The Mobilization of Mexican Immigrants
September 14th, 2007
What happens to the mobilization of Mexican immigrants in the city now that some older groups have attained legalization while more recent immigrants are denied such a prospect? To answer that question, Alyshia Gálvez, a New York University professor, looks at two successful but competing South Bronx parish-based Mexican volunteer associations that take different approaches towards empowerment. In an article for the International Migration journal, she compares the two groups, which both emphasize amnesty as a primary goal of their actions, but take different approaches to solving the problems their communities face.
The first, run by legalized Mexican immigrants, promotes a transcendence beyond an identity as an immigrant to that of a citizen, although becoming one is impossible for the majority of members of the group. This they argue, will prove their worth to the broader community.
The other is rooted in the collective experience of exploitation from the vulnerable position of an undocumented population. It is organized by undocumented Mexican migrants with a personal stake in the results it gains.
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She eyes the former with a skeptical eye, noting that its leaders are naturalized and thus no longer face the same experiences of the population they serve. Besides, the fact that leaders are serving anybody is an issue in itself to Gálvez.
“People do not come here to sit in a circle, and discuss what ‘we’ are going to do about a given problem,” she says, “but rather to sit in rows and listen” to experts, and are afraid to speak out.
Furthermore, she finds that the group didn’t provide the important social function as that of the more communal one. While recent immigrants live in fear because of a lack of social connections who can point them to help, Gálvez writes, these circumstances were common amongst all members of the group led by naturalized immigrants.
The professor sees citizenship activity, such as voter registration drives and census participation, as healthy even within groups of the undocumented. But she warns that without wider coalition building or attention to broader issues of human rights, such a strategy will ultimately backfire. It will further the perception, she notes, of citizenship as a form of class and distract the attention paid to the welfare of undocumented immigrants.
Beyond differences in strategy, Gálvez sees the competition between the two as detrimental to Mexican immigrants on the whole. For example, while one needed to reduce its English as a Second Language classes, the other was seeking space to expand their own. Nonetheless, the two groups could not come together.By Mike Muller on September 14, 2007, 1:34 am
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