restricted access 2 Theoretical Perspectives on Labor Migration
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

27 Chapter Two Theoretical Perspectives on Labor Migration I was about 17 years of age in 1910. I went alone, hoping that I would make some money. People had already talked to me about el norte. A man, who worked a small plot of land on the edge of the pueblo, had gone and returned and went again. He had talked to me about his experience, and, well, I grew anxious to go, and so I soon went after that. What motivated me? Well, I made 25 cents here [in Michoacán], and that was what they paid us. What do you think of that? We were here literally barefooted and naked. We wore manta [peasant cloths] and guaraches with one strap securing them to our feet. Well, life was tough—that was when people started going and going. I also started going, and then little by little many people began to go. In little time the path was paved. You see now. People don’t want to stay here. —A Xaripu migrant (Fonseca and Moreno 1984, 139–40)1 Why did Xaripus begin to leave Mexico and come to el norte when they did? Why did they take almost two-thirds of a century after the first pioneering migrants to settle on a more permanent basis in the 28 The Xaripu Community across Borders United States? Why do later generations maintain active and meaningful social ties with the homeland?2 And what changes have these Xaripus experienced by living in between different social worlds? This chapter addresses these basic questions by reviewing three major theoretical perspectives and introducing a fourth conceptual framework for understanding the Xaripu experience. The push-pull model is one of the most commonly cited explanations for why people immigrate to the United States. Popular with the public, civic officials, and the media, it offers a seemingly common-sense explanation of migration—as articulated well by the Xaripu migrant above. The experiences seemingly fits the logic of classical economics in insisting that individuals realize that there are more jobs, higher wages, social services, political freedoms, and so forth in America (the “pull”) than in their impoverished, politically repressive, and overpopulated third-world countries (the “push”) and so leave their homelands to immigrate to the United States. New economic theories elaborate on the push-pull model by placing rationalindividualswhoseekcapitalwithinawebofsocial­ relationships— family and community—that limit, enhance, and shape the decision to immigrate (Massey et al. 2002). But though these and other variants of push-pull theories explain individual migration, their limits are too serious to ignore (Portes and Rumbaut 1996; Parreñas 2001b; Gonzalez and Fernandez 2003). They fail to provide a sufficient explanation of mass migration and to elaborate the historical-structural relationships (political , economic, and cultural) between the sending and the receiving­ societies. This grave omission obscures the history of modern labor migration as a product of global-national inequalities and reflects an in­ ability or refusal to recognize that the political-economic conditions of the sending and receiving countries are fundamentally related (Chang 2000; Sassen 2003; Bonacich and Cheng 1984). The Xaripu community’s labor migration experiences exist within a global-historical context of racial, gender, and class inequalities. Three perspectives—structural, transnational, and internal colonial—help explain the migratory processes that have shaped the Xaripu experience. But though each theoretical model highlights an important factor in the migration experience,I propose a framework—interactive ­ colonization— that synthesizes the most cogent contributions of these perspectives and Theoretical Perspectives on Labor Migration  29 highlights the complex relationships and developments that shape the Xaripu experience. Structural Perspectives Contrary to the ahistorical flaws in the push-pull model’s explanation of migration, structural theories identify the history of imperialism3 as the chief cause of mass migration from specific regions of the world. This perspective highlights the causal relationship between capital mobility and labor migration (Sassen 1996b; Portes and Rumbaut 1996; Kearney 1996; Gonzalez and Fernandez 2001, 2003; De Genova and ­RamosZayas 2003), including how military interventions, labor recruitment, and foreign investment displace people from their homelands and directly contribute to large-scale migrations of both capital and workers (see Fernandez-Kelly 1983; Kay 1989; Gómez-Quiñones 1994; Sassen 1988, 1996b, 1998; Gonzalez and Fernandez 2003). As Bonacich and Cheng elaborate, capitalism has an inherent tendency toward economic imperialism. Capitalism suffers from long-term, cyclical crises originating “from a decline in the rate of profit, leading capitalists to reduce their investments, which in turn leads to...


pdf