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What did they find upon their return?
Elena, whom we already talked about in Chapter 3, alluded to the difficulties endured by Pahuatecos/as living in North Carolina during the years of the crisis faced with the dilemma of staying or returning.
Well, there are a few who are returning, but some are starting to arrive [in Pahuatlan] given their situation over there. Those who have been there for a short time, maybe get scared easier because they don’t know, they can’t stand it, they’ve never experienced a crisis. Because this isn't the first crisis, for example, each year life is really shitty. There are going to be raids or there were raids. Someone got caught, someone came. They get scared and they come to Mexico. Those who don’t, they make do, they go to another state or wait until the crisis is over. At any rate, three days of work are enough for the whole family to eat or whatever.
(Elena, Pahuatlan de Valle, March 2009)
The export of Pahuatecan workers in the 1990s provided some relative stability during two decades for the reproductive conditions of a segment of the community that depended, directly or indirectly, on the remittances from North Carolina. Due to the exchange difference, commerce and local housing, construction boomed. The expanding tastes in consumer goods and basic services spread to households with and without migrants. Families who monopolized commerce during the past decades obtained the greatest benefits. The offer of private health and education services in urban centers of the region flourished with the demand originating in these towns receiving remittances, while state coverage or the quality of local sendees deteriorated. Given this dependency, the US 2007-2009 economic recession rapidly took a toll on the economy of these households in this corner of the Sierra.
In 2011, we interviewed 35-year-old David who had recently returned to Pahuatlan after two years of working in construction in North Carolina. Upon his return, he set up a blacksmith workshop in the county seat. When we interviewed him, he was the municipal government secretary. Like other businesses directly or indirectly supported by remittances, David’s workshop did not generate the expected income:
In the last year my work as blacksmith dropped almost 50% because most of our jobs are for people living in the United States who are building their houses here. If dollars don’t come in, construction work stops and all the other work here, too. There are no dollars coming in! There are some that are coming in, but only for the family to survive.
(David, 35 years old, Pahuatlán de Valle, April 2011)
As a result of the Mexican State’s abandonment of its already weak protection of indigenous and peasant populations—producers and consumers of basic goods—a compensatory policy was implemented 40 years ago through successive programs of selective intervention. In practice, these programs have configured new fragmented subjects, making up a dissimilar contingent of “extreme poor.”2 Under intervention schemes appropriate to structural adjustments, these programs transfer a significant portion of their operating costs to the beneficiaries themselves, especially women who will be jointly responsible for their achievements and failures. As is the case elsewhere, in Pahuatlán those populist neoliberal state interventions have produced contradictory results (Molyneux, 2006). In practice, this effort has resulted in the criminalization of “vulnerable” populations due to their “addiction” to this aid and for “wasting” a social wealth they have not contributed to generating. Beneficiaries are despised for the irrationality of their consumption habits. A woman living in the most degraded areas of the municipal seat expressed a recurring opinion among residents:
Youth and children don’t do much, most have the support of Oportunidades. Parents are only waiting for the scholarship money to buy shoes. They no longer worry too much about working. A father who works is a strange thing to see, and the same goes for working children and mothers. You go to the towns and they are all at home. Before, they went to work in the peanut harvest; now they don’t plant much anymore. Precisely because they have Oportunidades, they no longer want to work in the field.
(Carmen, 44 years old, Pahuatlán de Valle, August 2008)
Parallel to palliative poverty programs, the state redesigned a “new neoliberal rural subject” (Fitting, 2011) motivated by the aspiration of becoming a business owner (Lem, 2007). In the spirit of “entrepreneurship,” the state launched the program Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns).3 Practices, discourses and interventions from governmental, non-governmental and civil associations, often indistinguishable or overlapping, expressed the privatizing tendency of the state as they created “service providers” and “cultural promoters,” trained in small business administration, charged with spreading the local food, crafts and “organic products.” As a municipal authority, David enthusiastically defended this development path:
Here in Pahuatlán we must bet on tourism, not on agriculture, and we have to make people realize it. Here in Pahuatlán there is nothing else! We have the hanging bridges, we have the artisans! People are going to come eat the traditional food of Pahuatlán and see the really nice arches, the houses and the
Landscape and culture are made into commodities whose circulation feeds the transformation of rural spaces into tourist zones. In order to attract visitors from the capital of the country and its surroundings, government agencies and private operators promoted fairs and local ritual celebrations. The government supported Pahuatlán’s transition to Pueblo Mágico by improving roads, sewers and the town square and installing underground wiring to create a “rustic” aesthetic. This investment was justified by the belief that the creation of jobs would mitigate the fall in remittances and discourage risky migration to the United States. As part of the landscape reconversion, street vendors and beggars were evicted, and the Sunday market was relocated away from the center of town to make space for tourism. Commerce based on local handicraft production took over the center. This over-exploitative work, highly feminized, sustained countless Otomi, Nahua and Mestizo households in the region. After a few years, the results of the Pueblo Mágico had not met the expectations of most people. Informality was widespread, and tourism did not produce the expected economic benefits. Instead, commercial rents went up and so did the cost of life in general.
Our observations of the general conditions in Pahuatlán are important to understanding the process of reintegration. “Knowing where returned migrants arrive is very important, since it has been found that the context [of arrival locations] may help or hinder the possibilities of incorporation to the labor market [and] access to education and health [...]” (Woo Morales & Flores Álvarez, 2015, p. 29). Based on the 2010 Population and Housing Census, these authors (2015, p. 29) find that, at the national level, most returned migrants (53.4 percent) go back to localities with fewer than 15,000 people. In that regard, the difficulties of reintegration into the areas of work, education and health forced some returnees to re-emigrate to the United States or move to other cities.
Mexico City, and the cities of Tulancingo and Pachuca in the neighboring state of Hidalgo (160.4, 40.5 and 88.4km away from Pahuatlán, respectively), have been important attraction centers for Pahuatecos/as since the 1940s and continue to be so today. Migrants returning after the crisis, as well as their parents and grandparents in previous generations, think of those places as spaces where they could resolve what they did not find in their place of origin. In fact, a significant number of people in our sample of households, and returned migrants, began their working lives or went to school in some of those cities.