October 3, 2008

Violence in Mexico Forces Families to Emigrate

By Lydia Cacho
New America Media

CANCUN, Mexico - A few weeks ago in Tijuana, three families told me that for the last few months they have been living in San Diego. They moved to the United States because one of their children was the victim of a kidnapping in Mexico. (They crossed the border back into Mexico to hear me give a reading from my book.)

A few days later in Monterrey, I heard horror stories of young women in college who had lost friends to kidnapping. The girls had been abducted from nightclubs, and the police did nothing.

Their parents are now planning to send the young women to study abroad for fear that they too could be killed or abducted in Mexico.

Thousands of families from Monterrey are moving to Texas. The majority of the middle class in Ciudad Juárez has emigrated to El Paso. Entire families from Matamoros have found refuge in Bronwsville. Those from Saltillo have moved to Eagle Pass. There are now more people born in Zacatecas who live in California and Arizona than in Mexico.

The diaspora is inevitably growing and no one in their right mind has the right to question those who are experiencing a nightmare in their homeland and can find no other way out than to leave their country – so that they can sleep in peace and so that their daughters won’t become the next victims of femicide.

Emigrating isn’t easy: You need courage to leave your home, your neighborhood, your friends and family, to search for a new job, and even speak a foreign language.

Teenagers are almost brought by force, weighed down with sadness, refusing to leave their friends and their school. It can’t be easy to be 14 or 15 years old and know that in your country, insecurity is a constant and security is practically a myth.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón was supposed to be the employment president, but his choice to wage an all-out war will make him go down in history as the emigration president, as more and more Mexican families choose to flee the country as a result of violence. He didn’t solve the unemployment problem that still forces many Mexicans to go north as migrant workers. Quite the contrary – there are now even more reasons to leave the country.

A couple of years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 450,000 people were crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in search of a better life. Illegal immigration consisted primarily of people from the poorest areas of the country. Now the National Population Council (CONAPO), with data from the U.S. government, reports that in 2007, nearly 680,000 people were forced to flee Mexico as a result of poverty and violence.

The vast majority will continue to look for the states and cities where the Latino population feels most at home and that are more in contact with their customs, and maybe even their language. This means the governments of Texas, California, Arizona, Florida, New York and Illinois (particularly Chicago) will have to be prepared for increasing numbers of people born in Mexico seeking a new life there. The wealthiest are going to Spain and Canada, the working middle class to the United States.

The phenomenon of immigration is gradually changing. Extreme poverty and the Mexican government’s inability to revive the area will no longer be the sole reason for hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homeland. Now the fear of violence and sense of desolation is forcing the diaspora to leave. And who can judge them?

Lydia Cacho Ribeiro (www.lydiacacho.net) is an acclaimed Mexican journalist and advocate for women’s rights. She is the director of Ciamcancun.org, a shelter for battered women and children. Translated by Elena Shore

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