linked to poverty levels, ethnicity (Native Americans)
and, in only one case, occupational status. The only occupational group to have ever had
an entitlement healthcare program is "migrant farmworkers," for whom the Bureau of
Primary Healthcare, part of the Department of Health Resources and Services
Administration (HRSA), operates an Office of Migrant Health, which funds programs
under Section 330 of the Migrant Health Act. These federal funds sponsor the nation's
To understand how this system came into being, one must first look to the history
of legislation regarding civil rights, agriculture and agricultural workers. Agriculture in
the US continues to be heavily subsidized under our US government, directed by the
USDA or US Department of Agriculture. The USDA is responsible for many aspects of
food safety, commerce, employment, enforcement and even housing for farmworkers.
The nation's major labor laws, including the Fair Wage and Hour legislation (1935)
which categorically excludes farm labor from the minimum wage, were passed during the
1930s. During this time frame, farmworkers were predominantly African Americans and
poor southern white sharecroppers who were able to work seasonally by migrating from
farm to farm, region to region, as needed. Many of these people were desperately poor
and one bad year could bring them to the brink of homelessness, as depicted by early
folksingers like Woody Guthrie. Not much has changed since those days except for
the ethnicity of the workers themselves. Agriculture continues to be seasonal,
unpredictable and in need of low-wage workers, as described below:
The inherent unpredictability of agriculture the freezes, droughts, heat waves,
crop diseases and market-price fluctuations only heightens the general uncertainty
of farm labor. Farmworkers are almost never given extra compensation to cover
the constant displacement and downtime that marks their lives. Jobs involving
seasonality and migration do not necessarily force employees into poverty. Many
seasonal workers from schoolteachers to construction workers in northern states -
earn a steady living...typically seasonal or travel-based industries pay workers
enough money to cover periods of unemployment or underemployment, and
provide adequate benefits to compensate workers for the expense, dislocation and
stress of constant travel. At the very least, these industries ensure that their
workers earn a living wage. The nation's agricultural industry has always relied on
the existence of a large number of poor workers who have few job options.
Workers accept low wages and take on the burdens of uncertain seasonal labor
force for the simple reason that there is little else available to them. (Rothenberg
Low wages are also kept low by an oversupply of workers. As Davies et al. (1998:
1106) concluded in their study of the impact of migration on wages,
Like education, migration is a form of investment in human capital and as such
migration presumably yields higher future returns...lack of internal mobiity also
perpetuates high concentrations of the Mexican-born population. The continued
entry of migrants from Mexico who are good labor market substitutes for earlier
migrants results in continued job competition between the groups, which in turn
restricts wage growth for them.
Rothenberg (1998: 204) argues persuasively that "by denying farmworkers the
basic protections extended to virtually every other American, the federal government
officially accepted, and in fact, institutionalized the second-class status of agricultural
laborers." Over the years, the federal government put in place key programs to assist
agricultural workers, including Migrant Education, Migrant Head Start, Migrant Health
and job training under the Job Training Partnership Act. Some have argued that these
programs are really a subsidy to agribusiness and are not designed to really help the
worker, as a former Jamaican farmworker-turned-activist eloquently proposed:
Government assistance programs for farmworkers are premised on the idea that the
farm laborers' poverty is a permanent feature of American agriculture. The goal of
educational and job-training programs is to try to improve the lives of farmworkers
and their children by helping them get out of agricultural labor and find more stable
jobs...they all reflect a basic vision that the poverty and powerlessness of
farmwokrers is inevitable. None of these programs seeks to transform the farm
labor system itself and none addresses the economic structure that defines farm
laborers as the epitome of America's working poor. (Livingston 1998: 225)
In 1990, Florida received designation as a "border state" with Mexico due to the
large numbers of Mexican migrant and seasonal farm workers (referred to as M/SFW)
within state boundaries. Under the US Department of Health and Human Services, a
migrant farmworker is defined as an individual who is required to be absent from a
permanent place of residence, for the purpose of seeking employment in agricultural
work. Seasonal farmworkers travel less and are defined as individuals who are employed
in farmwork but do not move from their primary residence in search of work. Not all
farmworkers are Mexican in origin; African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians,
Guatemalans and Central Americans also comprise the M/SFW workforce. The federal
government estimates that farmworkers number some 3.5 to 5 million persons in the US,
with approximately 435,373 of them in Florida (DHHS, Migrant Health Program 1985).
Hillsborough County estimates that there are 15,000 farmworkers in the unincorporated
areas in south and east county (Hillsborough County Planning Commission 1998).
The largest database available on this population comes from the US Department of
Labor: the National Agricultural Workers Survey or NAWS, which interviews about
5,000 farmworkers per year (Mehta et al. 2000, Mines, Gabbard and Steirman 1997,
Carroll et al. 2005). From these databases, we know that the vast majority of
farmworkers and immigrants are uninsured under the private insurance system upon
which the US operates. Estimates vary but NAWS data show that only 23% of all
workers were covered by health insurance (Carroll et al. 2005: xi). Most disconcerting,
only 46% thought that worker's compensation insurance would cover an on the job injury
and 8% did not know if they would be covered at all (Carroll et al. 2005: xi).
In 1998, Arrieta, Walker and Mason obtained a subset of NAWS data only on
Florida to get a better idea of farmworkers' access and well-being. They found that only
6% of the farmworkers had employer-provided health insurance (1998: 43). Only 31%
reported that they had received compensation for workdays lost to work related injuries
(Arrieta, Walker and Mason 1998: 43). More recently, unemployment insurance was
something farmworkers understood, with 76% of the authorized workers and only 4% of
the unauthorized workers reporting that they would qualify (Carroll et al. 2005: xi).
Defining Migrants: NAWS and other Data
A discussion of labels and categorization is a starting point in addressing Mexican
immigration. The questions beg for clarification: Who are migrants? Who are
farmworkers? and possibly most importantly, How do Mexican immigrants view
themselves? Do they agree with these categories? Relevant to this discussion is another
question: Who are the people compelled to study them? Why are we fascinated by them?
After all, migration is as old as humankind; people have moved around this vast planet
for as long as humans have been here.
Is Rothenberg correct when he states "Whether recounted poignantly by John
Steinbeck, Carey McWilliams, Edward R Murrow or Robert Coles, farmworkers' status
represents a central ethical claim within the twentieth century America" (1998: xiv)?
Whether or not we agree with this assertion, the use of the word migrant is a codeword,
specifically conjuring up an image of a person or family from Mexico, poor, moving
from place to place with a bunch of people in a beat up car. It was not always this way.
The NAWS conducted 6,472 interviews between 2000 and 2002, yielding the
following results. As in years past, about 42 percent of the current crop workers
interviewed fit this definition of migrant workers (Carroll 2005: ix). NAWS interviewers
obtained social, family and job histories from each worker interviewed. Forty-six percent
(46%) of the Mexican-born were from the traditional sending states of Guanajuato,
Jalisco and Michoacan (Carroll et al. 2005: 55). Fifty-three percent of the hired crop
force did not have work authorization (down slightly from 55% in 1999-2000) and 99%
of the newest immigrants lacked legal working documents.
Farmworkers continue to be Mexican, Spanish-speaking, young and male. Of all
workers, the average age was 33, "79% were male, 58% were married and 51% were
parents with an average of two children" (Carroll et al. 2005). Eighty one percent of all
workers speak Spanish with 44% reporting that they did not speak any English. Literacy
issues have continued to be obstacles to their learning English in the first place. Carroll
et al. found that only 6% of foreign born workers had completed high school while 56%
of US born workers had (2005: x).
Some have argued that US agriculture is based on a plantation economy, which
utilizes workers as needed and does not reflect true living costs. Rothenberg astutely
Farmworkers' poverty does not result from their low wages alone, but from the
combination of low wages and temporary, seasonal employment. While their
hourly wages vary considerably and are often in excess of the minimum wage, the
lives of farmworkers are marked by fluctuating periods of unemployment and
underemployment... .the number of weeks farmworkers are employed does not take
into consideration the time they spend searching for work, working part time early
or late in the season or being unemployed as a result of weather or market
conditions. In addition, there is a general oversupply of workers. (1997: 24)
Farmworker wages continue to decline. Echoing Rothenberg's findings, NAWS
data point to at least two reasons for farmworker povety: 1. lack of work and 2. low pay,
which increases with length of time with one grower (Carroll et al. 2005). The average
worker worked 34 and a half weeks in farmwork and five weeks in non-farmwork in the
past year (2000-1). Workers averaged 42 hours per week, with hourly earnings of $7.25,
but wages increased when they worked longer (years) for the same employer. In NAWS'
previous report (Mehta et al. 2000), it was estimated that wages had fallen 111% since
the 1950s, a trend that continues: "Real hourly earnings declined between 1993 and 1996
and then fell again slightly between 2000 and 2001" (Carroll et al. 2005: x). Hence,
incomes are low: 30% lived below poverty guidelines, with an average individual income
between $10,000 and $12,499 (Carroll et al. 2005: xi). The average farmworker's family
income is only slightly higher than that of an individual, $15,000 to $17,499, with the
mode, or majority still citing an income of $10,000 to $12,499 per year (Carroll et al.
2005: 64). This could account for the finding that 22% of families of three lived in
poverty, with families of six or more two times more likely (50%) to live in poverty
(Carroll et al. 2005: 48).
Despite the bleak picture these findings suggest, only 22% of all interviewees
stated that anyone, including themselves, had received any public benefit in the previous
two years. Fifteen percent (15%) indicated they or someone in their family had received
Medicaid, 11% indicated they had gotten WIC assistance (Women Infants and Children)
and 8% stated they had received Food Stamps (Carroll et al. 2005: xi). Carroll et al.
found that the majority of the foreign born farmworkers were either here less than a year
(17%) or more than 14 years (29%), meaning that the "newcomer" farmworkers have
grown since 1993-94, when they were only 10% of all farmworkers (2005: 5). This
could also be illustrating the fact that many people leave farmwork quickly, if they are
able. This binational research found that most respondents were happy to move into
higher paying jobs in construction or services.
One major drawback to relying on NAWS data lies in the design of the survey.
Data collection is conducted only with current farmworkers and there is no long-term
followup included in the design. It relies on the interviewer picking a sample of
participants in the field. Much of the work in farmwork is organized under a sub-
contractor model. The grower, or the owner of the farm, hires a subcontractor who then
looks for his/her crew to conduct the work as contractors to the subcontractor. The
subcontractor who hires the workers is known as a "crew leader." The crew leader, not
the grower, is responsible for hiring the workers. Under this model, if the workers are
undocumented or in possession of illegal or false documents, it is the crew leader who
takes responsibility, not the farm owner or grower.
The NAWS requires that interviewers obtain permission from the grower or crew
leader. This feature means that, since many NAWS interviewers are male, there could be
an undersampling of women. Additionally, the design selects sites randomly when
farmwork is seasonal, not random. One year, the NAWS selected a random sample of
farms in Hillsborough County during the months of July and August, traditionally the
slackest months for agricultural work. These factors, especially the need to gain
permission from the crew leader, seriously affect whom is interviewed by NAWS
interviewers, and hence, the data reported.
The latest NAWS found that 79% of all their respondents were male, with males
more likely to be unauthorized then women (56% versus 39%) (Carroll et al. 2005: 9).
About 58% of all workers were married, up from 52% in 1992-3, and 51% or the
majority were parents (Carroll et al. 2005: 12). Most workers had two children, with
96% of them being minors (Carroll et al. 2005: 12). Newcomer males, who are usually
unauthorized, tend to live away from their children, with international migrants making
up 85% of all those living apart from their children (Carroll et al. 2005: 15). This fits
with other data suggesting that males migrate first and send for families later, once their
economic situation improves.
Migration Patterns in Historical Context
As Bean et al (1998) point out, until the Mexican American War, parts of
California and the state of Texas pertained to Mexico. Once the political boundaries
between the US and Mexico were finalized, the first true "wave of Mexican immigration"
occurred in 1919, due to a labor shortage in the US. This pattern has continued through
the present, with Mexicans coming to the US in search of work, as evidenced by
headlines in the newspapers and magazines. Clarke (2000: 226) points out that between
1845 and 1854, the US annexed Texas, New Mexico and California and granted
citizenship to the thousands of Mexicans who resided there; however, it is unknown how
many people this might be. Clarke estimates that the Mexican population in the US could
have been between 381,000 and 562,000 by 1900 (2000: 226). The 1920s saw the US
develop its first real immigration policy, and it was during this timeframe that
Professional gangs first developed to profit from smuggling Mexicans across the
border in groups in order to supply contract labor to American farms and factories.
As was to happen on several occasions throughout the twentieth century, the
Mexican workers that had been welcomed as cheap labor in factories and farms
when work was plentiful found the situation very different when economic
recessions made jobs scarce. (Clarke 2000: 229)
Figure 1-1. Map of Urireo and Route of Migration to the US.
When the demand for labor decreased during the Great Depression of the 1930s,
the US repatriated many Mexican origin individuals (Bean et al. 1998). In the decade
leading up to World War II (1942), there was a growing conflict between labor unions
and immigrants, with labor organizations accusing immigrant workers of undercutting
American workers and becoming a financial drain on government (Clarke 2000: 229).
It is important to note that the early migration pattern of Mexicans was to urban
centers, with 85% of all Mexicans and Mexican Americans living in cities by 1970
(Clarke 2000: 230). Migration in the early part of the 20th century is also linked to the
railroad. Like millions of other immigrants, Mexicans worked on the railroads and,
partly due to this fact, they were able to settle in railroad centers, going first to the
Midwest, then the Northeast and East Coast in general (Clarke 2000: 230).
Massive modern rural migration can be traced to the US' need for agricultural
workers during World War II, not to the Mexicans' preferences. The Bracero Program,
which recruited Mexican nationals to work in US agriculture as temporary contract
workers, began in 1943 but was discontinued in 1964 by the US (Bean et al. 1998: 7,
Thomas-Lycklama a Niejeholt 1980). However, the Bracero legacy lives on, and the
regions in which the most numbers of Braceros signed up tend to be the same areas that
today "send" young migrants to the US on a daily basis (Wilsonl997). Thomas-
Lycklama a Niejeholt (1980) points out that a constant supply of farmworkers is needed
since agricultural labor is seasonal and dangerous.
Years ago, one migrating Urireo-bom key informant, as he was working on his car
in order to take it from Wimauma to Michigan to pick cucumbers for the summer, told
me simply "I guess you could say people from Urireo like to travel." For some reason,
this sentence has stuck in my mind ever since. His wife had clearly stated her preference
to him and to me that she wanted to stay in one place, for their daughter's education.
Do farmworkers really like to travel? Or is it part of the "job" so to speak? Who
migrates? Who settles? Who goes back to Mexico?
Figure 1-2. Transnational Urireano Family with Members in Both Wimauma and Urireo.
Several authors have contributed to a growing body of knowledge on such items.
Massey et al. (1987) published a seminal binational study that analyzed probability of
migration based on the following: 1. Household characteristics: dependency, land
ownership and business ownership; 2. Personal characteristics: age, sex, education, labor
force status, occupation and 3. Characteristics of the migrant experience itself: person's
prior migrant experience and father's prior migrant experience (1987: 291). Further they
identified six principles of international migration:
1. Migration originates historically in structural changes that affect the relations of
production in sending and receiving societies.
2. Once international migration begins, social networks develop to make foreign
employment increasingly accessible to all classes of the sending society.
3. As international migration becomes more accessible it is widely incorporated into
household survival strategies and is used during stages of the life cycle when
dependence is greatest, during periods of economic stress, or in efforts of
4. The experience of international migration affects individual motivations, household
strategies and community organizations in ways that encourage further migration.
5. The maturation of migrant networks is facilitated by an ongoing process of
settlement, whereby migrants build personal, social and economic ties to the
receiving society as they accumulate time abroad.
6. The operation of migrant networks is made possible by an ongoing process of
return whereby temporary and recurrent migrants move back and forth between
sending and receiving societies and settled migrants re-emigrate back to their
places of origin (Massey et al. 1987: 285-6).
Massey et al. made great strides in understanding how migration to the US relates
to the complexities and interrelationships between place of origin, age, gender,
political/economic context and social status (1987: 290):
data from both rural and urban areas suggest that US migration was, indeed used as
a mechanism for adjustment to structural change. Whether the changes involved
the mechanization of fields or factories, a rise in probability of international
migration ensued. The high probability of departure in all periods (1940 on)
indicates the extent to which migration has become a permanent part of survival
strategies within the communities, however. Indeed, a majority of rural origin men
could always expect to work in the US (the lowest lifetime probability was .56), as
could at least one in three urban-origin migrants.
Figure 1-3. Wimauma-based Urireanos Back on Vacation, Playing Soccer, 2000.
Massey et al. also contributed to our understanding of the probabilities of who will
not leave and who will come back and settle in Mexico. Following their six principles,
they found some surprising and some not as surprising findings, which are
summarized below. First, there are rural and urban differences, with rural people being
significantly more likely to migrate to the US. Massey et al. (1987:291) proposed a rural
explanatory model in which the probability of migrating to the US "is increased by prior
migrant experience, by being a day laborer and by increasing dependency within the
household, while the chances of US migration are lowered by owning farmland or a
business and by advancing age." On the other hand, they concluded that the two most
important variables predicting migration are: fathers' migrant experience and access to a
means of production (Massey et al. 1987: 291). In other words, if the family owns a
business and/or farmland, it is less probable that the father will migrate. The age of the
father was critical to his decision to migrate, with those most likely to leave being
younger (under 35) when they are in the phase of the life cycle where they have a
growing family (Massey et al. 1987: 294). The authors explained this as a "self feeding
social process." Since 75% of all rural fathers have no land nor business, they are very
likely to migrate to the US (Massey et al. 1987: 295).
In their study, 57% of all migrants remain abroad after 10 years and, after 15 years,
rural and urban migrants are equally probable to stay in US (Massey et al. 1987: 309).
The most important variable to bringing them back to Mexico is land ownership (1987:
312). The model they ultimately constructed views the migrant most likely to return
being "the older married undocumented migrant with a wife, children house and property
in Mexico who has been in the US under 5 years working at or near the minimum wage
in an urban job" (1987: 310). More recently, Massey stated the following
If you come from a community where fifty or sixty percent of the residents have
been to the United States, it's very easy to find someone who can tell you where to
go, how to cross the border, how much it's going to cost, how to find a coyote,
what places to seek work and who to stay with when you get there. All this
information is readily available. So as more people go to the United States, the
costs and risks of migration fall and the potential benefits rise substantially. Once
one person in a community goes to the United States the community begins to be
transformed. After that person comes back, everyone to whom that person is
related has a social tie to someone who's been to the United States. That social tie
is a resource that enables people to gain access to the United States, which opens
up further avenues to still more people (Massey 1998: 152).
Essentially, Massey is explaining a concept entitled "network mediated chain
migration," which Wilson (1998) elaborates as operating on five principles that speak to
the particulars of the Urireo-Wimauma situation. As the first principle, she observes that
"networks are multilocal, encompassing a variety of geographical distributions" (Wilson
1998: 394). In the case of Urireo, the migration pattern originates in both urban and rural
directions. An early group went to work in factories in Chicago while, shortly after, a
much larger and more consistently contracted group, known as Braceros, began working
in agriculture in California, North Carolina, Midwestern states, and, lastly, Florida. This
pattern is repeated across Mexico in areas where the Bracero Program, in collaboration
with the US Department of Labor, set up regional recruitment centers. In Guanajuato, the
center was located in Irapuato, about an hour from Urireo in the most central area of the
state (Durand 1994: 131).
The second principle is that networks emerge through work sites and types of work,
depending on the availability of employment and spread mostly through word of
mouth. This principle is important because, based on employment fluctuations, the
receiving communities can change and fluctuate as well (Wilson 1998: 394).
This happened early on in the case of Chicago as a receiving community, according
to key informants in Urireo. Since going to work in the factories seemed preferable to
most Urireoanos and many others across Mexico, Chicago became saturated with a
Mexican workforce. Once saturated, they were re-routed to rural and agricultural
The third, fourth and fifth principles relate to the strength of ties and the differential
implications between them. Based on the work of Mark Granovetter (1974), who found
that weaker ties were actually more fruitful for his informants in finding employment
than stronger ties, Wilson (1998) poses the third principle as "the strength of weak ties."
Essentially, networks are fluid at both the sending and receiving points, which means that
an immigrant has multitudes of weak ties, or acquaintances, at both sides. To his
surprise, Granovetter (1974) found that acquaintances were often instrumental in serving
as "bridges" to employment, because they connect denser network clusters.
Wilson (1998) proposes that the fourth principle is the result of these bridges, that
the diffuse networks expand, serve as new and bigger sources of informational exchanges
and bridges. As the network expands, it creates diffuse social capital as a result (1998:
395). The last principle, related to principle number four, recognizes that clusters of
immigrants form dense networks which form a "dense social capital." She puts forward
the idea that social capital is actually a continuum of diffuse to dense and not purely one
nor the other (1998: 395). As a result of this, the immigrant can chose from multiple
receiving communities, jobs and social opportunities. Jobs also fluctuate, with supply
and demand as well as seasons, which means that there is an added dimension to job
seeking that large social networks are uniquely suited to address. Since "farm labor is
organized in respect to crop specialization" (Thomas-Lycklama a Niejeholt 1980), the
system does not make itself responsible for providing on-going employment but demands
that workers be available when crops are ready.
This dynamic means that wages are kept low. Alba (2004), recognizing that there
are push-pull factors, maintains that "migration from Mexico to the US is primarily
economically motivated. Nominal wage differentials have been hovering for years at
about a 10 to 1 ratio, in favor of the US, for manual and semi-skilled jobs" (2004: 2).
Migration Patterns, Farmworkers and Immigration
It has been said that counting farmworkers and undocumented people is an
"impossible" task (Mines, personal communication, 2002). This has not deterred the US
Department of Labor and some demographers from trying to arrive at the elusive
numbers. This section summarizes the demographic distributions and social status of
farmworkers, immigrant Mexicans and transnational Mexicans. Between 1990 and 2000,
US Census data revealed that Mexican immigrants in the United States labor force grew
from 2.6 million to 4.9 million (Grieco and Ray 2004).
The Mexican-born demographic is critical to understanding recent data. Passel, a
demographer, re-analyzed Census and Department of Labor data to examine the work
patterns for immigrants. Passel cited that there were 35.7 million foreign born
immigrants in the US in 2004, with 61% being legal permanent residents (21.7 million),
29% were undocumented migrants (10.3 million), 7% were refugees (2.5 million) and 3%
were temporary legal residents (1.2 million) (Passel 2005: 7). Passel's analyses found
that Mexicans comprise 57% of all undocumented residents in the US, 5.9 million out of
a total of 10.3 million in March 2004 (Passel 2005: 1). Most of these undocumented
immigrants arrived since 1990, when IRCA was still in effect (Passel 2005: 8). Between
1990 and 1994, about 450,000 people per year entered, for 2.2 million persons. In the
next timeframe, from 1995-1999, about 750,000 per year or 3.6 million, entered.
Migration decreased slightly from 2000 to 2004, with 700,000 per year, at a net of 3.1
million people (Passel 2005: 8).
A growing number of Mexicans are unauthorized to work in this country, yet data
show that 60% of all Mexican-born workers over 16 participate in the labor force (Grieco
and Ray 2004). One in three employed Mexicans, or 300,000 persons, work in farming,
fishing and forestry occupations, making up a total of 13% of all workers in this category
(Grieco and Ray 2004). Mexicans make up 7.7% of all construction workers (Grieco and
It is estimated that 80 to 85 percent of all Mexican immigration has been
undocumented (Passel 2005, Carroll et al. 2005). A sizeable sub-population of the
undocumented, 1.7 million people, are minors (Passel 2005: 1). By the end of 2005,
Passel forecasted that there could be more than 6.5 million undocumented Mexicans
(2005: 2), with 68% of these persons living in eight states: California (24%), Texas
(14%), Florida (9%), New York (7%), Arizona (5%), Illinois (4%), New Jersey (4%) and
North Carolina (3%) (2005: 2). Between 2002 and 2004, Passel estimates that Florida
received 850,000 undocumented immigrants, largely Mexican (2005: 9). The age
breakdown for the 10.3 million undocumented migrant population is as follows:
Table 1-2. Undocumented Workers in the US
Age Group Male Female
Undocumented Children < 18 yrs 1.7 million or 17%
Undocumented 18 39 yrs 4.5 million 3.0 million
146 males per 100females 43% 29%
Undocumented 40 and over 1 million or 11%
Source: Passel 2005.
Table 1-2 summarizes the findings of the latest study available on undocumented
workers (following Passel 2005). This study showed that the majority of undocumented
workers are males, between the ages of 18 and 39 and that, for every 100 female workers,
there are 146 males. The ratio of males to females is almost 4:3, or 43% to 29%. It is
worth noting that there are long-term consequences of these findings. The largest group
of undocumented workers, those 7.5 million men and women, also represents the most
active reproductive age range.
One in three Mexicans work in agriculture. Since farmwork is an extremely high
turnover industry and since most injured or ill farmworkers cannot remain in the fields,
many health problems may go unrecorded. This phenomena is referred to in occupational
health as the "healthy worker effect." Many workers continue to work even though they
are ill, however, once they become too ill to work, they are not able to be counted.
Because of the healthy worker effect, only those healthy enough remain in the
fields. Those who become ill or injured on the job either no longer work or no longer
work in this occupation. This explains why the vast majority of people who have done
U.S. farm work are no longer so engaged. As a result, it is quite difficult to assess the
health needs of the population of agriculture-impacted workers by limiting research to the
currently employed workers (Mines et al. 1997, Richard Mines, US Department of Labor,
personal communication, 1999).
As the farmworker population is very heterogeneous, the Florida Migrant Interstate
Program (FMIP 1996) compiled a "snapshot view" to learn more about who are Mexican
farmworker children in our state. This data is limited, given that the farmworker
populations are extremely fluid, however, it is the best data available at the county level
that links sending-receiving states. This FMIP study, conducted during the 1995-1996
school year, found that "ten of Florida's 67 school districts accounted for nearly 70% of
all migrant students in the state. These were, in descending order: Palm Beach, Polk,
Collier, Hillsborough, Dade, St. Lucie, Manatee, Hardee, Okeechobee and Lee" (FMIP
1996: 2). The study site is Hillsborough County, which was ranked third in this study.
Statewide, the breakdown of migrant children estimates that the largest sending
state is Michoacan (N=2,004), followed by Guanajuato (N=1,588) and Guerrero
(N=1,560) (FMIP 1996). Hillsborough County sees a somewhat different pattern:
Guerrero (N=302), Guanajuato (N=247) and Michoacan (N=178).
Ethnographic data from Wimauma and migration pockets within Hillsborough
County shows that there is a geographic separation between the migrating, seasonal and
settled/former migrant farmworker populations. Migrating populations, in large part, live
in more remote camps and they are from Guanajuato. Those who live in Ruskin tend to
be non-migrating/seasonal and have origins in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Hidalgo and
border regions. One influencing factor to settlement is the new migrant housing in this
area is set up in such a way that only those currently engaged in farmwork can access.
Since workers must sign a year lease, there is no way that a migrating family can access
these apartments; therefore, only seasonal workers benefit from the USDA housing.
Last, there are those who tend to hail from Guerrero or Michoacan living in the most
southern part of the county.
Over the years, the US has tried several strategies to address issues of
undocumented Mexicans. The most popular and far reaching legislation, the Immigration
Reform and Control Act (IRCA), signed by President Reagan, in five years (1989-1994)
gave legal status to 2 million undocumented migrants living here before 1982 (Bean et al.
1998). IRCA is especially important since it allowed young workers residing in the US
to sponsor their parents and younger or older Mexicans to come to the US (Thomas-
Lycklama a Niejeholt 1980). Unlike their sponsors, these new immigrants were
increasingly feminine and older, hence, "less productive members of the society," which
lead to concern about public benefits to immigrants, following California's example with
Proposition 187, which limited benefits to immigrants (Bean et al. 1998).
The rising hazards of border crossing and the ongoing economic crisis in Mexico
gave undocumented migrants new reasons to remain abroad and, when combined with
IRCA's legalization of 2.3 million persons, tilted Mexican immigration decisively toward
permanent United States settlement. In a few short years IRCA transformed migration
flows from a seasonal, undocumented, and regionally specific flow in which rural males
predominated to an urbanized and greater female population of permanent settlers who
were increasingly dispersed throughout the United States (Bean et al. 1998: 3). IRCA
dramatically changed the demographic distribution of the US, while at the same time
creating an idealized view of "amnestia" or amnesty within migrant sending
communities across Mexico. To get a feeling of IRCA's impact, data show that, in the
nine years from 1987 through 1995, 2.7 million Mexicans were admitted to permanent
resident status, twice the number admitted over the prior twenty-two years combined
(Bean et al. 1998: 12).
The implementation of IRCA's employer sanctions, meanwhile, undermined wages
and working conditions for Mexican workers in the United States, opening up wide gaps
between documented and undocumented migrants. In addition to fomenting wage
discrimination, IRCA pushed employers toward labor subcontracting in order to escape
its burdensome paperwork requirements and to eliminate the risk of prosecution for
unauthorized hiring. The passage of California's Proposition 187 in 1994 sought to bar
undocumented immigrants from attending public schools, using public hospitals or
clinics, or receiving public assistance, and in 1996 the United States Congress
disenfranchised noncitizen legal immigrants from means-tested social programs. The
post-IRCA period is thus characterized by growing political distinctions between
undocumented, documented, and naturalized immigrants and widening economic gaps
between them (Bean et al. 1998).
Transnationalism and Translocalities
Of all new immigrants, Mexicans have been the slowest to naturalize (Bean et al.
1998: 9). As new communities were founded, these immigrants began to settle down
and migrate less, creating a transnational network, with workers belonging both in the US
and Mexico. Appadurai (1991, 1995), recognizing that there are always locations that
become the focal points of transient and migratory groups, introduced the term
"translocalities" to mean "many such locations create complex conditions for the
production and reproduction of locality, in which ties of marriage, work, business and
leisure weave together various circulating populations" (1995: 216). These translocalities
provide the basis for further migration, and are sometimes referred to as "daughter
communities" (Massey et al. 1987). The idea of daughter and/or translocal communities
is a phenomenon that pre-dates Mexican immigration and was documented during the
dustbowl migrants, white sharecroppers who migrated in search of any work, in the mid
1900s. Carey McWilliams (1976: 35), noted sociologist and author of Ill Fares the Land
in California's factory of farms, observed how a community reproduces itself:
Some of the migrant settlements are, moreover, good-sized communities,
numbering from 4000 to 8000 residents. Since most of them are located in
unincorporated areas, they have no local fire or police protection, nor for that
matter, any type of local self-government. They exist merely as satellite or fringe
growths, potential rural slums, on the outskirts of important communities. Coming
to California in search of farms, migrants have been lucky to get a shack. Many of
these new migrant settlements are, in effect, transplanted communities. It is not
at all uncommon to find that most of the families, in a particular migrant shacktown
or along a particular street....are from the same community. The migrant
settlement at Greenfield, California, is made up of about 200 former residents of
Carroll County, Arkansas.
Kearney (1991:59) describes "transnational communities" as having their own
nature, transcending the idea of "sending" and "receiving" states. Kearney observes that
this migration has an added political dimension: "what the ethnography of transnational
migration suggests is that such communities are constituted transnationally and thus
challenge the defining power of the nation-states they transcend." These transnational
communities, or translocalities, are based on social and kin networks that extend over at
least two nations, which is the case for Urireo, Chicago, Wimauma and West Palm Beach
Florida. While Kearney utilizes the term transnational, Massey et al. (1987) refer to these
communities as "daughter communities" and have amassed a vast database at the
University of Pennsylvania. One example of knowing a transnational community when
you see it comes from my own experience at the bus station in Salvatierra:
Urireo's connection to Chicago is strong, so strong that signs in the bus station and
the travel agencies simply say "Chicago," not USA or even names of states.
Curiously, most of the bus destinations do not mention states at all, only cities, as
one of the pictures shows. The list reads like a Spanglish-ized attempt to sound out
strange sounding places as Mexicans invariably pronounce their receiving
communities, such as: Decatur, IL or GA (spelled Dekator); Quincy, FL (spelled
Quenci); West Palm Beach, FL (Wes Palm), Harlingen, TX (Harligen) and
Wimauma, FL (Wimama).
Sometimes our participants did not really know the geography of the local region in
which they had worked, which makes sense due to them not having transportation nor
much time to visit surrounding areas. For example, some of those interviewed in either
Mexico or Florida were unclear about exactly where and for whom their loved ones or
even sometimes themselves, had worked.
As Burns found in his work with transnational Mayan refugees in Indiantown,
Florida (1993, 1999, 2000), when a group leaves its native country and becomes
transnational in the US, it develops features that come from their birth and traditional
culture as well as their newfound homeland. The result for the Maya was not only a bi-
nationalism but a tri-nationalism that included Guatemala, Mexico and the US (Burns
Burns (1999: 141) found that "the availability of agricultural labor, the small town
atmosphere and the hospitality offered by the Catholic Church have put Indiantown into
the migration network of the Mayan diaspora." This support has helped the Mayans to
adapt, work and start anew in their adoptive town. It has also allowed them to continue
their culture and traditions while merging them into a more "Americanized" lifestyle.
Like the Urireanos in this study, they have become transnational people who navigate
between multiple worlds simultaneously (Burns 1999, 2000).
There are important differences between the Mayans in Indiantown and the
Urireanos in this study. First, the conditions of migration are very different; Urireanos
did not endure a brutal ethnic civil war as did the Maya. Second, Urireanos have a long
tradition of wage migration to the US and this is almost a rite of passage for single men,
and whole families rarely migrate at the same time. Third, the Urireanos are not refugees
but undocumented workers who try to stay invisible, work and remit. They are here
temporarily, at least at first, and tend to be reluctant to mix with other groups due to their
high levels of mistrust. Fourth, Urireanos have never received any kinds of outright
community support, except for food pantries at the local missions and some remembrance
during Christmas. This may be why most Urireanos worry so much about "the poor" in
Wimauma. They, too, feel alone and lack resources or support. Urireanos focus on
Urireo first, whether they are physically in Mexico or Florida.
Anthropological Views on Community and Community Studies
Anthropologists have specialized in community studies, including fields like
peasant studies since the 1940s (Redfield 1941, 1947, 1956; Wolf 1955, 1982; Wagley
1968). Redfield looked at small groups and towns across Latin America and described
their communalities along a folk-urban continuum (Redfield 1947). Fearing that this
model tended to paint whole communities in too broad strokes, Wagley and Harris (1955)
provided a typology of Latin American subcultures in an effort to better describe and
understand the heterogeneity of the communities within which anthropologists had been
working. Wagley and Harris describe the dichotomous co-existence of subcultures
within even small pueblos, such as Urireo, in which peasants live beside "upper-class
townsmen" who control the political and economic features of the pueblo (1955: 438).
They characterized this typology as "town subculture" and theorized that it was the
"predominant trend in contemporary Latin America" (1955: 439).
Over time, there have been critiques, evaluation, theorizing and finally, re-
evaluation of almost all aspects of border, community and peasant studies. One of the
key elements in this re-evaluation is the idea that communities are more dynamic than
previously thought. Communities are linked to other communities and often respond to
multiple internal and external forces simultaneously and in more than one direction.
Foster (1960) helped bring about a re-evaluation, since he long ago theorized that
acculturation is a two-way process that resulted in mutual modification of New World
Hispanic and indigenous cultures. Alvarez reviewed border studies and concluded that
ethnography on both sides of the border is really a kind of binational study that has to
take the micro-macro processes on both sides into account (Alvarez 2000).
Wolf (1955: 454) spent a lifetime looking at typologies of communities and
presented an outline of Latin American peasants, in which he observed that "the peasant
aims at subsistence, not at reinvestment." This finding is important to studying the
behaviors of migrants from Latin America who reinvest in their home communities
through remittances. Wolf argued persuasively that the difference between farmers and
peasants in rural Latin America was precisely how each views their enterprise. Farmers
look at agriculture as "a business enterprise" and focus on reinvestment. Peasants look to
agriculture as a way to survive, so when and if peasants are asked to change crops,
strategies or farming techniques, they are rarely successful because they have no
additional resources or extra funding to help them (Wolf 1955).
Keamey (1996) argues that we are currently in a "post-peasant" world in which
peasants have multiple roles and interact within diverse circles, so that while they may
and do employ agriculture as an economic strategy, they may also simultaneously pursue
non-agricultural strategies and they may migrate across borders, making them members
of transnational communities. The people in this study are just that: transnational
citizens. They may be or have been farmworkers but they are mainly people who are
pursuing the American Dream, however elusive it might be. Sometimes the dream is
chased by working in the fields but, increasingly, it is pursued through jobs that are less
seasonal and more likely to provide a steady paycheck, like housekeeping for women or
construction for men.
Besides Keamey, other social scientists have been paying attention to transnational
immigrants and their experiences (Bums 1993, 1999, 2000, Menjivar 2000, Wilson
2002). Menjivar studied Salvadorans who immigrated to San Francisco, California and
how their social networks functioned. She found that transnationals' social networks
change over time and use and that "they differ as waves of the same immigrant
group... arrive at different historical junctures and so are exposed to dissimilar conditions.
Thus even for the same immigrant group, the receiving context makes a huge difference"
(Menjivar 2000: 239). This view contributes significantly to a view of social networks,
and transnationality, as increasingly dynamic and less and less static.
Anthropologists and social scientists have provided great contributions to an
understanding of not just community or border studies and have brought forth a deeper
understanding of transnationality and migration (Kearney 1996, Wilson 1997, Durand
1994, Burns 1993, 1999, 2000). Burs (1999: 148) points out that anthropologists and
other social scientists need to become more adept at studying the complexities involved
in transnational migration and identity, whether it be porous or situational:
migration studies have a long history in anthropology, but they have focused more
on sending or receiving communities and not on the processes of moving between
several sending and receiving communities. Even the research reported on here
reflects a point of view of only a few of the many communities of the diaspora that
adds to the identity of the Maya.
In this spirit, this study looks at transnational Mexican-US migration as fluid and
affecting people on both sides of the border simultaneously. This migration affects all
facets of life on both sides of the border because it reshapes social relationships, gender,
worldview and health behaviors not only in Mexican sending communities but also in the
thousands of receiving communities in the US.
Table 1-3. Perceptions of Mexican "Migrants" in the US and Mexico
Descriptor Mexico US
Legal Status Migrant MEXICAN (popular culture) Illegal (popular culture, Border
Transnational workers (Mexican Patrol)
government) Foreigner (popular culture)
Guestworker (policy makers)
Undocumented (press, academics)
Wetback (popular culture)
Social Rural rather than urban (policy makers) Foreigner-Wetback (popular
Context Hero (economic) (family members) culture)
Good and responsible fathers, sons (family Hard workers (employers)
members, community, popular culture) Invisible (policymakers,
Brave-adventurers (youth, popular culture) advocates)
Breadwinner (family, politicians) Humble "peasant" (advocates)
Drinkers (family members, migrants, Needy (advocates)
providers) Farmworkers (popular culture)
Migrants (popular culture)
Returned migrants: troubled or sick Single men (providers)
HIV+, Enjoy agriculture (employers)
Drug/alcohol dependent (community Risk behaviors (providers)
leaders, policymakers, church)
Social Class Middle or working class rural (popular "poorest of the poor" (advocates)
culture) "Third World Health Status"
Social climbers (migrants themselves) (advocates)
Table 1-3 illustrates how Mexican and US perceptions of migrants differ on all
three levels: legal status, social context and social class. On both sides, perceptions of the
intention of the migrant honorable or dishonorable color the ways in which the
migrant is depicted in each country's popular culture, by policy makers, the media,
employers and family members. These differences permeate any discussion of "migrant"
and often create dissonance, both internal and external. "Migrant" has become a
codeword for illegal immigrant, synonymous with "wetback." In fact, migrant is applied
to almost anyone of Mexican descent who appears to be lower class or less educated. In
US popular culture, migrant only refers to Mexicans, and usually the more recent
immigrants. Besides their well-deserved reputation as hard workers, US popular culture
allows Mexican transnationals little respect. In fact, it is almost inconceivable to most
Americans that migrants are viewed completely differently in their home country. The
idea that Mexicans consider migrants to be transnational workers who are breadwinners,
heroes to be looked up to, brave and responsible husbands and fathers challenges the
perceptions most Americans have of migrants. Migrants are characterized as
farmworkers or agricultural laborers. In US schools, children born to farmworking
parents report that even other Mexican children whose parents are not farmworkers make
fun of them, call them mojados or wetbacks, beaners or simply "migrants," which is
supposed to be derogatory.
These contrasting contexts of each country mean that the treatment a transnational
Mexican can expect differs. Crossing over to the other side means that a young man will
no longer be treated the same way when he returns to Urireo. The idea that he will prove
himself and become a hero means that it is worth risking his life, "working like a mule"
and remitting to his family, because this fulfills an expected role. In the US he will find
very little sympathy for his plight, low pay, long hours, strenuous work and loneliness
because he will be separated from his family, which is the center of his social life. In
addition, he will live with the constant fear of Border Patrol and face daily
discrimination. He will think about the fiestas in Urireo and will plan for the day when
he can go back, prove how successful he is, court his sweetheart, maybe even marry her,
and spend a few weeks back home "on vacation."
Increasingly, females also share this dream and this path. While it is still less
frequent for a young woman to go alone to the US, the phenomenon is becoming more
common. An important finding from this research is that the expectations of males and
females related to migration are very different. Issues of gender and role expectations
emerge in all facets of this study. The persistence of traditional gender roles and
expectations continue in the face of globalization and transnational migration, meaning
that women must constantly renegotiate their roles to maintain a balance within the
family, but especially with their relationships with men.
Toolbox for the Dissertation
This dissertation uses a variety of tools to describe and inform health and health
status of migration from cultural, epidemiological and sociological perspectives. Critical
Medical Anthropology provides a lens through which the local and global structural,
political and cultural constructions influence the health, mental health and well-being of
Urireanos in both Mexico and Florida. Comparative and holistic perspectives, hallmarks
of anthropology, were employed throughout the eight years I have spent with Urireanos
in both Mexico and Florida working on issues related to migration and health. Early on,
it was clear how important it would be for this research to take into account the context of
the lives of the Urireanos on both sides of the border. Especially after 9-11-2001,
discussions of transnationalism, moving across borders, visiting and maintaining ties
have become marked by more uncertainty, stress and at times resignation.
Being a woman turned out to be a good thing for my research. It would have been
very difficult to gain the confidence of the people in either Urireo or Wimauma without
the support of the women, who predominate Urireo. It is also a question of solidarity
with women more than anything else that allowed me to learn about the pueblo, the way
of life, their trials and tribulations as well as their history.
In order to maintain a clearer view of the context of the lives of Urireanos on both
sides of the border, certain methodological tools were used. First, literature from Mexico
and the US was reviewed, including archival history from the Archivos Generales de la
Naci6n (National Archives) in Mexico City, to gain perspective on the history of Urireo.
Urireo has very little written history and no historian in the town, however, I was able to
check the information people shared with me against what was documented at the
National Archives and in the literature that was available. Many sources were consulted
for each literature review, including newspaper articles and academic publications.
Second, key informant interviews with health providers, long-term residents and
the clergy in both towns helped to clarify strengths, weaknesses, differences and
similarities. These interviews lasted between two and four hours each, with several key
informants being interviewed three or four times. Third, health interviews which included
the same questions, were conducted in both Wimauma and Urireo. These interviews
included a family health history, history of migration, CDC Health Related Quality of
Life Index (CDC HRQOL) and a bit of oral history (See Appendix B for instruments).
Fourth, ethnography was conducted within both Urireo and Wimauma, within the
homes, clinics, doctor's offices, public and private spaces that Urireanos occupy.
Ethnography included participant-observation in Urireanos homes in both Florida and
Mexico, living in Urireo for a total of six months, spending an additional month in
Salvatierra, the municipal seat that is located three kilometers from Urireo. Additionally,
I have worked in Wimauma as an anthropologist, soccer coach, social worker and
generally "hanging out" in stores, markets, migrant housing and events such as "Sweet 15
birthday parties" or quincefieras over the past ten years or so. I had also conducted
several previous studies in the migrant/community clinic, Suncoast Community Health
Centers, since 1991.
People in Urireo knew me from Wimauma when I got there, especially because I
arrived with a family now settled in Wimauma, who gave me their house to stay in. As a
result of my own "transnationalism," I became known as "La Guerita" a nickname that
refers to me being "lighter skinned" or "blond" and obviously non-Mexican to Urireanos
in both Mexico and Wimauma. To my knowledge, I am the only researcher, Mexican or
not, to have every studied Urireo. Being an outsider and living in Urireo, I was
extremely visible; however at times this worked to my advantage. In general, I had very
little difficulty in conducting this binational research. However, my "outsider status"
may have contributed to the difficulties I had in conducting focus groups with Urireanos
in either place. I had planned in my original proposal to hold focus groups to discuss
Urireo's migration patterns, health status and recommendations for improvement.
Arranging for a focus group requires that participants be available at the same time and
place for at least 90 minutes. Focus groups are tools first used in market research, but
which have proven important to social scientists in order to gain a more in-depth
understanding of an issue or elicit recommendations from a particular group (Morgan
1993). Unfortunately, Urireanos were unable or unwilling to commit to sitting down
together to participate in a focus group. After four attempts in each site, Wimauma and
Urireo, I gave up trying to bring them together for the groups and instead continued to
meet with families or individuals one-on-one. There were three people who were more
willing to participate in the groups in Wimauma, however, and I asked them their views
on why others were not as willing to participate. Their answer was that people are overly
busy and that they probably distrust sitting down together and the gossip that might ensue
after the group was over. In retrospect, focus groups were probably not the best choice
for a community as divided as Urireo. One focus group was conducted with health
providers from the community and migrant health center in Ruskin Florida, located
Both of these communities have strengths and weaknesses. This study was not
conducted to find out if one is "better than the other." However, the structures of each
community are important, from a Critical Medical Anthropology perspective, because
they relate to how much or little access people have to health seeking. This is not to say
that the structures determine people's health but rather that they are important to consider
in the larger micro-macro- perspective of health in two rural communities. Each section
will highlight those features that contribute to health and well-being, as informed through
the methods described above. Participants were asked to give their opinions on if they
felt people were healthier in the US or Mexico and for what reasons. This data is part of
the analysis, as is epidemiologic data from the local clinics in Florida and Guanajuato.
THE PLACES AND PEOPLE: URIREO AND WIMAUMA
Cristina was born in 1981 in Florida to parents from Urireo. The youngest of
twelve children, she goes back to Urireo every year to accompany her mother for the Our
Father of Health patron saint celebrations, known as la fiesta de Nuestro .i'i,'r de la
Salud, in December through January 6. Her family is one of the first families from
Urireo to settle in Wimauma. Now a student at the University of South Florida, Cris is the
first person from her family to go this far educationally. But her heart is in Urireo:
Our town is special. It started out as a really poor town. People came here, like my
parents, and they had the "American Dream thing" and they eventually brought
everyone over here to Wimauma. The person who first came here went back for
his uncle, his son and the next thing you know, you have all the families from
Urireo throughout the country, in Chicago, West Palm and here. The special thing
about my town is the people. We continue to go back on a regular basis to see our
family. That's who we care about and who we identify with. Comparing us to
other Mexicans, they are not attached to their towns like we are. Our kids have a
passion for the town, they love it. I met people from Urireo who live in Texas,
Chicago, we all love it with a passion. We don't forget about it. I don't think
anyone ever will. Those who are left behind, they have the choice to migrate too.
Hopefully Urireo won't end up alone. A lot of people say they want to go back but
I doubt they will ever go permanently. My parents want to be buried there. They
have their house there and they have their house here; but their house there is "all
alone (Tienen sus casas alli and tienen sus casas aqui y son casas solas).
Separated by a border and thousands of miles, Urireo and Wimauma sometimes
seem like they are worlds apart while being ever-present in people's daily life. Urireo
and Wimauma are very different places, with different histories, economies and
placement in our ever globalized world, but they share some structural features.
.-, *-q. ** I t
", *"; ::..2-tf' *,;.* ..*.- \
.r | f j b.
i" A ,. N- 4 '0
-._ f W.,^ ^^
Figure 2-1. Urireo Decorated for the Fiesta of Patron Saint, Asunci6n, July 2001.
Each community has its own set of institutions, stakeholders, policy-makers and
influencers. Key to both communities are the following institutions:
Table 2-1. Key Institutions in Wimauma and Urireo
Institution Wimauma Urireo
Church Catholic: Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Catholic: Parroquia de
Protestant: Beth El Farmworker Mission,
Good Samaritan Mission, Church of God,
Iglesia de Dios
Education Public Schools: Wimuama Elementary: Primary School
Cypress Creek Elementary, Eisenhower Catholic School
Middle, East Bay High School Telesecundaria
Private: RCMA Charter School
Government County Commissioner to Hillsborough Delegado or Delegada
Municipal President in
Senator, Congressperson Salvatierra
Table 2-1. Continued.
Institution Wimauma Urireo
Social and *County: Hillsborough County Social Departamento de
Human Services, Hillsborough County Hispanic Infantes y Familias
Services Liaison (DIF), make visits to
Urireo, based in
* Denotes that Limited: Beth El Farmworker Mission (site Salvatierra
these are not for other agencies), Good Samaritan Mission
located in (site for other agencies), Iglesia de Guadalupe
Wimauma (site for Catholic Charities)
Public Safety Hillsborough County Sherriff's Office None
Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue
Businesses and Mexican owned and operated Pharmacies
Commerce Non-Mexican owned and operated Private doctors
*South Shore Roundtable Market Vendors
Note: Denotes that these are not located in Wimauma
Table 2-1 shows that Wimauma, an underdeveloped rural town in Florida, just by
virtue of being located in the First World, offers more services and boasts a stronger
infrastructure for public safety and education in comparison to Urireo. While both
Urireo and Wimauma have institutions such as health and business sectors, the level of
collaboration between them in Mexico is far less than that found in Florida.
Additionally, Wimauma is more integrated into the surrounding areas of Florida than
Urireo is to her Guanajuato neighbors. The vertical and horizontal linkages that happen
in the US between institutions and people work completely differently in Urireo, where
many of the points of intersection touch on the Church, either through the school or
through fiestas as part of business.
Similarities and Differences
Urireo and Wimauma share five qualities. Besides the fact that Urireanos live in
both places, these qualities are not at first very visible but they are common across both
towns. First, both communities are rural and lack amenities or services that neighboring
communities enjoy. For example, Wimauma has very poor lighting while neighboring
Sun City has excellent lighting. Urireo has "aguas negras" or open dirty water sewers,
while at three kilometers away, Salvatierra has piped sewage. Second, both communities
are about the same size, at least according to each country's Census, which estimates
them to be more or less 8000 people each. Third, both communities are viewed as having
a negative past and a not-so-great current reputation since both suffered from poverty and
violence and their on-going effects. While Urireo suffered greatly during the Cristiada,
Wimauma, historically 50% African American, was also home to turpentine mills which
were known to be abusive to workers in a very segregated and racist South. In both cases,
the fact that they are located in rural areas only helped to worsen the situation by creating
more isolation for their inhabitants.
Figure 2-2. Aguas Negras or Dirty Waters, Urireo's Open Sewer Along Calle Hidalgo,
Urireo's Main Road.
Figure 2-3. Entrance to Wimauma, State Road 6/4, 2002.
Fourth, both Wimauma and Urireo are both economically dependent upon
agriculture but rapidly becoming less-so. Wimauma was founded in the 1900s, when the
timber industry and large scale agriculture were the driving forces in the area. Urireo is
located next to the Rio Lerma, the river which feeds richest area of Guanajuato, known as
the Bajio, a major producer of corn and beans in Mexico. In Urireo, the parcelas, parcels
or plots of land, have been divided and passed on to heirs, with the result that the
farmable land for each communal farmer, known as an ejiditario, is very small. Mexico
has tried several strategies over the years to increase access to land, but the result has
been that many ejiditarios have plots that are too small to produce a living wage. For
this reason, most ejiditarios also work for others or in any other kind of work they can
As time has passed, housing needs from the Metropolitan Tampa area have crept
into agricultural areas to the north and south, including Wimauma. Currently, there are
several large housing developments underway in Wimauma on the very sites where
farmworkers used to sow, cultivate and harvest tomatoes, strawberries and spinach.
Last, neither Wimauma nor Urireo has direct political representation. While
Wimauma was incorporated in 1925 and had a mayoral city government for a short time,
now it is part of unincorporated Hillsborough County and shares one county
commissioner from the south county region. Urireo has no mayor, even though the
ejiditarios elect a delegado who is to serve the interests of the ejido for the year. This
delegado tends to speak for the town, even for people who have not elected him or her,
because they have no land and are not voting members of the ejido. Hence the delegado
is not directly nor democratically elected to serve the entire town, which means that he or
she cannot possibly please all the constituencies. This form of representation is also
inadequate because so many ejiditarios are in the US that they cannot vote and have to
send proxy voters to elections. Meanwhile, since the delegado is only one person and
there are three communities in Urireo Urireo, C6poro and Rancho Los Garcias there
are many issues that need to be addressed, with each area having different priorities.
Structurally, Urireo and Wimauma are small towns, somewhat forgotten by the
area around them and characterized as poor. At the same time, each have people who
care deeply about them and see them as home. Living in either Wimauma or Urireo is
not easy. The very fact that they are rural areas increases their inhabitants' vulnerability
to a variety of risks due in part to their lack of political power and a weak infrastructure.
This infrastructure has a direct impact on people's quality of life, because it creates other
deficiencies, including a lack of transportation, lack of services and a lack of housing.
Economists coined the term "poverty trap" to describe areas like Wimauma and
Urireo. Banerjee and Newman (1993: 211) point out that
poverty matters to positive economics because it transforms the way the entire
economy works. Arguments for this proposition abound in the development
literature. The simplest and most influential is based on the premise that the poor
have some behavioral trait that makes them stay poor: poverty is a "trap." The
fraction of nonpoor in the population then determines the potential for wealth
accumulation of the economy; countries with fewer poor will grow faster...this
argument is somewhat unsatisfying because it is not clear that the evident
behavioral differences between the poor and everyone else the poor save less
and are less likely to become entrepreneurs, for example arise from differences
in preferences and abilities or instead from differences in the economic
Banerjee and Newman studied the microeconomics of poor households to determine the
dynamics of the poverty trap phenomenon. They conclude that the poor in India act like
the poor in America and vice versa (1993: 215). They go on to observe that a poor
American would have an income that would be the equivalent of an Indian of middle
class or better status, leading them to ask why a poor American would not act more like a
middle-class Indian. They conclude with another question, which they go on to answer
themselves: "Why does it seem as though relative (italics in original), rather than
absolute, poverty is what matters?...it may be true that the poor in America have ten times
the food as the poor in India, but they also need ten times the food to pay for the
monitoring or education required for production" (Banerjee and Newman 1993: 215).
Thus, the poverty trap is a cycle in which the poor lack access to enough resources to
help jump-start them out of poverty, even though they may have some resources already.
Economists have been studying exactly what factors would help to encourage such a
jump-start, including access to credit (Banerjee and Newman 1993), better health status
(WHO 1999) and nutrition (Galor and Mayer 2002).
On a similar note, the World Health Organization (WHO) argued that "because ill
health traps people in poverty, sustained investment in the health of the poor could
provide a policy lever for alleviating persistent poverty" (WHO 1999: 396). Healthier
people are more productive, and studies have found that the greatest benefit to society is
yielded by helping the most vulnerable to be healthier (WHO 1999: 398). While most
literature points to the need to focus on child feeding programs for the Third World, this
document posits that "there is evidence that adult health depends in part on child health
and itself directly influences labor productivity.., improved adult health will improve the
dependency ratio both by reducing mortality among the economically active and by
reducing premature retirement that results from illness (WHO 1999: 399). When none of
these interventions occur, however, the poverty trap continues to present the poor with
difficult and unattractive options, often relating to choices between migrating or safety,
eating or medical care. Galor and Mayer (2002) focus on the poverty trap from the
perspective of nutritional deficiency as a causal variable that keeps communities poor, a
concept that has relevance for Urireo, as will be discussed in Chapter 4.
This Chapter first focuses on the history and people of Urireo Mexico, followed
by a review of Wimauma, Florida.
Figure 2-4. Urireo, an Ejido that is Comprised ofUrireo, C6poro and Rancho Los
Garcias, Illustrated with Institutions Mentioned in Chapter 2.
As depicted in Figure 2-4, Urireo is a composite of three areas, which ascend in
altitude along Hidalgo Street, the "mostly paved" but often muddy link between the
areas, which altogether measures only about 2 miles. Transportation, clinic services and
the public primary school are clustered at the Northeast end of Urireo, which means that
those from C6poro or Rancho Los Garcias have longer walks.
The ethnography of the sending and receiving community allowed me to
understand the critical roles that Urireo's history and structure continue to play in how
Urireanos conceptualize their worldview. I was especially interested in how their
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worldview, carried with them as they become transnationals in places like Chicago,
Wimauma or Decatur, shapes their perceptions of options and ways of characterizing
their lives. In this next section, I will pay special attention to the way Urireo's unique
history has influenced Urireanos' identity, migration, life and health in both Mexico and
the United States.
Urireo de la Asuci6n, Guanajuato
Enrique Santos looked at me, leaned forward, pushed his hat back and said "Urireo
is a pueblo of resistance (pueblo de resistencia). If we are not apueblo de resistencia,
then why do we look like this?" What he meant was, obviously, the color of their skin
and the indigenous look to the people of Urireo, which is markedly different from nearby
Salvatierra or even some of the other pueblos. He wondered how it was possible for me
not to notice that the Urireanos in Florida were darker than other Mexicans. I explained
that we have Mexicans from all over and that there are darker Mexicans, from Oaxaca or
even Chiapas. He did not buy it. Instead, he posited to me that Urireo de Asuci6n was
founded by indigenous peoples from other tribes who came to the Bajio, beside the River
Lerma, because of it's abundant soil and wildlife. I asked Enrique if he thought the
people were Purepecha, an indigenous tribe referred to as "lower Aztecs" (Fernandez
2000), as the previous Priest had told his flock. Enrique said, "I don't think so, we look
different than them that priest came from Michoacan, where there are Purepecha, but
we are not the same people we are taller."
Historically, the people in the Bajio have been marginalized and this
marginalization seems to have begun at the earliest period of colonization. By about
1550, the Virrey decided that there was nothing of real importance, such as gold and
silver there. The Virrey then faced quite a dilemma with Spanish settlers and land
owners, encomenderos and hacendados, in the area, who had curried favor with the
Crown in the hopes of striking it rich, which did not happen.
The exact origin or origins of the people that now live in Urireo, C6poro and Los
Garcias remains elusive: after many hours researching this at the Archivos Generales de
La Naci6n in Mexico City, I found no clear reference. The local historian from
Salvatierra, Vicente Ruiz Arias (1994) did not focus much on Urireo or it's antecedents
in his four tomes of Municipal History in the local archives. In the brief section on
Urireo, Ruiz (1994) states that
Urireo, vocablo purepecha que significa "nariz" a "adelante. En Nahualt se
pronuncia Yacac, Tlayacac o Tlayacaque del vocablo Teyacancantiuh que signifca
"ir guiando a otro. En el siglo XVI se daba ese nombre al indio que servia de
guia en los caminos a los curas que salian a administrar los sacraments.
Urireo, in purepecha, means "nose" "forward." In Nahuat it would be pronounced
Yacac, Tlayacac o Tlayacaque, in the Teyacancantiuh vocabulary, which would
mean "he who guides the other." In the 16th century, this name was given to the
Indian who served as a guide to the priests who would come to pueblos to
Ruiz (1994), through his research at the National Archives, found that two Indians,
Juan Bautista and Juan Miguel, solicited, and received, cattle to form the pueblo from
Viceroy Don Lorenzo Suarez de Mendoza, the Count of La Coruia, on July 10, 1580.
Ruiz's (1994) research indicates that C6poro was already in existence by 1580 but that it
was not part of Urireo, because he writes that "the community was comprised of
purepecha and chichimeca Indians who were found throughout Cerro Prieto, Paracuaro
and C6poro." It was not until 1755, however, that Urireo formally received any real land.
At this time, one hacendado, or hacienda owner, was granted lands, Don Fernando
Lopez Ballesteros. It seems that he had already established a hacienda before obtaining
this land grant; however it was officially named and granted in 1755 as the Hacienda Ojo
de Agua or Water Spring, in what is now considered Urireo. Ruiz writes that the
Franciscan Order, from the Acambaro Region to the south of Urireo, were in charge of
the evangelization of the pueblo, and that Urireo had a hospital from its earliest times,
citing a document from 1659 (Ruiz 1994).
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Regardless of the exact origins of those who met the Spaniards back in the
sixteenth century, the notion that the inhabitants of Urireo were resisting and/or that they
were looking to protect themselves seems to be supported in the early documents of the
Archives Generales de laNaci6n (AGN) and in the writings of Ruiz Arias (1994). In
many areas of what is now considered the Bajio, there are references to abuse by the
hacendados documented by scribes back to the King of Spain. Specifically, I found two
examples during the colonial era in which those in Urireo, subjects of the owner of
Hacienda Ojo de Agua, Don Fernando Ballesteros, suffered to the extent that the scribe
documented abuses (AGN, Tierras). Poor treatment of the indigenous population sparked
the Royal Scribe to write letters to the Crown to ask that something be done to assure that
the lands and livestock, known as mercedes, due to the indigenous be given over. The
hacendados, namely Ballesteros, had refused to comply with the Crown's order that they
be given over a period of more than one hundred years. Wolf documented this same
tendency all over Latin America, and noted that interventions were rarely altruistic:
Such Indian leaders and royal officials rallied to the defense of the native
communities if they saw their own sources of power and profit threatened by
outside interests. At the same time, confronted with an increasing demand for labor
by industrial and agricultural entrepreneurs in the face of a decreasing native
population, many were persuaded to reduce the level of their zeal as public
defenders (Wolf 1982: 146).
Wolf (1955, 1982) and Wagley and Harris (1955) observed that this was common
across Latin America and that the net effect was for indigenous populations to adopt a
different, peasant, subculture. Wolf argues that, especially during colonial times,
communities such as Urireo could not truly unite because there were always shifting
loyalties and alliances, sometimes with the viceroyalty and sometimes against them in
favor of the hacendados (1982: 148). This situation was particularly true for Urireo since
there was a constant set of conflicts between hacendados, viceroys, indigenous leaders
and the Church. Apparently, there was also conflict between the Carmelite and
Franciscan priests who viewed the situation in Urireo very differently. This may be
partly explain why Urireo was given to one and then another municipality to govern.
During colonization, Urireo first belonged to the municipality of Michoacan and then to
Salvatierra. Apparently, neither local government took much interest in the pueblo.
At around the same time, the Church, namely the Carmelites or Carmelitas
Descalzos, became active in Urireo and took the side of the hacendados against the
indigenous and mestizos of Urireo, which resulted in a further lack of power for the
peasants from the beginning.1 The notion that the Carmelites were now operating against
the Franciscans shows that the Catholic Church also played a significant role in the unrest
of the area. Besides friction between the Church and the Crown, Spain's system of
imperial extraction and tributes helped to set the stage for how rural and indigenous
communities worked and how obligations got met:
From the perspective of the larger Hispanic colonial order, the Indian communities
did not constitute its primary foundations but rather its secondary, lateral supports.
The center of the order consisted of the mining economy and the activities that
supplied it. The Indian communities, in turn, acted as reservoirs of labor and as
sources of cheap agricultural and craft products. Where the Indians had to pay
tribute in money, they had to hire themselves out for wages or produce for a
market. Alternatively, they worked off tribute obligations through payments in
kind (Wolf 1982: 149).
According to documents from the National Archives (Tierras 36342, Exp. 8, pp 1-
25), the owner of Hacienda Ojo de Agua, Don Fernando Lopez Ballesteros, conspired
with the Carmelites against the Franciscan priests, who were pressuring him to honor his
commitments to the indigenous population by ceasing to charge them Mercedes and to
give indigenous peoples lands that had been granted to them by the Crown. The title to
his land, held by the royal scribe, Juan Jose Prosique de Zarazua, was a point of
contention in these documents. The Scribe also went against Ballesteros in opposing his
misuse of Indians. In 1747, Scribe Prosique de Zarazua wrote a thirty page document
1 The parallel to the Cristiada is impressive, because, later, the Church took the side of
the landowners again, but went further in advocating violence against that those in favor
of agrarian reform.
outlining Ballesteros' refusal to cease charging Indians illegal Mercedes, extracting labor
and violating the law. It was not until 1777 that this issue was finally resolved, with
several but not all Indians receiving cattle and lands.
Over time, land continued to loom as the number one concern for Urireo's
indigenous and mestizo residents alike. Land continued to be held in the hands of the
few original families that received land grants from Spain during the colonial period.
Thus, power was exclusively held over centuries. Those with the power were religious
and particularly protective over what they viewed as "Spanish." Octavio Paz argues that
in its origin, Mexico is conservative (1961). Paz argued in the Labyrinth of Solitude that
the movement towards agrarian reform and Zapatismo in particular was not at all liberal
in its origin, rather, it was conservative, a turning back, a call for the return of land, the
ejido system, which, he argued, was respected by the Spaniards (Paz 1961:341). In this
way, the Mexican Revolution was able to draw support for change, but this change
represented a return to past values.
In order to understand the particular flavor of Guanajuato and Central Mexico, it is
critical to first understand its particular history. As absolute ruler of Mexico for 35 years,
Porfirio Diaz served as president from 1876-80 and as dictator from 1884-1911, a time
period referred to as the Porfiriato. Diaz, like Benito Juarez, his one-time ally turned
enemy, was an Indian from Oaxaca. Under the Porfiriato, everythingFF from gender
roles to work were defined by the regime; women were to be submissive, stay at home,
taking care of children while men worked and operated in the public sphere. For this
reason, many social scientists find that the Porfiriato is still important to the cultural
fabric of Mexico, especially as pertains to genderized work in a global economy (Finkler
1994). Economically speaking, Mexico became more open to modernization and foreign
investment under Diaz' long rule. Konrad (1995: 24) states that the "Porfirian strategy
was a success insofar as it resulted in the expansion and diversification of the Mexican
economy and the building of infrastructures for an export-oriented industrial nation."
Now, almost 100 years later, Mexico has rediscovered these same strategies, but the
circumstances and links between economics, domestic politics and foreign relations is
Beyond the Mexican Revolution: Braceros and Maquilas
In 1823, the United States issued the Monroe Doctrine which warned Europe
against the recolonization of the newly independent Spanish American republics.
Meanwhile, during the 1830's, elites worried about the future of the country, and the rise
of caudillos, self-interested military dictators backed by private armies, was seen. As
Smith (2000) and Cockcroft (1996: 94) independently note, by invoking the Monroe
Doctrine, the US intervened in Mexico at least eight times before WWII, again
strengthening Mexico's foreign policy convictions. A popular Mexican saying attributed
to Benito Juarez, Mexico's first president, iPobre Mexico, tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca
de los Estados Unidos! is literally translated as "Poor Mexico, so far from God and so
close to the US!." The saying exemplifies the historical perspective of many Mexicans.
The Mexican Revolution ended in 1917, ending the three pronged effort by Zapata
and Villa (radical), Carranza (moderate) and Obregon (labor leader). Carranza emerged
the big winner, having orchestrated Zapata's assassination and discredited Obregon
(Cockcroft 1996: 95). 1917 saw the first Mexican Constitution, widely held as an
example of liberal idealism.
By the 1930s, the world faced a deep recession, the US and Mexico again clashed
when the US deported Mexican agricultural workers, citing them as the cause of
underemployment of nationals (Cockcroft 1996: 94). In the WWII economy, however,
the US again needed agricultural workers and initiated the Bracero Program in 1942.
Bracero was a binational program which recruited Mexican nationals to work in US
agriculture as temporary contract workers (Bean et al. 1998: 7, Thomas-Lycklama a
In 1964, when the post WWII boom economy was ever expanding, the US
unilaterally discontinued Bracero, but Mexican migration to work in US agriculture
continued (Bean et al. 1998: 7). With the ending of Bracero, Mexico looked for other
models for economic revitalization strategies (South 1990). They found one in Asia,
particularly Japan and Taiwan. Asia's growing economy, based on foreign-built factories
in specially defined free trade zones, allowed foreign companies to employ Asians to
produce or assemble goods for an export economy. In 1965, the Mexican Government
initiated the Programa de Industrializaci6n de la Frontera Norte de Mexico/Border
Industrialization Program (BIP) which established limited free trade zones on the
Mexico-US border (South 1990; LaBotz 1993). The Mexican version of these factories
became known as maquiladoras or maquilas, defined as "assembly manufacturers in
Mexico whose production is primarily destined for export markets" (South 1990: 549).
By 1966, regulations and policies were formed to attract foreign companies to
build assembly plants modeled after the successful Asian model. Maquiladoras
proliferated at the same time as the United States faced the late 1970's early 1980's
recession, which gave US-based companies an additional incentive to seek to lower their
labor costs by crossing the border (South 1990). Cockcroft (1996: 97) describes
Mexico's state supported economic miracle from 1940 to 1960: "agricultural production
increased 100%, industrial production 120%" through import substitution (ISI).
Between 1960 and 1980, Mexico's import substitution strategies continued to be
far reaching, but slowdown was apparent: the government put money into modernizing
factories and agriculture while food was subsidized and price controls kept costs down
(Cockcroft 1996: 97). NAFTA, or the North American Free Trade Agreement, was
begun in 1994 and maquilas proliferated past the border areas to even small towns in
states like Guanajuato or Hidalgo.
With the collapse of the Mexican Peso around the same time, Mexico underwent
structural adjustment (LaBotz 1995). Lazaro Cardenas' sacrosanct commitment to social
programs for the poorest segments in Mexico was changed in 1995 by President Salinas
when he introduced the National Solidarity Program, which further solidified Mexico's
resolution toward privatization and structural adjustment under IMF and World Bank
policies. This required tinkering with the Mexican Constitution, namely, Article 39, ejido
reform. La Botz (1995: 24) documents how this act effectively did away with Article 27,
which stated that Mexico owned the lands and provided for communal ownership,
ensuring access for all. Around 1994, neoliberal economics begin to more directly drive
domestic and foreign policy, subsidies to maize production and the "tortilla" are
discontinued, causing an increase in costs for food staples (Cockcroft 1996). As a result,
NAFTA did not decrease illegal Mexican migration to the US, as Pastor and Fernandez
(1998: 197) observed:
the debates on migration might offer a clue to the future of the relationship
[between US and Mexico]. The main arena for the debates has always been
Congress. All the fears, hopes and interests of the US that are generated by
immigration are collected and sorted by members of Congress...although some of
NAFTA's proponents argued that it would reduce migration, they were wrong in
the short and medium terms. Until the income gap between the US and Mexico
narrows significantly and under the best of circumstances, that won't happen for
decades the US-Mexican border will function as a powerful magnet. The more
the two economies integrate, the more the two societies will combine.
It was 1996 when I first visited Salvatierra, Guanajuato with a friend of mine from
a nearby state. His sister, Maria, and her family lived in Salvatierra and operated a store
in the main plaza of the town. Maria and her family referred to Salvatierra as "rancho, "
meaning country, which I at first did not quite grasp. After all, Salvatierra is the
municipal seat of Salvatierra, Guanajuato. There are paved roads, rolling hills and
picturesque churches, whose long history evidenced by many centuries of Carmelite
Catholic tradition. I was unsure of the fairness of their assessment. Salvatierra seemed
like an older, somewhat past its prime, medium sized town that was a bit stuck in time
but not necessarily rural or backward. Little did I know that I would later spend a
considerable amount of time in a real rancho or ejido that is only three kilometers from
Salvatierra by the name of Urireo.
Although physically close to Salvatierra, Urireo is light years away from it both in
terms of culture and tradition. A common remark throughout my research was "Urireo
didn't even have a paved road until 2001. Now we have potholes." A Chicago-born son
to parents from Urireo occasionally comments to me "My parents are stuck in the 1500's.
I don't see how you could live in that place (Urireo)." When it rains, mud fills the
streets and even partially paved roads often resemble their pre-paved days most of the
Economic and Psychological Impact of Migrant Remittances to Mexico
Guanajuato is a relatively small state located in central Mexico, and is the sixth
most populous state in Mexico with 3,982,593 residents in 1990 Census, making up about
5% of the total national population (INEGI, 1995). Today, the population is young, with
40% of them being under 15 years of age and 28% between 15 and 29 (INEGI 1995).
While it is hard to gage how many Guanajuatenses are in the US, one key indicator is
remittances. Remittances from migrants in the US are second only to oil exports in terms
of income to Mexico (Lozano-Ascencio 2002). Guanajuato has recently become the
Mexican state that receives the most remittances from US-based migrants, for a total of
9.3% of all remittances to the country (Lozano-Ascencio 2002). Estimates put
Guanajuato's share of remittances at $309 million US every quarter, with $8.9 billion in
remittances being sent back to Mexico annually (Lozano-Ascencio 2002).
I met Araceli on the bus, she was a little shy but I could tell she wanted to ask me
something. Araceli's two children were well-behaved but obviously uncomfortable. The
bus was overcrowded and we were sitting like sardines as the ancient vehicle strained to
get us from Urireo's dirt roads to the paved road leading to Salvatierra. Araceli was on
her way to the bank to see if her husband had sent the money he promised. He did not
make it back this year because "his papers aren't good" but he wants her and the children
to move to Florida instead. She was pretty clear that she did not want to go. She said,
"My mother had the same problem 20 years ago with my father." Now, her parents are
older and she wants to stay and take care of them. Araceli did not come out and say it but
it seemed like her husband does not always send money, or at least, enough money. She
did say, almost making it into a question, about three times that "los hombres andan ali y
se les olvidan de sus responsabilidades, or "Men go over there and they forget about
their obligations." I understood. I could not do anything but look at her and tell her I do
not know her husband and I do not know what he had been doing in Florida. She did not
seem relieved nor happy at this news, only a bit disappointed. I think she suspected that
he had another family and she was at the point where she just wanted to know. Her face
revealed her dilemma. After a minute, she confided to me that she would rather stay in
Mexico and work anywhere, even the Mabe Maquiladora. She said she could not work
because her husband would find out and be upset. Her employment would be seen as
proof he is not a good provider, which would jeopardize the money he does remit.
Immigrants to the US often speak of their sacrifices in leaving their families,
sending money back and not spending it on frivolous items. People in Urireo also talk
about their sacrifices in order to help each other gain a better life. Often, families in
Urireo related stories of saving up money to be able to finance a young male to cross over
to the US and work, so he can remit back.
Exact figures for the percentage of households in Urireo receiving remittances is
unknown; in this study, I found that most people did receive something but they did not
receive enough. There was discrepancy between reports from those who received in
Urireo and those who sent remittances in Wimauma. However, bank transfer data show
that one in eight households in the state of Guanajuato receives money from a migrant in
the US (Orozco 2005). There is also a psychological effect in the sending and receiving
of these remittances. On one hand, the migrant who sends the money is fulfilling a social
obligation that he or she made before leaving. After all, the idea is that this person is
coming to the US and all are making some sort of sacrifice for the good of the household.
At the same time, if the money does not arrive, there is a lack of fulfillment or
compliance. As in Araceli's case, when the money does not arrive or if it does not arrive
as it was expected to arrive, questions arise about the migrant, his or her activities and,
ultimately, loyalty. In this context, Araceli's sacrifices needed to be matched by her
husband's, and one way to do this is through remittances.
US-Mexico migration studies have become increasingly sophisticated over the past
20 years and have benefited from binational collaborations between Mexican and
American scholars (Massey and Durand 2004; Massey et al. 1987; Durand 1994; Mines
et al. 1997). Theoretical approaches that rely on traditional "push-pull" theories related to
Mexico's poor economy pushing workers out at the same time as the US' need for cheap
labor pulling Mexicans to work in the US have been replaced by models which take
individual motivations and socio-economic resources into account (Wilson 1997, 1998,
2000; Maciel and Herrera Sobek 1998; Gendreau and Gimenez 1998). Migration studies
now utilize longitudinal and multi-site data to demonstrate the complexities involved in
US-Mexico migration (Wilson 1998, Massey et al. 1987; Durand 1994; Durand and
The finding that Mexican migration is often a family's temporary survival strategy
in which the family and the migrant him/her-self expect to return (Gendreau and
Gimenez 1998: 3), which in turn strengthens and transforms the link back to the
homeland, proved a key insight that changed migration studies' presumption of the one
way flow of people and replaced it with a more circular model (Maciel and Herrera
Sobek 1998). Espinoza compared migration from ejidos in municipalities of Salvatierra
and Apaseo el Alto and found that "for some, going to work the fields in the US
represented the possibility for them to gain resources for production [on their parcels] and
return more or less as successful in order to be able to stay in the community; for others,
it was a journey without return. In either case, the migration process never ended"
(Espinoza 1996: 4).
The area of Mexico known as the Bajio is extremely fertile and is a major
agricultural producer. The Bajio is the southern region of Guanajuato that borders on the
neighboring state of Michoacan. Outside of Salvatierra, the area is extremely rural.
Urireo, San Juan and Ballesteros were all parts of haciendas that were divided under
agrarian reform in the middle 1900s. Cornfields, cows and parcels of land (parcelas) are
common, often incongruously beside a maquiladora or a major road, like the one
connecting Salvatierra to Urireo (see Figure 2-2). Throughout the region's history,
Salvatierra has been the "capital" of the Bajio while small pueblos like Urireo faced
hardship, poverty and desperation directly linked to issues of land reform and access to
land. As time went on, descendants of the hacendados tended to live in Salvatierra
instead of the haciendas and their wealth somewhat insulated them from the realities of
their rural counterparts. As depicted in Figure 2-4, Urireo is actually three smaller
entities, C6poro, Urireo and Rancho Los Garcias, with a total population estimated at
8,000 between them. However, since males migrate at a young age and many do not
return, the real population is more like 4,300 or so, comprised mainly of women, older
returned migrants, who call themselves Braceros, and children.
Urireo is closest to the highway, which goes directly to Salvatierra, while C6poro is
located about halfway up the cerro, or hill, and Rancho Los Garcias (Los Garcias) is at
the top of the cerro. All three areas function as Urireo and fall under the same ejido,
electing only one delegado per year to make decisions about the areas for that year.
Urireo is short for Urireo de la Asunci6n. Urireo reportedly means "one who leads by the
nose in Purepecha." More than one woman in Urireo joked that "We really like our
fiestas more than anything else!" in reference to the fact that most pueblos only celebrate
one saint, while here they celebrate two.
The two fiestas per year mean that most of the year is spent planning for one or the
other. The celebration of the town's patron saint, Nuestra Virgen de la Asunci6n since
Urireo was originally called Urireo de la Asunci6n is on August 15. The second is the
celebration of the Nuestro SeZor de la Salud, Our Father of Health, equivalent to Jesus,
which starts in mid-December and ends January 6. In essence, Urireo celebrates both the
female and the male through these two fiestas.
Asunci6n or a combination of Asunci6n are common names for both males and
females in Urireo (e.g. Asunci6n, Maria de la Asunci6n, Jose Asunci6n). Asunci6n
becomes "Chon" or "Chona" in daily use in Urireo. The name Jesus, in recognition of
Nuestro .i,,vr de la Salud, is also common, even though most people use the nickname
Chui for Jesus.
Work, Fiestas and Migration
In December 2001, I arrived in Urireo at the height of celebration of the Nuestro
Sefior de la Salud fiesta, which culminated on January 6, 2002. Streamers filled the
streets, people milled around everywhere. There were highly decorated beds, complete
with satin pillows and fine linens, in the street, awaiting the arrival ofNuestro Sefior, or
Jesus, as pilgrims carried him from house to house. All of this was highly festive and
people were in great spirits, even if the recent September 11 attacks meant that there were
less returned migrants this year. But what struck me the most were the fireworks. There
were fireworks, called castles or castillos, at about every 400 feet. These fireworks were
multiple levels, loud and extremely bright. Children as young as five were helping to set
off the show, which was conducted within the confines of Urireo's narrow streets, which
in some cases were not even wide enough for a car to pass through. As a result, the
fireworks seemed dangerous to me, which only seemed to make my Urireano friends
laugh and respond, "Yes, that's part of the fun." The whole atmosphere of chaos was
augmented by gunpower smoke everywhere, sometimes making it hard to see.
Due to a 50 year trend of out-migration to the US, Urireanos began to immigrate
first to Chicago, then California and then Florida (starting around 1982). Most of the
year, except during the fiestas, the male-female distribution is decidedly skewed toward
Urireo has very good soil and this area of Guanajuato, the Bajio, is the major
producer of corn and beans for the country. As more and more families have migrated to
the US, many ejido parcels have been rented out to others and there are serious political
and social problems resulting from a poor distribution of good farming land. In general
there is a lack of access to arable lands, while many migrants living in the US own
parcels they cannot farm and then rent them out.
There are three maquiladoras, or assembly plants, located at the main highway that
passes by Urireo. One is Korean owned and two are Mexican. Two are garment and
textile producing and one of these is the Mabe, manufacturer of small appliances and
refrigerators. Maquiladoras almost exclusively hire females between the ages of 18 and
24 and almost always start them on the 6 PM to 9 AM shift. Hence, young males tend to
be under- and un-employed, which poses added difficulties for them in complying with
their socially ascribed roles as providers and heads of households. The net result of these
factors is synergistic, culminating in Northern migration.
In August, December and the beginning of January, the town teems with people,
returned migrants are reunited with their Mexican families, money is spent in the market
and the town comes alive. Many colored streamers line the streets, fireworks are aplenty
and food is everywhere. Those who want to celebrate with fireworks or by having
pilgrims carry the statue of Nuestro SeZor or la Virgen to a table in front of their houses
pay the church a fee for the honor. Fascinated by the amount of fireworks, I asked
families how much they normally spent per night on the fireworks. I estimate that the
fireworks alone must cost at least $500 per night, and each celebration lasts two weeks or
14 days, which means that, all together, Urireo spends at least $7,000 per fiesta per year,
a total of at least $14,000. At least some of this money comes from remittances sent from
migrants in the US.
There is not much consensus in Urireo but people agree on only one thing: they live
for thesefiestas. In fact, mothers who receive remittances from their sons and daughters
delight in spending this money on decorations for the street, contributions to the church
to make the fiesta as big as possible and of course, on full course meals. Having two
major fiestas per year instead of only one has the effect of stimulating the economy not
once but twice per year. This also has the effect of depleting household incomes by the
same degree twice a year. The effects of this income depletion are far-ranging and affect
various aspects of life in Urireo, from nutrition to community development.
However, when there is nofiesta to plan for or celebrate, Urireo changes. By that, I
mean that the people change. Once the fiestas are over, the migrants go back to the US
and sometimes it takes awhile for them to find work, pay off the coyotes who take them
across the border illegally and save enough to send back as remittances. Many Mexican
families actually fund the migrant, usually a single male son, on this dangerous journey.
Meanwhile, with no remittances, little work available to males and a generally depressed
agricultural economy, Mexican families make due without meat and expound on the
benefits of eating hand made corn tortillas with hot chile salsa. Families told me often
that "this corn is the basis of life, you do not need to eat anything else. Twenty tortillas a
day will make you strong!"
The local parochial group published a newsletter in August of 1997 to share
Urireo's history, song and, especially the fiestas. Written primarily by the previous
parrish priest, who believed that Urireanos were predominantly Purepecha in origin, this
document was written to "be an instrument for community dialogue so that we can get
back to our customs and traditions that our parents have given us." The newsletter,
given to me by a young woman who is active in the Church, also states the following:
* The fiesta is the "heart of the purepecha culture;"
* At the heart of thefiesta is the faith of the community but we also know that the
fiesta is more than religious, it is also economic, social and familial, recreation and
* "The dominant, hedonistic-, consumption- and economically- centered culture has
introduced damaging and destructive elements into our fiesta;"
* Lospicaros are special breads baked only during the fiestas, which are meant to
welcome people to Urireo. In prehispanic days, the picaros were formerly made of
corn and were a sign of hospitality. With the arrival of the Spaniards, picaros
began being made of wheat flour and colored red to symbolize the fiesta.
* During the fiesta in August, a special meal with mole and turkey should be eaten,
along with the ancient custom of colored tortillas. In January, the fiesta should
include goat and colored tortillas as well.
Urireo's song was written by J. Jesus Rivera Zepeda in 1968, set to the music of
another song, "Mfusica de la Feria de las Flores. This song, entitled "Welcome to
Urireo" or "Bienvenidos a Urireo" has twelve stanzas. There are three aspects of the
song that are intriguing: 1. Rivera utilizes the indigenous word "chiquihites, or hand-
woven baskets, a word that is used much less today, 2. Rivera mentions the haciendas
and small towns near Urireo, such as La Moncada and Ojo de Agua, and it is still
customary for Urireanos to attend the fiestas of their neighbors, just as he urges these
people to sing as one in Urireo; and 3. he mentions the castillos, or fireworks, in his
song, indicating that this tradition is also at least 30 years old. Below are a few excerpts
from the song:
Invitada es la region
A las fiestas de Urireo.
Y por vieja tradition,
Hoy nos vamos de paseo.
Picaros por toneladas
Chiquihites de tortillas.
Quesadillas por mantadas
Y muchas otras cosillas.
Alli en la mera placita
Dando vueltas las parejas
Las cornetas pita y pita
Pa' gusto de las orejas
En la noche la kermes
Y el Castillo tan bonito,
Sin falta los buscapies
Y la quema del torito
Salvatierra y la Moncada
Charco Largo y Tarimoro,
La Angostura y Ojo de Agua
Todos cantamos en coro.
Everyone in the region is invited
To the fiestas in Urireo.
And, following our old tradition
Today we are going to go for a stroll.
Picaros by the ton
Baskets of tortillas.
Tons of quesadillas
And many other little things.
Right there in the square
The couples walk around
The coronets sound
To the pleasure of the ears.
At night will be the service
And the fireworks so beautiful
We will not need small talk
And there will be the burning of the bull
Salvatierra and la Moncada
Charco Largo and Tarimoro,
La Angostura and Ojo de Agua
We will all sing as one.
Some respondents seem to be in agreement with the idea that the long-standing
conflicts that began during the Revolution and that continued during the Cristiada over
land and the role of the church in discouraging those eligible from gaining ejido lands
have shaped Urireo, C6poro and the general region and have encouraged outmigration.
People are not united, not even within the same families, and in reality have never been.
It has been family against family and it continues today. The only difference is that now,
instead of fighting with weapons, it seems like they are fighting with each other by seeing
who can put on the best fiesta during either Nuestro SeZor de la Salud in December or
the Virgen de la Asunci6n in August. Money has become the weapon here and really, the
only way to obtain it in large enough quantities is for someone in the household to
migrate to the US and remit.
Luisa's husband, Don Alberto, an ejiditario who is active within the ejido and
whose father was one of the first delegados, is annoyed by the idea that the young people
in Urireo and C6poro, where he lives, do not know their history. He blames their parents,
for various reasons. He says that "many parents only instill religion and going to church
to their children and they do not worry about history. I say, how can you form an opinion
if you do not know history? It's the parents' fault because today we have books and
stories." He suggested that there should be a museum or some sort of display for the
fiestas to educate the youth, even returned migrants whose parents never told them their
It is worth noting that Mexican migration has been going on since at least 1942 but
there have been no real attempts to formalize links between sending and receiving
communities or even migrants' return visits not linked to fiestas. The draw of tradition,