Matthew Dunn

Dr. Koptiuch, Kristin

Professor, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Migration & Culture

May 13, 2003


Case Study Ethnography Report

Red, White, Blue, and Green

The border between Mexico and the United States has witnessed millions of individuals crossing to and from each country. Migration involves the (more or less) permanent movement of individuals or groups across symbolic or political boundaries into new residential areas and communities (Marshall, 1998, p. 415). Some cross for travel experiences, some cross for quick visits to see relatives, and others are crossing the border to improve their quality of life. From a negative point of view, some pay an absurd amount of money to "coyotes" to smuggle themselves and family members across the border, and some cross to smuggle narcotics for the drug cartel. This case study ethnography focuses on how government issues have a spiraling effect on immigrants trying to make a living in America, with a special focus on immigrant’s experiences working in day labor sites in America, a solution, and a resolve.

The first person I spoke with to get a little bit of insight on Mexican immigration was Grandma Soria, my wife’s grandmother. She was born in Durango, Mexico and when she was five years old her mother passed away. She was left living with her two brothers, a sister and her father. Even back in the 1920’s, Grandma Soria said that it was difficult to make a living in Mexico and her family immigrated to Luboc, Texas. She only attended school up until the third grade because her entire family unit had to work together in the cotton fields in order to make enough money for rent and food. Because of her limited schooling, she had to teach herself the English language. Her family traveled often to find work and spent many hours in fields to earn only a few cents a day. She actually met her husband working in a cotton field and got married at the age of seventeen. By the time they were in their forties, after years of hard work, they had a successful landscaping business and four healthy daughters. They owned a couple of cars and had a three bedroom home in a relatively upstanding neighborhood. She feels that in comparison to many other immigration stories, they were very fortunate to have been as successful as they were. She says that her family felt their share of discrimination, however, they were very lucky to have met some "white" Americans that helped them establish their landscaping business. She lost touch with her brothers, but maintained a relationship with her sister. They did not have to send remittances to Mexico because all of her family that she knew of was here in America.

I heard similar stories at a day labor pick-up site in El Mirage, Arizona. My mother-in-law, who is Mexican, accompanied me to this site and stood in as my translator as we approached the laborers. We arrived at approximately five o’clock in the morning, and there were already a handful of men waiting for opportunities of work to arise. As the morning went on, more people arrived, and at the same time others left to various job sites. Most of the work seemed to have been for agriculture, construction and landscape work. Few of the men that my mother-law and I came in contact with did not speak very good English and were very shy about speaking of their personal history. A good number of these men were forced out of Mexico because of a lack of employment, left their families behind, and were working here in America to earn enough money to send remittances home to their families. One particular worker, Jon V., opened up a little more than the others. Jon V. felt that September 11th did have an impact on the economy, but that it seemed to be getting better. The way it affected him was that the average pay rates declined for awhile, and now they are on their way to being back to normal. However, he still does run into some problems with trusting an employer’s promises for accommodating a good day’s work. About a couple of weeks ago, Jon V. said that even a Mexican-American man tried to take advantage of his need for work. The Mexican-American landscaper said he had a job consisting of five working days cleaning up a yard set for re-landscaping at a rate of fifty dollars a day. Jon V felt that he hit the jack pot, and was overjoyed by his good fortune. However, as soon as they got to the job site, Jon V. learned that this contractor lied to him. Without warning, the landscaper changed his mind and informed Jon V. that he would pay less than half of what he had offered him in the first place. Since Jon V is an illegal immigrant, he felt that he had no choice but to take it. He was just glad to be working, especially since back home in a town outside of Mexico City, Mexico, work was scarce. Across much of the nation, undocumented Mexicans have become vital to the agricultural, packing and restaurant industries, keeping your food bills manageable. They dominate construction jobs, working at subunion wages so you can pay less rent or a lower mortgage (Dying to work).

Many of the day laborer’s all seemed to share the same historical fate, and they were all relaying the same message that they were forced out of Mexico because the abundant amount of competition for a rare number of jobs and economical reason to. As well, the increase in inflation has affected the cost of goods and services, and has surpassed the family income as a whole. One would think that a country as large as Mexico would be able to supply enough employment for hard working people, limiting the amount of people needing to immigrate in order to provide for their families. There is plenty of land for farming and construction projects, and Mexico has some of the world’s largest natural resources. This prompted me to research why Mexico is not able to accommodate its’ natives for employment.

The drug cartel and the political party PRI, Partido de la Revolucionario Institucional, has kept down the Mexican people for numerous years and continues to do so even though NAFTA was organized. On a recent trip to Nogales, accompanied by Borderlinks, one of the speakers mentioned how the people of Mexico fear the drug cartel and the cartel is somewhat of a dictatorship. Also, the cartel entices people to smuggle for them by making false promises of riches and good fortune that they will attain in America. After their smuggling job is done, they are left alone here in America, worse off than when they started.

The emergence of the North American Free Trade Act in 1993, under the Clinton Administration, opened up a large gate for businesses to access one another between the countries of Canada, the United States, and primarily the Mexican Labor markets. With the modernization of Mexico, many are still crossing the borders at a heavy rate to seek better employment in the United States to send remittances home. NAFTA was supposed to make a better way for the industrial market for the migrant worker from Mexico. But, NAFTA has only created higher unemployment for Mexican farmers. Organized farmers here are using every tactic they can think of—violent protests, hunger strikes and catcalls—to show Mexican President Vicente Fox that NAFTA is killing their way of life and driving many of them across the U.S.-Mexican border to earn a living (Internet Source 1).

I feel that the United States government should incorporate Mexico as an American territory or even as a state. This would be beneficial for a couple of reasons. First, it would limit the amount of immigrant families coming to America and putting a strain on United States resources. For instance, California is home to fully 45 percent of the nation’s Mexican immigrants, which strains California schools because Mexicans tend to have lower education levels than other immigrants (Clark, 1997, Article 10). As well, Mexico has natural resources that could be utilized to promote prosperity to the country and America could help guide the people of Mexico towards better educational and economic systems, an improved political structure, and banking system.

Jose Luis, a businessman who came to the United States from Mexico thirty years ago says, "These are two nations that should be very close to each other, but instead of coming together, more barriers are going up. This is madness, barriers cannot stop people who do not have enough to eat (Vergara, 2001). An article in a recent issue of U.S. News and World Report stated that the politically charged drive to curb illegal immigration may be coming to a serious price: beatings, shootings, rapes and deaths of aliens at the hands of the U.S. Border Patrol (Sorell, 1998). Not to mention the many recent news reports of Mexican illegals being found execution style out in the Arizona desert and the many of women on the El Paso, Texas borders, probably at the hands of the "coyotes" that smuggled them in.

Revolutionizing and modernizing the Mexican industries, with the help of the U.S. government, will improve labor laws, safety standards and quality of production. With the Mexican industry being at the same level as that of the American industry, this will alleviate the need for people to migrate for dire financial reasons. Instead, people can go between the two countries on a more casual, friendly basis, such as the United States borders, and banishing the fear of Mexicans "taking over and tapping America’s resources." And, hard workers like Jon V., can get fair pay that is well deserved and much better working conditions. And, families don’t have to be separated for financial reasons. As the century ends, 80 million migrants worldwide, are changing the face of the agricultural countries they left behind and the industrial countries to which they are turning. This diaspora is changing all our lives, our relationships and our futures in ways that we may not even yet be aware of (Small, 1997, p. 3).



Marshall, G., (1998), Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, New York, Oxford University Press., Dying to Work the human face of illegal immigration., Borden, T Mexican Farmers say NAFTA Ruins Lives, Forces Migration, Republic Mexico City Bureau, Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ)

Clark, C. S, Article 10, The New Immigrants, CQ Researcher, January 24th, 1997. pp. 49-72, By Congressional Quarterly, Inc.

Vergara, C. J, The Freeway and the Border, Quaderns d’ Arquitentera I urbanisme, 2001 Barvelone: College d’ Arguitectes de Catalunya

Sorell, V. A, (1998) Broken-Promise(d) Land, The Culture of Immigration and the Immigration of Culture across Borders, University of Arizona Press , pp.99-112, 137-143 (first portion of chapter only)

Small, C, (1997), Voyages, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press,

Grandma Soria




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