Two Mixtec migrant activists from Oaxaca, Mexico will be speaking today in an event titled “Indigenous Mexican Migration to the U.S. and its Impact on the Communities of Origin,” from noon to 2 p.m. at the HIA Conference Room, located at 5211 Social Sciences and Humanities.
Bernardo Ramírez Bautista is an indigenous lawyer, and the other, Centolia Maldonado Vásquez, is an activist. They will be talking about the situation of indigenous migrants in California and Mexico, and sharing their own stories of struggle. Both have been very active in looking intoissues of social justice and the legal issue of migration.
Stefano Varese, professor of Native American Studies, said it is a great opportunity to hear them share their own experience.
“It’s much different to hear them tell it in their own voice, instead of through a translation of a researcher or reading about it on paper,” he said.
There are about 12 million undocumented workers in the United States today, approximately 10 million from Mexico, and 1.5 million who are indigenous, Varese said.
Mixtec make up one of the largest ethnic groups in Oaxaca, and make up a good chunk of the indigenous migrant population. In the U.S. they can be found in California, Washington, many Southeastern states and as far out as Hawaii.
The big difference in indigenous workers though, Varese said, is that they really don’t want to be immigrants.
“They don’t want to come here and stay here, earn some money and send back some money and eventually return to their place, because they have a legal entitlement to have a place in their own community,” he said.
Varese and his colleague in the department of Native American Studies, professor Victor Montejo, have been looking at this issue systematically.
“We look at this from an anthropological and human point of view; instead of looking at them as immigrants with an economic or sociological point of view, we look at their specific situation as non-permanent immigrants,” Varese said.
This is in stark contrast to many who come to the U.S. to escape poverty, find a new life or have nothing to leave behind. Mixtec are obligated to their family, house and land to provide and then return to their place in society.
Varese said this makes them more organized when coming here.
“There is a strong presence here already, and they have a place where they can get legal advice or health advice, and because they have a much larger sense of community they learn to reunite here in a large community of migrants,” he said.
Having this community helps, especially in sending remittances back to local families and communities. Over $24 billion each year is sent to Mexico from migrant workers in the United States, said Jim Grieshop, a professor in the department of human and community development.
Grieshop said this is evident in communities throughout Oaxaca.
“It’s amazing, you go back to these communities and you see houses that are being built a little bit of a time over a period of five or six years. That money is being used with the idea that many of these individuals do want to go back to their own communities,” he said.
Another aspect, one that Centolia Maldonado Vásquez may tackle, is the impact on women. Grieshop said this has a big societal impact.
“The workers’ stay in the U.S. also takes a toll on the household and the way they operate. It puts a lot of strain on the women in the house, having to do so much and having someone gone for three to five years,” he said.
In Oaxaca, it is the man’s job to provide, and if that means going to America to do so, then it is the man who leaves his family behind. Only in rare cases do women leave their hometowns, Grieshop said.
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at email@example.com.XXX