Thursday, July 5, 2007

MCC retreat: Immigration, its effects, and the globalization lie

Every year and a half MCC has a big ol' regional retreat. All of the MCC development workers in Central America and Mexico meet for a few days of relaxation and workshops focused on a specific theme. This year, Abby and I (lucky ducks) were able to go to the retreat expense-free. We bused up to La Ceiba, a town on the North Coast of Honduras. It was an amazing experience. Every day for three days we participated in workshops on immigration, the theme of this year's retreat. A Honduran expert spoke. There's some funny stories about him as a speaker and the audience reaction. Let's just say the speaker and the audience did not share the same expectations for the workshops. The last workshop I call "The Mutiny."
I feel like I learned a lot of general information about immigration. The topic was too broad to really go in depth over such a short period, though some days we sat through 6 hours of lecture. phew. It was really mentally exhausting; my mind was a swamp of Spanish verbage.
Coming in, I had so many questions about immigration. On the surveys I have been doing, it seemed that nearly half of the children had a family member in the United States. Yet many of them said that they do not receive any financial assistance at all. Is it true then, that remittances from immigrant family members help the local economy? Also, what are the effects of immigration on women, both those who go (since immigration is increasingly a female phenomenon), and those who are left behind? Is emigration empowering as they leave what are often oppressive home situations, or is it just a transfer to another position of oppression? Over the course of the retreat, I came to realize that most of my questions were centered around the need to define immigration as all good or all bad. The complexity of the phenomenon became apparent as we learned that it has both very positive and very negative effects.
On the one hand, in most cases remittances really do contribute to the development of communities. My friend James made a documentary called 'Fuerza' (I'm going to buy a copy if you want to see it) about a flourishing town in Mexico and a town in Indiana, Goshen, which has experienced a large influx of illegal immigrants from this town in Mexico. They say that the town in Mexico would be a ghost town had it not been for the remittances from Goshen. Also, I remember reading in the newspaper here that remittances make up a whopping 27% of the economy of Honduras! So immigration does help to boost the way of life, at least economically, in Latin America.
Yet on the other hand, the pain and separation families go through is a testimony to the negative effects of immigration. Many plan to just leave their home for a year or two, make enough money to send their kids to school with full bellies, and return home. Yet they find that life in the new place is not the dream it was made out to be. They end up staying for ten, twelve years, as was the case of Enrique's mom in the book Enrique's Journey. Abandoned kids as young as 7 ride freight trains up north on a quest to see if their immigrant parents still love them. The journey north is terribly dangerous, especially for Central Americans, who must cross multiple borders. They say here that the Mexican border is even more treacherous to cross than the U.S. one. Then there are the coyotes who abandon their clients in the desert to die. Death claims immigrants around every bend. Kids get their limbs sawed off by getting sucked under a speeding train they're trying to hop. Gangs murder immigrants for their clothes and a few bucks. I can't even think about the nightmare that women have to go through to immigrate. A rape is pretty much guaranteed along the way. If not by gang members, then by immigration officers.
So, yes, the trials are tremendous in the quest for a better life and employment. What I am interested in researching right now are the causes of immigration. As I talked to MCC workers and listened to their opinions, I came to the conclusion that migration is caused by both a push and a pull factor. High rates of unemployment, poverty, and spousal abuse are some of the forces that compel a person to go. What I am interested in is the increasing pull to places like the U.S. and Costa Rica. I believe the pull factor is due to globalization.
From where I live in Comayaguela, nightly I see the busy strip of Americanization, a line of lit signs for McDonld, Pizza Hut, Church's Chicken, and more. When we go out for a special treat, or when the coworkers order out, they order KFC without fail. They get MTV and violent American movies; the family thought that Hollywood is a state. I feel uncomfortable when Leyla asks me if my house looks like that (when a big house appears on the screen). This invisible power of the idealized American life draws people to leave their home culture and families.
Though many would not agree, I believe that globalization is a negative force that bulldozes local cultural beauty and integrity. As a dynamic speaker at Wheaton, Melba Padilla Maggay, said, cultural diversity was the Lord's intent as evidenced in the scattering of the people of Babel, the tongues at Pentecost, and the time when Christ will return to draw the culturally distinct tribes and nations to the godself. Globalization, though unifying and capable of great change in economy, destroys the uniqueness of the local, the idiosyncracies and ties that bind cultural communities together.
I want to look more into the perceptions of the West caused by globalization that lead people here to emigrate. I want to live, especially with the rural poor, in a way that challenges the forces of globalization and maybe the compulsion to leave. Local culture is so rich! The pride Hondurans have in their country is something I wish I could have in my own. Leyla points out the best referee in the Copa Americana who is Honduran, that Honduran soccer player on the Italy team, this top Honduran journalist in the States, and a famous statesman or lawyer, all natives of Honduras. I want to eat at street vendors, to praise the deliciousness of the baleada and the pupusa rather than the bland grease of KFC. I want to perfect my tortilla making skills, to dance punta like Kenia at work - her hips shaking faster than any polaroid picture-, to continue to be amazed at the danza folklorica (see picture above), and maybe get up the guts to eat sopa de mondonga (soup made of cow intestines). Because as I'm doing these things I believe that I help in some small way to give back some of the integrity that globalization has stolen from Honduran culture. I hope to counter the lie that U.S. culture and all its products that are smeared over this country are better than Honduran culture and products. And maybe when this lie is proven false, and as multi-dimensional development (not just economic) occurs, Hondurans will choose to stay in this place.


Fritter Guys said...

good stuff, Katie! enjoyed your reflections, raw and 'out there' but also well thought through and based on real experience. Globalization, like immigration, is a complex issue. Eating pupusa from the local vendor on the outskirts of Teguc is cause for celebration; having one down the street from us in Fresno is also wonderful - it too a byproduct of both the complexity of immigration and globalization. Lots to chew on.

Glad to hear things are going well and that you are wrestling with the important questions

Holly said...

Pues, chica, tenemos que hablar mucho despues de regresar a los EEUU. O tal vez ahora si tiene tiempo. El tema de inmigracion es tan compleja, no? He trabajado en la fabrica con inmigrantes y tambien visto las comunidades rotas en paises del sur...pero la fuerza de la economia global es tan extrema. Necesito aprender mas de la economia y situacion global sin perder la vision profetica y particular. Me alegra de que estes en la conversacion. Hablamanos mas!

una preguntita--hasta cuando te quedas en honduras?