Abstract and Keywords
The opening chapter of Specters of Belonging introduces the theoretical framework informing the ethnography presented throughout the book—namely, the thickening of transnational citizenship and diasporic dialects across the arch of the migrant political life cycle. Just as the US and Mexican states have thickened their borders, escalating the racialized policing of migrants, so too have migrants thickened their transnational claims of political belonging. These specters of belonging are best captured by the concept of diasporic dialectics—the process by which migrants are in constant political struggle with the state and its institutions of citizenship on both sides of the border. Mexican migrants enunciate, enact, and embody these diasporic dialectics in the face of imperial citizenship in the United States and clientelistic citizenship in Mexico, facing the ever-present danger of domestication. Thus, the introduction raises the political potentialities and pitfalls of diasporic dialectics as migrants negotiate transnationalism in life and death.
The Thickening of Transnational Citizenship
It was the closing day of Guadalupe Gómez’s campaign for a seat in México’s federal congress in the midterm elections of summer 2009. A longtime resident of Orange County, California, Gómez was the only contender to run as a “migrant candidate,” doing so with the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN) in his home state of Zacatecas. Like Gómez, I traveled from Southern California to Zacatecas to shadow the migrant-turned-politician as he took to the campaign trail. It had been an intense summer of campaigning in the migrant-sending municipios of Zacatecas and its remote ranchos (villages)—the state that, like the candidate, my parents had left for the United States in search of work decades earlier.1 On the final day of the campaign, I traveled to the charming municipality of Genaro Codina to attend Gómez’s last speech before driving back two hours to the district seat for the official closing rally that evening.2 As Gómez delivered his speech and subsequently shook hands and listened to the grievances of the gathered crowd—mostly local campesinos who supplement their livelihood with remittances from relatives in the United States—I reached over to the candidate with the familiarity of a campaign operative and uttered that I would get a head start back to the district seat to await his final rally later that night. By that point, I had become such a fixture at Gómez’s campaign (p.2) events that he began publicly acknowledging the presence of a “U.S. academic” in his speeches.3
I took to the road with the sense of satisfaction that came on the closing day of what turned out to be a competitive campaign for the migrant candidate. Little did I know that further up the highway, I would find myself, quite literally, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Unbeknownst to me, as we wrapped up Gómez’s closing campaign event, a gun battle had unfolded between members of the Mexican military and cartel henchmen in a community not far from Genaro Codina. As luck would have it, I approached that community precisely as one of the cartel gunmen was trying to make an escape. I slowed my vehicle as I neared the speed bumps, the only barrier that allows local villagers to cross the narrow two-lane highway. A man stood by the side of the road and slowly began to cross. I made nothing of it at first, until the man stopped in the middle of the lane, reached for his waistband, pulled out a handgun, assumed the shooting position and aimed directly at me, unflinchingly. As my truck was coming to a halt (with nowhere to turn), I realized that the gunman was in urgent need of a getaway vehicle, his face covered in blood. Well aware of the modus operandi of these roving armed bands, my immediate reaction was to not surrender my vehicle and instead swerve out of his line of fire and speed away, hoping for the best. I put my truck in gear, turned the wheel and ducked, expecting to hear the blast from the gun and glass shattering as I sped past him, flying over the speed bumps. Yet, there was nothing. As I looked up and into the rearview mirror, adrenaline rushing through my body, I realized that the subject was out of ammunition, effectively having emptied his rounds in the gun battle with the soldiers. My immediate thought was of the candidate who was coming up the highway. For a split second, I considered turning around and confronting the injured suspect. Seeing a Federal Police patrol car racing down the highway, instead I continued driving, phoning Gómez directly to alert him of the scene up the road.
What exactly were Gómez and I—two residents of Southern California—doing in rural México in the midst of a raging “Drug War”?4 To the cynics, Gómez was there for the spoils of office and I, the “academic,” was there to document and “study” Mexican migrants’ incursion into the increasingly troubled politics of their homeland. Yet, despite some political and ideological differences between the two of us (I am no PANista), I believe that Gómez and I were there for the same reason. As Gómez put it on a separate occasion, we were both there because “tenemos nuestro corazón allá” (we left our heart over there). Indeed, Gómez’s—and to some degree my own—return (p.3) was akin to our (post)revolutionary poet Ramón López Velarde’s fateful arrival to a “subverted Eden,” a “spectral village” ensnared in violence where the “prodigal son” found his “hope shattered” but not defeated.5 It was our deliberate diasporic return to the homeland’s “maize-covered surface” and its “mutilated territory,” to cite López Velarde’s more celebrated post-revolutionary poetics.6
Over the course of the last thirty years, Lupe Gómez has lived, established and operated a successful business, and raised a family in Orange County, California.7 He is a naturalized U.S. citizen and a registered Democrat. As a successful business owner, Gómez says he has the “mind of a Republican” when it comes to cutting taxes but is a “Democrat at heart,” because of his commitment to social justice and the welfare state. This degree of migrant social, economic, and political “integration” in the United States notwithstanding, Gómez has clearly maintained strong ties with his community and country of origin. Notably, Lupe Gómez has been an active leader in California-based Mexican hometown associations (HTAs) from the state of Zacatecas. He’s a past president of the famed Federación de Clubes Zacatecanos del Sur de California.8 Despite the risks, and his full-time obligations in Orange County, Gómez was the only person to run for a single-member-district seat in México’s 2009 congressional elections as a U.S.-based “migrant candidate,” an option that has been made available to paisanos since the early 2000s (see chapter 3 for a full discussion). Nearly ten years after his initial bid for office, Gómez was recruited as a proportional representation candidate for México’s federal congress in the 2018 election cycle, this time by Movimiento Ciudadano. In short, Lupe Gómez is a paradigmatic example of the thickening of transnational citizenship—the political process by which Mexican migrants simultaneously cultivate cross-border citizenship claims in México and the United States over the course of their “civic lives” (see Wals 2010).9 To borrow from Levitt’s classic ethnography, “The more diverse and thick a transnational social field is, the more numerous the ways it offers migrants to remain active in their homelands” and in the United States (2001: 9).
As the U.S. state has “thickened” its border with México over the last decades (see Andreas 2009), escalating the racialized policing of migrant bodies, so too have Mexican migrants “thickened” their cross-border claims of transnational political membership and belonging (Smith and Bakker 2008).10 Since September 11, 2001, the “homeland security state” has deepened its migration-control apparatus in Latino communities throughout the United States (Gonzales 2013) in a process akin to what (p.4) political geographers have called “internal bordering” (see Dear 2013).11 As De Genova puts it, “in the everyday life of Mexican migrants in innumerable places throughout the US, ‘illegality’ reproduces the practical repercussions of the physical border between the US and México” (2004: 161). While the “borderlands condition no longer necessarily remains geographically fixed” states Gilberto Rosas, the “thickening of the borderlands condition” opens up “new political imaginaries” in the form of “the transnational articulation” of migrant struggles and subjectivities (2006: 344; see also Schmidt Camacho on these “migrant imaginaries” whereby migrants “create new imaginative worlds out of their trajectories of loss and displacement,” 2008: 6). Indeed, Marxian anthropologists noted the thickening of Mexican migrant civil society as a condition of the restructuring of global capitalism early on. “Just as capitalists have responded to the new forms of economic internationalism by establishing transnational corporations, so workers have responded by creating transnational circuits” wrote Roger Rouse about the migrant network spanning Aguililla, Michoacán, and Redwood City, California, in the early 1990s (1991: 14).12 Migrants’ experiences of discrimination in the United States, as “proletarian servants in the paragon of ‘postindustrial’ society” (Rouse 1991: 12), reinforce transnational connections to their communities of origin. As Levitt reminds us in her cross-border Dominican case study, experiences of racial exclusion in the United States reinforced migrants’ transnational attachments. Migrants “wanted to continue to belong” to their hometown, “because they realized they would never be allowed to achieve full membership in the United States. Enduring sending-community membership was like an insurance policy that guaranteed belonging in” a place they could call home (Levitt 2001: 111).
In the context of research on the “thickening” of borders, this book raises the concomitant question: How does transnational citizenship thicken across the political life cycle of Mexican migrants? In addressing this question, this book attempts to do what any good Mexican migration corrido does—narrate the thickening of transnational citizenship from beginning, middle, to end.13 Specifically, it traces Mexican migrant transnationalism across the span of the migrant political life cycle, beginning with the “political baptism” (i.e., naturalization in the United States) and ending with repatriation to México after death. Even among Mexican migrants who have become permanently and politically engaged in the United States, cross-border connections to their country of origin live on, indicative of migrants’ transnational potential to impact citizenship and democracy in both countries.14 To be clear, this (p.5) introduction is not an attempt to provide a “theory” chapter dictating the narrative flow of the thickening of transnational citizenship that animates the rest of this book. Rather, “cascading” throughout each chapter are ethnographic accounts of transnationalism across the various “step changes” of the migrant political life cycle.15 Crucially, as a “political ethnography of transnational citizenship” (Smith and Bakker 2008), this book also critically reflects on my ethnographic accompaniment of Mexican migrants as they interface with state power on both sides of the border and contend with both states’ restrictive membership regimes and their “internal boundaries of differential citizenship” (see Cabrera 2010: 73).
“Él es Adrián, nos va a estudiar”: On Methods and Mexican Migration
El Día del Nochistlense (the Day of the Nochistlense Migrant)—a day to commemorate the cross-border lives of migrants from Nochistlán, Zacatecas, in Southern California—had become a full-blown multiday annual celebration. After a family-friendly gathering at Whittier Narrows Park, which brought out everyone from migration researchers of the University of Zacatecas to Labor Party opposition candidates for the mayoralty of Nochistlán, it was time to really get the party started. We relocated to the iconic Rancho El Farallón, where nochistlenses celebrate charreadas (Mexican rodeos) and, on this year, a baile (dance) with a banda from my hometown, La Chacaloza de Jerez, which would surely blast my favorite ranchera ballads and corridos.16 Upon arriving at the familiar venue, a place where I had attended many coleaderos with my charro friends and family, I saw the usual suspects congregated in the unpaved parking lot. Lupe Gómez pulled up in his unmistakable BMW, and Efraín Jiménez, one of the prominent migrant leaders from Nochistlán who has gained some notoriety in the world of Mexican transnational organizing, arrived immediately after (see Burgess 2016 for a study on the work of these cross-border activists). Efraín, always on some new transnational venture, was promoting the Zacatecas-produced mezcal Don Antonio Aguilar and was pouring it generously among the group of several men gathered at the entrance to the lienzo charro (rodeo arena). Lupe and Efraín knew me and my academic pursuits well by this point, but the other paisanos had not met me, so Efraín proceeded to introduce me with that uniquely Mexican mix of menacing mockery: “él es Adrián, nos va a estudiar.” “This is Adrián, he is going to study us,” said Efraín with a wide grin and a chuckle. For the remainder of the night, Efraín humored himself by introducing me in this way. As the mezcal (p.6) continued to flow, the mockery intensified. My introduction line became: “Él es Adrián, nos va a estudiar pero al último lo vamos a estudiar a él.” “This is Adrián, he is going to study us” Efraín sarcastically repeated, “but in the end we are going to study him.”
The teasing about the contradictions of my identity and positionality as the son of Mexican migrants turned “academic researcher” was well taken. After all, I—the son of Zacatecas migrants—was one of them (albeit with the privileges of being born into U.S. [imperial] citizenship). The mere thought that I was seeking to “study” Mexican migrants was laughable in their eyes, insofar as there was no degree of separation between “researcher” and “subjects” in terms of identity politics or our involvement in the migrant struggle. Any attempt at a political ethnography of migration would necessarily be an auto-ethnography, or, perhaps more accurately, it is what Anzaldúa called “autohistoria”—a “genre of writing about one’s personal and collective history” (1987).17 That Efraín inverted the epistemic power dynamic between ethnographer and interlocutor by saying that “my subjects” would study me was a reminder that these Zacatecano migrants would hold me and “my research” accountable. There was no better lesson of this activist-academic accountability than when I relocated to Northern California for what would become my first academic job as an assistant professor of Latin American and Latina/o Studies at UC Santa Cruz. In my effort to expand this study, I knew I had to reach out to Zacatecano migrant activists in Northern California to add another “case” to my book. Up to that point, most of my work had been with transnational migrant leaders based in greater Los Angeles, but I knew there was a cadre of Zacatecano cross-border organizers in San José, California. My plan was to reach out to these paisanos, with my newly acquired UC Santa Cruz credentials, and ask if I could interview them about their cross-border activism and organizations for my manuscript. Before I could do this, however, Juan Castro, a longtime San José-based Zacatecano activist, reached out to enlist me as part of their fledgling cross-border organization Proyecto Migrante Zacatecano (PMZ)—a breakaway offshoot of the migrant, hometown federations that was highly critical of these associations for being politically loyal to the government in our home state. Before I knew it, I was helping organize PMZ’s second annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona, where I aided them in booking the keynote speaker. Before I could “interview” these migrant leaders, I had been anointed as a member of Proyecto Migrante’s political committee and was collaboratively crafting some of the organization’s founding documents, including the following transnational treatise.
Collaboratively crafting a cross-border “Mexican Migrant Manifesto” required these migrants to conjure their collective historical memory and reassert their transnational political subjectivity. “Both in the economic and political life of México,” the manifesto proclaims, “migrants have been a centripetal force: a source of political change that revolves and comes from the outside in.”18 The document recalls the transnational travails of Mexican migrants and the cross-border character of Mexican politics at major turning points since the nineteenth century. In the 1860s, exiled President Benito Juárez found support among Mexicanos and the Juárez clubs they formed in the United States (FitzGerald 2010; see also Acuña 2008; Paredes 1958). In the lead up to the Mexican Revolution, the Flores Magón brothers organized Mexican migrant workers and continued to launch their campaign against dictator Porfirio Díaz while living in exile in the United States.19 In the 1920s, Mexican presidential hopeful José Vasconcelos—the architect of the “cosmic race” national mythology—campaigned in Mexican communities in Chicago (Arredondo 2008). In the following decades, Mexican unionists in Texas were engaged in cross-border labor organizing with the Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos (CTM) (Schmidt Camacho 2008: 123). By the mid-twentieth century, Octavio Paz would immortalize his reflections on his time living in the United States and his return to “internal exile” back in México (Paz 1997; for a critical reading of Paz see De Genova 2008). In the political aftermath of the 1988 presidential election, Mexican migrants in the United States protested against electoral fraud outside Mexican consulates evincing an incipient cross-border cardenismo (Smith and Bakker 2008; Délano 2011). Today, Mexican migrants continue to engage in the politics of their communities of origin via their hometown associations (Bada 2014) and through a wide array of social movements and the building of an antisystem political party in Morena (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional).
The lives of the migrants who penned this manifesto offer a window into the political process that this book seeks to trace: the thickening of transnational citizenship in the context of antimigrant politics and an increasingly militarized North America (see Gonzales 2016). In the United States, these Zacatecano migrants are “electorally armed” naturalized U.S. citizens (see Zepeda-Millán 2017: 17); they are active participants in local politics, and they are involved in their children’s schools.20 On the Mexican side, they have leveled a scathing critique of the corruption, control, and cartelization that characterizes Mexican political parties and their clientelistic approach to (p.8) migrants in the United States. In their manifesto, they call on their paisanos to be actively engaged not only in the United States but also in the politics of their home state. “Once again Zacatecano migrants will prove to be the vanguard in the representation of our people, both in Zacatecas and in the United States,” the manifesto emphatically concludes.21 This book is devoted to ethnographically tracing the simultaneous cross-border political ties that Mexican migrants cultivate across the span of their civic lives, from the “political baptism” to repatriation to México after death.22 To foreshadow the narrative arc and structuring metaphor of the book, below I provide ethnographic episodes of the thickening of transnational citizenship across the different stages of the migrant political life cycle—from beginning, middle, to end.23 But first, a brief reflection on the comparative implications of the central argument of this book for global migration and diaspora studies is in order. Throughout the book, I deploy the concept of diasporic dialectics—the iterative process by which migrants are in constant political struggle and negotiation with the state and its institutions of citizenship on both sides of the border, a dynamic not unique to the Mexican diaspora.24
Diasporic Dialectics: Transnational Citizenship as a Double-edged Political Weapon
Migrants throughout the world engage in what the late Benedict Anderson dubbed “long-distance nationalism” (1998) across a variety of regime types and in support of varying transnational social movements, all with their own unique diasporic dialectics. Borrowing from political theorist George Ciccariello-Maher, dialectics are “the dynamic movement of conflictive oppositions” and can constitute decolonial (revolutionary) and/or conservative (reactionary) power relations (2017: 2).25 During the 1970s and 1980s, for example, revolutionaries in the Central American diaspora in the United States launched a transnational social movement in support of radical insurrections in their home countries, managing to curb U.S. coercion toward the region (see García Bedolla 2009). As Waldinger states, migrants have pursued “regime-changing nationalism, trying to replace the old regime, whether from left to right, as with the anticommunist Cuban exiles in Miami, or from right to left, as with Salvadorans who flocked to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s” (2015: 52). Elsewhere, members of the Tamil diaspora in the United States and beyond provided financial support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, drawing on proceeds from businesses in the ethnic economy in the host country (Mampilly 2011). As Apichai Shipper documents, North (p.9) Koreans in Japan operated as informants for the home regime and, in some cases, engaged in acts of violence in the host society (Shipper 2008). While not all diasporic politics are as contentious, these and other cases remind us to critically question presumptively normative processes of migrant “integration” into host societies and diasporic “incorporation” into the home country.
With regard to Latin American migration to the United States, Gonzales reminds us that Latino migrants are not clamoring for “integration” into U.S. imperial citizenship. One indigenous Mexican woman cited in his study memorably stated: “We don’t want [citizenship] papers if they are stained with blood!” (2013: 142). Rogers reminds us that the so-called “political baptism” of English-speaking Afro-Caribbean migrants leaves open questions of whether they will be racialized as Latinos, African Americans, or pursue their “exit” option back to their home countries (2006). When it comes to diasporic “incorporation” into the home state, just as transnationally engaged Mexican migrants can be brought back into the clientelistic embrace of the Mexican state, Haitian migrants have been ensnared within the transnational tentacles of the Haitian state at different points in time, which has sought to implement the “transnational model into its practice of governmentality” (Laguerre 1999: 641). Beyond the Américas, when it comes to the end of the migrant political life cycle, Osman Balkan argues that for Muslim migrants in Europe, repatriation for burial after death serves as a powerful means to assert political belonging in the context of diaspora (2015a). Lastly, Sohail Daulatzai documents how the Black and Muslim diasporas have historically built communities of belonging in and across national and imperial spaces (2012). Drawing on the legacy of Malcolm X, Daulatzai reminds us of the urgent task of drawing connections “between domestic struggles for racial justice and . . . challenges to U.S. militarism and imperial power” abroad (2012: 193) and of the imperative need for migrants to resist “the domestication of their politics within a national framework” (2012: 194).
In the cultural and historical specificity of the Mexican case, I argue that Mexican migrants must resist “integration” into imperial citizenship in the United States and “incorporation” into clientelistic citizenship in México. In her critique of “Americanization” and assimilation, Alicia Schmidt Camacho helps us understand the two faces of U.S. imperial citizenship, which historically has “reinforced white supremacy in the domestic United States and furthered U.S. political hegemony through the Americas” and the world (2008: 39). Schmidt Camacho also warns about the danger of “domestication,” which she sees not only as demarcating a “territorial boundary between the interior space occupied by citizens and the exterior domain of the foreign” (p.10) but fundamentally as “the domestication of the transnational [migrant] class struggle” (2008: 121). “Immigrant rights activists go even further,” writes Chris Zepeda-Millán, “contending that America’s current ‘incorporation’ of foreign-born people of color should be understood as a system of ‘immigrant apartheid’ ” (quoted in Zepeda-Millán 2017: 209). Indeed, even for Mexican migrants who have obtained citizenship rights in both countries, theirs is an “exclusionary inclusion” marked by “racialized alterity” or othering (Rocco 2014), with subalternity casting its long shadow over the arch of their political lives (Zepeda-Millán refers to “electorally armed” migrant citizens as political “brokers” for the undocumented, 2017). Yet, as this book shows, these migrants—with their iterative “dialectical motion”—continue to evince their “transcendent desires” from the margins of both citizenship regimes (Ciccariello-Maher 2017: 115). As Schmidt Camacho puts it, “The fortunes of Greater México . . . continue to depend on the ephemeral movements of migrant subaltern classes” (2008: 56). To understand the political potentialities and pitfalls of these diasporic dialectics in the Mexican case, I turn to how transnational citizenship is enunciated, enacted, and embodied across the different stages of the political life cycle of Mexican migrants with the following ethnographic episodes that will anchor the remaining chapters of the book.
Becoming a (Transnational) Citizen: The “Political Baptism” of Mexican Migrants
Antonio García, a migrant from Los Altos de Jalisco, is a taquería owner in Santa Cruz, California, and he is full of stories of anti-Mexican racism.26 His fellow taqueros in nearby Felton have it slightly worse he says: they regularly endure racial slurs when walking down the streets. “You fucking Mexicans,” they are told by some local whites, Antonio shared with me on a drive through the Santa Cruz Mountains. But mostly, white people in this area have come to love their food.27
Despite serving his “apprenticeship” in “illegality” (De Genova 2004: 174), I first met Antonio in a free citizenship class I taught for migrants at a local school in Santa Cruz, offered through the Mexican consulate-sponsored Plaza Comunitaria adult education program (see Délano 2010). He was a law-abiding, legal, permanent resident of the United States, and a proud jalisciense, who studied religiously for his naturalization exam, the first phase in the migrant political life cycle insofar as this is migrants’ first direct encounter with the U.S. state script of singular political loyalties. However, his reasons for naturalizing had everything to do with racial politics and the (p.11) exclusionary side of U.S. citizenship.28 As Antonio told one of my undergraduate student volunteers and I during a focus group interview with the class, his reason for naturalizing was “because I no longer want to be a voice in the shadows.”29
Like most Mexican migrants I have worked with in citizenship classrooms and workshops from California to Florida, Antonio’s mythology of naturalization was infused by stories of fellow paisanos who have experienced the interview process. In particular, he had a staunch belief that “paisa” (as he refers to fellow Mexicans and Latinos) and Asian immigration officers who deliver the exam were the hardest. The bureaucratic arbitrariness and institutional inconsistency of the citizenship process notwithstanding, Antonio was ready for his naturalization interview, with complete command of the 100 civics questions and the working conversational English of a taquero from Jalisco.30
Thus we set out “over the hill” for his much anticipated citizenship exam at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regional office in San José. Antonio was well dressed for the occasion, the way he does for Catholic Mass every Sunday, and calmly took some last-minute civics coaching from me, as he reminisced about his circuitous journey as a migrant in this country at this momentous occasion in his civic life. We arrived to a busy but orderly waiting room, where migrants from México, Central America, India, and Ethiopia awaited their turn with a U.S. immigration official. We sat next to a group of Latina women who listened intently every time an officer emerged into the waiting room calling out a name. “Guadalupe Treviño,” a disembodied voice called and the women instantly sat up in their seats and cheered on the soon to be U.S. citizen. Shortly thereafter, “An-tooonio Garcia” a male immigration officer called out and escorted Antonio into the entrails of the immigration bureaucracy. Sure enough, the officer was Asian.
Left eagerly waiting, I turned to the woman next to me and asked if she was related to Ms. Treviño. “Es mi amiga” (she is my friend), the woman from Nicaragua replied and then asked about my relationship to Antonio. I explained that I was his citizenship class instructor, and she blessed me saying: “Es un don que Dios le ha dado de ayudar a la gente” (It’s a God-given gift of mine to help my people). Only a few minutes later, an unassuming Antonio emerged, fighting back a grin. I immediately stood and asked how it went. “Todo bien” Antonio replied, “all is good,” as he shook my hand firmly, breaking out into a big smile. The woman next to me enthusiastically congratulated him as well.
It turned out that the immigration officer recognized Antonio from the taquería he previously owned in San José, Taquería Chapala. Antonio had (p.12) named it after the iconic lake in Jalisco state where he used to fish as a child. The immigration officer was a regular at Chapala and was sad to see the business close when they relocated to Santa Cruz. Oh, how he missed their burritos de lengua. As Antonio briefly retold his interview to me, another working-class paisano anxiously walked over from one side of the waiting room and asked, “¿Verdad que no es muy dificil oiga? Es que mi esposa está nerviosa” (It isn’t that hard is it?), looking for some added reassurance for his wife who was waiting for her turn at the citizenship interview. “No, dígale que no se ponga nerviosa y todo va estar bien.” Antonio advised to not allow her nerves to get the better of her, and she would do just fine. Then Guadalupe Treviño emerged from her citizenship exam, also glowing, to many congratulatory hugs from her friends and family. Guadalupe, Antonio, and other successful migrants waited to receive the date for their citizenship ceremony, where their naturalization would become official.
The soon to be U.S. citizens were handed a government form with the place and time for their citizenship ceremony and a list of questions that they were to fill out on the day of. Consistent with the “securitization of citizenship” (De Genova 2007; Sampaio 2015), among the questions were if they had committed any crime between the time of their citizenship interview and their ceremony; whether they had joined the Communist Party; and whether their willingness to bear allegiance to the U.S. had changed. On the day of the ceremony, I picked up Antonio from his taquería, took him home where he quickly changed into his Sunday best, and we trekked over the hill once again to his much-awaited citizenship ceremony. We arrived at the venue, where some of the migrants we encountered at the USCIS field office, looking much more relaxed, were being ushered into lines by some of the same immigration officers. I took my place in the guest line and told Antonio I would see him inside. As I took my seat, I once again was struck by the diversity of migrants and their families and supporters: Mexican, Filipino, and Indian migrants all eagerly awaiting the ceremony. The Mexican family sitting in front of me planned a house party in the East Bay with live norteña music. Antonio would later tell me that the newly naturalized sitting behind him were from Tepatitlán, Jalisco, the municipal seat nearby his hometown. “So-and-so is in Tepa,” he overheard them say as they navigated Facebook on their smartphones before the ceremony started.
The citizenship ceremony began with a presentation by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters office in several languages including Vietnamese, Chinese, and Spanish.31 The immigration officer facilitating the ceremony then explained that he would go through an alphabetical roll call of countries, (p.13) asking migrants to stand and remain standing when their home nation was called out. This being Silicon Valley, among the 400-plus migrants being naturalized that day there were notable contingents from China and India as the roll call started. When the officer called out México, a roaring cheer came from the crowd, starting a trend emulated by several of the remaining Latin American and Asian countries, with notable cheers coming from Filipino and Vietnamese attendees.
When the rest of the political formalities were over, which can be understood as the “legal rituals of American nationalism” (Kun 2005: 7) meant to “infuse patriotism and nationalism into the ceremony” (Plascencia 2012: 170), Antonio was ready to celebrate. For this momentous occasion, the so-called “political baptism” of migrants in the United States (see Rogers 2006) where they are presumably imbued with the U.S. civic creed (Plascencia 2012), Antonio knew just the right place to celebrate: a nearby taquería in Campbell. We arrived at the hole-in-the wall in the paisa, barrio part of town, where Antonio’s first cousin was working the kitchen, grilling seasoned and spiced meats on the plancha. We ordered our share of al pastor and asada tacos, and he had a Mexican soda to cool down on this warm San José summer afternoon. A painting of a quaint Mexican plaza hung from the wall immediately next to where Antonio sat; the same one that adorns several of the taquerías in Santa Cruz. I asked Antonio if that was his hometown, a place he visits several times a year. “Yes,” he nodded, beaming with pride. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Antonio’s initiation into transnational citizenship.
The Consummation of Transnational Citizenship: The Civic Binationality of Juan Castro
If naturalization is the first stage of the migrant political life cycle, the “political baptism” of Mexican migrants, it is important to examine what transnational citizenship looks like within the orbit of the Mexican state and analyze diasporic dialectics and the danger of domestication in the context of its clientelistic embrace. Juan Castro, a San José‒based migrant from Zacatecas who we met earlier, is an ideal embodiment of this political duality. On a trip to the state capitol in Sacramento in February 2014, Juan and I witnessed the swearing in of California’s first undocumented attorney, Sergio García. The son of migrant campesinos from the Mexican state of Michoacán, Sergio successfully passed his bar examination despite the hardships of growing up undocumented in California. Needless to say, his historic swearing in ceremony was a momentous occasion, backed, of course, (p.14) by a mariachi. “This is the stuff of migrant leaders,” said Juan, of the young man who is professionally trained and has strong roots in the community, at an event that drew media, activists, friends and family, but where Latino state legislators were notably absent.
Sometime later, upon learning about Governor Jerry Brown’s nomination of the México-born Stanford Law Professor Mariano Florentino Cuéllar to the California Supreme Court, Juan sent a congratulatory e-mail to a group of Zacatecano migrant leaders in California, Texas, and Nevada. “This is what Mexican migrants and their children in the U.S. should aspire to,” wrote Juan of Cuéllar’s notable transnational trajectory, not the “cross-border cronyism of those who trip over themselves for a photo with the corrupt politicians of our home state.” The latter was one of Juan’s usual jabs at Zacatecano leaders from migrant hometown associations in the United States who he sees as coopted by Mexican political parties and elites.32
A longtime resident of Northern California, Juan likes to introduce himself by saying that he was “criado en Zacatecas y malcriado en California” (raised in Zacatecas and spoiled in California). I’ve seen him use this line when addressing visiting politicos from México in California as an admonition to them that he will not be treated as a second-class citizen, with the usual clientelism and political paternalism with which Mexican parties and elites treat their paisanos at home and abroad. Juan’s critical migrant subjectivity partly stems from his political experience living for thirty years in San José. Arriving at a young age, Juan graduated from high school, attended community college, and transferred to San José State University. While he has remained transnationally engaged in the political affairs of his home state and country—he was co-founder of El Congreso del Pueblo, is an active member of Proyecto Migrante Zacatecano, and was an adviser to the Institute of Mexicans Abroad—he has also been remarkably active in California local and state politics.33 Not only has he worked in public administration for over two decades in Northern California, he has also served as a political strategist for candidates of mayoral and County Board of Supervisor positions in Santa Clara County. His civic volunteerism in the Latino community in San José has ranged from tutoring at a local community college to voter registration drives to participating in the planning of the unprecedented migrant rights marches of 2006.34 Most recently, Juan joined me in campaign precinct walking for a young Zacatecano running for California State Assembly on the eastside of San José, single-handedly taking on the task of mobilizing migrant voters at local churches. Juan has also held U.S. and Mexican elected and appointed officials accountable. In (p.15) the mid-2000s, he was part of back-to-back campaigns to remove a San José City Council member and the consul general at the Mexican consulate in the same city.
Juan’s cynicism toward the Mexican government has not deterred him from attempting to fully exercise his transnational citizenship (in fact, these diasporic dialectics propel cross-border activists like Juan). In the 2013 elections to renew the Zacatecas state congress, with myself as part-time political consultant, Juan decided to vie for a party nomination for a “migrant deputy” seat in the state legislature. In Zacatecas’ mixed-member political system, the two parties taking the largest share of votes in the election must advance a migrant deputy as part of their proportional representation seats, in order to meet the state’s mandatory migrant quota (see Smith and Bakker 2008).35 However, each political party has complete control over its internal migrant-candidate selection process. Knowing full well that they would be shut out by the ruling PRI—which has close corporatist ties with U.S.‒based migrants loyal to the party—Juan and another Zacatecano migrant from Texas pursued their candidacies with the PAN and PRD, respectively. In the internal PAN elections, Juan was up against two nominally migrant candidates, who were clearly the inside favorites over the bona fide transnational citizen. One was a young, middle-class Zacatecana who had studied in New York and presumably was therefore a migrant. The other was a career PAN politician in Zacatecas who holds a U.S. visa and does little more than visit family in the United States from time to time. As coordinator of the political affairs committee of Proyecto Migrante Zacatecano, which officially endorsed Juan’s candidacy, I wrote a letter to the PAN state leaders denouncing their “token transnationalism” and the “utter usurpation” of the migrant deputy category and called on the party to democratize their internal migrant-candidate selection process. After all, this was an egregious affront to the political subjectivity that Zacatecano migrants had fought so hard to enshrine in their home-state’s constitution.36 As Juan later put it in an e-mail to Mexican federal congressional representatives before they voted on a series of electoral reforms, the legal personhood of migrants was established to secure representation by bona fide U.S.‒based migrant transnational citizens, not to reward elite politicians who hold U.S. tourist visas. While this chapter will trace the ongoing struggles of migrant leaders for full cross-border political membership and belonging (i.e., diasporic dialectics), it also highlights the challenges, contradictions, and limitations of transnational citizenship within a clientelistic citizenship regime.37
If these returned migrant politicians embody transnational citizenship to its fullest extent (with all of its contradictions), allow us to turn to the final stage of the migrant political life cycle with what is perhaps the ultimate testament of this transnationality: the cross-border practice of repatriating the bodies of deceased Mexican migrants from the United States to their communities of origin in rural México. In December 2013, my father informed me that a friend of his, Leonel Herrera, a migrant from the state of Durango, had unexpectedly passed. Knowing that I had been following the issue of posthumous repatriations for some years, my father shared that Leonel’s widow had decided to repatriate his remains to his native rancho in Durango. Immediately, I paid a visit to the grieving Herreras in Los Angeles’ working-class (but rapidly gentrifying) Mexican barrio of Cypress Park to inform them about the Mexican consulate’s policy on subsidizing posthumous repatriations. Leonel’s widow graciously invited me into their home, where I met the deceased’s surviving young children. The home was like so many other working-class Mexican migrant Catholic households: framed images of patron saints and family portraits hung from the walls. Leonel was just as I had imagined him: a rail-thin Mexican migrant who had worked as a gardener in Los Angeles, always donning a tejana (cowboy hat).38 His prized charro items also adorned the home: Leonel’s sombrero and rope sat behind a glass case in the dining room. I knew that Leonel and my uncle José Manuel had been charro comrades; charrería “was his passion in life” his widow explained. After sharing that her decision to return her deceased husband to Durango was so that he could be buried in his community of origin where his aging parents still lived, I asked if she was familiar with the Mexican consulate’s assistance with these posthumous repatriations. She was unaware that such a policy existed. I asked her if they had internet access so that I could look up the information on the consulate’s web page. “Yes,” she said and instructed her preteen daughter to bring me their laptop. The girl quickly handed me a MacBook, with a sweet smile on her face, still innocently unaware that her father was gone, and she returned to playing with her siblings. I looked up the telephone number, we listened to the prerecorded menu of consular services, selected traslado de cadáveres (repatriation of human remains) and took note of the instructions. She thanked me and said she would visit the consulate first thing in the morning. I told her I would accompany the family at Leonel’s Mass at the end of the week and respectfully left the home.
(p.17) When Friday came around, my brothers and I gathered at my father’s upholstery shop where we waited to be picked up by my uncle José Manuel to pay our respects to the late Leonel. My uncle arrived a few minutes before the Mass was to start, and we jumped into his truck and headed to the Catholic Church down the street. He handed me a small, framed photograph: “Este era mi amigo Adrián” (This was my friend), my uncle told me in his usual brusque manner, although this time with a hint of sadness. There was Leonel in all of his charro glory, riding my uncle’s horse, bringing down a bull by its tail.
When we arrived and gave our condolences to Leonel’s brothers, all dressed in black, I didn’t anticipate being overcome by emotion. After all, I had been to many a misa de cuerpo presente in my day. But the sight of Leonel’s coffin being escorted into church with his young children following in tears was too much to bear. I told my father that I would have to be excused for the remainder of the evening and that I couldn’t bring myself to attend the viewing at the Herrera home following the Mass. My father did attend and would later describe the gathering to me. The Herrera home in Cypress Park was packed with friends and family of the late Leonel. His coffin arrived from the Mass and was placed in the home’s backyard. Then entered the tamborazo, the six-piece brass band common at charrería events, performing Leonel’s favorite songs. The coffin was finally opened, overwhelming the immediate family members with grief. There was Leonel, his tejana resting gently atop his chest, ready to be returned to the rancho of his birth.
The migrant ethnic economy of mourning that has arisen around this practice has made these repatriations part of an emerging posthumous transnational tradition; one that has been among the policy priorities of returned migrant politicians, and one that the Mexican state has attempted to institutionalize at multiple levels of government.39 The cross-border cultural politics behind posthumous repatriations are not entirely lost on the Mexican bureaucrats and state actors who interact with this diasporic demand. When I asked the bureaucrats of the Protection and Legal Affairs department at the Mexican consulate in San Francisco what the motives behind this posthumous migrant nostalgia market were, they agreed the reasons were profoundly cultural. “Tradition” the consular staff person stated summarily, “a family tradition.” When a migrant dies in the United States, “families say ‘we always decide to return to our land,’ ” she emphasized. Her supervisor, the consul in charge of this department, which administers these repatriations, added that the matter is not merely cultural but that this is also part of the cultural politics of migrant (p.18) mourning. “This all relates back to the migration [policy] issue . . . if they [the family] decide that they will not remain here permanently, they prefer to have the body back with the family, in the community of origin.” To this the consular staff person tellingly remarked, “Lest the body remain lost,” unrecovered, suspended indefinitely in transnational space.
Like her counterparts in San Francisco, the consul in charge of the Protection and Legal Affairs department at the Mexican consulate in San José understood the cultural politics that undergird posthumous repatriations. When I asked her about the motives behind this transnational practice, she explained it was important for the “parents to see them, to bury them there,” underscoring the ethno-territorial nature of this practice. To illustrate this point, she turned to the case of indigenous Mexican migrants from Oaxaca and their transnational moral communities.40 “This is especially true in Oaxaca, where they pay so much homage to their dead. For them it is very important to pay homage to their dead. The fiestas they offer their dead are very important.”41 Speaking to the transnational afterlife of these deceased repatriated migrants, she stated: “It is important for loved ones to visit them in the cemetery . . . to have their dead there . . . and on Day of the Dead take flowers . . . take food on the Day of the Dead.” For when the body is returned to the community of origin and to these posthumous cultural practices, the consul concluded, “the dead come back to life.”
The remainder of this book theorizes the thickening of transnational citizenship across the different stages of the migrant political life cycle, from “political baptism” to repatriation to México after death. Building on earlier studies on the significant role of place (i.e., community of origin, community of settlement) and peoplehood (i.e. migrant social and family networks) in transnational ties, I focus on a political process that is arguably familiar to the Mexican diaspora writ large: the thickening of transnational citizenship across the migrant political life cycle. In that sense, this is not a classic case study of a transnational community (Nichols 2006; Levitt 2001) or a cross-border coalition (Smith and Bakker 2008). Instead, this book attempts to assemble the different phases of migrants’ interface with the double-edged sword of transnational citizenship, on both sides of the border, drawing primarily on transnational ethnography among mestizo migrants from north-central rural México.42 As a political ethnography of transnational citizenship, this book also critically captures my accompaniment of Mexican migrants as they navigate and negotiate transnationalism in life and death.43
All personal names in this study were changed for purposes of anonymity except in the case of political officials and activists who consented to being interviewed for this project.
(1.) Municipios are administrative jurisdictions within states, that, as Rouse (1991) reminds us, “are difficult to gloss with any precision” for “ ‘Municipality’ is misleading because of its urban associations, while . . . ‘county’ runs the risk of suggesting something too large and too powerful” (for a masterful example of subnational comparative analysis of municipal and submunicipal political dynamics involving state violence and rural intra-regional migration in southern México see Trejo 2012). With the above caveat in mind, I use the terms municipal/submunicipal and the Spanish-language municipio interchangeably throughout. Much of Gómez’s cross-border campaign took place in migrant-sending villages at the submunicipal level, or what Jonathan Fox calls the “invisible fourth level” of the Mexican state (2007). For an analysis of migrants’ cross-border struggles to democratize and hold municipal and submunicipal authorities accountable in rural México see Bada (2014).
(2.) The New York Times profiled the municipio of Genaro Codina years after my visit, noting the region’s depopulation as a result of sustained out migration to the United States (Cave 2013). Instantly, journalist Gustavo Arellano issued a scathing indictment of the mainstream media’s ad hoc coverage of these matters. For fine journalistic accounts of Mexican migration, see Arellano’s semi-autobiographical Orange County: A Personal History (2008) and the earlier freelance investigative reporting by Sam Quinones (2001; 2008). Quinones’ third book (2015) is another gripping addition to the journalistic accounts of Mexican migration, providing a sobering tale of the role of migrant village and cross-border kin networks in the distribution of chiva (heroin) in the United States.
(3.) A similar (albeit racially different) politics of recognition of the researcher occurred during Smith and Bakker’s ethnography of transnational citizenship (2008).
(6.) The reference is to López Velarde’s Suave Patria, which won him the posthumous appropriation by the Mexican state as the country’s “national poet.”
(7.) In early August 2011, Lupe Gómez was featured on the front cover of the Orange County Weekly, which ran a full-length article on the transnational triangulation of his activism, calling him a “triple player” (see Gerber 2011). For academic accounts on Gómez and other similarly situated cross-border migrant leaders see Smith and Bakker (2008); Iskander (2010); Délano (2011); and Moctezuma (2011).
(9.) In developing this concept I triangulate between Jonathan Fox’s work on the “thickening” of civil society in rural México (2007), his conceptual mapping of México’s migrant civil society (2006; 2009), and his theorization on the conceptual boundaries of transnational citizenship (2005). While the conceptual framing of thickening invokes its binary concept of “thinning”—and while most empirical, survey-based analyses of transnationalism show that cross-border ties decline by the second generation (see, for example, Waldinger 2015)—these studies rely on narrow metrics of transnational “behavior” (i.e., “how often do you send money home” or “how often do you call home” or “dominant language” acquisition) that cannot fully capture or unearth the dimensions of transnationalism revealed in this study. Moreover, even Waldinger (2015), the preeminent skeptic of transnationalism, sees the migration process as dialectical. Albeit, in his framing, the dialectic is between the categories of “emigrant” and “immigrant,” with the latter ultimately eclipsing the former as migrants undergo a process of “territorial capture” (2015: 44)—a concept that I contest in my formulation of diasporic dialectics and the thickening of transnational citizenship across the arch of the migrant political life cycle.
(12.) For a more contemporaneous Marxist analysis that situates the migrant rights movement in the United States within the ongoing global struggle between transnational capital and transnational labor see Robinson (2006). In the context of the “homeland security state,” De Genova describes the migrant rights mobilizations of the mid-2000s as the “revolt of the denizens” (2007; see Zepeda-Millán for the definitive account of this migrant “insurgency” and its transnational inflections 2014; 2017). For further anthropological research on the Aguililla-Redwood City transnational migrant network, with a focus on questions of citizenship, see Castañeda (2006).
(13.) Corridos are nonfiction ballads in the Mexican oral tradition. “[T]he corrido” wrote Américo Paredes, “tells a story simply and swiftly” (1958: xi).
(15.) Here, I take a structural cue from Adam Morton’s Gramscian historical sociology of postrevolutionary Mexican state formation (2011: 5).
(16.) For more on Los Angeles’ charro lore see Quinones (2004) and Barraclough (2012). For a discussion of charrería as a form of nation-building in the context of diaspora see Nájera-Ramírez (2002). After a long and legendary stint, Rancho El Farallón closed when its owner, renowned Mexican migrant impresario Emilio Franco, was murdered in his home in what was reportedly an attempted armed burglary gone wrong but for some bore all the signs of a gangland murder in Mexican Los Angeles (Quinones 2011).
(17.) For a discussion of the ethics and polemics of “intimate ethnography” in political science research see Campbell (2015). As Rocco (2014) reminds us, the task of ethnography is to “listen and not just hear what the people we study say.” Ethnographic narratives are not merely “data that we are collecting; the individuals who share their stories with us are collaborators and not subjects, and the best ethnographies help us to feel and understand the struggles, fears, joys, and pain of the people who trust us enough to share a part of who they are.”
(18.) I thank Don Herminio Rodríguez, member of PMZ, for initially providing me with this metaphor to explain Mexican migrant political transnationalism in the drafting of this document.
(19.) For an exhaustive history of the transnational trials of the Flores Magón brothers and the death and posthumous return of Ricardo Flores Magón to México see Lomnitz (2016). Related to the metaphor deployed above, Lomnitz argues that the context of diaspora provided revolutionary exiles with a “protective field where ideological coherence could be reconstituted and projected once again onto the national landscape” (2016: 39; all translations mine).
(20.) While this study focuses on a unique subset of migrants who have attained a measure of political and economic stability in the United States (e.g., legal permanent residents/naturalized citizens), many of my informants were once undocumented and experiences of racism continued to haunt their civic lives across the stages of the migrant political life cycle.
(21.) Migrant transnational activists “re-crossing” the border to engage politically in the United States is what Smith and Bakker refer to as the “second face of transnational citizenship” (2008).
(24.) For a discussion of the dialectics of migration politics and migrant social movements in the United States see Gonzales (2016). Raul Delgado Wise and Humberto (p.148) Márquez Covarrubias remind us that there is a dialectical tension between transnationalism “from above”—which responds to the interests of U.S. capital—and transnationalism “from below,” embodied in the “practices of migrants and their organizations” (2006: 46).
(25.) In the context of transnational politics, a historical example of counter-revolutionary diasporic dialectics can be found in the U.S.-funded efforts of right-wing Cuban exiles to oust the revolutionary Castro regime (see García Bedolla 2009).
(29.) In the early twentieth century, Lomnitz argues that when Mexican revolutionaries were exiled in the United States, they were reduced to anonymous shadows: “phantoms in the Mexican barrio” (2016: 47).
(30.) For historical and ethnographic studies of Mexican migrants’ experiences with naturalization see, respectively, Menchaca (2011) and Plascencia (2012). See also my earlier writings on Mexican migrants’ narratives of naturalization (Félix 2008; 2013).
(32.) As Jonathan Fox reminds us, home-state migrant federations can become appendages of, or subordinate to, their respective state governments in México (2006: 45).
(34.) For a report on the migrant rights mobilizations in San José from the perspective of an “embedded journalist” see Vital (2010).
(36.) For a discussion of Andrés Bermúdez, the Zacatecano migrant who was the political protagonist and symbol behind these state-level reforms, see Smith and Bakker (2005; 2008); Quinones (2008); and Moctezuma (2011).
(39.) For more on this migrant “nostalgia market” see Lestage (2008). On the Mexican state’s institutionalization of posthumous repatriations see Félix (2011). For an analysis of these repatriations among indigenous Mexican migrants see (García Ortega and Celestino Solis 2015).
(42.) Without eliding intra-ethnic differences or the “class transformation” of rural-to-urban migrations (Rouse 1992), I extend Fox’s argument about the subalternity of indigenous Mexican migrants to their mestizo (nonindigenous) co-nationals. As Fox states regarding indigenous Mexican migrants, “Many . . . work in ethnically segmented seasonal agricultural wage labor, both in México and the US—bringing class and culturally based oppression together in forms that some would consider classically subaltern” (2006). Citing Gramsci, Schmidt Camacho reminds us that “subaltern history is necessarily ‘fragmentary and episodic’ ” (quoted in Schmidt Camacho 2008: 7). “Fragmentary and episodic” is precisely the approach I take in tracing transnationalism across the different stages of the migrant political life cycle, which I treat as diachronic and dialectical. Ethnography is an ideal method for this, as “migrant testimonials belong to a submerged history of migrant struggle, one that has yet to dispel the primacy of the nation over other forms of political community” (Schmidt Camacho 2008: 16).
(43.) Tomlinson and Lipsitz (2013) provide two metaphors to understand accompaniment that are appropriate here: “(1) accompaniment as participating with and augmenting a community of travelers on a road; (2) accompaniment as participating with others to create music” (2013: 9). The point, of course, is to underscore the “inescapably and quintessentially social nature of scholarship and citizenship” (10).