February 11, 2005

Immigrant Representative from Michoacán and the Wish to Return

Part 3 of 3

After many years of pressuring the authorities, immigrants from Michoacán, Mexico, who reside in the United States, finally sent their first elected representative in the Michoacán state legislature. The openness of the government of the state of Michoacán and society¹s familiarity with immigration issues were also important factors in the realization of this historical event.

By Eduardo Stanley

“If I go north to be with my family, they will not come here. They won¹t have anyone left to visit.”

Delfina Soto, Angahuan, Michoacán, México

Morelia, Michoacán, México — Immigration may be a worldwide phenomenon resulting, above all, from economic factors, but with the passage of time, it has been transformed into a very complex reality. México and the United States share a border, some common history, and most importantly, a mutual necessity for so-called “combined and unequal development,” or the interdependence of both economies that assigns Mexico the primary role as provider of a labor force.

Much has already been written about the phenomenon of immigrant workers’ cultural influence at other latitudes and the ways in which these immigrants have replicated their traditions and customs. Among the many consequences of the immigrant phenomenon is immigrants’ desire to return, driving a return migration to their land of origin.

The majority of first-generation immigrants dream about returning to their homeland. That is why it is said that deeply rooted sentiments accompany the remittances immigrants from Michoacán send back home. A little bit of love delivered by Western Union. Returning! And what could be better than returning, with a job, to invest in or serve their community of origin?

In this light, it is not difficult to understand why, aside from any political considerations, and leaving his family and job behind, Jesus Martinez Saldaña accepted the challenge of representing in the state legislature of Michoacán those natives of Michoacán who reside in the United States.

In Michoacán, one of the Mexican states with a greater tradition of immigration, members of six out of every ten families have experience with immigration‹either their own or that of another family member. Many immigrants return of their own accord, either because they wish to do so or because they are overcome by nostalgia.

“I returned when Lazaro Cardenas Batel took office and an opportunity to work in his government was offered to me,” explained Claudio Mendez Fernandez, 33, coordinator of the Office of Immigrant Affairs. This agency, which grew from a staff of three to one of 28 employees, offers important services to immigrants from Michoacán ranging from giving legal advice to prisoners on death row in the United States, locating missing persons, making payments for food stamps, and providing assistance for those immigrants who wish to invest in Michoacan, to implementing an important distance learning project.

“One day I asked myself what I was doing there, and it was then that I decided to return,” commented Victor Vargas Anguiano, 46. “I believe I was looking for my roots, and even though at first I missed the United States, that feeling gradually disappeared.” Vargas, who admitted having suffered the effects of racism while in the United States, completed his studies in sociology in Mexico City and then moved to Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, where he is the director of the Academic Exchange program at the private Latina University of America.

Constantino Silva was six years old when his family migrated to California, following the footsteps of his father, now a retired bracero. At present, at 36 years of age, Silva is the only member of his family to have returned to Michoacán, where he has lived for the past five years. “I came here because of a kind of romantic illusion. My older brothers used to talk about Morelia, and this made me dream about living here,” said Silva, director of the Language Center at the same university. “We don’t enjoy the same standard of living here as back there, but what makes a huge difference is the way we coexist. We find all kinds of excuses, reasons, to get together, to celebrate. We enjoy life so much more.”

Both professionals confirm knowing about other cases, similar to theirs, of voluntary “repatriates.” Just like those who migrated to the North, the immigrants who have returned also bring with them different customs and new professional skills. And even though the flow back south is smaller, its cultural impact has begun to be felt. In fact, in the convening legislature, six of the deputies from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have lived the immigrant experience, particularly in California. Their presence will be decisive when the proposal for a law to grant political rights to natives of Michoacán living abroad is discussed in the legislature.  

This greater complexity of the phenomenon of immigration demands a redefining of such concepts as “citizenship,” which today is limited to compliance to certain local laws designed for residents of a specific region. Legislative discussions around immigrants’ right to vote are enriching the debate over the role of these transnationals, and not only in the confines of family economic life.

Activities uniting immigrants in faraway lands contribute to a phenomenon similar to that of “sentimental remittances.” Manuel Correa Alfaro’s story is a case in point. He arrived in Chicago in 1956 and was a pioneer in the creation of clubs for Michoacános. “My father wanted to get people together to provide mutual support so that they wouldn’t end up washing dishes, like we did when we first arrived,” said his son, Jose Manuel Correa, now 57, born in Ciudad Hidalgo, Michoacán.

Today, Jose Manuel Correa is one of the pillars of the organizations of immigrants from Michoacán in the United States who are pressuring the Mexican government for voting rights. Correa arrived in Mor-elia this past January 14 to participate in the inauguration of the state legislature. “We have so much left to do” he said, proudly glancing in the direction of his compatriots from different cities across the United States who also came to Morelia in support of the first immigrant representative they had helped to elect.

The old generation of immigrant Michoacános continues to clear the way for others.

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