Changing economic and legal circumstances alongside humanitarian crises are shifting the politics and histories of borders today, and reshaping the interdisciplinary field of border studies.
For this Matrix on Point panel, recorded on April 20, 2023, we asked a group of UC Berkeley PhD candidates to share their ongoing research on borders and migration. The panel was moderated by Irene Bloemraad, Class of 1951 Professor, Thomas Garden Barnes Chair of Canadian Studies & Director of the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative (BIMI), which co-sponsored the event.
Pauline White Meeusen is a PhD candidate in Jurisprudence and Social Policy. Her research interests include law and social movements, immigration law and policy, the legal profession, and border theory. Her dissertation explores whether and how attorneys and legal advocates who have served asylum seekers at the U.S. border and in detention come to see themselves as part of a social movement. As part of this project, she is bringing together immigration law and policy with border theory to explore the multi-layered borderscape in which these legal actors are embedded. Pauline received her B.A. in International Relations from Wellesley College, an M.A. from the University of Chicago, and her J.D. with a specialization in International Law from the UC Berkeley School of Law.
Gisselle Perez-Leon is a PhD candidate in the Department of History. Originally from Mexico City, and raised in Queens, NY, her research covers urban history and migration in modern Latin America. Her dissertation traces the development of public services and municipal governance in the border city of Nogales, Sonora. Prior to graduate school, she worked for the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Racial Justice Program.
Adriana P. Ramirez is a sixth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley. Her research interests lie at the intersection of migration, citizenship, Latin America, political sociology, race and ethnicity, and youth. Her current work explores what happens when young migrants leave the U.S. to “return” to Oaxaca, Mexico.
Matrix on Point: Border Crossings
[MUSIC PLAYING] [MARION FOURCADE] Hello, everybody. Hello. My name is Marion Fourcade, and I am the director of Social Science Matrix. I am delighted to welcome you to our even today, and it’s actually one of my favorite events of the year. Every year, we try to do at least one of our Matrix on Point panel with graduate students. Last year, we had a fabulous panel on new studies in policing, and this year our theme is border crossing. So this is a panel that will examine the US-Mexico border and the mobilities of people and also things there. This is an event that is co-sponsored by BIMI, the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative.
But before we move on to our panel, I have a few sort of housekeeping things to do. The first is that I will announce the few remaining events as we are wrapping up our semesters here at Matrix. So on April 26, we will have Micha Cárdenas who will be speaking as part of the colloquium series organized by our faculty fellow Salar Mameni. Then on April 28, Ethan Katz, another faculty fellow, has organized an all-day symposium on Jews and others who resisted the Nazis. And then finally, the whole beginning of the week of May 1, we will have Orlando Patterson. He will give us the Matrix– he will give the Matrix distinguished lecture on May 1, and we will have also a lunchtime conversation hopefully with many graduate students on May 2nd.
Now let me introduce our moderator, Irene Bloemraad. She’s the class of 1951 Professor of Sociology and my colleague, my dear colleague. She also serves as the Thomas Garden Barnes chair of Canadian Studies at Berkeley. She’s the founding director of BIMI, the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative, and she co-directs the Boundaries, Membership, and Belonging program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Studies– oh, sorry, for Advanced Research. In 2014-2015, she was a member of the US National Academies of Sciences committee reporting on the integration of immigrants into American society, so we couldn’t have a better moderator to take this panel away. And she will introduce our speakers. Thank you.
[IRENE BLOEMRAAD] I’m going to be doing this sitting down. I first want to thank everyone who came out for this luncheon presentation. I think you’re all in for a treat. I checked the Zoom about a few minutes ago, and we have 15 people on Zoom. So that’s a really great audience, and hopefully there’ll be some more people coming as we get started. I want to thank Marion, I want to thank Matrix for reaching out to us at the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative to invite us to co-sponsor this event. I really think that this event highlights what is best about Matrix, BIMI, and UC Berkeley.
So it involves cutting-edge research, interdisciplinary cutting-edge research. It highlights a new generation of scholars and teachers coming out of Berkeley the best of the best. And these scholars and presentations have really important things to say to one of the thorniest issues of contemporary politics and public policy migration. And this panel really highlights the important research with public purpose and importance that comes out of Matrix, BIMI, and UC Berkeley. So I want to thank our panelists for the work you do and for sharing it with all of us.
I am going to introduce the three speakers in the order in which they are going to speak, and I’m going to introduce all three of them so that once they start speaking, we can just move through each person. The first person who’s speaking, who’s immediately to my right, is Giselle Perez-Leon. She is a PhD candidate in the department of history. Originally from Mexico City, raised in Queens, New York. Her research covers urban history and migration in modern Latin America. Her dissertation traces the development of public services and municipal governance in the border city of Nogales, Sonora. And prior to graduate school, she worked for the American Civil Liberties Union’s racial justice program.
And then over right beside her is Pauline White Meeusen. Pauline is a PhD candidate in the jurisprudence and social policy program. Her research interests include law and social movements, immigration law and policy, the legal profession, and border theory. Her dissertation explores whether and how attorneys and legal advocates who have served asylum seekers on the US border and in detention come to see themselves as part of a social movement. As part of this project, she’s bringing together immigration law and policy with border theory to explore the multilayered bordered landscape, or borderscapes, in which these legal actors are embedded.
And then right beside Pauline is Adriana Ramirez, and she is a sixth year PhD candidate in the department of sociology. Her research interests lie at the intersection of migration, citizenship, Latin America, political sociology, race ethnicity, and youth, bringing all of those streams together. And her current research explores what happens when young migrants leave the United States to “return–” and I put that in scare quotes because, as we’re going to learn, some of them are not returning. –to Oaxaca, Mexico. So as you’ve heard, absolutely fascinating research. And we’re going to start with Gisselle.
[GISSELLE PEREZ-LEON] Thank you, everyone, for coming. Thank you to the Social Science Matrix for hosting this event, and thank you to Julia and Chuck for coordinating it as well. My dissertation entitled Border Civics, Race, Gender, and the Right to the City in Nogales, Sonora 1882 to 1970 is an urban historical analysis of the 32-mile section of the Sonora-Arizona border region known as Nogales. For the purposes of this panel, I focus on Nogales fronterizos, border residents who engage in daily pedestrian crossings at designated ports of entry.
Nogales has a history unique to its founding. In 1841, Mexico ceded a land grant to Jose Elias to establish a ranch, Los Nogales de Elias, named for the walnut trees that lined the Santa Cruz river valley. Outsiders sometimes describe the mountain pass and the surrounding desert as inhospitable for its semi-arid climate, but Sonoran communities, including the Opata and O’odham nations, long established trade and patterns of seasonal migrations through the Nogales corridor that responded to climate fluctuations, rainfall, and the flow of the Santa Cruz River.
The northernmost section of the Elias ranch became part of the US after the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. Russian-Jewish immigrants, Isaac and Jacob Isaacson, homesteaded this part as Isaacson, Arizona, and the US Postal Service renamed it Nogales, Arizona in 1883. A year later, the neighboring Nogales, Sonora declared itself the seat of a new independent municipality. Completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1882 catalyzed movement of people and capital at a much greater scale.
In her oral history interview with the Pimeria Alta Historical Society, Ada Aki Jones remembers that Mrs. WR Morley, wife of the railroad’s chief engineer, drove the last spike that completed the railroad with one foot on the fender of the engine of the US side of the line and the other resting in Mexico. Most retellings of Nogales, Arizona’s founding and the arrival of the railroad are similarly vivid, and nearly all emphasized both Nogales as one shared community.
Nogales’s rise as a major port of entry in the early 20th century opened commercial opportunities not only to US and European industry investors in the mining and agricultural sectors, but also to Mexican women employed at restaurants, bars, and cabarets along the border, Chinese merchants, and other small local business owners who benefited from the cross-border traffic. Residents of Nogales, Arizona made weekly grocery shopping trips to the Sonoran city’s open-air market, even after immigration restrictions, heightened administrative requirements for border crossing cards. Border commerce was mutually beneficial to residents on either side.
I conduct most of my archival research at the municipal archive in Nogales, Sonora. Few borderlands historians consult Mexican Municipal archives relying primarily on consular reports and documentation from federal agencies. This 1926 letter from Municipal President Guillermo Mascareñas highlights some of my project’s motivations, Mascareñas’ response to a state request for statistics on regional culture throughout Mexico. The collected data would eventually be published in a national report called Mexico’s Riches.
The subject reads, “There are no traditional songs or dances in this municipality.” It goes on, “After making the necessary investigations, we have not found in the municipality songs, sounds, nor traditional dances, for in this jurisdiction, there are no existing Indigenous tribes that might have them. The Pueblo, distributed in the countryside and which makes up the population of the rancherias, as well as the city, exclusively plays songs, corridos, and rhythms brought from the state of Sinaloa, especially the Port of Mazatlan.” The city’s middle and upper classes generally play popular Mexican songs disseminated by theaters, clubs, and scores, noting the great influence of American music in addition to dances that are completely adopted and generalized.”
Mascareñas’ representation of Nogales’s cultural traditions as one simply adopted and characterized by US hybridity echoes the frustrating public rhetoric that flattens the diverse regions of the 1,954-mile international boundary into a series of abstractions, like el norte, the border, or borderlands. Meanwhile, even though the Arizona-Sonora border divided traditional O’odham lands, the removal of O’odham peoples from their ranches allowed Mascareñas to claim that no existing Indigenous tribes had influenced the culture of the area. The region was an unstable landscape for post-revolutionary nation building.
Documenting the city’s development through its municipal archive reveals that, by the 1920s, northbound labor migrations and southbound pedestrian border crossings became a matter of increasing concern to local and federal officials. Promises of employment in US agriculture or mining industries led hopeful Mexican laborers to travel by rail to the Nogales port where enganchadores, US contractors, many of whom were of Mexican descent who offered to assist potential border crossers by providing stolen or falsified documents, only had to wait each day for the train arriving with hundreds of workers and proceed to offer what were likely coercive contracts.
In 1919, Ciudad Juárez, Piedras Negras, and Nogales, all posted circulars in city streets urging laborers from the Mexican interior not to accept the false promises of enganchadores and warning Mexican nationals of the risk of deportation. Municipal presidents feared burdening already bankrupt treasuries with a growing population of returned migrants in need of public assistance. Charitable organizations in Nogales, including the Red Cross, voluntarily ran a temporary shelter known as the Salón de Engachadors, which sometimes overflowed into a nearby wash housing the local health inspector to declare the establishment a public health hazard in 1920.
Nogales city officials were constantly reacting to the problem of the border. The Nogales municipal president also worried about the impact of unfettered visits from Prohibition era Americans to Sonoran cantinas. In 1921, Francisco Ramos went as far as to temporarily declare that in consideration of the innumerable scandal stirred in the cantinas and cabarets caused by the presence of women, of whom the majority are of poor conduct and considering also that their presence constitutes a threat to morality and public order, no woman could be hired as an employee in those businesses anywhere in the city.
This postcard of the boundary marks Sonora as the wet region versus the Arizona dry. And at this point, there’s a chain-link fence in between the telephone poles. Those are placed in 1918 after a skirmish known as the Battle of Nogales. Before that, the boundary was only demarcated by obelisks, like this one. So the monument markers. The slow hardening of the border would likely spell more problems for Nogales city officials. Mexican officials fluctuated between seeing its northern regions as problematic, unincorporated peripheries, and sites of economic promise and nation building.
Both Mexican and US modernization projects of the Nogales gateway privileged ordered settlement over mobility, a characteristic which had historically defined the region. Increased border security and more imposing border structures stood at odds with the existing local economy, which relied on shared public space and drastically altered the day to day interactions of border residents. Chinese fronterizos successfully negotiated identities at the border as Chinese Exclusion in the US made it more difficult to cross for them.
In the 1890s, most Mexicans were relatively free to cross the border, stopped only for suspicions of smuggling contraband. To guard the 300-mile border with Sonora, the Nogales and Tucson customs station shared two collectors, two Chinese inspectors, and one mountain inspector. Chinese were subject to additional questioning in the 1880s, but Mexican citizenship could provide some degree of protection.
By 1911, around 35,000 Chinese had entered Mexico. Porfirio Díaz and his científicos had hoped that European immigrants would be specifically drawn to major cities and that other migrants would populate more remote regions. Half of the Chinese population who migrated to Mexico settled mostly in Sonora, worked on railroad construction, or set up shops responding to the demands of internal commercial markets.
By 1903, Chinese owned at least 10 of 37 shoe factories in Sonora, producing over $100,000 in goods each year. Lee Sing arrived in Sonora in the late 1870s before settling in Tucson where he opened a small dry goods store with his brother. They sold beef jerky, beans, and whiskey to residents of the Old Pueblo in Tucson. The store took off, and Sing was able to open up a shoe store in Nogales, Arizona as well. This business also thrived, and he decided to relocate to Sonora in 1889, marrying a Mexican woman and becoming a Mexican citizen himself.
Singh would have been accustomed to freely crossing any of the Arizona ports but faced additional questioning about his merchant status at a routine crossing in 1884. At this point, he owned three additional stores in Sonoran cities and had been a Mexican resident for 11 years. A well-known businessman, he recruited the support of Santa Ana’s municipal president along with several witnesses who filed letters and certificates of good standing on his behalf, which verified his right to free and unmolested entrance through the Nogales port. With the supporting documents emphasizing Sing’s long record of settlement, he was able to cross without further questioning for the next four years.
The protective category of Mexican citizen merchant negotiated by Chinese border crossers into the US would prove useful for Chinese-Sonorans later facing exclusion and ultimately expulsion in 1931 at the hands of the Sonoran government. In April 1916, a group of 33 retail merchandise vendors from the Nogales, Sonora municipal market submitted a request to the president of the ayuntamiento regarding three stalls in the marketplace. “We ask and beg that, inspired by the feelings of national co-existence, please determine what you deem appropriate to the effect that the Chinese who occupy the market stalls we have enumerated are transferred to Mexicans.”
They attached to their petition a memorandum from the commercial and businessmen’s junta in Magdalena. “The protection of national industry,” they wrote, “served as the foundation of progress and aggrandizement of all nations and remained among the supreme ideals of revolutionary constitutionalism.” In place of Chinese owners, the petitioners posited that the market stalls could be occupied by three or four Mexicans who support however many other families. On May 3, the ayuntamento served Chill Chong, Rafael Dan, and Manuel Long with orders to vacate their meat and produce stalls at the public market. The city council had determined that the eviction order would indeed suit public interest.
And perhaps to the surprise of the ayuntamento, the aggrieved Nogalenses knew of one avenue for redress. All three men were naturalized Mexican citizens, and as Mexican nationals, they were all entitled to recurso de amparo, an autonomous suit used to protect individuals from constitutional violations by any act of public authority. Originating in the Yucatec Constitution of 1841 and enshrined in the acta de reforma of 1857, the amparo became a widely used legal tradition available to all kinds of litigants and continues to serve as the basis of human rights law in Mexico. Chong, Dan, and Long, all filed amparo suits in the Nogales District Court against the ayuntamento of the villa of Nogales the next day.
Federal rules of civil procedure required that the authority accused in an amparo suit file a reply brief within 24 hours. The public prosecutor did not file briefs contesting the petitioner’s allegations in either case. And as a result, district court judge, Astolfo Cardenas, who would later serve in roles as Nogales’s municipal president and the president of the compañía construccíon de Sonora, the Sonoran construction company, vacated the eviction order for all three petitioners on May 6. While this was the desired outcome, the procedural victory obfuscated a real sense that justice had been served.
By failing to file its reply, the ayuntamiento implicitly acknowledged that it had no legitimate or lawful reason to close businesses owned by Chinese residents. In choosing to suit the public interest, the city council effectively excluded Chinese-Nogalenses from the urban public. So when Rafael then arrived at the [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], the state capital, on May 8, 1916, he attempted to position Chinese-Mexicans as integral to the urban public. Representing himself and acting as [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] for Chill Chong and Manuel Lang, he filed a grievance at the state Supreme Court detailing the events surrounding Nogales’s first exclusionary order.
“For many years, Chill Chong and I have each run our own butcher shops in the municipal market in the villa de Nogales, and Manuel Lang has run a produce stall having always paid with punctuality the diverse taxes levied on those commercial branches, complying with all sorts of administrative and police dispositions and gaining the geniality of the public for our good faith and consistency. Nevertheless, the presidente municipal of de villa has ordered closed all those establishments or business enterprises located in the aforementioned market belonging to Chinese subjects without a reasonable motive, justifying such disposition.”
What is most interesting to me about this early amparo petition is that it makes the same sort of claims border crossers made before US border officials. It offers evidence of settlement and belonging to Nogales vecinal, the local citizenry, and emphasizes their status as merchant citizens. I have yet to follow the paper trail to the Hermosillo State archives, but I suspect that I will find known attorneys on a number of amparo filings by Chinese-Nogalenses who belong to mutual aid organizations in Ambos Nogales, like the Chinese Fraternal Union, and who were trained to navigate both US and Mexican legal landscapes.
I found a handful of these attorneys in the municipal archives. So I hope I find what I’m looking for. But what I can say for now is that late 19th century fronterizos lay the blueprint and established the social and legal networks that made it possible for future Nogalenses of all identities to negotiate with state administrators in the future. I also just missed a few images. So this is just when there was no physical boundary prior to 1918. This is Calle Internacional, International street. This is also probably after an order that says that all buildings have to be at least 60 feet away from the international boundary. But prior, they were literally– you could have a beer in the Arizona side or in the Mexico side and stick it out the window and be in Mexico.
And this is the sort of community that the Chinese fronterizos of the 19th century would have been looking at. It’s a really robust, commercial community. And this is just a copy of Lee Sing’s position. Yeah? Thank you.
[PAULINE WHITE MEEUSEN] Good afternoon. Thanks, everybody, for coming, to the Social Science Matrix for hosting, and BIMI for supporting this panel. So connecting to the theme of today’s panel, border crossings, I’ll be talking today about the phenomenon of bearing witness, or as one interviewee put it, bringing the border to her community in the United States. This is based on a chapter of my dissertation. How– excuse me. This chapter of my dissertation draws on a series of in-depth interviews with attorneys and legal advocates who volunteered at the US-Mexico border in select US detention centers and in central Mexico as part of short term pro bono programs.
Rather than impact litigation, which is more traditionally considered when examining law and social change, the approach that these programs took was to combat practical barriers to asserting asylum through mass representation. Attorneys and legal advocates from all over the United States, including both immigration law experts and neophytes, would volunteer for short-term programs. Some for as short as a week, on the ground, preparing asylum seekers with their applications, preparing them for credible fear interviews, monitoring the metering process, and other tasks.
I became interested in whether these short-term experiences could be transformative and whether individuals came to see themselves as allies of the refugee rights or another movement. I found that in describing their motivations for providing direct legal services in these spaces or in describing themselves as part of a social movement, many people talked about how they needed to see the impact of immigration policies for themselves and to share that knowledge with others, what some described as bearing witness.
This chapter explores the different logics of what it means for these legal actors to bear witness in these spaces, what they were bearing witness to, and with whom they shared their experience. Among the findings, I argued that direct service legal work, despite not directly creating social change, can be transformed into a social movement tactic. Here, through the process of bearing witness.
I’m building on literature on law and social movements. The majority of scholarship on lawyer’s role in social movements focuses on lawyers impact historically deradicalizing on social movements rather than attorneys as social movement actors. In instances where attorneys are viewed as social movement actors themselves, lawyer activism has been viewed as an anomaly, specifically in response to Trumpism. However, the actions described in this research began earlier under the Trump administration– Oh, I’m sorry. Under the Obama administration.
Most scholarship on the legal profession also separates cause lawyers, those would be attorneys who work at organizations like the ACLU and are specifically working for those organizations to create social change, from people who are providing pro bono legal service, like the individuals in this study. The literature on the legal profession also de-emphasizes the potential to create social change through pro bono work. Building off Boutcher, this paper contends that the division between cause lawyers and pro bono attorneys is likely artificial and that the direct service legal work, despite not directly creating social change, can be transformed into a social movement tactic. Here, through the process of bearing witness.
The phrase “bearing witness” appears in literature across many disciplines, particularly in scholarship focused on trauma and memory with a particular emphasis on scholarship on the Holocaust. The term moves beyond the notion of being an eyewitness, seeing an event unfold, and includes an element of ethics and morality, of taking some sort of action to broaden the sphere of felt responsibility. Bearing witness inherently requires two parties, the individual that observes or experiences and the individual that receives that transmission of moral obligation.
There’s controversy around the idea of bearing witness, particularly for those who are not survivors, because of the disparities of privilege between the person observing and the observed. However, rather than, quote, “a cathartic, consumerist, feel-good moment,” end quote, some scholars argue that bearing witness acts as a corrective to the current mode of pornographic viewing of often racialized and imperial violence and suffering, because it moves beyond simply recognizing that another person is suffering and instead involves addressing and responding.
Most of the individuals in this study describe their motivation to go to these spaces to provide assistance, specifically legal assistance. And it wasn’t until they returned back from their experience that they then talked about the need to share their experience with others. There were, however, others who specifically went into these spaces with the desire to bear witness. Several individuals, particularly white allies, described how they didn’t want to be a white savior and also described grappling with the reality of their privilege upon returning home to their home community.
I’m drawing on 68 semi-structured interviews with 36 volunteer attorneys and legal advocates that were identified through niche and snowball sampling. I conducted 36 initial interviews between October 2019 and April 1, 2020 when the programs were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of Title 42 at the border. I then conducted 32 follow-up interviews between January 2021 and March 2021 to see whether individuals consciousness had shifted given that there were no longer opportunities for them to volunteer in person. And I’m planning to conduct a second round of follow-up interviews later this spring or summer.
The participants, as I mentioned, were individuals who provided legal assistance to asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border in central Mexico or at select detention centers between 2014 and 2021. Those 2021 participants are individuals who were already volunteering but then might have continued doing remote work during the pandemic. 24 attorneys were interviewed, including nine practicing or retired immigration attorneys.
I was particularly interested in the experiences of non-immigration attorneys because I wanted to know what drew them to doing this work. And then 12 legal advocates, meaning individuals who might have been doing the same kind of work in these spaces or assisting in other ways as translators, psychologists, et cetera, but often they ended up doing the same tasks as both lawyers and law students. I specifically did not include law students because their motivations, I thought, might be different.
So based on the data, I developed a typology of what bearing witness means in this context. Bearing witness works as a social movement tactic to raise awareness and shift the perspective of US citizens in order to create policy change, to recruit additional volunteers to participate in this work and to memorialize– to create a history and knowledge for the future to try to ensure that history does not repeat itself. It also functions as an ethical response to the US failure to fulfill its legal obligations under domestic and international law and as an ontological intervention in the face of the limits of facts and truth in an era of misinformation.
Individuals describe bearing witness to personal experiences of– to the personal experiences of asylum seekers, the human impact of border policies, and Truth, with a capital T. They were bearing witness to their personal networks, professional colleagues, policymakers, and the general public.
Laura, a white non-immigration attorney who volunteered at the border, described how she was using the knowledge she gained bearing witness to recruit others to the movement. “I wanted, I guess, two things. I wanted people to know the bearing witness piece. I wanted people to know what I had seen, not so much what I had done, but what I had seen. And I wanted to reassure people kind of normalize this, in case there was anybody else who wanted to volunteer.
I wanted them to think of themselves then as maybe somebody who could do this, so that long-term we have enough people who are more aware, better informed, more viscerally connected to this issue, that we may be able to demand the changes to the immigration system that should have been made a long time ago.”
Bearing witness also served as an ethical intervention in the face of US failure to fulfill legal obligations. Some individuals drew from their ethical obligations as legal professionals, others from a personal sense of obligation that was part and parcel of their personal identity. Sandra, a Latina non-immigration attorney who volunteered at the border and in detention, described, “If I wasn’t a lawyer and if I was just a concerned citizen, citizen of the world, and a nurse, because my background was in nursing for a long time, I probably would see things a little different, because I wouldn’t have delved into the legal side of it.
I believe that we are breaking laws. I believe we’re breaking standards and values and just the humanitarian standards for how to treat people who are detained and asylum seekers. I believe we’re breaking asylum laws, so there’s no way that I’m not impacted by what I know as a lawyer, because I’ve read about asylum laws and I know why we have asylum laws in place. I understand the Flores agreement and why we’re not going to be detaining, shouldn’t be detaining children long-term, and how so many of these agreements and rulings have been violated.”
The importance of seeing something firsthand and speaking truth to power have been particularly important in the US in the last several years because of, quote, “deep and strident polarization, mistrust of government officials, and a persistent effort to delegitimize sources of factual information and establish a post-truth political culture,” end quote. Interviewees indicated that they believed that the media, whether from the Right or the Left, was not fully capturing the realities of what asylum seekers were experiencing, whether in caravans to the US border, while in detention, or while waiting in Mexico for their asylum cases to be heard.
Joy, a mixed race immigration attorney who volunteered in Central Mexico and at the US-Mexico border, described how media reports were insufficient. “I’m very committed and very dedicated to spreading the word about what’s going on because– what I told the kids in DC, the undergrads, and I tell everybody, I’m like, ‘What, you think what’s happening at the border? It’s worse.’ And they’re like, ‘How can it be worse? We’re informed. We read the papers.’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s worse.’ The media doesn’t report it, and there’s no way that they could know how truly unlawful, irregular, and inhumane everything is that’s happening.
I think it also honors the struggle of the people that are doing it because I memorialize it for myself, and then I share it to other people and try to humanize it as well. That these are people. These are families. There was one boy. It was his birthday. He was in the caravan and living on the ground on his birthday. It was his 20th birthday. And really just to counteract, act as a counter-voice of truth when so much misinformation, especially around the caravan, this was when Trump was saying– what was he saying? Invading hordes of people and Islamic terrorists are embedded in this group, and it was so far from the truth, and really just to speak the truth in this age where misinformation is so prevalent.
In describing what they were bearing witness to, many individuals describe the specific traumatic experiences of asylum seekers, whether the persecution they experienced that brought them to the US border, abuses at the hand of border officials, or the many atrocities they experienced while waiting at the US-Mexico border for their number to be called. I’m not including any of those here, in case they’re triggering. Sandra, a Latina non-immigration attorney who volunteered at the border and in detention, described, “Many of the women that I worked with in X detention center and many of the asylum seekers in Tijuana actually would say, ‘Do people in your country know what they’re doing to us?’ Many of them would say, ‘Don’t forget me. Don’t forget. Tell people what they’re doing.’
And so I find it both to be a duty and really an honor, at the same time, to be able to tell their stories and not allow their stories to die off, because people need to know the truth of what’s happening. And so it’s just– to me, it’s critically important to keep their stories alive.”
In describing who they are bearing witness to, Patricia, a white non-attorney who had volunteered multiple times in different detention centers described her action.” “I feel like I’m bringing the border to my community sharing different presentations I’ve given on my campus or here locally in the community, or like I mentioned before, a couple of conferences that I’ve gone to to share my experience. One of my faculty friends invited me to a church group because their church is a sanctuary church for refugees or something like that, and she wanted me to come and talk to their reading group. Little things like that.
You go and talk to people who want to know more, but they also don’t know. It’s overwhelming. I’ve hardly even began to learn when there’s so much. And so much changes, and the flood of information when you don’t know exactly. So going to talk to little groups here and there or even to my students or a club on campus. Those sorts of things are ways that I can bring the border to my community.” And I’ll end there. Thank you.
[ADRIANA RAMIREZ] Good afternoon, everyone. Today, I will be presenting an article manuscript titled Belonging as Acquired Code-Switching: The Experience of Young Returned Migrants in Oaxaca, Mexico. While the general public may assume that very few Mexican immigrants leave the US, the reality is that between 2005 and 2014, more Mexican nationals left the US and returned to Mexico, while fewer entered the US. Similarly, or related, in the last eight years, there has also been a 23% decline in the undocumented population from Mexico.
These people that are returning are not returning alone often. They’re part of families, and often also take their children with them. Some of them were born here in the US. Others were brought to the US when they were very young. And so this issue of return migration is especially critical when we consider that in 2010, there was an increase in the foreign population in Mexico of which 77% were born in the US. Children were an estimated 22% of foreign-born individuals living in Mexico between the ages of 5 and 14. The statistic does not include all of the Mexican-born youth that were raised in the US and that went back to Mexico.
So now Mexico, which is a traditionally migrant-sending state, is faced with the challenge of incorporating returned migrant children and young adults into their schools, economy, and national imagined community. In Mexico, with the arrival of mixed status families, the census now includes– and their definition of return migrants, individuals five years of age or older who were born in Mexico or abroad to Mexican parents. In this study, I define return migration as a process by which people migrate to their or their parents’ place of origin after residing in another country.
Yet critically, young people born in the US, obviously, are not returning to a place that they’ve never been to before. And also Mexican-born youth that left Mexico at a very young age don’t have a deep connection with the country that they’re returning to. So it is this contradiction in return migration that raises the question of belonging and membership negotiation.
So in this study, I ask, how do young return migrants settle in Mexico and negotiate membership in their communities? In order to answer this, I traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico. I can talk more about why I chose Oaxaca in the Q&A, if you would like to know. So I arrived in Oaxaca during the summers of 2015 and 2018, and I recruited young returnees using snowball sampling through conversations with various institutions that worked with migrants or with youth in general and also tour guides, Spanish instructors, vendors at various markets, basically anyone I came across.
I conducted a total of 39 semi-structured in-depth interviews. Return migrants were between the ages of 13 and 32 at the time of the interview. 24 of the 39 were Mexican-born, of which 12 were male and 12 were female. 15 of the 39 were US-born, of which nine were male and six were female. And so I found that upon arrival, young returned migrants go through a process of initial adjustment where they acquire Mexican citizenships, in this case, I included both legal and cultural, and learn to hide their US ties at the same time. This process occurs regardless of their age of return or the age at the time of the interview.
As young returnees enter adolescence or they return as adolescents, they learn to highlight their US citizenships when looking for better economic opportunities. However, it is not until young returnees enter or arrive into young adulthood that they fully grasp and discover the spaces and moments when highlighting their US citizenships for better economic opportunities is more advantageous. It is at this life stage, young adulthood, that returned migrants fully grasp this code-switching between hiding and highlighting their US citizenships, either for social belonging or for better economic opportunities.
Regardless of their age of arrival, young returnees had to acquire markers of Mexican cultural citizenship. The main markers that young returnees emphasized learning over time where language, accent, clothing, food, and gender roles. For example, Julian, who sat across from me at a coffee shop, began telling me about his painful experience adapting after a forced and abrupt return. He was deported after being offered full funding to a very prestigious art university. He was on his way to visit friends before starting his semester at this university when he was detained and deported at the US airport.
This forced an abrupt return was very challenging for him, and so he explained the transformation he had to go through over time, not just in Mexico, but more specifically, in his neighborhood in order to be recognized as part of his community and stop being mugged by those around him.
He said, “I learned what it meant to be a Mexican now, like a gun, things like that, bit by bit. I learned to listen to music from here. Uh-huh, like, I had to– I had to access my masculinity, no? Like I couldn’t be weak, or I don’t know, like, delicate. Like, I couldn’t see like that in the existing environment, and it was difficult to understand and things like that. For example, like, I couldn’t talk about art, no? And things like that. And you had to talk about new things, so I had to talk about soccer and the way I dress a bit, not much. But I did cut my hair. And at that point, I had to speak a bit differently, you know? I could not speak, like, I don’t know, my accent was weird, no? And they also don’t like that, like, the people. So I had to change my Spanish completely.”
People who have lived in Oaxaca their entire life could be assaulted in the streets, right? But to Julian, this incident signal that he was not performing the appropriate signifiers to legitimize his belonging. Like most of the respondents in the study, he mentioned adjusting his accent when speaking Spanish. However, he also illustrated that there was a very specific form of masculinity, that is, short hair, knowing about football, or soccer, being tough, that he had to embody in this new context which he did by cutting his long hair, not speaking about art, in order to belong in his new community. After making these adjustments, Julian mentioned that he was accepted into his new community and eventually became friends with those that used to mugged him.
While the masculinity men were expected to present was similar in rural and urban areas, this was not the case for young girls and women who were expected to present an even more particular form of femininity in more rural Zapotec towns where clothing was a significant part. When I visited the school in this specific town, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the moms that volunteered at the school, either selling food or monitoring the entrances to the schools. They were all wearing A-line skirts falling just above their knees– sorry, just above their ankles, pañoletas, which are some sort of handkerchiefs tied around their head, and colorful shirts with embroidered flowers or lace in the front.
Dulce was a student in this school where the moms volunteered. She was born in the US and brought to a small town in Oaxaca when she was nine years old. She told me about how girls in her community excluded her because she did not wear the traditional clothes of her town outside of school. Dulce said, “Sometimes they tell me, ‘Why don’t you wear your enredo?’ Or they tell me, ‘You’re not Mexican. That is why you don’t wear it.” They tell me, ‘You’re are a gringa.’ And I always tell them, ‘Well, no, it is simply because I don’t like wearing the dress. I don’t like it. I don’t feel comfortable.'”
Dulce’s belonging to the community not only depended on the national image of Mexico, but also the local image in community where wearing traditional clothes was an important part for her belonging. And so youth or young adults that lived in these smaller communities, not only had to navigate the national image, but also learn a specific language, like Zapotec or learn more specific markers, for them to belong in addition to the national ones. So as young returnees begin acquiring Mexican citizenships, they continue to be treated differently during social movements where their US ties are disclosed. In response to this, they learn to hide their US legal and/or cultural citizenships whenever possible.
So US respondents learn to hide their US legal citizenship soon after arriving in Oaxaca. For those that are born in the US, one way of avoiding disclosing their US ties was to avoid disclosing their place of birth or simply lying about it. This was the case for Nadia, who was born in the US, brought to Oaxaca at the age of four. During the time of the interview, she was 13 years old. We were sitting in the sidewalk of her middle school as she told me about the times that she hid her US legal citizenship to maintain a sense of belonging and moments where this was at play or at risk.
She said, “Well, when, for example, the teachers, even though I don’t want to say at first so I don’t seem a bit, like, stuck up or something like that, they ask, ‘Where were you born?’ And well, sometimes I say that I was born in Mexico so that it is not so uncomfortable.” Nadia began school in her hometown like most of her classmates that never left Mexico.
However, one main marker that differentiated her was being born in the US, something that she learned could make others uncomfortable and treat her differently or make her feel like she did not belong. Instead of always answering she was born in the US, what to most people would seem like a very simple question, right? She instead considered her options and ultimately decided to lie about her place of birth to avoid any contestation to her belonging.
Young migrants who returned to Oaxaca at an older age and who may not have US legal citizenship learn to hide their US cultural markers by intentionally getting the wrong answers in their English classes, faking a bad accent when speaking English, failing an English class, or for some, switching schools completely where no one was aware of their time in the US.
This was the case for Zoe, who was often discriminated in her middle school by both teachers and her peers. And because of this discrimination, she chose to go to a completely different high school where most of her peers were not going to go because this was considered one of the worst high schools in her town.
And so she explained to me that transition to high school. She said, “In high school, no one knew I spoke English. I went to the worst high school. There were English classes. I did not speak English. Yes, they gave me an 8–” which is equivalent to good in the US. Like a B, maybe B-minus. “–because I did not pronounce it correctly, and I, I like that more. I did not care as long as they did not bother me.” Although she had been a top student in the US, Zoe had such a difficult time with bullying from classmates and teachers in Oaxaca that she became indifferent to attending the worst high school in her town, as long as that meant being accepted by those around her.
Zoe preferred hiding her US cultural citizenship by purposely failing to respond in English or avoid calling attention to herself. While not all responders went to that length of switching schools, they definitely did hide their US cultural ties by avoiding disclosing this part of themselves whenever possible in social interactions specifically in order to prevent contestation. As young return migrants enter adolescence or return during adolescence, they begin to identify moments when highlighting their US culture– their US ties to be beneficial.
For US-born respondents, who returned before or during elementary school, they begin to see how this is advantageous, how highlighting their US legal citizenship as a birthright and an exit plan for Mexico is advantageous for them. Such was the case for Robert, a middle school student at the time of the interview who had his flight booked and ready to return to the US. When I asked him why he was going to the US, he said, “Because let’s say that here schools are not improving, and well, my mom says I was born over there. So I have to study there. So I felt that there are more opportunities over there, more opportunities than here.”
In his mind there was a clear social hierarchy where US hegemony was symbolized by education, and he understood this education as a birthright. Among US-born respondents, there was a common moral understanding of the US legal citizenship, a feeling that they should somehow contribute or make use of the privilege that that studies entails. Oops, sorry.
For young returnees that were not born in the US, when they enter adolescence, they begin identifying spaces where this strategic code-switching can help them. But it is when they enter young adulthood that they fully understand this, specifically looking for better opportunities through tourism or English schools. This was the case for Victoria. Victoria was seven years old when she migrated to the US with her parents. We met at a coffee shop during her lunch break from teaching at a private English school, a job she landed before graduating college. This was, in part, possible because of her proximity to English language culture, as she explained.
“When someone gets here, it is like, oh, it’s English. Like it makes you look superior. Maybe they do it unconsciously simply for having extra knowledge. Having a teacher that learned English at a university and maybe hasn’t left Mexico, yes, that student does prefer having someone who has had direct contact with the language and with the people that speak it as opposed to having only learned it from school. So yes, that did help me.”
Many young return migrants who lived in the US long enough easily found employment as English tutors or teachers upon their arrival in Mexico. And as Victoria mentioned, employers valued the time they were socialized in the US, not necessarily the fact that they spoke English on its own. This is what was seen, because if not, they would be valuing other students from Oaxaca that were also studying to be English teachers and know how to speak English. Thus, while return migrants highlight their Mexican or Oaxacan citizenship when negotiating membership or belonging, when looking for opportunities, they code-switch to highlight their US cultural citizenship.
Based on 39 in-depth interviews with young return migrants, I argue that Mexican-US dual citizenship both in legal and cultural sense is significant in Mexico and that it operates as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, providing opportunities for advancement, but on the other hand, impeding cultural belonging. Young return migrants learn to navigate this contradiction by first acquiring Mexican legal papers, Mexican cultural markers, gender roles, and Zapotec practices in some cases. And at the same time, learning to hide their US ties to facilitate social belonging and subsequently learning to code-switch between hiding and highlighting their US ties in order to claim social belonging or better opportunities. Thank you.
[IRENE BLOEMRAAD] All right, we’re going to move into the question and answer period. We had about 20 people online, and so we’ll collect questions there. But let’s start with those in the room first, because you guys came here. Questions, comments, feedback for our presenters. And do you also want to introduce yourself?
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Sure, I’m Cybelle Fox in sociology. So I have a question, first, for Pauline. In terms of bearing witness, is there anything about kind of the characteristics of the people who are bearing witness that changes what bearing witness means for them? So does race or gender or age of the folks that you were interviewing or whether they were attorneys or non-attorneys, does that change kind of their predominant kind of sense of what it means to bear witness? Did they fall in one or more of the particular categories, for example?
And then for Adriana, it seems like code-switching is something that is like an end-stage process. And I saw the case of Robert that you had at the end. It wasn’t clear to me who is he highlighting his US citizenship to, except for you the interviewer. In the snippet that you gave us, it wasn’t clear what was happening. So I’m wondering if it’s actually an end-stage process that only happens in adulthood and only for those who end up remaining in Mexico and not for those who return to the United States.
[PAULINE WHITE MEEUSEN] Thank you for the question. So bearing witness kind of traversed across these different characteristics. I think the motivation for bearing witness came from a different place for different folks. There were a few people who talked about their religious background, but that wasn’t– there were others who specifically said, like, I am not a religious person, but this is something that I feel that I need to do. And so when I kind of pushed on that a little bit to see where is this coming from, that was more like something where it might be coming from there.
Sort of it’s part and parcel to their personal identity. It might have been their family experience, the way that they were raised to kind of give back to their community. I think there was a little bit of difference in terms of race, in terms of how people perceive themselves in bearing witness just in the sense of– I would say it was only Latina individuals, most of these were women attorneys and legal advocates, there were only a few men who talked about being– that people had actually said to share their stories. That was not something that I heard from white women, that they were actually being told to share the stories. Instead, it was that they felt that was something that they needed to do.
So there was a difference there, less in terms of– like, more in terms of motivation, whether it was coming from themselves or from asylum seekers. Across, in terms of professional identity, interestingly, both attorneys and non-attorneys talked about the law. In fact, I was looking at an interview yesterday, and they said something like, I’m not the immigration scholar to talk about this. And then I was looking, and it was somebody who wasn’t an attorney. So I think that it was something that went across, whether somebody was an attorney or not.
But their legal background I think constrain them a bit in the sense that when I would question whether they viewed the system as legitimate, they would say that the immigration– that our legal system, our immigration legal system is legitimate, but that these policies were not legitimate. And I think that is, in part, because you’re talking to people who are essentially constrained to work within the system based on their profession.
[ADRIANA RAMIREZ] OK. Thank you for your question, Cybelle. Yes, I think– I think the process of code-switching begins in adolescence in the sense that they’re learning when to hide it but also some moments when it is useful to highlight it. Sometimes this can happen in the English classes. In the case of Robert, for those that are planning on returning to the US, they have to, I guess, disclose it in the sense that they have to tell the school administrators and teachers that they’re going to leave.
But you are right in that the code-switching would be the end-stage of the process, right? When they fully enter young adulthood, that they begin to more appropriately code-switch depending on what they’re looking to accomplish, whether that’s gaining some sense of belonging or whether they’re at a job interview and they’re trying to highlight that they grew up here in the US. So I think it begins, but the full process is definitely in young adulthood.
[IRENE BLOEMRAAD] Online questions. We’ll just go ahead and read that from anonymous attendee. Thank you, anonymous attendee. What are the primary reasons the younger attorneys mask their American past? Is it just to be more accepted? Or is it about safety, bias, or other concerns? Is there any element of pride about having lived in the US or curiosity from others to hear their stories?
[ADRIANA RAMIREZ] Yeah. Thank you, anonymous. The motivation for hiding, at least in these interviews that I did, was mostly based on being made to feel like another. So returnees were being– they were being made, felt like they were not part of the community in the sense that– like in one of the examples, they were called gringa, which is essentially someone from the US. Others mentioned teachers asking them to just be quiet, or sometimes they’re asked to leave the classroom. So that’s one way of being felt like you’re not part of the community.
In terms of the curiosity of someone felt pride, it’s not that I didn’t hear that they didn’t feel pride about being part of the US or having lived here. Some of them did mention that they continued to celebrate Thanksgiving and 4th of July when they’re in Mexico. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to show that to everyone they encounter. So they learn to identify who they can disclose this to.
In terms of the curiosity, I’ve actually heard that more this time around in my dissertation research where some students are curious, and they ask for help, and teachers begin to rely on these students for help in the English classes. And that’s a way for them to begin to incorporate as well. Hope that answered your question.
[MARION FOURCADE] Very simple because you taunted us, Adriana. Why did you choose Oaxaca? And what does it do to you study to focus on Oaxaca? And then similarly, Gisselle, why did you choose Nogales? And what does it– in what way does it differ from other places in Sonora?
[GISSELLE PEREZ-LEON] Nogales? So I have family members that have crossed at the Nogales port of entry. And so growing up in cities like Mexico City and New York City, the only thing I knew about northern cities of Mexico, specifically Sonoran cities too, was these broad generalizations kind of, like, mentioned in the memo that I shared from 1926. So I was really interested in, what is it like for people who are no longer able to cross after 1918 to 1924? And how is the physical structure of the border shaping both its civic engagement among residents and urban development at large?
[ADRIANA RAMIREZ] So I chose Oaxaca for two main reasons. The first one was that most of the return migration literature looks at either northern states of Mexico or Mexico City. So more urban, largely urban areas. And so I think Oaxaca is a perfect place to highlight that diversity within Mexico, and how a different context can potentially create different situations and experiences for people that are returning there. And then the second reason is that Oaxaca is the state with the highest percentage of returnees in rural areas. So while some literature has shown us that in Mexico City there’s a lot of returnees that maybe work at call centers, we know less about what is happening in smaller towns. And so that’s why I chose Oaxaca.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hi, Adriana. Great question. Did Nadia explain why she would be perceived as stuck up, if she would disclose that she is a US citizen? And if she didn’t, do you have an idea?
[ADRIANA RAMIREZ] She didn’t fully disclose why, and this is something that is also coming up a lot more in my dissertation interviews where people say they don’t want to seem presumido or presumida, like, stuck up. And I think that has to do with the power relationship between the US and Mexico, right? If they were coming from maybe Chile or another country that doesn’t carry the same power relationship with Mexico, I think it might be a little different, right?
And showing that you lived in the US in a blunt way, at least from the people that I interviewed, didn’t seem to come across in a positive way to people that were from that community, right? Especially in Oaxaca where, well, maybe even all of Mexico where there’s a lot of regional pride in the culture that they have there. I think that also creates some tension.
[GISSELLE PEREZ-LEON] What makes the Nogales port of entry different from other areas? In contrast to El Paso-Juárez, it’s a land border. It’s also less than an hour south of the Salazar Reservation, which has its own San Gabriel border too. It’s the largest port of entry in Arizona, has the most pedestrian crossings in Arizona, but it is the third most frequented border to Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. So that gives me a nice opportunity just to see migratory networks from Guaymas in the Central Valley of Sonora through the Yucca Valley region. So those are the more practical reasons as well, yeah.
[IRENE BLOEMRAAD] Let’s go to Isaac, and then we have a few questions online.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you. Yeah, thank you for this presentation. This is wonderful. My name’s Isaac. I’m in the sociology department, and I have another set of questions for Gisselle and Adriana. So I think, for Adriana, I’d love to hear a little bit more about the relationship between cultural citizenship and legal citizenship. I couldn’t tell within the presentation how these– do they work in parallel? Or are there ways in which they work against each other? It seemed like perhaps cultural citizenship may have been more important than the day lived experience. I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit on that.
And then, for Giselle, I’m curious about that you said that a major preoccupation for the town of Nogales was the problem of the border. That it was always a problem in some way or another. I’m curious about, like, if you could talk a little bit more about specifically what the problem was and how it changed over that time period, like, over the close to 100 years that you were looking at. So yeah, thank you.
[IRENE BLOEMRAAD] And quickly insert a question for Pauline because I’m looking at the time, and so we might just have time to go through the panel once more. Pauline, I wanted to know more about the person who saw bearing witness as almost a social movement tactic to increase volunteering. Did that actually work? I would have thought that maybe the reaction would have been, oh, my gosh, this sounds so horrendous, and it would actually not be a recruiting tactic. Why don’t we go this way down the line?
[GISSELLE PEREZ-LEON] So in terms of the problem, it doesn’t become a problem until there’s a physical boundary, and after the Mexican Revolution too, when revolutionary violence along the border heightened sort of political tensions in the area. The main problem I would say– so I look at it from an urban studies perspective. One of them is ordering public space, and sort of this idea of clean streets are what Mexico should be showing to its northern neighbor. So public plazas that are free of urban dwellers that are unhoused or are seen as transient is a huge problem for the municipality.
The second is that the municipal treasuries are in debt and see border crossers and migrants as potential financial burdens to the city. So yeah, and I think that explains a lot of the 1964 investments in the physical structure of the border. So that first picture that you saw is the postcard. So much money is invested in– Mario Pani, who’s a modernist Mexican architect, he’s contracted, never sets foot in Nogales prior to the project. But it’s a big show basically. Yeah, I hope that answers.
[PAULINE WHITE MEEUSEN] So just in answering your question about the idea of recruitment. I think that while there was kind of it could cut both ways, but most of what I was seeing was that it was more likely to recruit individuals because people felt like they would feel more safe. This was particularly for people who were not coming from border regions in the United States. They might have lived in the midwest or something like that, and so were not so familiar with these areas. And so it also– so like, that they could do it. That you can do this. I did this. You’ll be fine.
But also I think when you’re talking about attorney networks, it was also about sort of, like, that these are the stakes of what’s going on. And so it’s really important. And you don’t have to be an immigration attorney. I’m not an immigration attorney. I do insurance law, I mean, for example. So you don’t need to know about this. They’ll train you how to do this, and this is an urgent request. And because you are an attorney, they’re like, you can do this. So that’s kind of a sense of thing.
[ADRIANA RAMIREZ] All right, so thank you, Isaac, for your question. So you ask what the relationship between legal and cultural citizenship is or was. I approached this project assuming cultural citizenship would be the most important part, when on the ground, right? That’s what you would expect. You wouldn’t expect the legal one to really play that big of a role. And then what I presented today, I didn’t present on everything that the young return migrants are acquiring. Part of that is for the US-born Mexican legal citizenship, which some might assume to be a straightforward process, because if their parents were born in Mexico, then by law, they should have double citizenship. But on the ground, it turns out to be a much more complicated process.
And so it turns out that legal citizenship also is important in the sense that some of them are– some US-born are living in Oaxaca, quote unquote, “illegally” in the sense that they’ve been there more than the six months that are allowed by law. But there’s some loopholes that the administrators find to enroll the students in school, and it doesn’t seem to be much of a problem until they reach the transition to high school. And at that point, they really do need that double citizenship in order to obtain the equivalent to a Social Security number that then allows them to exist as a person legally in the school, or else all the work that they’re doing is not really counting for anything.
So it matters in that way, but it also matters in what I talked about today in that legal citizenship is directly tied to place of birth. And so that also becomes– that also becomes a way of working with cultural citizenship, right? Where you asked if they are working against each other or in unison. I think at certain parts, they’re working in unison, right? When they can both align and not show anything that might have them be questioned. But they might work against each other in moments where maybe they’re lacking one or the other, right? That’s a good question. I need to think about it a little bit more.
[IRENE BLOEMRAAD] All right, I’m going to apologize for the people online who sent in their questions and assure them that we will share the questions with the panelists. Adriana, there was a question about skin tone and connection to indigeneity, but we’ll follow up with you, and another one about comparative studies. But thank you, everyone, who attended in-person. Thank you everyone who joined us in line– online. And also I’d ask everyone to thank our panelists for these truly amazing presentations and research. And I’m going to– I’m going to do Marion’s job and say, make sure you come back for the extra Matrix events, especially the Orlando Patterson week.