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The background of an accelerated migration flow

During our first field trips to the municipality of Pahuatlân in the summer of 2007, our attention was drawn to the long lines of women waiting to exchange dollar remittances in a microbank, the Mexican Association of Credit Unions from the Social Sector (AMUCSS, its acronym in Spanish), established in 2003. The association promoted the saving and investment of remittances in areas of Mexico located far away from urban centers and lacking financial sendees. From the 1980s, as coffee growing lost viability and pluriactivity gained ground as a compensatory mechanism, the number of households depending on foreign currency increased, with the subsequent activation of informal avenues of dollar remittances based on family and common-origin networks.

The literature about transnational migration recognizes the importance of telephones and electronic media to maintain and reproduce ties with longdistance suppliers (migrant sons/daughters, husbands, fathers/mothers) whose economic support mitigates the precarious situation of many households and communities in Mexico. The rapid incorporation of migration to global financial capital operations takes advantage of the activities surrounding these flows of poor immigrants (agencies that manage remittances, loan and saving systems, telephone and electronic media consumption) to increase their profits despite the ups and downs in the circulation of people and money (Alarcon, 2015; Canterbury, 2012). The impressive circulation of money, goods and news between countries

Accelerated migration to Nuevo New South 63 supplying and receiving workers leads one to think that the connection between these remote regions in the national geography is a recent phenomenon, for which globalization is responsible.

However, our research allows us to assert that the region under study slowly began to take shape in the 1940s as a provider of cheap, precarious and “deportable” (De Genova & Peutz, 2010) labor for the economy of the United States. Under the Bracero Program, signed between both countries and successively renewed between 1942-1964, grandparents and parents of contemporary migrants crossed the border by themselves, without dependents, as temporary workers. At first, they were hired to work laying railway tracks and, later, in the agriculture of the US Southwest.

Under the mobility model of single men without dependents, capital takes advantage of the separation between the costs of maintaining the labor force and its reproduction costs. Hahamovitch (quoted in Binford, 2013, p. 2) points out that the “perfect worker” can be attracted and expelled according to the needs of domestic capitalists. Neither the employers nor the state assumes responsibility regarding migrants’ previous training or social reproduction. The migrant worker cannot aspire to citizenship nor to the rights associated with it. By inviting “guest workers,” nation states seek to import workers that produce surplus value without caring about the real people, their families, needs and expectations beyond the field, the factory or the construction site.

The migratory pattern of unaccompanied men (Alarcon & Mines, 2002) strengthened the narrative of the breadwinner/head of household male and the anchoring of the woman specialized in the reproduction of the group (Cohen, 2005). In Chapter 1 we mentioned the misunderstandings and dissimulation entailed in a superficial reading of this formula underlying migration selectivity on a gender basis. The Bracero program, with a clear gender bias (Cohen, 2005; Flores Alvarez, 2018; Hahamovitch, 2014), set up a subject managed under a temporary mobility regime that was regulated, “not free,” and subject to the terms of the agreement and to the requirements of the agricultural cycle. Such a subject is ambiguous insofar as he is neither a slave nor a free worker. For the duration of the program, nearly four and a half million male workers were mobilized (Durand & Massey, 2003). In parallel, it is estimated that during the 1950s there was an average of four undocumented migrants for each hired worker (Chant, 2007), who constituted a “free,” irregular labor force without contract. The oscillation between "free” and "not free” work, between regularity and irregularity, resulted in the fragmentation and devaluing of the labor force administered by the Bracero Program (Flores Alvarez, 2018).

In certain regions of the state of Puebla, such as the Mixteca and the Atlixco Valley, there was continuity between the mobility associated with the program and undocumented migration in later years (Macias & Herrera, 1997; Marroni, 2006; Smith, 1995). In other areas, there was a clear break between both moments (Binford, 2003). This is the case of the municipality of Pahuatlan, where a gap of nearly three decades existed between the Bracero migration of men, of little repercussion in the economic life of the municipality, and the accelerated,

massive, undocumented migration of the last 30 years. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Bracero migration coexisted with sugarcane production and brown sugar manufacturing. Furthermore, indigenous and mestizo peasants and day laborers were seasonally employed in those years in nearby cities and coffee plantations, as well as in sugarcane and corn fields in the lowlands of the neighboring state of Veraciuz.

State-subsidized coffee growing (Macip, 2005), temporary and intermittent employment and informal activities in urban centers contained, to a certain extent, the migratory flows towards the United States in the northwestern part of the Sierra Norte in the state of Puebla. However, agricultural production gradually lost its centrality in the political economy of the municipality of Pahuatlan due principally to the dismantling of the parastatal INMECAFE, that provided assistance to small coffee growers. Other factors were added to the decline of agriculture: a drop in minimum wage, currency devaluation in 1994 leading to the ruin of hundreds of indebted producers and the devastating effects of climate contingencies, plagues and crop loss, from which smallholder coffee growers and other segments of the population linked to the productive chain of coffee were not able to recover.

Pahuatecos' migration to the United States sprang up again, and it accelerated and massified between 1990 and 2005. In a context characterized by the lack of local opportunities, the economic expansion of the US Southeast (Griesbach, 2011: Levine & LeBaron, 2011; Mohl, 2003; Popke, 2011) constituted a promising lifeline for Pahuatecos/as. The negative effects on the local economy were not only felt by coffee growers: the population in general suffered the consequences of this debacle. Don Samuel, a Pahuateco from the county seat and resident of Durham, North Carolina living with his wife and sons since 1998, remembers this critical juncture and the strategies families deployed in the face of the total abandonment by the state of its already weakened role of supporting rural populations:

My father, in addition to the bakeiy, sold groceries. My father’s business helped me realize how much coffee influenced the economy of the town, and not only the town of Pahuatlan, but all the communities [of the municipality], because when the coffee harvest and the coffee price was high, eveiybody could afford clothing, they could buy everything: meat, bread. I remember [that] in that time my father’s bakery was very successful, but coffee was behind it all. Then there was a frost and all the coffee in the town froze, that was what ruined the town. The town couldn’t do anything but send their sons to the north. “There is no future here,’’ they said.

(Samuel, construction industry worker, Durham, NC, October 2013)

Sons of mestizo coffee growers from the county seat, or families dedicated to traditional trades and commerce, and even teachers and local bureaucrats progressively joined this migratory flow. In short, Pahuatecan migration multiplied and diversified, incorporating men and women from sectors of different

Accelerated migration to Nuevo New South 65 ethnic affiliation, class origin and with higher levels of schooling. The turning point of Pahuatecos/as’ late, accelerated and undocumented migration to the US Southeast was the rearticulation of a rural-rural flow, which connected this municipality of the mountains with agro-industrial areas in Texas in the 1980s. Such migration still had the military imprint of the Bracero Program, masculine and circular. Between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, this flow of undocumented workers redirected itself to North Carolina, progressively subjecting itself to the urban labor market. This market demanded flexible, cheap and unorganized labor in areas of recent capital relocation, especially in the construction sector and in low-paid services where women were over-represented. At the same time, the displacements gradually lost circularity given the increased risks and costs of border crossing, forcing workers to stay in once place longer. In short, the histories of mobility in the region show the tension between forces that retain populations in the territory by creating compulsive social dependency ties and, either successive or overlapping forces that catapult labor to other places. Coffee growing and subsistence production maintained populations in Pahuatlân while the loss of viability of a strategic monoculture devoid of state coverage expelled labor from the region. The pressure exerted by these processes on peasants/artisans and their families yielded absolute surplus value.

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