Friday - Apr 19, 2019

Are butterflies illegal intruders?

by José de la Isla

HOUSTON – If a butterflyʼs fluttering wings in Africa can cause a hurricane in Louisiana, why is it hard to understand that when making a living ends in one place, people migrate to earn a living some place else?

David Baconʼs book, Communities Without Borders: Images and Voices from the World of Migration, makes the connection. His book shows how calamity in one place leads to consequences in another.

Furthermore, what happens when Bacon wants you, the reader, to grasp the protagonistsʼ messages? Then he lets them tell their own story in their own words.

He has done all that also in his book, published by ILR Press, an imprint of Cornell University Press.

In it, invisible people, instead of the anonymous digits in pompous studies, spring to life. The individuals in Baconʼs book are members of communities and they are mostly involved in significant activities. When you hear their words, an improved perspective arises about where the public debate on immigration misses the point.

Take Fausto López, for instance. He grew up speaking Triqui in the highlands of the Mexican state of Oaxaca and received Spanish instruction in school. Two decades ago, he left, as did half the village, for Mexico City, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Baja California.

In Ensenada, B.C., he was joined by his family. With other Triquis they organized a new community to provide shelter and food to others who arrived. And because of low pay, he decided to enter the United States.

Mr. López sent his family back to Copala in Oaxaca, where his children could get proper instruction in their native language. “I want my children to learn Spanish but also keep our traditions,” he says.

He traveled to fertile northern California and settled where reeds grow along the Russian River. He joined other native people who had built huts, as their great grandfathers had in Mexico. They live like that to save money to send home from their work in the vineyards.

Through a fellow Triqui, Mr. López joined the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB, by its Spanish acronym). “I am doing this for my family,” he says.

Thereʼs a photo of FIOB members voting, in their age-old tradition, on a particularly sensitive matter when a leader failed to be accountable to the membership. It should give us a momentʼs pause to appreciate and envy how profoundly democratic some of these cultures are.

The book traces settlements, movements and issues mostly of Mayans, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Triquis. But it is not so much about ethnicities as it is about the life cycle and how people cross over from one reality to another.

Some of them might have started out from Guatemala after military activity and murders in their villages. These are the butterfly flutters that carry them to jobs in Californiaʼs vineyards or Nebraskaʼs meatpacking plants.

It leads us to realize that like a merchant bank transmitting billions overnight, it happens too at the neighborhood level. Remittances are sent to a village to help with an illness, to buy food, to pay tuition, to improve a park or for a church festival. Those activities improve an economy.

What is known as “globalization” on a grand scale is “transnationalism” for people responding to opportunities and challenges across a national divide.

What is known as “globalization” on a grand scale is “transnationalism” for people responding to opportunities and challenges across a national divide.

David Baconʼs book helps make us literate about a subject that ought to be easy but is hard for many. The next challenge is to make good public policy that lets people grow wings. Hispanic Link.

(José de la Isla, with photographer Wilhelm Scholz, wrote DAY NIGHT LIFE DEATH, about transnational movements. It is planned for publication in 2007. De la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail:© 2006.