Left behind on the ‘other side’

May 6, 2008 at 12:36 pm Leave a comment

Jessa Lauren Hollett / Adelante staff
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

A smiling man in his late thirties, with wrinkles around his eyes, plucks up the chubby 2-year-old baby crawling past him on the dirt floor. The little boy is his nephew, the son of a brother who left behind his home and family to work in the United States for a time. The baby, Jesús, better known as “Chuy Chiquito,” Little Chuy, begins to squirm.

The adults, seated in broken plastic chairs on a packed dirt patio, are talking about the mass exodus of working-age men from their rural village in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. Most men in the area have been to the United States at least once, where they work illegally in low-skill jobs that pay more than any opportunity their homeland could offer them.

“And you?” the man asks Little Chuy in Spanish baby talk. “Are you going to stay here in Mexico when you grow up?”

Little Chuy, still squirming, answers this question the same way he answers everything else; with a decided “No!” An answer which, though uninformed, is most likely correct.

According to a study conducted from 1997-2002 by the Center for Planning and Strategic Investment, the state of Guanajuato lost approximately 5.4 percent of their population in those years to what they call “El Otro Lado,” The Other Side.

Although it is very difficult to estimate and find how many people exactly have left their homes, it is apparent there are many men (as well as some women and entire families) that are missing from the area. Everyone knows at least one person in their family, or a close friend, who is missing their husband, their father, their brothers or uncles or cousins, in the name of a better life.

There has been much deliberation about the plight of the poor in Mexico in recent months. The majority of discussion focuses around the immigrants themselves. But what about their families; the mothers they leave behind; the wives they leave behind; the children they leave behind?
Mari, a 26-year-old mother of three, who–like all the women interviewed–asked that her last name not be printed, lives alone with her children in a cinderblock house in a small rural community in the state of Guanajuato. Her husband works on a strawberry farm in California, sending money back in monthly letters that she says describe long hours in the heat, no days off, and hard labor that leaves him exhausted. The money he has sent back has been used to build a cinderblock wall in the front of the house that was once a lean-to line of reeds.

“The house was not big enough for us and all three of our babies,” Mari said in Spanish, rocking the youngest in a rope hammock that served as a cradle. “With the money he was earning here in Mexico, we only had enough so we could eat, but nothing more. The money he earns in California is a little bit more; enough that we will one day be able to add rooms to the house and pay for our children to go to school.”

In spite of how proud she is of the cinderblock wall, Mari says she would rather have her husband at home than a bigger house.

“I am very lonely and sad here without him,” Mari said. “And it is easy to see that the children miss him; when they talk to him on the phone, they ask him to come home and they sometimes cry.”

Edith, a 22-year-old mother of one, also worries about her husband missing out on watching their daughter grow.

“I am worried because my little one doesn’t know her father,” Edith said. “When he returns, she’s not going to know him. And I am worried that the money he is making is not enough to make it worth it to have never known our daughter when she was small.”

Edith lives in a rural village in Guanajuato with her parents and younger siblings. Her husband left for the U.S. about two years ago, where he works in construction and gardening. Their daughter, 3-year-old Montserrat, was less than a year old when he left. They are unsure of when he will return.

“He left because we wanted a better life, for us, for our daughter,” Edith said. “Later, when he comes back, we will live a better life. We just have to wait.”

Pablo, a 7-year-old boy who lives in the city of San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, has not seen his father for two years. Pablo’s father left for the United States to work in construction, and plans on returning later this year, though that is not certain. Pablo’s sister, four-year-old Sofi, has no real memory of their father.

“I miss him a lot,” Pablo said. “But people who go to work on the Other Side can buy bigger houses, or another house, or a nice car. In fact, I want to go there to work when I’m old enough.”
In a recent study conducted by Save the Children Mexico, children with immigrant family members were asked, “How do you feel when people in your family go to work in the United States?” The majority of the children surveyed answered that they felt worried (63 percent) and sad (61 percent). Only 11.2% of the children surveyed said they felt happy.

According to León Rodriguez Garcia, a pedagogy expert who works in local schools in rural Guanajuato, many children idealize the migrant life after seeing that returned migrants have bigger houses, nicer clothes and big trucks with loud speakers.

“They want those nice and expensive things,” Rodriguez said. “They forget that those men had to leave behind their families to earn that.”

Carlos Foulkes of Save the Children Mexico also says that the children of Guanajuato are not interested in staying behind to live and work in the countryside.

“Their family is connected to the land, to Mexico,” Foulkes said. “But they want to move up; they are uninterested by life there in the countryside.”

Foulkes also said that rural Mexico is a very “machista” society, in which women are made to feel like less than the men. As a result, the families that are left behind, that are lacking men, are viewed as less in the community. Rodriguez agrees that the “macho” society of the areas affected by immigration can be devastating to children lacking a paternal figure.

“I have noticed this with bullies in schools,” Rodriguez said. “You find out that the most aggressive kids are often fatherless. They feel that they have to prove that they are still tough, even though they were raised by a woman alone. Even though they miss their fathers terribly.”
Edith is also very concerned that the immigrants working in the United States are often paid less than a fair wage, sometimes less than the legal minimum wage, in their labor-intensive jobs.

According to various studies, most Mexican migration to the U.S. follows a similar pattern: The immigrants are usually working-age men from rural areas, though with passing years, the immigrants are leaving at younger ages and a substantial number of women have also chosen to immigrate to the U.S. to work. About half return periodically to visit their families. However, the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are only in the U.S. for a set period of time, eventually returning.

“They are just there because they need to earn money to help their families,” Edith said. “If all they are given is the bare minimal pay, they’ll just be there longer.”

exhausted. The money he has sent back has been used to build a cinderblock wall in the front of the house that was once a lean-to line of reeds.

“The house was not big enough for us and all three of our babies,” Mari said in Spanish, rocking the youngest in a rope hammock that served as a cradle. “With the money he was earning here in Mexico, we only had enough so we could eat, but nothing more. The money he earns in California is a little bit more; enough that we will one day be able to add rooms to the house and pay for our children to go to school.”

She is proud of the cinderblock wall, but Mari says she would rather have her husband at home.
“I am very lonely and sad here without him,” Mari said. “And its easy to see that the children miss him; when they talk to him on the phone, they ask him to come home and sometimes cry.”
Edith, a 22-year-old mother of one, also worries about her husband missing out on watching their daughter grow.

“I am worried because my little one doesn’t know her father,” Edith said. “When he returns, she’s not going to know him. And I am worried that the money he is making is not enough to make it worth it to have never known our daughter when she was small.”

Edith lives in a rural village in Guanajuato with her parents and younger siblings. Her husband left for the U.S. about two years ago, where he works in construction and gardening. Their daughter, 3-year-old Montserrat, was less than a year old when he left. They are unsure of when he will return.

In a recent study conducted by Save the Children Mexico, children with immigrant family members were asked, “How do you feel when people in your family go to work in the United States?” The majority of the children surveyed answered that they felt worried (63 percent) and sad (61 percent). Only 11.2 percent of the children surveyed said they felt happy.

According to León Rodriguez Garcia, a pedagogy expert who works in local schools in rural Guanajuato, many children idealize the migrant life after seeing that returned migrants have bigger houses, nicer clothes and big trucks with loud speakers.

“They want those nice and expensive things,” Rodriguez said. “They forget that those men had to leave behind their families to earn that.”

Carlos Foulkes of Save the Children Mexico says that Guanajuato children aren’t interested in staying in the countryside.

“Their family is connected to the land, to Mexico,” Foulkes said. “But they want to move up.”
Foulkes also said that rural Mexico is a very “machista” society, in which women are made to feel less than the men. As a result, the families that are left behind, that are lacking men, are viewed as less in the community. Rodriguez agrees that the “macho” society of the areas affected by immigration can be devastating to children lacking a paternal figure.

“I have noticed this with bullies in schools,” Rodriguez said. “You find out that the most aggressive kids are often fatherless. They feel that they have to prove that they are still tough, even though they were raised by a woman alone. Even though they miss their fathers terribly.”
According to various studies, most Mexican migration to the U.S. follows a similar pattern: The immigrants are usually working-age men from rural areas, though with passing years, the immigrants are leaving at younger ages and a substantial number of women have also chosen to immigrate to the U.S. to work. About half return periodically to visit their families. However, the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are only in the U.S. for a set period of time, eventually returning.

“They are just there because they need to earn money to help their families,” Edith said. “If all they are given is the bare minimal pay, they’ll just be there longer.”

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Entry filed under: Crossing Borders 2008. Tags: , , .

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