Comparing accelerated migration and return in Pahuatlan and Zapotitlan

As explained in Chapter 1, we administered a modified version of the Mexican Migration Project Ethnosurvey to a 20 percent sample of households in Pahuatlan and a 25 percent sample of households in Zapotitlan. Zapotitlan had a greater percentage of households with migratory experience, 65.3 percent versus 56.3 percent for Pahuatlan. However, Pahuatlan had a greater number of individuals with migration experience per household (2.2) than Zapotitlan (2.0). With fewer overall households participating in international migration, more migrants came from migrant households in Pahuatlan. The vast majority of migrants from Zapotitlan lived in New York City and the surrounding suburbs while the majority of Pahuatecos/as lived in Durham, North Carolina. Men from Zapotitlan were employed primarily in restaurants and other services with a few working in the construction industry. Women from Zapotitlan worked in services as domestics and caretakers, manicurists, restaurant workers and in clothing shops. Pahuatecan men worked primarily in the construction industry while women worked in restaurants, industrial laundry services, manufacturing and cleaning services (homes, offices, hospitals, hotels). In sum, while women from Pahuatlan and Zapotitlan had similar work experiences, men from the two towns had different experiences. Finally, while the rate of staying for Pahuatecan migrants was 74 percent, it was 66 percent for Zapotitlan’s migrants.

First international migration

In Figure 2.2, we show the rise and fall of first international migration in the two towns. Accelerated migration begins in the late 1980s in Zapotitlan, in the context of the decline of the local onyx industry, and flows continue to grow steadily throughout the 1990s. In comparison, accelerated migration begins in Pahuatlan in the mid-1990s, triggered by the devaluation of the peso in 1994. In both towns, first migrations reach their highest point in 2001; however, while in Zapotitlan migration remains unchanged until 2004, in Pahuatlan first migration declined abruptly almost 45 percent by 2007. This decline is likely due to the fall in the employment of “Hispanics” in the construction sector (Kochhar, 2008). After the onset of the crisis in 2007, both towns register a significant fall in first migrations with a more rapid descent observed in Pahuatlan.

Gender and first migration

Women make up almost one-quarter of migrants from Pahuatlan (23.4 percent) and Zapotitlan (23.9 percent). In Zapotitlan, women’s migration lagged behind men’s by about a decade (see Figure 2.3). Only a handful of women migrated in the 1980s. However, in the following decade and up until the mid-2000s, dozens

------Zapotitlcin Salinas ------Pahuatlan de Valle

Figure 2.2 First international migration: Pahuatlan and Zapotitlan.

Source: Household surveys conducted in Pahuatlan and Zapotitlan.

---Men Women

Figure 2.3 Zapotitlan: first international migration by gender. Source: Household surveys conducted in Zapotitlan.

of women migrated. Their rapid incorporation into migration flows followed the accelerated pattern of the male counterparts, although on a smaller scale. Women’s first migrations fell off considerably after the mid-2000s, again, mirroring the pattern of their male counterparts.

These tendencies are replicated with slight nuances in Pahuatlan. It is a late flow compared to that of the men, and their displacements take place in the decade of 1995-2005 (see Figure 2.4). The results in both localities do not contradict what has been reported in other research; however, as we have stated before, only a more detailed analysis allows us to question the conventional idea that women migrate for reunification purposes and only when the men leading the movement have paved a route and a safe insertion for them in the destination place (cfr. Chapters 1, 3 & 5). When speaking about the feminization of migration in this book we allude to the transformations associated with the global reorganization of labor along gender lines, the increase in the participation of women in wage labor in deindustrialized economies and the redefinition of their tasks both within and outside the home (Verschuur, 2013).

Gender and return migration

Of the total returnees to Pahuatlan, a greater percentage of women returned than men during the crisis. From 2008 to 2010, the rate of staying for Pahuatecos/as was 77 percent (23 percent returned). For women, 59 percent stayed in the US (41 percent returned). For men, 78 percent stayed (22 percent returned) (see Table 2.3 and Figure 2.5). The difference in return among men and women is explained by the relatively large number of young mothers with preschool age children, who had resided in the United States for comparatively short periods of time. They returned with their partners and children, that is, these represent family returns. This selectivity in the process of return, as will be analyzed in Chapter 5, responds to the greater difficulties of these women to combine waged work with the care of young children. By contrast,


Figure 2.4 Pahuatlan: first international migration by gender.

Source: Household surveys conducted in Pahuatlan.

Table 2.3 Migration profile: Zapotitlàn Salinas and Pahuatlàn de Valle

Households surveyed

Migrants recorded in survey

Households with migratory experience

Average migrants per household

US destinations

Employment Rate of staying in

US: active migrants/ total migrants *100





111 (65.3%)


New York City


California (4.7%)

Men: Services: 66

restaurants and markets (78%);

construction industry (9%)

Women: Services: domestic, personal care, restaurants (65%)

Pahuatlàn de Valle



76 (56.3%)


North Carolina (60.9%)

California and Virginia (12.6%)

Men: Construction 77

industry (61.2%)

Women: Services: restaurants, domestics, cleaning services (hotels, hospitals) (47.6%);

Manufacturing and industrial cleaning sendees (14%)

Source: Household surveys conducted in Pahuatlàn and Zapotitlàn.

Surplus labor and restructured economies 49


  • 25
  • 20
  • 15
  • 10
  • 5
  • 0
  • 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011
  • -----Zapotitlan Salinas Pahuatlan de Valle

Figure 2.5 Return migration: Pahuatlan and Zapotitlan.

Source: Household surveys conducted in Pahuatlan and Zapotitlan.

the majority of men who returned to Pahuatlan did so alone (see Chapter 5 for details).

During the crisis, the rate of staying in the US for Zapotitecos/as from 2008 to 2010 was 64 percent (36 percent returned) for men, 75 percent (25 percent returned) for women and 66 percent (34 percent returned) overall. Zapotitecas were more likely to stay in New York, a finding that we relate to women’s interest in maintaining the relatively high level of social reproduction in the United States when compared with rural Central Mexico. While there were more returns during the crisis years when compared to any other three-year period in the past, there was no massive return to Zapotitlan. The service sector into which men and women from Zapotitlan were inserted in New York experienced some contraction but did not expel massive numbers of workers (see Chapter 6 for details).

With these results, we confront a paradox. Pahuatecos, who worked principally in the construction sector, were more likely to stay in the United States than Zapotitecos, despite the fact that the construction sector experienced the greatest loss of employment during the economic crisis (Levine, 2015). We believe this paradox can be explained by the lower cost of living in North Carolina when compared to New York. According to the Cost of Living Index compiled by the Council for Community and Economic Research, in 2010 it was approximately 60 percent more expensive to live in New York than in Durham (2011). In Chapter 6, we will see how this high cost of reproduction was experienced by some Zapotitecos/as during the economic crisis and how it precipitated return migration in some cases.

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