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Return to Pahuatlan

Of the 51 returned people interviewed, 35 were men and 16 were women, a proportion similar to the national statistics of return in 2010: 72 percent men and 28

percent women (Woo Morales & Flores Alvarez, 2015, p. 30). For Pahuatlan, we distinguish those who returned alone, without dependents, and the return of the family group. Both types remained in the United States for 12 years on average. Men had more crossings in their trajectory, and none was older than 35 in their last return to Pahuatlan. The first group, comprised of two women and 19 men, single or married, went alone and came back alone, without dependents. They were not able to regularize their migratory situation during their time in the United States. The second group, smaller in size, was integrated by men and women who came back married and with very young children. They were also unable to legalize their migratory status after over a decade of living in the United States.

Other studies have highlighted the importance of distinguishing between returnees without dependents and the return of family groups. Moctezuma and Martinez (2016, p. 140) maintain that this variable has an important predictive weight regarding the likelihood of staying of those who return. The authors argue that migrants who return with their families tend to abandon the circular mobility pattern and re-establish themselves in Mexico. Based on following households and individuals for almost ten years, we were able to ascertain that the family return does not necessarily imply the reinstallation of the entire group in the parents’ birthplace, nor does it entail the end of the migratory trajectory of these workers. This is due to the fact there are usually children born in the United States who are emigrating to Mexico in these households. Further, re-emigration of another family member, or even of the entire group, is frequent. Although unemployment and underemployment, combined with the greater restrictions and risks of clandestine border crossings, encouraged return to Pahuatlan, they did not cancel the migratory trajectories deployed in an accelerated manner in the 1990s.

Return migration without dependents

Those who returned alone—single, married or divorced—arrived at the paternal home, in whose construction or improvement they had contributed through the remittances sent to their family. The return to the paternal home involved the transition from living in North Carolina in “homes of single men”—where they took care of their own food preparation, laundry, house cleaning and healthcare—to living in their parents’ home, once more, as adult children, whose social reproduction depended on the work of mothers and/or wives. An example of this is the case of Ramiro, 26 years old, who migrated in 2000 and returned in 2007 to the paternal home, where he lived with his parents and two adolescent sisters. Even though he contributed to the family expenses, he assumes that this is his father’s obligation and that he will become independent when he gets married.

These young males are part of that cohort who managed to go beyond the basic educational level of the previous generation. In the 1980s, the Tele Secundaria (distance learning program for secondary school) coverage was

Selectivity of return to Puebla 121 extended in the municipality, and high school coverage was extended in 2000. The youngest left their paternal home with little work experience and "failed” educational trajectories, characterized by their underperformance. We registered a generalized opinion among high school teachers who felt that students’ desire to migrate was related to low levels of academic achievement and abandonment of school trajectories. A high school teacher from the locality of Xolotla explained:

It is the lack of awareness, because there is no other reason. The student graduates from secondary school thinking about going away to work, going to the United States or to other places in the country. About twenty percent of our high school graduates are in the United States.

(Professor Diana, Xolotla, Pahuatlàn, January 2008)

Another teacher with migratory experience in the United States, said that migration has not brought anything good to the young people nor to the population of the municipality: “only bad habits and inappropriate ways of dressing, like cholos.”

Despite these negative opinions, those who migrated to North Carolina for the first time as single individuals, sent remittances home on a regular basis. An employee of the Microbank pointed out that single children sent the greatest amount of remittances from North Carolina. After the crisis, the households associated with single migrants, which during nearly a decade depended on the dollars sent by their children, saw their economic situation crumble. A significant portion of these resources was used in the education of younger siblings, thus contributing to the reproduction of the next cohort of cheap workers in places where commodity production did not support livelihoods. Almost everyone stated that since school “didn't please them, they preferred to go to Carolina;” however, paradoxically, they sponsored their younger siblings’ education and, when interviewed in Pahuatlàn, considered that “it’s always best to finish school.”

Almost none of the younger returnees had work experience before their first trip to the United States. Mothers and fathers were convinced that school would allow them to leave behind the despised jobs they had in the field, the factories, as porters in the big supply centers of the capital, or as domestics. This explains why they wanted their children to continue studying as a secure path to overcoming the poverty of their households. Upon returning to the town, these young people saw their hopes of working in the municipality or in the neighboring towns dashed. Their work experience was limited to construction work. The few who, upon their return, managed to insert themselves in that sector did so in the lowest positions, earning precarious salaries. Only two migrated to Mexico City, and another re-emigrated to North Carolina, once more “with no papers.” After a few months, the latter returned to the city of Guadalajara. Some returnees from San Pablito, Pahuatlàn, at least had the opportunity of temporarily inserting themselves in the fabrication of am ate paper and chaquira jewelry, activitiesthat used to belong exclusively to women. Others invested their few savings brought from the north in a vehicle to offer public transportation or set up a business—small grocery stores, bars, beer shops, small restaurants. These small businesses catered to the demands of foreign teachers and bureaucrats settled in the county seat and, in particular, of the tourists that were expected to visit the Pueblo Magico that Pahuatlan became in March 2012. Taxis soon saturated the market and few enterprises remain in business.

The precariousness of employment in Mexico, the difficulty of maintaining their businesses and the lack of planning their return have affected the reinstatement of these returnees, who "do not return in favorable conditions that would allow them to reinstate as workers on their own, or as retirees” (Mestries, 2013, p. 183). In this scenario of generalized precariousness, these young migrant returnees went on to join the ranks of the surplus population. Once again, they started the cycle of employment-underemployment-unemployment that has marked their lives since their early childhood. These men wander around the streets of their towns, waiting for “something to come by, anything” that allows them to overcome their difficult situation. Some blame themselves for having wasted the savings they brought back on gifts for family and friends, on alcohol and women. They are convinced that things have not turned out well given their “bad head and bad acquaintances.”

Almost all of them had a hard time talking about the real reasons for their return. Initially, they alluded to the desire of seeing their families and friends they had left in town, and to the monotony of their lives in the United States: "from home to work and from work to home, it was boring.” During a long interview or in successive talks, they admitted that the reasons that forced them to come home were the lack of work or the decrease in wages, the tiredness and physical discomfort caused by the long and heavy working hours, the loneliness, the failure, the persecution of immigration authorities and racism. Their elusive answers are tainted by shame in the face of the failure of their migratory enterprise, having wasted the best years of their lives, abandoning their parents and school, which could have been, as teachers believe, a reliable way to overcome the chronic poverty that has taken hold of their households. The young migrant returnee is an ambiguous subject: on the one hand, problematic, but on the other, someone who, at some point, contributed to the revitalization not only of his home, but also of the municipality.

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