Sarah Lynn Lopez
This book began in a small café kitchen in Berkeley, California, where I worked as a cook with three migrants from a village near Leon, the capital city of Guanajuato, Mexico. Over time, I learned about their aspirations to build new homes—not in Berkeley—but in their hometowns. My co-workers earned meager salaries, lived in cramped apartments in Oakland, and had been in California for over a decade. Why, then, were they investing in new homes in rural Mexico? As a historian of the built environment, I was curious about the homes themselves. What did they look like? Who built them? How did my co-workers (undocumented Mexican migrants who did not travel home) manage the construction process from a distance?
Upon further reflection, this book began long before I ever spoke with my co-workers about their uninhabited dream houses. I am the product of the aspirations, ambitions, and discomfort that come from such spaces of migration. My mother is a Cuban-Jew, born and raised in Havana, whose parents fled Poland and Romania in the early 1930s. My father’s family made their pilgrimage from a Chihuahuan mining town in Mexico, to strawberry fields in south Texas, and ultimately to the mining and refinery town of Trona in the Mojave Desert, arriving in the 1950s. I grew up reflecting on how processes of migration, the adjustment to radically new and different contexts, shape one’s experience of everyday life. This project borrows from such reflections, interrogating what the spaces of migration mean for migrants themselves.
The culmination of ten years of research into these questions has resulted in an interdisciplinary book called The Remittance Landscape: Spaces of Migration in Rural Mexico and Urban USA. International migrant remittances have received much scholarly attention in the last ten years as—according to the World Bank—flows increased from $72.3 billion in 2001 to an estimated $483 billion in 2011. Yet, the remittance landscape—new architectural and landscape elements financed by dollars migrants earn in the US—has been largely ignored. In 2012, Mexican families received over an estimated $22 billion dollars sent by migrants working in the U.S. New homes, roads, cultural centers, rodeo arenas, and more, have fueled a construction boom across rural localities. From the repaving of roads to the building of opulent cultural centers, migrants are crystallizing their aspirations and desires into built form and assuming new roles as town boosters and developers. These projects are sometimes aided by the Mexican government’s Tres Por Uno(3×1) program, which incorporates remittances into public policy by using municipal, state, and federal funds to quadruple remittances dedicated to development projects. Conducting fine-grained ethnographic research on the construction process, embedded aspirations, and subsequent use of remittance architecture reveals how social worlds in Mexico and the US are increasingly structured by the logic of remittance, a logic in which distance is normalized. Rather than overcome, distance is incorporated into a way of life—remitting becomes a way of life—that manages separation, dispersion, fragmentation and ambivalence on a daily basis. Through analysis of the remittance landscape, this book unveils the experience of migration from the perspective of both those that migrate and those “left behind” in emigrant villages.
Modified Prologue to The Remittance Landscape
Sarah Lynn Lopez
School of Architecture
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