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Deceleration of migration and the selectivity of return migration in the Northern Sierra of Puebla


Between 2007 and 2009, the most critical years of the so-called great crisis, employment in the masculinized construction sector in the United States, where the majority of Hispanic migrants work, dropped 25 percent. In contrast, foreign-born Hispanic women experienced an employment gain of almost 10 percent in personal, laundiy and private household services (Rothstein, 2016, p. 11). The differential drop in employment according to gender was also reflected in the number of migrant returns to Mexico (Arroyo-Alejandre, Berumen-Sandoval, & Rodriguez-Àlvarez, 2010; Woo Morales & Flores Alvarez, 2015). The new international division of labor expresses itself in the marked differences in employment and return according to gender and national origin during the years of economic recession. Various processes are interwoven behind these differences: the global increase of women in wage labor in deindustrialized economies, the redefinition of their responsibilities both in and out of their households, socio-demographic changes, population aging, and welfare state restructuring in the destination countries (Verschuur, 2013). The lethal effects of structural adjustment programs in impoverished countries and regions that supply so-called cheap labor also lie behind the differences in migrants’ employment and return. Immigrant labor is highly coveted for reducing production costs in certain economic sectors of destination countries or to relaunch or reorient economies of vast regions, as is the case of the so-called Nuevo New South.

Going beyond the idea of gender as an individual attribute (cfr. Chapter 1), we conceptualize it as a fundamental structural element of migration, shaping a variety of practices, identities and institutions involved in the configuration of migration flows. New perspectives in the field unearthed the complex relationship between gender, migration and social reproductive crisis. We agree with Fraser (2017, p. 22) that

every form of capitalist society harbors a deep-seated social reproductive ‘crisis tendency’ or ‘contradiction.’ On the one hand, social reproduction is a condition of possibility for sustained capital accumulation; on the other

Selectivity of return to Puebla 109 hand, capitalism’s orientation to unlimited accumulation tends to destabilize the very process of social reproduction on which it relies.

According to Williams (2014, p. 12), for Fraser

most analyses of the current capitalist crisis are gender blind and asserts the obverse, that feminism lacks a framework to link social changes affecting gender relations to this crisis [... Fraser] suggests that we need an integrated approach to understand how these dimensions relate to each other.

Coinciding with Fraser’s claim, several feminist authors (Farris, 2019; Kofman & Raghuram, 2015; Verschuur, 2013; Williams, 2014), among others, consider the relationship between migration and the crisis in social reproduction, along with the crises in ecology and finance, as the main pillars of the contemporary crisis of global capitalism.

In this chapter, we analyze the deceleration of a migratory flow to North Carolina and the selective return to the municipality of Pahuatlán, in Central Mexico, inspired in these debates about the crisis in social reproduction. The empirical foundation of the discussion is provided by information obtained from interviews with 51 returnees in the municipality of Pahuatlán and in the Northern Sierra of Puebla, between 2007-2010 and 2010-2014, as well as in Durham and Orange County, North Carolina, in 2013 and 2014. Interviews are complemented by the results of a survey applied to 135 households in Pahuatlán. We assume that the reinstatement of the returnees in their places of origin— transitory or at times definitive—does not constitute a “triumphant moment [that] puts things back where they were” (Pascual de Sans, 1983, p. 72). As Rivera Sánchez states (2015, p. 246), return does not necessarily imply going back to the family origins and to the [unmodified] birthplace. On the contrary, it includes a series of displacements not only of the spatial-territorial kind, but also positional and, fundamentally, biographical. Return entails a relocation in the social space. From our perspective, Pahuatecan migrants’ return before and after the economic and financial recession in the United States expresses the oscillating relationship of surplus populations with capital, trapped in the sway between full employment, underemployment and unemployment on both sides of the border. Such a relationship can be grasped in the ethnographic record both in individual and group work trajectories, in the same generation or inter-generationally. In addition, both at the macro and the micro level, return entails destabilization and reorganization of reproductive processes in binational households integrated by citizens and non-citizens wielding uneven rights, hindering— or at times facilitating—the mobility of the group, or of some of its members, between both countries.

In the following section, we present the theoretical coordinates framing our reflection. Next, we discuss the selectivity of returning to Mexico or staying in the United States and the context in which these men and women went back to Mexico. In the last section, we analyze return considering the two migration modalities identified in the municipality of Pahuatlan: the mobility of workers without dependents who return to Mexico alone and family return migration.

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