By Tony Macias
Former WFP International Team Member Tony Macias has just finished a short documentary video about a Oaxacan migrant named Inocencio Hernandez. You can watch it at the end of this post. Click here to learn more about Student Action with Farmworkers, the organization that sponsored his project.
One of life’s big truths is that most things don’t matter until they happen to us. From the momentous (say, loss of a loved one) to the trifling (hair loss), we just don’t focus in on realities until they become personal to us. The phenomenon of migration is global, historical, and complex, and it’s inconsequential to people who aren’t forced into it.
But that’s not really true, is it? Maybe we’re all migrants: In 2006, 50 million US Americans changed homes and 8 million of those changed states when they did. Ok, moving across town involves absolutely zero danger and loss when you compare it to what undocumented migrants struggle through each year (Read here, here, and here if you don’t believe me). But what remains true is that we know something about uprooting ourselves, and we do it for similar reasons (economic motivation, for instance). This doesn’t make us all the same, but it’s a chance for us to relate better to one another.
What’s Behind Migration?
Migration has affected the lives of millions of Mexicans, both those who leave home and those they leave behind. (Hear what it’s like to be left behind.) Its causes include preventable global factors like violence and poverty. These realities are manufactured like televisions: If you want to orient your economy to making TVs, ramp up the production of raw materials and invest in your industry, train a large workforce, pay them very little, and keep them in line with the threat of violence. Look for markets. Now you’re making and selling TVs!
If you want to manufacture migrants, take away peoples’ livelihoods (abandoning the rural sector always works), cut out social spending, and open maquila zones to draw people in. Better yet, offer low-wage and dangerous work on the other side of a militarized border and you’ll have plenty of people risking it all to make you rich.
Policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) mean that small farmers in Mexico are competing with subsidized products from the US. NAFTA has driven millions from the Mexican countryside in search of economic survival. According to the brutal logic of free trade, if these people (and their families, communities) are unwilling to change, then they must migrate.
Why do Stories Matter?
Remember how, in a certain light, we’re all migrants? That means we have something in common with the migrants that cross into the US looking for a better life. We can build off of that understanding and see ourselves in the millions of undocumented immigrants among us. For those of us not forced from home, cultivating curiosity about why people uproot themselves is the key to working together toward a humane solution. The more we do this, the less expendable they become. For those among us who have been forced into migration, the simple act of telling our stories makes our humanity impossible to ignore.
Retorno360 tells the story of a Oaxacan migrant, Inocencio Melchor Hernandez, and the family he left behind. As he searched for new experiences and economic opportunity in the U.S. over nearly 20 years, his wife and children made life work back in their small town. Like many trials, the many years they spent apart had positive and negative consequences: grief, loss, and anger coexist with the self-assuredness and pride that come from having overcome many challenges. Now that seven years have gone by since he returned, this is also a story of reconciliation.