Migrants to U.S. send earnings back home

On Oct. 19th, Paula Gutierrez Galindo, a community organizer with the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB), presented “Stories of Mexico’s Displaced” in the McKenna room in the University Center. Her purpose was to try to help listeners understand the reasons why migrants leave their homes, to see the stories behind their journeys, and to learn how they can help. Her tour was sponsored by a group called Witness for Peace Mid-Atlantic, a group dedicated to peace-based initiatives. At the university, the lecture was sponsored by the new global studies major and the Department of Modern Languages.

Galindo grew up in Oaxaca, Mexico, in a family of five children. Over 90 percent of her family has migrated to the United States. When she was a child, she would wait with anticipation along with her siblings for the stories and goods that would return with family members from the United States. The pattern for many workers was to spend six months in the United States and return home for six months. Her older sister and brother migrated, but her brother was forced to return to Mexico to raise his daughter when his wife left. Back in Oaxaca, they are struggling to survive.

“This story is nothing compared to many stories of people who have to migrate to survive,” said Galindo. The only option for countless migrants is to perish from poverty or risk migrating to the United States. Over 50 percent of the immigrants are between 15 and 24 years of age, and Galindo is among the youth “swimming against the stream and trying to stay in Mexico.” Working in her community of Oaxaca, she is able to see firsthand the results of migration, such as loss of indigenous culture, drug use, and the spread of diseases such as AIDS. In one year, the climax, Oaxaca had 250,000 migrants, partly due to the fact that it is one of the three poorest municipalities in the country.

Among other reasons, Galindo explained that people migrate for “employment issues, poverty, search for better living conditions, tradition, and family reunification.”

“It is not for fun or for pleasure ... it is out of necessity that we migrate,” Galindo said. The economic crisis in Mexico is a primary factor, which was worsened, as shown in Galindo's presentation, by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), originating in 1994.

Traditional farmers in Mexico grow organic produce, which is expensive and takes longer to grow. NAFTA made it possible for cheaper, American subsidized food companies to export products to Mexico. A prime example is the corn industry, one of Mexico’s staple food crops. Farmers using organic methods can take 17.8 days to produce one ton of corn, but American grain companies can make one ton in less than 1.2 hours. This cheaper, though genetically modified, corn caused damage to Mexico’s industry. Needless to say, the small farmers of Mexico found it almost impossible to compete. A change in Mexico’s constitution around the same time allowed community lands to be privatized, and poor farmers sold their land to earn the almost 10,000 to 15,000 pesos that it can cost to cross the border. Within the country, foreign companies built factories that, though creating job opportunities, paid the equivalent of $10 for eight hours of hard labor.

The mission of Galindo and the two members of Witness for Peace present at the lecture was to inform the audience about this situation and reveal that there are solutions. One member of Witness for Peace, Ben Beachy, mentioned that “there is a bill in Congress that would be the first to renegotiate NAFTA, called the trade pact.” Galindo’s suggestions were direct, as she urged citizens of both countries to become socially and politically involved and work for equal support for the countryside.

Emily Feenstra, a first-year science and humanities student in a seminar on human rights and global politics taught by Silvia Borzutsky, attended the lecture. “I think that Paula’s situation, the percentage of her family that has migrated, and how people [migrant workers] often return for certain months of the year, was really striking,” she said, adding that she spoke to her class about the lecture. “I think it does speak to awareness of different diversities and being open-minded, especially in political situations.”

Galindo’s tour will continue throughout the mid-east United States until the end of the month, when she will return to her mission of helping the immigrants of Oaxaca and earning her master’s degree. Her journey is just one example of those working to help solve the concerns of migration from the perspectives of those on both sides of the border.