Theses Doctoral

The Making of Mexican America: Transnational Networks in the Rise of Mass Migration 1900-1940

Morales, Daniel

Despite being the largest migratory movement between two states in modern history, the origins and operation of Mexican migration to the United States has not been a major research topic. We lack a comprehensive view of Mexican migration as it was established in early twentieth century and reproduced throughout the century as a system that reached from Texas borderlands to California and to western agricultural regions and beyond to Midwestern farming and industrial areas, a system that continued to be circular in nature even as permanent settlement increased, and which was in constant interaction with families, villages, and towns throughout Mexico.
This interdisciplinary, bilingual, and transnational project is one of the first histories of the creation of migrant networks narrated from multiple geographic and institutional sites, analyzing the relationship between state agents, civic organizations, and migrants on both sides of the border. My project utilizes a statistical analysis of migration trends combined with qualitative research in order to show how migration arose as a mass phenomenon in Mexico and extended into the United States. This dissertation argues that large scale Mexican migration was created and operated through an interconnected transnational migrant economy made up of self-reinforcing local economic logics, information diffusion, and locally based social networks. I demonstrate that town-based interpersonal networks formed the engine that propelled and sustained large scale migration. Migrants needed transportation, capital, and information to travel north. Town-based networks provided all of these things.
I follow the spread of migrant routes, explaining the creation of Mexican communities in the US Showing why communities were located where they are and their links to the larger economy of migrant labor before turning to Mexico and showing the effects of migration on sending communities. Migration evolved from a wave of mainly men into a broad based phenomenon, drawing in families and communities through remittances. I argue this is because a set of self-reinforcing economic logics were being created on both sides of the border. These logics are separate, but linked to the economic conditions that framed migration- the pull of the industrialization of the American West and the Mexican north with its relatively high wages- and the push of the chaos and violence of the Mexican revolution and Cristero Wars. Likewise, these logics could not have occurred without the demographic pressures of population growth in central Mexico, and the economic transformations of the Porfiriato. As more and more people participated in migration, they sent back information and remittances, which in turn made it easier for others to follow their path. Circular migration reinforced this dynamic as migrants returned home on a large scale, bringing back knowledge and experience. Together, these practices constituted the migrant economy and made central and central-north Mexico the engine of migration in the twentieth century. This new economy made it easier to move, but also tied many families and towns into continuous migrations in order to achieve economic stability. Ultimately this project shows the creation of the political economy of migrant labor between Mexico and the United States.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ngai, Mae
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 5, 2016