Before we even leave the Voces Mesoamericanas office in San Cristobal de las Casas, director Miguel Angel Paz is excited. As we climb into the back of the truck waiting outside, he promises us a different look at migration when we arrive to the “transnational Chiapan community of Cruztón.”
The impact of migration is seen everywhere in Chiapas: in stories, in the car bought with remittances that the family moves to hold our meeting, and all the different identities represented in one place. One in four inhabitants of Cruztón currently live in the US, the majority in Cairo, Georgia. Since NAFTA’s implementation, migration in search of work has become a way of life. Members of Cruztón constantly cross back and forth, often travelling the treacherous desert route because they do not have the paperwork that allows them to enter the US legally.
Community members introduce us to their children, many who were born in the United States and have the right to dual nationality. Instead of navigating the dangers of the desert, their parents are trying to find their way through the complicated bureaucracy of civil registry offices and government officials on both sides of the border.
While not as dramatic as the desert, the results have very real impacts on daily life.
If children only have US documentation, they are not able to study in Mexico. If they only have Mexican documents, that do not list dual nationality, the Mexican state considers the documents to be falsified and families can face legal problems. Without proper birth certificates that list dual nationality, children are also not able to apply for their Mexican national ID card when they reach age 18. Without an ID, they cannot go to university, gain formal employment or easily access health care. Additionally, presenting a US passport allows for safe and legal border crossing if children choose to return to the United States, thus avoiding the desert all together.
In the Cruztón backyard, corn stalks wave in the breeze over a brick fence. I ask if I can take a picture and am invited into the milpa. Milpa is an ancient form of reciprocal relationship between squash, beans and corn. The corn provides the support for the beans as they twine upwards. The broad squash leaves shade the soil at the base of the beans and corn, providing protection from other plants and helping to conserve moisture. The bean roots transform the nitrogen in the atmosphere into a rich fertilizer that in turn nourishes all three plants. According to Robin Wall Kimmerer, this way of intercropping produces more food acre for acre, than if the three plants were grown apart.
As I reflect on the milpa, I think about the interactions between all the different identities found in Cruzton.
Navigating these multiple identities is not easy. In his family’s restaurant, we have lunch with Rufino Santiz Diaz, a young man born in Cruztón but who migrated to the United States when he was five years old. Over fajitas, Rufino shares his story. He choose to leave the United States to try to study in Mexico when he graduated from high school because, without documents, he could not enter university. When he tried to cross the border into Mexico, however, Mexican authorities tried to stop him because he did not have Mexican documents either. He was, for all accounts, stateless. Eventually, Rufino was able to make his way into Mexico. Without proper documents or employment, however, it took him a number of years before he was able to study.
In 2014, the New York Times documented his journey.
For a long time, Rufino felt in between cultures: not Mexican nor Estadounidense. When he applied for work in San Cristobal, potential employers hesitated to hire him, despite his fluent English, because of his Indigenous background. Over the last few years he has carved out a new place for himself, one where he can navigate his multiple ways of beings. He laughs with his mother in Tztosil and speaks to us in English, crossing the bridges between us.
On the ride back, Rodrigo Barraza of Voces speaks of conversations with young people who do not want to migrate north but do not see any other option. Violence, lack of access to basic rights such as education and health care, and no employment opportunities are all factors that impede people’s choices and set migration up as the only option.