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Cultures of Migration

Cultures of Migration
The Global Nature of Contemporary Mobility

Exploring the motivations of migrants in countries around the world, this book proposes a new model of immigration that accounts for the cultural beliefs and social patterns that influence people to move—or to remain at home.

September 2011
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179 pages | 6 x 9 | 2 figures |

Around the globe, people leave their homes to better themselves, to satisfy needs, and to care for their families. They also migrate to escape undesirable conditions, ranging from a lack of economic opportunities to violent conflicts at home or in the community. Most studies of migration have analyzed the topic at either the macro level of national and global economic and political forces, or the micro level of the psychology of individual migrants. Few studies have examined the "culture of migration"—that is, the cultural beliefs and social patterns that influence people to move.

Cultures of Migration combines anthropological and geographical sensibilities, as well as sociological and economic models, to explore the household-level decision-making process that prompts migration. The authors draw their examples not only from their previous studies of Mexican Oaxacans and Turkish Kurds but also from migrants from Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific, and many parts of Asia. They examine social, economic, and political factors that can induce a household to decide to send members abroad, along with the cultural beliefs and traditions that can limit migration. The authors look at both transnational and internal migrations, and at shorter- and longer-term stays in the receiving location. They also consider the effect that migration has on those who remain behind. The authors' "culture of migration" model adds an important new dimension to our understanding of the cultural beliefs and social patterns associated with migration and will help specialists better respond to increasing human mobility.


Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title List

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. The Cultures of Migration
  • Chapter 1. The Household in a Global Perspective
  • Chapter 2. The Growth of Migration: Mobility, Security, Insecurity
  • Chapter 3. Contemporary Migration: Commuters and Internal Movers
  • Chapter 4. Contemporary Movers: International Migration
  • Chapter 5. Nonmovers and Those Who Stay Behind
  • Chapter 6. The Economics of Migration and the Possibilities of Development
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

Jeffrey H. Cohen is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the Ohio State University. His books include Cooperation and Community: Economy and Society in Oaxaca, The Culture of Migration in Southern Mexico, and Economic Development: An Anthropological Approach.

Ibrahim Sirkeci is Professor of Transnational Studies at European Business School London, Regent's College. He founded the journal Migration Letters, which Jeffrey Cohen and Elli Heikkila have coedited since 2004. He has published widely on migration, ethnicity, segregation, and conflict.


Hey you, you think I'm mojado? You're the mojado! My family has been here forever. . . . Your families! Your families came here in a boat!


Don Mario, Oaxaca, Mexico, 1993, in a heated discussion with Cohen


Lots of people talk about migration and lots of people talk about migrants. They are intrigued by the process and they want to ask questions about why people move. Many people assume migrants are seeking to escape something that cannot be resolved in their home country. Others figure that migration is a solution to a local economic problem such as the lack of jobs. When a country cannot provide for its citizens, those citizens may choose to migrate to a country where opportunities are present (Goodman and Hiskey 2008). The belief that migration is an important option for people who cannot make a living in their native homes can often promote a fearful reaction among receiving populations. They oppose migration in general and assume that migrants are people who take jobs, bring crime, and access services that are better held for the native-born. Ultimately these assumptions about migration can and often do lead to xenophobia, especially in times of economic crisis. Xenophobic reactions include fear of both migration and migrants as well as the belief that migrants bring with them culture and practices that challenge and threaten the fabric of the destination nation's traditional way of life.


Discussions of migration and the migrant, of the movements of populations from south to north, east to west, poor to rich, and insecurity toward security fill library shelves. But how should we talk about migration? It isn't accurate to regard migration as something new and unique. Migration is a historical process, and it has been around for a long time. While contemporary movements might seem extraordinary, the phenomenon shares a lot with what has happened before (Massey et al. 1998). Just as importantly, migration is not a solitary process. It isn't just about a mover and where he or she goes. Migration is about security and escaping dangerous situations. It is about the sending households that are homes to migrants and about the communities where those households are found. Migration is local and follows individual movers to internal destinations. It is also about international flow and global processes. We must look beyond the present and the person to understand the history and sociocultural setting of the mover.


Our goal is to frame migration in ways that allow it to be better understood. We want to capture the growth in migration literature and interest in migration among policy makers, academics, and the public, using anthropology, demography, and geography to explain at least a bit of what is going on. Our intent is to clarify definitions and enhance understanding of this complex phenomenon. We aim to continue (not resolve) the debate on the definition and meaning of migration, the dynamic nature of human mobility, the place and role that security plays in movement, and the culture of migration cultivated, created, and recreated through the process of migration.


Our definition of migration is rooted in an understanding of the household as the adaptive unit where social actors make active decisions (Wilk 1991). In other words, migrants do not act alone. They come to their decisions in discussions with other members of their households and with friends and relatives at points of origin and destination. Although sometimes they ignore the household, and sometimes the household overwhelms the mover, the household is always present, regardless of the situation therein. Beyond the household, the decision to migrate reflects communal traditions, village practices, and national or even international trends.


A critical factor in the discussions concerning migration is security. We have no problem assuming that migrants leave their homes in search of work and economic security. But we also want to push this concept forward and argue that security is more than an economic outcome. It is cultural as well as social. Migrants think about their well-being and their security as individuals as well as members of culture groups and societies. In other words, they are cultural agents and their decisions reflect larger cultural and social debates. Migrants seek to live well, and this means they consider cultural, economic, and social security in their decisions. They want an opportunity to survive and thrive and to practice their culture in a safe environment. They are also thinking about insecurity—what is lacking at home that might motivate their moves. When we talk about refugees we assume they make their migrations happen in response to insecurity, whether political, religious, or environmental. But we argue that most migrants, regardless of their status, are thinking about issues of both security and insecurity in their decisions.


There is much debate and controversy surrounding the structure and meaning of migration. Therefore we start with a basic definition of migration. In later parts of this text we examine households, conflicts, and the culture of migration in detail. We also look into nonmovers, those left behind, who are crucial to understanding transnational mobility and the importance of the household in changing patterns of mobility and a conflict framework.


Framing Migration


A 2006 United Nations General Assembly report noted that globally nearly 200 million people were involved in one or another form of international migration (2006). In other words, the movement between two sovereign nations by sojourners, asylum seekers, refugees, and the like includes literally millions of individuals on a yearly basis. Yet the United Nations' numbers do not include internal migrants (those movers who choose to remain within a nation's boundaries) nor do they include internally displaced persons who cannot or will not leave their country of origin.


Despite being criticized by researchers and practitioners as employing too broad a definition to be useful, the U.N.'s model of migration—defined as individuals who live away from their place of origin for at least a year—has been widely adopted by academics and policy makers, and most available statistics have been collected accordingly. The "length of absence" criteria (i.e., those who migrated went to another country for more than twelve months) complicate understanding migration and make it difficult to develop a complete and complex picture of international movement. Defining migration as something that must last for at least a year leaves uncounted the millions of people who move for only a short period of time, and those individuals who cross borders regularly yet return nightly to their sending home. This last group includes those movers who live in the border areas, or "borderland people" (Horstmann and Wadley 2006). Groups in border areas often move daily across international boundaries, yet because they are permanent residents in their county of origin, they are not, by definition, "migrants." Not obvious as migrants or migrations in such restrictive lenses are the daily trips or circular and seasonal migrations made by Mexicans crossing the U.S. border, Polish movers who commute to nearby German towns, Laotians who are working across the border in Thailand factories, or Turks, Arabs, and Kurds who regularly cross the southeastern border between Turkey, Iraq, and Syria for trade, funerals, weddings, and the like. Nevertheless, these movements are voluminous and are part of the growth, history, and culture of migration.


Alongside these temporary and local short-term sojourners are other mobile populations who often do not show up in migration registers. Foreign students (Scheurle and Seydel 2000), holiday makers, professionals, and business people who spend a significant portion of their time away from their homelands are all migrants of a sort who do not "count" in estimates of international movers. Academics are another example of migrants, as they may spend lengthy periods abroad teaching or conducting research.


Can we call these diverse groups migrants? It may seem odd, but there are studies of holiday movers (Buckley 2005; Kinnaird 1999), nostalgic travelers (Vryer 1989), religious pilgrims (Brower 1996; Leppakari 2008; Moerman and Collcutt 2008), and highly skilled, itinerant workers (Luthra 2009; Regets 2008), who are all often best described as migrants. The differences between these movers and refugees, forced migrants, displaced peoples, and even unskilled international movers are stark. While the religious pilgrim travels to her or his destination as a personal sacrifice to a belief, the refugee is moving in response to external and often uncontrolled outcomes. The unskilled migrant who leaves a rural home to find work might serve a highly skilled migrant from his home country in a restaurant, but he or she has little in common with the experience of this co-national beyond place of birth. Zlolniski (2006) explores this process and the role that unskilled migrant labor serves in the support of highly skilled native and migrant labor in his work with Mexican immigrants to the Silicone Valley in central California. While highly skilled workers assimilate into middle-class America and upward mobility, most Mexican migrants to the region join the ranks of unskilled labor and face a future of downward mobility (and see the discussion of segmented assimilation in Waldinger and Lichter 2003).


The difference between these groups of migrants—the traveler, skilled mover, and religious pilgrim on the one hand and the unskilled migrant, refugee, and forced mover on the other—rests in the asymmetrical relationships the latter have with systems of power at points of origin and destination. The "weary, world traveler" fits into a prestigious slot in most countries and is encouraged to continue his or her tour. The religious pilgrim is celebrated and welcomed as a guest, and the highly skilled migrant fills an important niche in a nation's intellectual endeavors even as he or she shares a basic set of progressive beliefs (Cornelius, Espenshade, and Salehyan 2001). The unskilled migrant, the refugee, and the forced mover are not equals, regardless of their origin or destination: refugees are a burden, forced movers are a reminder of failed promises, and unskilled migrants are often seen as a nuisance even as they are encouraged to take low wage positions with few benefits.


The asymmetrical relationships and social inequalities that characterize mobile populations and their relationships often contribute to a migrant's choice of destination; while these phenomena were noted in the 1970s by Eric Wolf (1972), among others, they are often overlooked in contemporary discussions of migration. This asymmetry can be geographic, economic, or social. Geographic asymmetry is evidenced when international moves bring fewer changes and complications than do internal moves. For example, while it is considered to be international migration when people migrate from Luxembourg to neighboring Belgium, moves between Xinjiang (or East Turkistan) and Shanghai in China are described as internal migrations. The international move from Luxembourg to Belgium involves almost no change in cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, and legal environment. Yet the move within China represents an internal move from west to east, and includes a shift from a rural to an urban setting, and a change in language, economics, religion, and culture, not to mention the distance between the two regions. Shanghai is a densely populated global economic powerhouse with a dominant Chinese population while Xinjiang remains a rural, underdeveloped region ethnically dominated by the Uighurs, who suffer from internal discrimination in the People's Republic of China.


A different asymmetry is evident when we consider migrations that are limited by the economic and social facilities of the movers in question; these are determined by the migrant's household and country, and the community's relationship to national and global processes. Wealthier households can afford to support longer moves and are usually able to send their members across national borders to access jobs and opportunities that are not available locally and that may take some time to find. Internal and regional movers are often members of lower economic classes, individuals whose households cannot afford the costs of crossing international borders (Carton de Grammont and Lara Flores 2010). These migrants do not have resources to support their moves across borders, nor do they have the time necessary to access distant opportunities. Many Central and South African movers fall into this later group. They migrate regionally, from rural to urban setting, following social networks as they move from one part of the informal economy to another. Their earnings remain low and they find only limited opportunities, yet at the same time they are reducing the burden on their family and sending household (Cliggett 2003).


Cultural and social inequalities also create asymmetries for different movers and between movers and their destinations. Asymmetries can be gender based and define where men and women can and cannot travel. Asymmetries are also rooted in ethnic and religious differences that are expressed in opportunities or their lack when migrants determine destinations and must confront a religious system that is skeptical of their native beliefs. Such is the case in Canada and Britain, where Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims encounter a Christian system that defines them as nonbelievers and potentially dangerous interlopers (Model and Lin 2002). Social and cultural differences can also affect whether a migrant makes a decision by choice or is forced to do so. In many countries, women are prohibited from making international moves—instead, women stay at home or move locally and when they do move internationally, they follow fathers and brothers (see Cohen, Rodriguez, and Fox 2008).


Ethnic and religious differences also impact migration outcomes. Ethnic and religious compatriots can be an important resource for the mover. He or she finds shelter, support, and a shared set of beliefs and practices that do not have to be explained. On the other hand, people of different faiths may greet migrants with skepticism and contempt. This is often the case whether ethnic minorities seek refuge in other countries or in regions within a country, and especially when differing belief systems encounter each other.


Where Christian and Muslim clash in the homeland, migration may be an important avenue for avoiding conflict, yet the religious nature of the clash can make movement difficult. Faith, like a label, marks the mover and restricts mobility as well as ability. In these situations, the members of the minority faith must move without the knowledge of the leaders of the dominant faith. And often the result is that the followers of minority faiths become refugees, as is currently the case in both Darfur and East Timor, two regions where religious differences have forced the large-scale movement of people and transform them from citizens to refugee (Ferguson 2010; Ondiak and Ismail 2009; Wise 2006).


From Migration to Mobility


"Mobility" is a term that can be used to replace "migration" and help us explain and understand cross-border human movements. The advantages that come with using "mobility" in place of "migration" are twofold. First, "mobility" accommodates human movement beyond the limited definition of "migration," which is based on a twelve-months residence in a country that is foreign to the home country of the mover. Second, "mobility" is a dynamic term that emphasizes the changing, floating, fluid nature of this phenomenon and captures the regular as well as irregular moves of people on the ground regardless of time or destination.


Anthropologists, geographers, and other social scientists have long emphasized the importance of defining migration as a process that is regular and predictable. In other words, the motivations and the pathway to a destination are understandable. So too are the processes that promote migration as well as the outcomes that occur as migrants arrive at their destinations (for historical models see Ravenstein 1889; Zelinsky 1971).


Conceiving migration as mobility helps to define the process of movement and emphasizes its fluid progression even as it organizes a framework for understanding. Mobility breaks the conventional and static definition of migration offered by groups like the U.N. ("movement from point A to point B for at least 12 months") and more clearly defines it in relation to the experiences of movers and nonmovers as well as our experiences as researchers. It is abundantly clear that people travel not only to international destinations, but also to local destinations. The duration of their moves can range from short term, lasting for a few days, to long term, extending over many years. Finally, moves between more than two places are often typical for migrants; such multiple moves and circular moves are overlooked in the assumption that migration is unidirectional, beginning in country A ending in country B and lasting for at least a twelve-month period.




"Transnational movement" describes the circular movements of individuals and groups as they travel between two or more destinations in a regular fashion over time. Anthropologists among others use the term to describe migrations as mobile, cultural, and motivated by a variety of causes but also to contrast with the assumption that movement is typically from point A to point B, with little or no return or integration across space and time (Glick-Schiller, Basch, and Blanc-Szanton 1992).


Transnationalism as an approach overcomes some of the ills of conventional views of migration—particularly the idea that movement follows one direction—and it embraces the view that migration is dynamic, multilocational, and circular as well as a natural part of human culture (Basch, Shiller, and Blanc 1994). Any attempt to reconceptualize and redefine migration as a process must integrate a transnational perspective.


The concepts of transnationalism and the circular movement of individuals between two or more locations over time that often follows the back-and-forth, give-and-take interactions between a sending and a destination community are celebrated in the anthropological literature for the positive ways in which they creates new space (often referred to as transnational space; see Pries 1999) for the construction of cultural, social and sometimes political identities (Kearney 1996). This process is evident in the ways that indigenous migrants from southern Mexico travel to Los Angeles, California, for work. In their new destination communities in southern California they forge an identity built around their indigenous, Mexican past, and are energized by a shared sense of identity that in turn becomes a foundation from which they demand political inclusion in their sending country (Rivera-Salgado 2000).


While celebrated for the ways it builds networks and revitalizes culture, transnationalism also brings with it certain costs; a recent special issue of Migration Letters focuses on these issues specifically (volume 6, no. 1 [April 2009]). The costs of transnationalism can be economic and include the expense of moving in a circular fashion. Importantly, transnational migration brings global economic ideals to rural communities, and the impact of these ideas and ideals is not simple. Transnational practices can create new stresses and place pressures on traditional practices that appear unworkable or problematic (Marcelli and Lindsay Lowell 2005). Socially, transnational migration reorganizes sending communities and introduces debates over the meaning of tradition. Movers do not leave, but rather rethink and redefine their roles, and nonmigrants or nonmovers may not be particularly supportive.


The transnational is just one kind of movement that can be critical to a mover's success. But how long do transnational migrations take? And how long does transnationalism last? These are complex questions, as many transnational movers transcend borders regularly and transnational practices come and go through time (see, for example, Guarnizo 1997).


To return to the idea of migration, the numbers provided by various supranational or national agencies can tell us only who is migrating in a given year, and even then count only those who stay twelve months or more. These numbers do not address questions such as how long a migrant may be absent from his and her home community, how many sojourns he or she has been involved in, and if the migrant who is currently in her or his destination country plans to return to his or her country and home of origin in the future. These data also lack any notion of transnationalism. Thus, as we have pointed out, these estimates of migration are problematic at best, particularly if we are interested in determining transnational outcomes (Cohen et al. 2003). They likely overlook many millions of undocumented movers who remain uncounted or do not want to be counted, as well as, among others, internal movers.


Regardless of the strength of the U.N.'s estimates, the numbers and patterns of movement they note remind us that people are moving in increasingly larger numbers from east to west and south to north, and not always to destinations in developed countries. Of course, over the last several decades the increase in the total number of migrants has risen rapidly. And while the numbers from the U.N. are indicative of global patterns of movement and the growth of that movement in demographic terms, they tell us little about the motivations behind migration; the concerns movers have about both security and insecurity; and how they migrate and the outcomes (or ends, if you will) of migration.


When we claim that there are many more millions of people globally involved in mobility (internal, transnational, and otherwise) than are normally tallied, we are not arguing for the inclusion of a perfect estimate of illegal or undocumented migrants, whose numbers are hard to define. Just to clarify how complicated mobility can become, we ask that you consider this: taking a look at the number of passengers departing or arriving at main global airports, we find a very complex picture. For the five airports in London, there is a total of over 200 million passengers passing through per annum. Add the totals for New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Shanghai, Beijing, Frankfurt, Moscow, Mexico City, and Istanbul, and the number of people moving—regardless of their status—becomes enormous. Of course we do not want to claim that all of the passengers identified within these airports are migrants, but they are mobile and, as we noted above, they might fall into one of the less common types of migrations we have identified (religious pilgrim, nostalgic traveler, or highly skilled worker). Some of these movers will settle; others will remigrate, relocate, or return; and others will build upon strong social networks to create transnational spaces. Yet even a fraction of this total dwarfs the U.N.'s overall figures for migration.


Conflict and Migration and Conflict Migration


Even as migrants plan their sojourns, balance family against self-interest, and gain at least some satisfaction from exercising their mobility, they are also sometimes challenged by internal conflicts, which can come in many forms, including ethnic or religious disputes; in their destinations they may face xenophobic responses to their moves. Internal disputes and anti-migration sentiments in destination countries are just two aspects of the conflicts we must acknowledge and take into account as dynamic building blocks of an improved understanding of transnational mobility.


Our definition of conflict builds upon the work of Ralf Dahrendorf (1959). Dahrendorf argued that "conflict" is not necessarily equal to "violence": it embraces a range of situations from latent tensions to violent encounters. Conflicts are not always political, ethnic, or religious in their orientation, nor are they evident only in armed clashes, revolts, or war but also in the contests, competitions, disputes, and tensions that characterize everyday life (1959); they can include explicit (overt) as well as latent (covert) events, to follow Parsons' terminology (1954:329). For all of these variations, conflict is present when there is an environment of human insecurity, or such an environment is imminent where conflict is present. Conflicts are likely to motivate people to move toward places where they perceive that the ongoing or potential conflict is relatively low or nonexistent. Thus, transnational moves often reflect conflictive situations in home communities or nations; blending the concept of transnationalism with conflict helps to avoid dichotomous categories of migrants and refugees, economic versus political migrants, and so on (Massey et al. 1998).


All migrations are culturally framed and socially defined by the migrants and nonmigrants and the conflicts and contests they are involved in and that they perceive. In other words, there is a cultural framework, or a culture of migration, that helps migrants define their mobility in relation to their household, home community, and world. A culture of migration relates to the strengths and weaknesses of the individual migrants themselves as well as the strengths and weakness of their homes, families, and sending and receiving communities, the sending and receiving nations, and the global patterns of social and economic life. A migrant's strengths and weaknesses reflect the gender, age, experience (including the experience in migration), schooling, and security and, the history and experiences of other movers and nonmovers involved in the social networks that characterize migration history and experience (and see Singer and Massey 1998).


Early movers from countries with low rates of out-migration follow trajectories of a type that is quite different from those of migrants who leave countries with high rates of expulsion and rich histories of movement. The situation in Mexico illustrates this process clearly. For more than a century, Mexicans have moved to the U.S. from the country's central states, including Zacatecas, Durango, Jalisco, and Guanajuato.


On the other hand, a migrant from a "new" sending region—that is, a region without a tradition of migration and a history of movement, like the state of Chiapas—may lack a support network, needing to build one on his or her own (Téllez 2008; Villafuerte Solís and García Aguilar 2008). The linkages and experiences that ease the stresses and strains of border crossing, settlement, and job seeking are not present for the new mover. However, improved communication technologies such as the Internet and satellite television are making knowledge available across the globe (Chapman 2004). Today border crossings are not the unknown they were for those who crossed the Atlantic for new pastures at the turn of the last century. Yet the stories, motivations, and outcomes are often shared.


Understanding the culture of migration is critical as we work to define the motivations, outcomes, and possibilities that exist for movers and that encourage mobility. Migration can follow an internal path and take the migrant from her or his rural home to an urban setting. This pattern of movement is generally freer of federal intervention than is the crossing of international borders. However, moves can remain difficult as the migrant must deal with internal bigotries and internal socioeconomic problems that may arise as he or she moves (think of the Qighurs, who move from ethnic enclaves in rural western China to eastern cities and industrial centers). These stresses can be quite painful when they involve crossing ethnic or religious borders. On the other hand, migration to an international destination (which by definition must include crossing borders) typically places migrants at risk of capture, persecution, and perhaps jail time (this is particularly true for undocumented movers).


Life in a foreign country can be difficult even when the migrant is successful, finds work, earns a living, and remits to a hometown. Not surprisingly, many nonmigrants that Sirkeci and Cohen have encountered do not want to trade their lives in their communities of origin for the risks of life in a foreign country. Often the question "Why aren't there more migrants leaving?" is of more interest than "How many migrants are there?" As one Oaxacan farmer said when asked why he hadn't considered migrating to the U.S., "It isn't worth it! I'll earn a lot, but look at how much I have to spend, maybe $5,000! This just doesn't make sense; it isn't worth it for me. I'd rather stay here [Oaxaca, Mexico]" (interviewed May 2001). Similar sentiments were found among Turkish Kurdish immigrants in Cologne, Germany. Some felt that they had failed to achieve what they had intended, but they were unable to return to Turkey as they were too proud to admit failure. Put another way, they would not migrate if they were to begin again, yet, having migrated and failed, there was no way to return home (Sirkeci 2006a).


Nevertheless, the risks of international migration often do not outweigh the benefits, which can include higher wages, work and schooling opportunities, and security (Heyman 2007). This is the case even where home culture, language, and tradition are not shared with the majority of the community the migrant enters. There are also people who move as refugees and asylum seekers, such as contemporary Somalis, and for these individuals migration follows a path that may include years of living in camps and waiting for papers to be approved (Valentine, Sporton, and Nielsen 2009). Typically, once in a destination the refugee and asylum seeker is in a position quite different from that of the migrant and particularly the undocumented migrant (Zetter 2007). Refugee camps in Kenya, for example, limit the ability of Somalis to earn a living as they deny access and legally block active engagement with the larger national economy. Thus, Somalis not only must respond to the crises that put them in the camps in the first place, but they must also organize themselves to survive, to seek permanent settlement in new locals, and to maintain a sense of identity and social belonging (Kapteijns and Ali 2001). In a very different case, El Salvadorian immigrants who once held refugee status in the U.S. have seen that status shift as warfare and conflict in their sending country has declined. Now, one-time refugees must struggle against a system that recognizes them as extralegal immigrants. El Salvadorians in the U.S. face the new limits on their rights and potential deportation that come with their revised status (Coutin 2007).


To put all of this somewhat more succinctly: we have replaced the traditional view of migration—with its focus on movement from point A to point B for at least twelve months—with an emphasis on the culture of migration. The culture of migration identifies the abilities, limits, and needs of the mover as well as, importantly, the cultural traditions and social practices that frame those abilities and limitations through time. Finally, we note the national/international and transnational processes that render movement sensible, practical, and reasonable while also taking into account the enforcing factors.


While migration might look chaotic from afar, it is not a chaotic process. In fact, if migration was chaotic, people would not succeed as movers and mobility would hold little value. Therefore, we argue that migration makes sense and that it makes sense as a cultural process, an economic move, and a social event. Movers plan their sojourns and base their choices to migrate on real and perceived needs and benefits. Whether or not they see their plans through to their logical ends does not indicate that migration is chaotic or that mobility is a foolish choice. Rather, the outcomes of moving, regardless of the conclusions, are executed strategically and in a rational fashion. In other words, when a migrant leaves his or her home, he or she does so with a plan and a goal in mind. Even the moves of refugees who flee cultural, economic, religious, and social problems and persecution in their home communities and nations are typically making calculated decisions about their futures.


There are migrants who do not plan their sojourns, have no goals, and simply want to leave, must escape, or cannot stay. However, these migrants tend to form a small percentage of any group of movers. People do not typically pick up and move without forethought and some planning. We argue that even migrants who are described as "disappeared" are likely to have followed a clear plan of action in their decisions to leave. We base this belief on the fact that migration is a costly decision. Migrants who "disappear" (according to those family members or friends who are left behind) often have chosen to leave problematic and difficult relationship. Thus their decision was not random, but was in fact planned after consideration of the costs of remaining in a dysfunctional social arrangement (Ley and Kobayashi 2005; Osella and Osella 2000; Velayutham and Wise 2005).


It is also critical to recognize and understand why people stay behind and do not migrate (Cohen 2002; Conway and Potter 2007; Faist 2000b; Fischer, Martin, and Staubhaar 1997).9 A driving force for migrants is a combination of their needs and the needs and wants of those who cannot or will not migrate. To make sense of and organize their decisions, movers and nonmovers depend upon systems of cultural meaning framed in social processes. Coping with migration, contesting outcomes, challenging decisions, responding, and representing the future—all are part of what migrants and nonmigrants do as they negotiate movement. It is important to recognize the links with nonmovers in any migration decisions.


In the popular media, the migrant is often portrayed as a threatening individual or from a threatening group, someone who we as citizens of sovereign nations must fear and avoid. Migrants invade our lands and communities; they take our jobs and burden our schools and healthcare systems. Migrants drain away resources from natives who are most in need of those very benefits. Furthermore, there is an assumption that migrants often turn their backs on two systems—the one which they have left (their community and country of origin) and the one to which they have come (their community and nation of destination); and thus must be considered part of the insecurity factors for some others, as formulated in our conflict model (Sirkeci 2009).


In this book we argue that migrants are social actors making decisions about their futures that are framed by traditional beliefs, cultural expectations, and social practices and embedded in their immediate and broader environment, which is characterized by a variety of conflicts and competitions affecting the likelihoods of decisions to migrate. Thus we define migration as a rational and rationalizing act. It is not a decision made lightly, but rather a decision with far-reaching impacts (see Conway and Cohen 1998). This process of decision making and planning often takes a long time and may involve family members, relatives, and friends. It is a complicated, multifaceted, and often emotional decision.


It is wrong to assume that the migrants who have made it to the U.S. or Western Europe, among other places, are there for strictly economic or political reasons and are by definition a threat. As we will show, while migrants may share many motivations, they are not automatons and few are moving to join criminal groups or participate in illegal activities. Furthermore, shared motivations do not mean that outcomes will always be the same. To be more precise—while the pull of relatively high wages in destinations is a strong motivator to move, people migrate for many and multiple reasons while many others do not move at all. Movers often consider a variety of indicators to come up with the overall assessment of human insecurity and security that informs their decision to move. This consideration is not necessarily a systematic and accurate one but is largely shaped by individual circumstances and perceptions.


Consider young women who migrate from rural hometowns in Mexico or Turkey to escape abusive relationships at home. Other women cross to the U.S. and Europe to support their fathers and brothers who are established in destination communities. These young women often leave caretaking jobs in rural homes for the same sorts of positions in the U.S. and Europe, replacing the children and siblings they cared for at home with their working fathers and brothers. On the one hand, these women are caretakers for their relatives; on the other hand, they work to supplement family budgets and support children in their homes of origin. Not surprisingly, there are a growing number of women who migrate to seek out new opportunities independently. They also leave to join husband who are established in destinations and reunify their families. Nevertheless, these moves are also about security and reveal how people move from an environment of insecurity to relative security. These women arriving in destination countries may have bettered their lives compared to their fellow citizens who stay behind but are unlikely to enjoy the same level of security as their host-society members (for examples see Cuban 2009; Nadeau 2007; Thapar-Björkert 2007).


A second example of the degree to which migration outcomes are related to such factors as cultural norms, social practices, and history comes from Sirkeci's work with Iraqis. Economic motives, while important in Iraq and among Iraqi migrants, are often superseded by the urge to find a secure and safe environment for self and family. Sirkeci (2006b) found that many Iraqis base much of their decision to migrate around the increasing sense that terrorism and insecurity are now part of life in places like Baghdad and that the only clear solution—that is, the only way to find a secure home—is to leave the homeland. There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis struggling to leave their country—and while many of them seek work and opportunities where they can, nearly all seek simply to escape the violence and insecurity in Iraq. Sirkeci captured a detailed picture of such an exodus from an environment of human insecurity while studying Kurdish migration from Turkey, Turkmen emigration from Iraq in the 1990s and 2000s, and Lebanese flight after Israeli attacks in 2007 (Sirkeci 2005, 2006a, 2006b).


A third example comes from families that send their children to internal destinations in an effort to, first, enhance the socioeconomic status of a family in the place of origin through remittances and, second, reduce the burden a family places on local resources—an old migration model, to be sure, but also one that can affect and promote later transnational mobility. In sub-Saharan African countries like Zambia we find just such a process at work. Young men often leave their rural homes for the country's capital. These men can find it difficult to earn a living in their communities of origin and move not only for wages, but to ease pressures on sending households, effectively reducing the number of individuals that a household's members must support in the moment (Cliggett 2000, 2003).


Perhaps more important for the discussion of global patterns of movement, there are also migrants who regularly return to their homes of origin. These transmigrants travel between sending and receiving communities following complex paths that link them to compatriots at many points (Levitt 2001). What these migrants bring home can be as important as the destinations to which they travel (Eder, Yakovlev, and Garkoglu 2003; Konstantinov 1996; Yukseker 2007).


In many settings (including India, Turkey, Mexico, and El Salvador) the financial remittances returned by international migrants are critical to national budgets as well as to homes and sending communities. In El Salvador, financial remittances are the largest source of income for the nation. In Brazil, migrants are celebrated as "national heroes" and the remittances that flow through the nation's banks are taxed by the state (Cohen 2005). Similarly, Lebanon is among the top recipients in terms of remittances per capita, constituting a significant share of the nation's wealth (Amery 1992).


The point of these examples is not that we must pick one variable and use it to explain outcomes (here economics, there politics; here labor markets, there security), or even that we must measure all migrants equally, given their situations. Rather our point is that we need a model that allows us to define migration outcomes in relation to a variety of possibilities and in which we are not lost in the pursuit of numbers.


Understanding that about 200 million people are moving about the global landscape is a starting point and one through which we can understand national, macro-level trends, while a focus on the migrant typically emphasizes the impacts of movement on the individual, with less interest in larger patterns. But what if we look instead for a middle ground? A place where we can explore macro-trends, trends that often frame decision making at the national level with decision making at the personal level—in other words, the wants, desires, and limits that face households and their members around the world. This approach allows us to explore the economics behind migration decision making, without overlooking the cultural, political, and social decisions that migrants also make. While we reflect on what a migrant wants, we also keep track of the cultural and social boundaries that frame those wants and needs and the histories that limit making those decisions locally and prime a population to turn to migration.


Our goal through the remainder of this book is to develop a model of migration as a cultural process. To develop a cultural model of migration we build upon important work in anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology. We believe that this approach is critical, as it emphasizes the dynamics of a culture of migration (not the decisions of individual migrants—what is best thought of as a micro-level approach—nor a focus on national outcomes—a macro-level analysis). We attempt to understand migration—or, better put, mobility—from the perspective of cultural and social practices while acknowledging national patterns and personal, micro-level differences.


The social universe (or meso-level) is where the decisions of individuals meet, where social practices and cultural beliefs engage, and where community traditions connect with personal and family choices. Because it builds upon work in migration studies, we believe that our book offers a new model and new "reading" of migration in the twenty-first century, one that should help advance the debate.


We have organized our work around particular themes and topics. We begin, not surprisingly, with the household. Our goal in the next chapter is to define the central importance of the household to migration outcomes. Using examples from throughout the world, we note how the very concept of the household has changed over time, as has the role that a household's members play in decision making. It is critical to realize that regardless of the moves a migrant makes (whether international or local, circular or one way), the decisions are framed within a larger social field than the individual—and for us that is the household. Even for the migrant who elects to leave a home and turn her or his back on a family, the decision to move will have repercussions that change the social universe for the household and those left behind. Furthermore, the developmental process that takes the household from founding to demise, or from its establishment at a marriage to its demise in death of its members, is critical to understanding migration decisions and outcomes. A young couple with small children from Bangladesh who sends a migrant to England to work in the service sector and send money home likely has a different set of needs and expectations then the older couple with grown children who are no longer at home. For this older couple, remittances are not hoarded to educate children; rather, remittances can be invested in new and different ways and create a different set of opportunities.


We follow our discussion of the household with an exploration of contemporary migration. While we focus generally on the last several decades of movement and the importance that local and global patterns play in driving contemporary movement, it also remains critical to understand the historical underpinnings of migration. Furthermore, it is vital to place international migration and transmigration into a discussion that recognizes the continued value of internal moves, refugee movement, and the lives of asylum seekers.


The next two chapters look specifically at internal and international movers. Our goal in these chapters is to show first that we cannot fully understand migration patterns if we ignore internal moves. Often these migrations are the first step a sojourner makes as he or she embarks on more involved border crossings. For other migrants, internal moves fulfill the basic needs and demands of the household and thus there is no further movement. It is also critical to understand that internal movement can be motivated by factors that are quite different from those that influence international movers; we thus use several different examples to show the wealth of meaning associated with internal moves. As we progress to international movers, we focus again on the role culture and households play in decision making. We use examples from around the world to explore the local meanings of migration and the impacts of economics, work, etc., on movers and nonmovers. It is important to underline again that the link between international and internal migrations is not a one-way street. Movers may follow a step process, as they move from an internal to an international destination, yet this is not a fixed rule.


In Chapter 5 we consider nonmovers, those individuals who stay at home even as migrants leave. Oftentimes it is easy to ignore stay-at-homes and nonmovers in the discussion of migration; even in discussions of the role household's play, nonmovers are seen as fairly passive decision makers. The real decision makers, or at least those actively involved in decision making, are the migrants. In this chapter we will also expand upon the idea of mobility and move away from the notion of a linear, yearlong migration to capture the full picture of international mobility, which is much broader than the U.N. definition allows.


Chapter 6 focuses on the economic impacts of migration. It is not difficult to recognize the overwhelming role that financial remittances play in the health and well-being of migrant-sending countries (like Mexico, El Salvador, and Lebanon, for example); nevertheless, money is not shared equally, and people remit material as well as financial resources. In this chapter we look specifically at the impacts that various kinds of remittances have on sending households and communities and we disaggregate national data that give us the overall impact of remittances to show what individuals do. However, our discussion is not limited to remittances. Immigrants' contributions to their host economies need to be acknowledged too. Therefore we will also discuss the gains from immigration.


To further frame our work and to clearly outline our interests we review key issues in migration studies and the theories that have developed through time and from various fields. We develop a concise set of terms and definitions to help the reader follow our discussion and to effectively meet and critique our model. Our goal is not to limit the debate on migration, but to bring better precision to that debate in an effort to move away from unidimensional models.


Our goal in this book is to illuminate the lives and experiences of the people behind the numbers and to inform you, the reader, about why it is important to look beyond these raw totals. We argue that it is critical to move away from caricatures of migrants as lonely individuals without homes, dangerous rogues out to take jobs from unsuspecting citizens, and poor people avoiding responsibility and seeking employment and financial enrichment at the expense of their families, sending communities, and home nations. Such depictions are promulgated by tabloid media and chauvinist groups. Many governments may need to see figures such as the ones provided by U.N. for planning and policy purposes; however, there is strong evidence that migration includes more than those individuals who stay for at least a year, as well as others who move more often.


Of course, all of those movers, short and long term, internal and international, have needs and wants. Their decisions have a bearing on settled populations, populations left behind, and populations at their destination. All of these groups have demands and they must be provided for. Perhaps we can approach mobility and migration using a basic marketing definition—a definition that assumes individuals have nearly limitless needs and wants but only limited means through which to satisfy them. In this situation migration becomes an important avenue toward satisfying those wants—not all of them, but certainly more than might be possible without migration. Mobility is not a perfect answer for the individual as he or she remains with certain wants and needs that can never be fully met. In other words, mobility is not a panacea. Nevertheless, it is a fairly complex response to needs and wants and often allows for the individual mover to secure at least some of the needs he or she has defined.




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