Returning workers to Mexico is hurting the US economy.
Like working-class Americans, Mexican workers don’t come at the cost of living in the American West.
I recently spent two days with a Mexican national named Alfredo because his experience and many of his surprising opinions seemed widely shared: America, he concluded, is not worth it.
âThe last time I entered the United States, we had to walk for seven days in constant rain,â Alfredo told me. âI’m glad I never have to do this again. “
We were hiking a trail near his home in central Mexico, where the rain had turned the land green, with fields of maturing corn flanked by rows of beans and squash.
For years, Alfredo, 37, worked as a landscaper and roofer in the American Southwest. These days, however, he stays home.
âMy land is full of life. I only left my country like everyone else because I had to. I was poor and at the time it was a violent place.
Alfredo lives in the state of Guanajuato, one of the main source states of migrants in Mexico. Now roughly 10.9 million residents born in Mexico live in America, and the majority were from small towns like the one I was passing through.
I thought of my parents, who left Iowa and Arkansas in the 1970s to head west. In their case, they were fleeing segregation but, like Alfredo, they were looking for opportunities. In 1974, they moved to Telluride, Colorado, then a busted mining town aspiring to be another Aspen. That first winter, they lived in the back of a pickup truck while renovating an old mining shack, which they bought for $ 20,000. Neither had a college education, but at that time, a degree was not required to aspire to a middle-class life.
My dad worked in construction and my mom served tables. Money was tight, but the first ski lift had just entered and the future looked bright. Today, the two continue to work, but they are financially stable in large part thanks to the equity in a home they owned decades ago.
Today, opportunities in the West are more difficult to seize. My childhood home in Telluride, although no longer in the family, recently appraised for just over $ 5 million, which is an increase of 24,900% since my parents first bought it. Wages, in turn, have remained neutral for decades. And while stray hippies can still show up in pickup trucks, few are able to buy their own property unless they set up a trust fund. As the middle class fades away, what’s left seems to shrink to owners and workers.
If he had been born a few decades earlier, Alfredo said, he might have tried to stay in the United States. âBut all I did in America was work from sunrise to sunset, and what for? At least here I have my house and my cornfields, I see my family every day and I am connected to the land.
Alfredo is not alone. Today, more and more migrants are return to Mexico that depart. The ebb to Mexico particularly affects the western states, as most Mexicans who migrate to this country settle in southern states like Arkansas, North Carolina, and Georgia. Similar trends are evident in small source countries like El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Guatemala.
According to my research, migrants returning to Mexico tend to leave states like Arizona, California, Colorado and Texas. These demographic changes have contributed to a severe labor shortage.
For generations, Mexican migrants have subsidized the expansion of the West by providing cheap workers. Men like Alfredo collaborated with newcomers like my parents and together they helped build now legendary towns like Telluride. Today, as Mexican migration rates reverse, the costs of construction, housing and basic services in the West are all on the rise.
As we settled down on the trail to Alfredo’s hometown of San Martin de Terreros, I asked Alfredo if he was planning on returning to the United States someday. “No, seÃ±orÂ», He answered without hesitation. “I have everything I need here.”
Benjamin waddell is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to stimulating a lively conversation about the West. He is Associate Professor of Sociology at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.