- Migration in the Americas:Permanent, Cyclical, Temporary, and Forced
When, after thirty years of work on other issues, I stumbled into migration studies through research I had conducted on Senegalese street vendors in Italy, it quickly became clear that inquiry into migration has endless possibilities, in part because migration is a phenomenon that has spanned centuries, especially if we consider its national and international aspects. 1 Geographically, migration knows no bounds, encompassing not only movement from poor to rich regions—from Africa to Europe, South Asia to the Gulf states, Latin America and the Caribbean to the United [End Page 235] States and Canada—but also cross-border journeys that bring Haitians to the Dominican Republic, Bolivians to Argentina, and Salvadorans to Honduras, not to speak of Albanians to Italy, Zimbabweans to Botswana, and Bangladeshis to India.
In terms of approaches, migration studies is literally a free-for-all, with both academic and popular writers seeing the possession of almost any disciplinary or interdisciplinary training, or any inclination, as qualifying them to study and speak to the issue. Researchers often feel pressured to show the relevance of their inquiry to public policy, yet almost any analysis of migration readily finds a place in ongoing, if not never-ending, debates in the "receiving countries" of North America and Europe. In this respect, grant proposals for research in this area practically write themselves, as the rationales needed for the work proposed appear on the front pages of newspapers throughout the advanced capitalist world.
In a field so rich in material, so accessible to all, so fast growing, and fundamentally so disorderly, it is not surprising that there are frequent complaints about the lack of a coherent theoretical framework or paradigm. With respect to Latin America and the Caribbean, we do find masses of data provided by groups devoted to collecting, processing, and disseminating statistics on migration, most notably the Pew Hispanic Center as well as the data bank of the Mexican Migration Project and the Latin American Migration Project, both housed at the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. In addition, there is a vast and ever-expanding body of microstudies of individuals and communities in both sending and receiving societies. However, there is little in the way of elaborated frameworks of analysis, and many studies make no claim to one. Terms such as social network theory may excite the expectation that at least some sophisticated analysis will follow. But often this important-sounding phrase leads only to the suggestion that there is a correlation between having contacts in the receiving society and the likelihood that people who have them will migrate, or that their project of migration will succeed. 2
Debates that once enlivened scholarly gatherings have also largely ended—silenced, as it were—by an excess of agreement. For example, by the time that the editors of a landmark collection on immigrants in New York sat down in the late 1990s to hash out definitions and possibly different understandings of transnationalism as part of their introduction, discussions on the utility and limitations of that term were largely over. [End Page 236] By then, almost everyone was convinced that cyclical migration was and is a reality, that it is possible to feel rooted or rootless in more than one society, and...