Personal, National and InternationalPosted: April 1, 2013
One of the major focuses and reasons for the travel seminar was to learn about and see the effects of migration on the countries and communities that migrants are leaving. Though our discussion in Tucson on migration touched on these effects, we mostly focused on what was causing migration, the migrant experience crossing the border, in the U.S. and in the North of Mexico. By visiting Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico, and the communities most affected by migration, we learned about the changing landscape of these places because of migration and the resistance to the journey North, dependence on remittances and the problem of debt. What was also particularly important for me during our time in Guatemala was the opportunity to understand the role of U.S. intervention in the Internal Armed Conflict, economic policies and privatization, and migration, while also seeing and learning about the unbelievable strength, independence, resistance and power of the Guatemalan people. It was really important for us to learn how to avoid U.S. centricism in our understandings and discussion while also understanding the role of the U.S. in Guatemala and the domestic systems of oppression and hierarchies (2% of population owns 85% of land), specifically the historical marginalization of indigenous people. To ignore U.S. intervention would be dishonest and disrespectful to many of the people we met, but to talk about the U.S.’s role in a way that strips agency and power from people would be an unbelievable disservice.
One of the most important discussions for me during our time in Guatemala was with Maria Elisa, an indigenous activist, who spoke a lot about the effects of migration on her community and her resistance to migration, trans-national corporations and mega-projects, and the fight for land and autonomy. Maria Elisa explained how migration (10% of Guatemalans live in the U.S.) has changed the social relations, specifically the gender roles, and the physical landscapes (i.e. abandoned remittance houses) of communities. She also spoke about the dependence on remittances and how they feed privatization, as opposed to supporting community alternative economies, through the construction of new houses and the buying of trans-national products. Additionally remittances go through banks, specifically the Western Union, which profit immensely from the wiring of money. Maria Elisa also spoke about the effects of migration on the social consciousness of communities and how migration creates divisions and weakens communities and their ability to collectively organize and fight. Remittances also play a role in weakening social consciousness through the difference of wealth within the community that weakens feelings of camaraderie and solidarity.
Learning about this direct effect of migration on communities and resistance, within the context of the history of colonization, the Internal Armed Conflict, CAFTA and mega-projects, such as mining, as well as the U.S.’s role in these things, allowed all of us to complicate our understanding and to see the connections between the personal, national and international. I think often times it is very easy to think structurally, to see that 10% of Guatemalans live in the U.S. without realizing what that means for individual people. Being in Guatemala and talking to the people who so graciously shared with us situated individuals at the center of our understanding and learning, which is in itself an act of resistance to the discourse of liberalism and individualism that is based on the stripping of individualism form certain peoples and communities, while in reality personally and profoundly affecting them.
*I would like to make a note on the discourse of individualism, because I think it is extremely complex and needs further explanation. I think the Western and Liberal ideal of individualism functions to justify structures of racism and economic oppression, through attributing individuality to certain people at the expense of the dehumanization of others. However, I am not suggesting that individualism should be extended to those who have been dehumanized and disenfranchised, but rather am interested in understanding how a rejection of communal living and ideals has been replaced by individualism, though that individualism is contradictory and paradoxical in order to function to support systems of power and oppression.