Week 4 – Beyond Bounded Communities: Network-Mediated Migration From an Urban Colonia in Mexicali, Mexico

This article is interesting, from my point of view, for a number of reasons: 1. Grounds transnational networks; 2. It explains how cumulative causation does not need to end up in saturation; 3. Personalizes migration.

For the first two weeks, in reading theory, we get an idea of how migration is viewed, how it moves, how it’s researched through a macro lens. Although it is very important to be knowledgeable of large structural patterns, cultural and social proclivities in different geographies, as well as the mobility of millions of people, it is important to begin at what many see as the true backbone of migration, family, kinship, or what we can refer to as primary social networks.

When we talk about migration, since for the most part, we concentrate on numbers; for example, how many people came in versus left within any given year, we rarely think about the trajectories that people take in order to migrate.  Both ‘cumulative causation’ and ‘saturation’ are good starting points. Working from the proven premise that migration begins with a ‘pioneer’ (usually a male, but as the past 20 years have shown, female migration as pioneers has grown exponentially), who settles in a specific locality, is able to secure employment and a place to live, after some time, this individual is a position to help people within a specific social network migrate. Causal migration, asserts that eventually, the networks within a specific kinship group will reach a point where migration is no longer viable since it would have a reached a point of saturation, where there may no longer be individuals willing to migrate. The author does an excellent job in proving that although cumulative causation does in fact take place, saturation need not occur.

This article brings out the strength of taking an anthropological lens. A thorough qualitative analysis can shed light and pinpoint where macro-studies have made assumptions that may not always be in tune with what is going on in the ground. Cumulative causation as a process is a direct result from the Mexican Migration Project (MMP), which since 1982 has surveyed Mexican communities residing in the United States. This project was later expanded in a Latin American Migration Project (LAMP). Both projects work are excellent examples of quantitative analyses; however, they need to be constantly tested on the ground for it to continue being a source of relevant information.

The author’s research sheds light on how the assumption of saturation does not occur. If we assume that people do not go outside their kinship networks, saturation will take place, but as Wilson shows, people move, they inter-marry, they make other social relations, which in turn expand social networks, which in this case also make them transnational social networks.

Lastly, as mentioned above, for all the millions of migrants around the globe, it all begins at the personal level. The decision to migrate, even with the money, the right papers, and an institution waiting for you and help you in whatever way they can (as many of us have done as international students), it is not a decision taken lightly. In some corners of the political spectrum, there is the idea that there is a need to close-off borders since if thrown open; the entire world would just migrate to PLACE COUNTRY NAME HERE. Migration however, is more than just picking-up and leaving, it begins with a decision, and in order to be successful, help from others that have migrated before.

In case you have time, here is an article on US/Mexico border.


What do you think?

14 thoughts on “Week 4 – Beyond Bounded Communities: Network-Mediated Migration From an Urban Colonia in Mexicali, Mexico”

  1. First of all, I agree with Mr. Isla that we must get to know the individual cases of migration in order to understand the migrants, in other words, qualitatively. I think on the other hand a quantitative research could be helpful, but we must not rely on one.

    The paper lists a number of reasons why certain migrants would stay nationally in Mexicali instead of immigrating to the US internationally, but in the prior passages they suggest the mass immigration was caused also due to the shift in Mexican economic policy from import-substitute industrialization to export-oriented industrialization. If that were the case, wouldn’t it apply to all parts of Mexico?

    The four aspects Wilson wishes to clarify in regards to migration networks would also correspond with any type of migration, wouldn’t it?: – it continues long after the migrating party has departed, – the extended family is affected and may take advantage of the already existing knowledge about the migrating process as well as the welcoming land, – women play a primary role (but I don’t see how that’s an exception to any other phenomena in social sciences) and last, – the networks expand when the families do.
    She only later mentions the uniqueness of the Mexicali case: families grow based on the partners’ ability to form, or their pre-existing, networks in the US.

    I think this paper is important to understanding social migration networks and how they operate, which is an integral part influencing migrants’ decisions and life paths.

  2. Although the text didn´t really depict any “new” information, it was a great summary of the process of migration.
    Said process is the process of economic migration and therefore NOT the result of some kind of prosecution or a war in the homeland. Economic migration might go hand in hand with love based migration when a loved one decides to follow their significant other but back to the text. I agree with Mr. Rubio that migration involves multiple factors and a long very intimate thought process but on a large scale economic migration can be broken down to a simple formula that is applicable to more situations than the Mexican one. (for example: German migration to the US in the early 19th century) The formula I would constitute goes as follows: economic dissatisfaction (famines, shift in industrialization, debt crisis, personal issues (no jobs etc.) – starting to think about migrating – balancing the reasons for leaving and staying – getting in touch with networks (note: I totally agree with the text: family ties lower the hurdle) – migration to a country with a stable economy and/or expanding industry and a growing job market and some social upgrades ahead. Of course it depends on whether a person gets along with its new environment and finds a job or not if they stay in the new country.

  3. This week’s text by Tamar D. Wilson on network-mediated migration focused on a case study in “Colonia Popular”, Mexicali, provides an insight into the dynamics behind migration processes that are not often the main focus of studies dealing with migration. Wilson underlines the significance of existing transnational migration networks for one’s decision whether to migrate to another country or rather migrate within a given country due to a lack of strong ties with a transnational migration community in the intended country of destination. I think the importance of network resources through network members, e.g. friends or kin, is often understated, and this article aims to remedy this incomplete view of migration processes and the reasons behind migration.

    I found it especially interesting to learn more about how these networks, especially in urban centers, can expand through inter-marriage and how the new family members will then have the possibility to choose from several transnational networks. I would be interested in finding out more about the functioning of these newly connected or overlapping networks. Do the dynamics of these networks then change? And do conflicts arise between formerly separate parts of the networks that might ultimately hinder the functioning of these networks? These are questions I would be interested in for future research.

  4. I found the gender perspective of both the theories and Wilson’s study pretty interesting. Although both the model of commulative causation and the saturation thesis are very much based on male-led migration (cf.: “an ever-increasing proportion of community members reside across the border, and when prevalence rates for migration reach approximately 80% among males, a point of numerical saturation has been reached and the process of migration loses its dynamic momentum for growth” and the deceleration of migration dynamics is marked by the growing proportion of “women, children and the elderly”), Wilson suggests that women, and sisters first and foremost, are the primary network builders, creating ties between their husbands and male blood relatives.
    Also, just like in last week’s reading, the collection of personal family stories observed through what Mr. Isla has called an “anthropological lens”, such as the example of Raul or Manuela, illustrates well how Wilson’s migration model and the cumulative causation work and makes it easier for us to understand how these patters appear in real life. I do however agree with Mr. Isla on Wilson not pointing out the importance of the individual and personal perspectives of migration in this work as a whole.
    As for Katja’s question on the dynamics of these networks, I believe, in the strict post-9/11 and post-IRCA immigration policy framework, the phenomenon of people returning to an urban center in Mexico (such as Mexicali in our case), instead of moving back to their original rancho after not having been able to establish themselves legally nor economically in the U.S. is even more defining nowadays. The strict immigration policy and the rigorous border control regime of the U.S. also reinforce internal migration in Mexico, as those, who want to leave rural poverty but will not take the risk of crossing the border, will stay in the more urbanized areas of North-Mexico.
    When it comes to the article of The Guardian, it is interesting to see how this joint identity of the two cities emerges (it must be very similar in the case of Mexicali and Calexico) and it also indicates, although written in January, how Trump’s “Wall” might affect those personal and economic ties and hence this double-identity of Juarez and El Paso.

    (Fun fact: yes, Mexicali’s sister city on the U.S. side is called Calexico… Pretty creative, huh?)

  5. In her article, Tamar Diana Wilson interestingly traces the functioning of network-mediated migration. She captures the model of “cumulative causation” according to which each immigrant is aided by former immigrants and will in turn support the immigration of his/ her network members. Therefore, the more people enter a country, the lower get migration costs and risks for other potential immigrants (p. 150). After reaching a natural “point of saturation”, however, the cumulative effect declines (p. 151).
    As this thesis has originally been developed based on rural communities, Wilson then moves on to expand the argument to an urban colonia, the “Colonia Popular” in Mexicali, Mexico. In this context, exogamous marriages and, internal migration and the heterogeneous iorigins of members of a certain community are particularly important. Based on two qualitative case studies, Wilson explores the effects of family-based social capital and its expansion on urban centres. In this regard, she outlines four principles which characterise this kind of migration and which she had extracted from her two case studies: First, although internal migrants might more often be found to lack economical means and transnational network resources at the time they leave their place of origin, transnational networks start to develop and expand after they have departed as is predicted by the theory of cumulative causation (p. 155). Second, transnational migration networks may also effect places of prior residence (p. 156). Third, not only do women play a crucial role in expanding the transnational migration stream, but also male relatives such as brothers, sister’s husbands etc. (p. 156). Fourth, in urban centres, families are especially drawn into the transnational migration stream due to cross-state or cross-community marriages.
    Personally, I found this descriptive analysis very enriching when making sense of the direction of migration flows. Yet, at three points I whished the author had gone into more detail: First, I found that she paid little attention to the causes of migration. While she marginally touched this issue some times (e.g. p. 155), she rather focused on the pull-factors for migration – the ways in which migration is facilitated or directed to a certain area. However, I believe that also the push-factors are important in shaping the form of migration. Second, I think that Wilson could have expanded on the impacts of her findings. While it is definitely interesting to understand the functioning of the family-networks and its effects on urban migration, I wish she had focused more on the implications of her insights and expand on the political, economical and sociological relevance of her findings. Third, I found it interesting how she touched gender issues in her article when analysing the role of male and female relatives in expanding transnational migration networks (p. 154; 155; 158). Yet, I find she could have outlined the different influence of male and female family members more clearly. Wilson does not only talk about cross-community marriages but she does make a difference between the male and the female role. However, she does not expand on this in more detail.
    Despite this criticism, I found the paper very insightful.

  6. This week’s reading by Wilson was about network-mediated migration from urban “Colonia Popular”, Mexicali, Mexico to the United States.

    It was interesting to see how transnational migration from urban areas is different from transnational migration from rural areas and how urban immigrants use networks in their rural community of origin to help their immigration.

    I liked that the text underlined the role of women in the migration process (in urban centers), when, for example, daughters marry men who are from other parts of Mexico and then there are non-overlapping networks. Not only do women facilitate the migration of other women but also of men. I think that the role of women has often been underestimated.

    I also found the model of cumulative causation interesting. Each immigrant is helped by former immigrants and, in turn, helps new immigrants. The more immigrants enter the migration stream, the lower are costs and risks for potential immigrants until a point of saturation is reached and immigration declines. However, the author makes a good point in arguing that saturation does not need to occur necessarily.

    It was also interesting to see how Mexicali is composed of so many different people, from different regions of Mexico, and with different backgrounds.

    I liked the way she illustrated her principles. Like the reading for last week, the personal level made it easier to understand and see that migration always has to do with family, kinship, and community, as Mr. Rubio Isla already stated.

  7. I really liked the critical tone of the text by Tamar Diana Wilson, on network mediated migration. Furthermore, it was interesting to see how the author used some “real-life examples” by migrants, making the text easy to relate to.

    As said by someone on here previously, I did not encounter anything new. Being an immigrant myself, however, it was nice to see the familiar concept of migration networking being depicted in an academic context. In my experience, connections to friends and/or relatives are indeed vital to establishing a new life in foreign countries. Such an approach can be seen also in migration processes outside of Latin America.

    In the text, the author emphasised the role of women in the network (establishing) process. While I agree that in academic research, light should be shed upon as many relevant factors as possible, I personally think that men and women are equally important for this migration process. Wilson points out that women have a high morality in terms of family obligations yet at the same time, men are known to be concerned with providing for their families. The text also talks about “sisters who marry into families” to extend the migration networks. Based on my observations I can say that the same can apply to let’s say brothers who marry into families and while my experience may be rather unique, I am sure that it would be possible to find data for this point of view likewise.

    All in all I am not so sure how necessary a distinction of gender importance is in this case. Especially if we consider the personal motives and the necessity of people to migrate, men and women equally put in effort to achieve their goals. For me it is not so much about men or women but more about personal situations and destinies.

  8. To be honest, while I understood the gist of the text, I found it slightly challenging, as there were many new concepts and terms used in the reading.

    Based on my understanding, the author is arguing against the “Bounded Community” theory, which argues that endogamous (internal) marriages often occur within a migrant community. Wilson argues that this is not true; exogamous marriages (marrying outside of your community) are very prevalent and they play a key role in expanding migration networks both within and beyond Mexico (in the US). She subsequently moves on to propose 4 principles of network migration, namely
    1. Transnational migration networks continue to expand as individuals migrate away from their place of origin to another area within Mexico
    2. Transnational migration networks can be leveraged upon at any location, not just at the individual’s place of origin
    3. Women play pinnacle roles in facilitating migration of both men and women – this is mainly done by marrying men with migration networks that do not overlap with her own networks. She then proceeds to leverage on her expanded networks to help more migrants.
    4. Men in urban centers expand their migration networks by leveraging on their sisters’ husbands migration networks (which do not overlap with his own existing networks)

    Firstly, I think principle 4 can be classified as a sub-point under principle 3. To me, it seems like a more specific case of principle 3.

    Secondly, principle 4 seems to discuss specifically about urban centers. Is this principle not the same for men in rural areas? How do migration networks differ in urban and rural areas?

    Thirdly, I wish that there were more discussion about the “saturation thesis” mentioned in the introduction. From what I gather from the introduction, “saturation thesis” suggests that when networks are saturated, the rate of migration decreases and consists of spouses and children. She has extensively elaborated and supported her suggested principles but none of them really discuss about the “saturation thesis” in depth; is it true that spouses and children are the last ones to migrate? What happens after migration dwindles down due to saturation? How long will it take before migration builds up again and what does it take to revive migration patters?

    This reading was very interesting as I constantly find myself looking up new terms that have sprung up in the paper. This paper has left me with more questions and answers and hopefully some of these questions will be answered with subsequent readings.

  9. I found the text this week really interesting because it gave us a clearer insight into the ties and networks that support migration in Latin America. What stood out to me, was the comparison between the 3 different types of migrants and non-migrants that Wilson observed in Mexico based on the types of ties and networks that they had with successful migrants in the United States and expressed in the conclusion of the text. It appears that the success of the migration and the likelihood of it even taking place rely heavily on these ties, which are not necessarily familial, and such ties and networks are often formed and maintained in Latin American communities. However, if the migration process is so heavily dependent on such ties, how transferable is this observation to other migrant communities and networks where such familial and community ties are not as strong? In addition, another thought I had was that such strong and interlinked ties and networks could perhaps explain the prevalence of migration from Latin American communities to the United States and the difficulty that policymakers face in successfully addressing illegal migration.

    I agree with Prof Felipe that the decision to migrate is dependent on several factors including the ties that one might have with others that have successfully migrated, which Wilson has clearly shown in the text. This leads me to wonder how these factors weigh out for the individual migrants when they are making their decisions and the strength of these factors that are necessary to push a migrant to make the decision to migrate. However, I do recognise that this is something that is difficult to determine, as the priorities and circumstances of each migrant are different.

  10. Fundamentally, Wilson’s paper points to the importance of relating theory and conceptual work to empirical research. She focusses especially on qualitative research at the micro and meso-social level, characterising individual processes and decisions with regards to migration from Mexico to the U.S. as well as social and familiar factors in these processes.

    For her research, Wilson draws on network theory and concepts which have importantly shaped research on migratory flows and developments over the last decades. However, she criticises these same concepts and practcally seems to invert them throughout her research. One of those is the notion of “saturation”, which she basically rejects, pointing to changes that take place over time and to different factors influencing the decision-making processes of individuals or groups in Mexicali when tackling the question of whether or not to cross the northern border. Her basic argument to counter this notion is that while migratory networks grow and stabilise themselves in cross-border exchanges, ‘saturation’ is not a natural consequence. Rather, people might choose not to migrate at a certain point due to a lack of cross-border networks while later choosing the opposite because networks might have expanded or grown more stable. This would be the opposite of ‘saturation’. Also, networks fundamentally consist of individuals or groups who make their own choices and have the option to reject the “morality of risk” (cf. Wilson 2009: 154), thus impeding the network dynamic.

    This points to migratory ‘stories’ told by individuals who Wilson places at the center. While she gives some credit to ‘external’ political developments, she emphasises individual decisions above these developments. A similar move can be seen where she draws on Rumbaut’s idea of a typology of migration cohorts (cf. Wilson 2009: 161). Instead of using this typology in order to describe acculturation processes into U.S. society, she twists the idea around and uses it in order to hypothesise on the strength of migratory networks depending on experiences they had or did not have in their sending communities. Depending on their age and the intensity of socialisation that individuals have experiences in sending communities, their ability or readiness to accept the “morality of risk” might differ.

    Thus, Wilson brings back the individual and personal level to network theory and concepts and thus shows us that migratory flows are fundamentally created by people and their decisions, which might change and vary over time. This makes it difficult to rely only on conceptual considerations and it complicates the process of creating models to describe these movements and flows. We must take this into account when studying and discussion migration and its (real or imagined) consequences.

  11. In the beginning i would like to say that this text i find really hard to comment online, i feel like debates and live conversation would be an important part of this text discussion.
    I think this text interesting in case, as it was said before, not focusing on the more theoretical parts – as we should understand migration, or which way it was moving or moving now, we should see the personal background, and we should understand that behind every migration, doesn’t matter inside one family or a massive migration of thousands of people, there are some personal issues.
    It also gave us a bit more clear picture oh how tight must be the network, especially when the life factors in country A are not acceptable for living and there are good examples of migration.
    i just read a book by Samuel L. Baily he brought a great examples showing two cousins who migrated to Buenos Aires and New York from Italy, because: 1. they already have relatives in these cities 2. they could stay with them there and find job more easily.
    He wrote that for one of them – Oreste it was really hard for him to decide to migrate because he was about to leave whole family (he came back only once, after his parents died), i suppose, when people migrate they understand that there is a big possibility they might never see their friends and family again or at least for a very long time. As soon as for his cousin Ida – it was easier decision, she wanted to escape to a better place, as she was thinking. But as basic they both have the issue of no work in their town, no possibility to support their parents when they get older.
    I still found really hard to comment whole text, because all the talks about transnational migration that brought up in text are better to be discussed. We, of course, giving your opinion but there are always aspects that people with different international backgroungs can understand differently.

  12. In general I appreciate again the ethnographic approach of Wilson`s text this week. I think it is important to pay attention to individual cases of people that migrate whether in a more internal way o transnational way in the context of studing migration and illustrating for example, as it is shown in the text, how migration actually works out trough network and conection with people that already have migrated etc. Observing individual cases and in the best case for several years, as the author did in her fieldwork, seems a helpfull way not just to observe how migration works in a certain context, but also how it changes over the years and to observe certain patterns or `mechanisms` that repeat within a certain migration context.
    I could relate to the phenomen of networking, making contacts to relatives, friends or a friend of a friend when it comes to migration remembering many stories of friends that migrated in way to another country and I am sure that many of us could observe this way of networking and support for potential migrants trough `conecting persons` in our own life, country, circle of friends etc.
    The text also made me think of the phenomen that when you decide to migrate, national or transnational, you identify automatically with other people that do the same- altough you might not know that person very well in every case. Within the migration context and doing the experience to migrate there is shaped a certain `community`, of persons that connect trough certain experiences, contacts, life stories as mobile or migrating people.

  13. I already knew that migration movements heavily rely on network based contacts in the receiving state/area. I didn´t knew exactly how they work. Therefore, it was interesting to read some examples of real cases of familiar migration networks. The intent of the author to derive some general rules from comparing the differing migration networks (as for example his statements on behalf of the role women play in migration networks) appeared very interesting and helped me to get a practical image of how the whole process works.

    The most interesting question that I got from reading the texts, is how the traditional family structures change regarding the strong integration into networks that trend to overlap between different families, and how the relatively homogeneous migration networks change or are influenced by the appearance of multicultural marriages that emerge from the long-time contact of members of a migration network with its environment.

    Another question emerging from my lecture of the paper is if these networks are also functional in backward movements. There are a lot of examples of Latin American immigrants with illegal status, that are born and socialized in the US but deported after their discovery by the authorities. They are forced to return to their “homeland” which they never knew during their lifetime. It would be interesting to know if this group receives the same help integrating in Latin American societies or what happens to them after their deportation.

  14. In this weeks text, Wilson is pointing out the importance of family and kin relationships before and during the process of migration by emphasizing it in reverence to a case study on the people of “Colonia Popular” / Mexicali.
    The research includes quantitative methods as well as qualitative methods, thus you get a good insight in structures and mechanisms of migration movements between the USA and Mexico.

    The fact that young men often are playing a pioneer role in migrating with the whole family reminded me of something I observed during the “refugee-crisis”.
    Because the majority of the syrian refugees are young men, certain right wing media representatives twisted that for their own uses. Missing money or uncertainty, which are some reasons why woman and children are following at a subsequent moment, are hidden arguments.

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