Mexico-U.S. Migration and the Nation-State: A Transnational Perspective on Transformations since 1990

Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
ANNALS, AAPSS, 684, July 2019 43
DOI: 10.1177/0002716219856584
Migration and
the Nation-
State: A
Perspective on
since 1990
856584ANN The Annals of The American AcademyMexico-U.S. Migration and the Nation-State
This article examines Mexico-U.S. migration from a
transnational perspective, explaining the implications of
cross-border ties for the nation-state. It builds on
30 years of original research in Mexico and the United
States, and contributions of the Mexican Migration
Project and other research that show that conventional
understandings of the nation-state have become inade-
quate. Focusing on relations between migrants and the
Mexican government as well as their struggles for inclu-
sion in the United States, it demonstrates how each
nation-state is transformed as migrants maintain attach-
ments and participate simultaneously in countries of
origin and destination. It advances scholarship on this
topic by specifying how, in each case, the connections
among territory, state, and nation are changing in dis-
tinct ways. In the case of Mexico, the state framework is
extended beyond geographical borders to encompass
extraterritorial citizens within the nation. In the United
States, a disjuncture between state and nation is emerg-
ing within the bounds of the national territory.
Keywords: Mexico-U.S. migration; transnationalism;
nation-states; state formation; citizenship
Ever since Douglas Massey and Jorge Durand
initiated the Mexican Migration Project
(MMP) in the early 1980s, the resulting database
and analyses have contributed to pioneering
research on the nature of the migration process
(see Massey et al. 1987), a classic treatise on
changing migration patterns (see Durand and
Judith A. Boruchoff is a professor/researcher at the
Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero. Her long-term eth-
nographic research investigates the constitution of trans-
national spaces linking Guerrero, Mexico, and Chicago,
Illinois, analyzing mechanisms through which migrants
participate simultaneously in distinct national territories.
Her recent scholarship examines political implications of
migrant organizations in the United States, by exploring
consequences for migrant empowerment, conceptualiza-
tions of citizenship, and the nation-state.
Massey 2003), and incisive critiques of migration policy (see Massey, Durand, and
Malone 2002). Perhaps more than any other research initiative on Mexico-U.S.
migration, the extensive corpus of work stemming from the MMP, now encompass-
ing 161 communities, has illuminated the complexities of Mexico-U.S. migration in
recent decades.
This article highlights historical trends in Mexico-U.S. migration as well as the
perspectives used to analyze it that have spanned 30 years of the MMP. I ground
my arguments in research that I conducted in the regions of Iguala, Guerrero, in
Mexico, and Chicago, Illinois, in the United States, a principal destination for
migrants from northern Guerrero. I also draw on scholarship by the principal
researchers of the MMP and their collaborators, among other experts on the
topic. I situate my discussion within a transnational perspective, highlighting
fundamental aspects of this analytical lens pertaining, in particular, to implica-
tions of changing patterns of Mexico-U.S. migration for the nature and forms of
the two nation-states.
Whereas an extensive literature currently purports to examine Mexico-U.S.
migration from a transnational perspective, only a relatively small subset of stud-
ies explores its significance for the nation-state. Of these, a few authors focus
exclusively on the Mexican State, and fewer yet on the United States; rarely, if
ever, does extant work deal with both states in a single work, as I do below. I not
only explain modifications in the nation-state, as it is conventionally understood,
but show how transformations are configured differently in each country. Analysis
of the nation-state, the principal and encompassing framework within which
migration processes are shaped and unfold, provides a context that is pertinent to
the particular findings of research using the MMP database.
A Transnational Perspective on Migration and
the Nation-State
The book Return to Aztlan by Massey etal. (1987) represents a benchmark in
migration scholarship, pioneering the MMP’s ethnosurvey, which combines sta-
tistical sampling and ethnographic techniques. This comparative study of four
different types of communities identifies six principles that establish the dynamic
nature of migration, based in networks that develop into a social infrastructure
enabling this demographic movement to expand and become self-sustaining. Of
particular significance, “it views the migrant community as a binational entity and
collects data from migrants on both sides of the border,” emphasizing the link-
ages between “sending” and “daughter” communities that form “a single contin-
uum of social relationships” (Massey et al. 1987, 7). As such, the authors
consciously moved beyond previous research that had begun to take note of how
migration tends to modify conditions in communities of origin to promote further
migration (e.g., Reichert 1981; Dinerman 1982; Mines 1981), referring to them
as “binational communities” (Dinerman 1982, 78) or a “binational village migrant
community” (Mines 1981, 46).

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