Thursday, July 16, 2009

Institutional Adaptations to Migrants and Transnationalism

I'd like to point our readers towards David Fitzgerald's recent Migration Information article "Uncovering the Emigration Policies of the Catholic Church in Mexico". As the article's title suggests, Fitzgerald reviews how the Catholic Church in Mexico tried first to prevent emigration, then to help emigrants preserve their culture in ways consistent with Catholic mores.

The first mass wave of emigration from Mexico took place during the 1910s and 1920s as Mexicans fled political and economic turmoil at home for work in US agriculture and railroads. By 1929, an estimated 738,500 people of Mexican birth lived in the United States. Many of them migrated seasonally.

Within Mexico, most elites opposed the mass migration of its people, the country's largest asset, to the United States.

The strongest sentiment against emigration during this period came from the Catholic Church, an influential voice in a country where more than 98 percent of the population identified as Catholic even as the Church continued to lose its long and bloody struggles with the government. The Church feared that migration caused the breakup of families, religious conversions, and the introduction of dangerous foreign ideas.

However, the Church's various attempts to prevent migration northward largely failed. By the 1960s, its migration policy shifted to preparing migrants for the journey, establishing closer ties with the Church in the United States, and becoming a voice for migrants' rights while encouraging both their US integration and homeland ties.

With 88 percent of Mexicans older than age 4 being Catholic in 2000 according to INEGI, Mexico's official statistical agency, the Church continues to play an important role in the migration experience even as the number of evangelical Christians grows.

What strikes me most about the Mexican experience is how closely it resembles the Franco-American experience, as I blogged last July

[M]ass language shift from French to English is not unique in the history of North American Francophones. Starting in the late 19th century, relative economic underdevelopment propelled a tremendous migration of Francophones out from their traditional settlement areas along the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to adjacent parts of the continent. Large and thriving communities of Franco-Americans (concentrated in New England, particularly in that region's industrial cities) and Franco-Ontarians (concentrated in northern and eastern areas adjacent to Québec) formed at this time, encouraging some to believe in the idea of a greater Québec encompassing those communities. That vision failed, as the Franco-American community was whittled away through immigration restrictions and acculturation to the Anglophone culture surrounding them. Franco-Ontarians, who with few exceptions like in Anglophone-majority communities relatively isolated from Québec, may be about to follow. And no, the Francophones who are tourists in Maine or long-term residents in Florida don't make up the same sorts of communities.

As I noted in a June 2008 post at my blog, all the blandishments of nationalists and Franco-Americans in the Catholic Church urging French Canadians to stay in Canada, if not on their own land, failed miserably. In one case recorded at the above blog link, the arrival of so many relatively prosperous Franco-Americans helped encourage migration! Towards the end of the immigration in the 1900-1920 period, just as the Mexican Catholic Church tried to prepare and help preserve their culture, so did French Canadians and Franco-Americans inside the American Catholic Church tried to create a self-sustaining conservative culture in the Little Canada urban enclaves. They failed, in the end. Jack Kerouac did write in English, after all.

What impresses me most about the past experience of French Canadians and the current experience of Mexicans is the way in which originally national institutions became transnational, representing the nation at home and abroad. There's signs that this sort of institutional adaptation to transnationalism is present in other instances, as in Morocco's refusal to let emigrants abandon their citizenship on the grounds that they remain part of the nation. Can our readers think of other circumstances?


Aslak said...

Interesting. I can think of two examples: Iran, like Morocco does not allow people to renounce their citizenship. Also, I know the Turkish religious directorate sends out imams to serve the Turkish diaspora in Europe. The Friday sermons in Turkish mosques in Europe are essentially dictated by the religous directorate, just like in Turkey.

Anonymous said...

I is not just their rights of citizenship that Moroccans can not renounce but their obligations. I seem to recall that Morocco gets European nations to distribute a list of approved names for the kids of Moroccans in their nations that are suitible (Berber names are conspicuously absent from the list). The transnationalization of institutions never seems to involve the input of individuals. And the adjustment always seems to involve democracies adapting to the cultures of non-democracies; rarely the other way around.