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Central and North American Border Crossings


7032168939_9e2632e063_bI recently discovered that an article—written by Noelle K. Brigden—in the journal that I edit is available for free. I mention this because it’s based on ethnographic work with Central American migrants. In particular, it explores border crossings with a focus on the journey of a Salvadoran boy.

An excerpt:

In Mexico, a country where the ‘mestizo’ of mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage represents the dominant racial ideology, profiling renders black migrants most vulnerable to identification. Of course, since it standardizes practice in a dynamic strategic setting, racial profiling may also create opportunities for smuggling. Smugglers sometimes blend high-paying Peruvian clients into travel groups with indigenous Guatemalans, because of their similar phenotype (smuggler, El Salvador, 7/5/10). The Peruvians pass as Guatemalan, and if they are captured, they only need to travel to Central America rather than returning to South America. This minimizes financial risks for the smugglers transporting them. Therefore, racial stereotypes can be harnessed, not only by state authorities, but by migrants and smugglers as well.

Like state authorities, criminals identify potential victims for kidnapping, rape, robbery, and extortion by trying to detect the accent, migrant clothing, and phenotype of Central Americans. In part because of racial profiling, Hondurans, and in particular black Hondurans, are most likely to rely on the dangerous train route where mass kidnappings and muggings occur with frequency, thereby avoiding buses that travel through migration checkpoints. The proportion of migrants reporting Honduran nationality on the registration rolls of the shelters has been the highest of any national group since Hurricane Mitch in 1998, often by a very large margin (Ruíz 2001). One rumor circulating among migrants suggests that organized criminal groups particularly seek out Salvadorans, who are known to be better connected to established families in the United States and thus fetch higher ransoms, than the poverty stricken Hondurans, who throng the migrant shelters and crowd the most desperate routes to the US. Whatever the preference of kidnappers might be, any identifiable Central American nationality invites legal, illegal, and extralegal violence en route.

Social scientists and academics in the humanities should find the piece pretty accessible. Non-academics—well, you can skim the denser academic prose at the top; once you hit the substantive sections, its easier going. Still, it’s not a work of journalism, so be forewarned. Given the rise of Trumpism, and its concurrent devaluation of empathy for immigrants, I thought some readers might be interested.

I’m going to make an effort to call attention to work of interest in my field—from International Studies Quarterly, but also more broadly. Hope that’s okay.

[Image by Peter Haden (CC-2.0)]

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  • lizzie
    • Mike in DC

      This is why “identity politics ” is necessary. Because the other side practices it, in a malevolent manner.
      The coming pogrom against Latinos (and Asian-Americans) is, to me, the biggest and most important fight for the Democrats and the progressive liberal left. Yes, we can multitask, but we need to show up and make sure that targeted communities know we have their backs.

      • El Guapo

        Co-sign. And it looks like, in addition to the obvious border states, they are picking states where they think they’ll have institutional support. We need to show them that they will not succeed, anywhere.

      • sigaba

        People can accept racial identity for pragmatic or essential reasons or both.

        Accepting that you’re “black” for pragmatic reasons means that you accept other people think of you as black, and that this phenomenon justifies your solidarity with other blacks in a struggle for equality and acceptance.

        White identity in the racist context is more essential. The white race isn’t a social phenomenon, it’s real and unchangeable, and solidarity isn’t practiced for equality, it’s for exclusion and purity.

        • DrDick

          Actually, they really are the same in that regard. If you listen to what Trump supporters are saying, they are angry over the loss of their white privilege. Whiteness is every bit as instrumental as blackness.

    • Origami Isopod

      I was coming in here with that news and links to a pair of diaries.

  • DrDick

    Thanks a lot for the link! This looks really interesting and I think I will be using it in my race and ethnicity class next year. I find the racial profiling of blacks interesting, given that large numbers of African slaves were imported in the 17th and 18th centuries in response to the Native population collapse and there are still substantial Afro-Mexican populations in the country, especially in Veracruz and Oaxaca. Of course Mexican society largely erases them socially.

    • dnexon

      Glad to be of service.

  • Funkhauser

    I assigned Children on the Run when I taught about this semesters ago.


    • DrDick

      Thanks for that as well. I talk a bit about this in my class and it looks useful.

  • LFC

    Based on the opening paragraphs, the article looks interesting.

    The author writes at the beginning that some Central Americans pass as Mexicans when traveling through Mexico to avoid both deportation (by agents of the Mexican state) and victimization by criminals. Then at one point in the opening graphs she writes that we should not forget the often tragic circumstances that prompt these migrations or “celebrate” this activity of ‘passing’ as “purposeful resistance to the state.”

    Why isn’t a Salvadoran’s or a Honduran’s trying to pass as Mexican when traveling through Mexico to avoid deportation a form of resistance to the Mexican state? Sure seems to me like that’s what it is, or at least one of the things that it is, whether or not one wants to “celebrate” it.

    p.s. what may going on w that remark, of course, is some veiled ref to a scholarly debate of which I’m unaware…

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