Guatemala–U.S. Migration: Transforming Regions by Susanne Jonas and Nestor Rodriguez (review)
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Guatemala–U.S. Migration: Transforming Regions. Susanne Jonas and Nestor Rodriguez. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014. xii + 276 pp. Tables, photos, notes, bibl., index. $24.95 paper (ISBN 978-0-292-76826-0).

In their book, Guatemala–U.S. Migration: Transforming Regions, Jonas and Rodriguez present a detailed study of a lesser-studied Latin American immigrant community—Guatemalans. Although neither author is a geographer, this book is informed by geographic theory, with a particular emphasis on the social production of space. They present evidence for the creation of a migration region incorporating home communities in Guatemala, spaces in Mexico, and settlement regions in the United States. They argue that Guatemalans did not produce “new” space, but “resocial[ed] a preexisting region in a continual process of sociospatial reproduction” (p. 6). They lay out the plan for the book and its six chapters, with three primary areas of focus: structural processes and policies in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States that resulted in the formation of the Guatemalan community; the differences between Mayan and ladino migrants and the evolution of their communities and changing identities when in the U.S.; and detailed case studies of two communities—Houston and San Francisco.

The second chapter provides an excellent analysis of Guatemalan immigration, both documented and undocumented, from 1970 to 2011, organizing it into five phases explained by escalations of the civil war, changing policies and economic restructuring in the U.S., and activist responses to those policies. Guatemalans entered the U.S. in small numbers in the 1960s and early 1970s, whether as documented or undocumented migrants, and were dwarfed by most other immigrant communities. They demonstrate the relationship between increased violence, especially against highland Mayans, the lack of employer sanctions when hiring undocumented laborers, and sympathy for the plight of Guatemalans (and Salvadorans) by religious and other social groups who fought for asylum for these migrants. They trace the growth of the Guatemalan population in the U.S. through amnesty provided by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), and contrast the experience of Salvadorans and Hondurans who received temporary protected status with that of Guatemalans who were not granted this additional opportunity for protection. Legalization through amnesty and successful asylum cases strengthened the transnational networks, resulting in both increases in migration to the U.S. and economic connections with home communities. By the 1990s, there is a second generation who has formed a Guatemalan American identity and community while new arrivals face increasingly stringent immigration laws, a tension that remains into the new millennium. The [End Page 128] third chapter thoroughly explores the roles of the various community-based organizations (CBOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in fighting for documented status for Guatemalans during these time periods. Although this chapter becomes somewhat tedious when trying follow which acronym represents which organization and what they fought for, this does provide an excellent resource for scholars interested in the role of CBOs and NGOs in immigrant community formation and national immigration policy.

The fourth and fifth chapters are detailed case studies of the Guatemalan communities in Houston and San Francisco, respectively, as they emerged and matured through the phases presented in the second chapter. The authors contrast the experiences of Mayan Guatemalans whose social status improved by migrating to the U.S. by gaining identity as Guatemalans equal to ladinos, to the experiences of ladinos, for whom the immigration experience moved them from a majority position to minority. The Houston case study is an excellent example of location-specific immigration, tracing the connection between the dominant source community of San Cristobal and Houston, and the adaptation of highland Mayan culture to this urban center. The San Francisco case study focuses on the Mission District, where Guatemalans have been one of the Latin American immigrant groups living there. The authors describe the changes in the Mission District as the Latino community became more diverse, and then as the neighborhood began to experience gentrification. The first author adds personal comments as a resident of the Mission District during the period under study, thus a participant-observer directly affected by the changing dynamics of the neighborhood. It also describes...