I 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.
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)]