The Migrant Passage: Clandestine Journeys from Central America
Noelle Kateri Bridgen
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018, 264 pp.
In The Migrant Passage: Clandestine Journeys from Central America, Noelle Kateri Bridgen beautifully blends theories and methodologies from international relations (IR) and anthropology to present an ethnography spanning the 4,500 kilometres between El Salvador and the U.S.-Mexican border. Bridgen weaves together migrant narratives and analysis of national policies to call attention to the dangers of the migration trail through Mexico and to illustrate how migrants attempt to avoid these dangers. The major theoretical contribution of the book lies in how it engages practices of "improvisation"--those of the migrants and the people they attempt to avoid along their journey.
The book is laid out in three "acts": Exposition, Rising Action, and Climax. This clever layout aids the reader in understanding Bridgens overarching point: that the act of migrating from Central America to the United States through Mexico is a constantly shifting improvisational play, being performed over and over again by migrants and the people they encounter along the route; and that these improvisations and interactions are constantly being shared, secreted away, and reinterpreted in ways that change not only the concept of migration through Mexico, but also the actual landscape over which the migrants must travel to stay ahead of immigration enforcement, gangs, and cartels.
Bridgen lays the groundwork for the reader in act 1, chapter 1, by introducing the migrants with whom she worked and the map-making exercise that she used to tease out how migrants understand the migration trail. She dubs these maps and the corresponding stories they elicit "survival plays." It is through these survival plays that she demonstrates how ambiguous and shifting the migratory path is, and how each individual migrant has a different idea about how they might get from point A to point B, what they might experience along the journey, and what they see themselves leaving behind and moving towards. In this section of the text she also lays out background research on the social, political, and historical factors that have shaped the current migration process in North and Central America. We learn that alongside globalization and the role of the nation-state in creating borders, migrants have become "unwilling props in the political theater of borders"...