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A Picture of Central American Mobilities: A Case Study of Refugees in Towns

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Tufts Univ.
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Portrayed as the land of the barbarians and “where culture goes to die” by the notable intellectual Jose Vasconcelos, Monterrey, Nuevo León has a reputation of being a hard-working, nononsense, and sometimes harsh place. Even before the upsurge of violence during President Felipe Calderon’s national deployment of military troops to combat drug trade organizations in 2010–2011, the large metropolitan area (housing 4,689,601 inhabitants) was riddled with the machismo and melancholy of its once grand past as Mexico’s foremost industrial hub. Maps of the city showing the names of the streets and neighborhoods are proof that the 1950s steel, glass, and cement industries shaped the development and daily lives of the regiomontanos/as.The legacy of this history is that today, regiomontanos/as continue to focus on the male boss/worker/provider as the central character of the city.

Although Monterrey is not a border town, it feels like one. The proximity to the border, quality of life, and the ethos of masculine-infused industrialism—which suggests widespread job availability—make Monterrey a desirable place to live. In addition, Mexico’s state apparatus is stopping migrants from approaching the U.S. border. It pushes them back into cities and towns several hours’ drive south, like Monterrey (which is a two and a half hours’ drive from the U.S. border town of Laredo, Texas). Monterrey is Mexico’s third-largest city and a buoyant industrial center. American goods, media, culture, and English language proficiency are all heavily valued here. For decades, it has been an important destination of internal indigenous migration. In recent years, Monterrey appears in the conversation as a transit city for Central American migrants, but the truth is that for more than a decade, migrants from Central America have arrived, settled in, and built a life in the city.

As women who grew up in Monterrey, we pursued this report because we were interested in the experiences of female workers/mothers, in their voices, problems, and contributions in our shared space of Monterrey. Though it is hard to de-center from the primacy of young male migrants in the data, our feminist lens brought to our attention the story of one particular female Honduran migrant, Mrs. Sánchez, who is an amalgamation of many female migrants we’ve come to know over the years. She shared with us her migrant story and her day-to-day struggle to build a life for herself and her family in Monterrey. Victoria met Mrs. Sánchez in the summer of 2016. Casa del Migrante Casanicolás had received a phone call reporting the detention of a family by agents of the National Institute of Migration (INM). Victoria was volunteering in the shelter at the time and met Mrs. Sánchez and her granddaughter Serah (then 4 years old) that summer in an INM temporary detention center. Mrs. Sánchez’s family was separated and almost all of them had been deported, except one daughter and her two sons, the youngest of whom was born in Monterrey.

In this report we describe, through Mrs. Sánchez’s experiences, the challenges faced by migrants once they arrive in Monterrey. We zoom in on their everyday comings and goings, the impact of national policy of detention and deportation in the city, challenges and strategies they face regarding housing, the role of shelters, local neighborhoods, and the social perceptions of migrants in Monterrey and the surrounding metropolitan area. Mrs. Sánchez’s experiences are vignettes that illustrate deeper themes that tell the story of many other female, male, and gender non-conforming migrants in Monterrey. These shared experiences shape the city in ways that have yet to be seriously addressed by the local and state governments.