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Mexican Immigration & Transnational Networks in Napa, California -- Sandra Nichols

Mexican Immigration & Transnational Networks in Napa, California

Sandra Nichols

Department of Geography

University of California, Berkeley

Introduction................................................................................................................................................ 1

Recent Growth of Napa's Latino Population....................................................................... 2

Total................................................................................................................................................................... 2

No. Latino......................................................................................................................................................... 2

Source............................................................................................................................................................... 2

Driving the growth................................................................................................................................ 3

Latino Employment Patterns in Napa......................................................................................... 3

Conditions for the Latino Immigrant Population........................................................... 5

Latino Youth............................................................................................................................................... 10

Future Prospects for Latinos in Napa..................................................................................... 12

Alternative Scenarios......................................................................................................................... 14

Transnational Networks................................................................................................................... 15

The Mexican government and migrant networks.......................................................... 17

Relevance of Mexican Networks for California Communities........................... 19

Broader Implications and Opportunities............................................................................. 21

Conclusion.................................................................................................................................................. 22

SOURCES........................................................................................................................................................... 23

Introduction


As with counties throughout California, Napa's Latino population has grown dramatically over the last twenty years. Originally drawn to the valley as farmworkers in the 1940s and 50s, Mexicans today fill a wide range of low-wage jobs in all sectors of county's thriving wine and tourist-based economy, from agriculture and construction, to manufacturing, services and retail. Following a discussion of the growth and employment characteristics of Napa's Latino population, this paper will address the central questions posed by this conference: How are the Mexican immigrants and their children faring? What challenges do they face and what are their future prospects in Napa? While no study has yet considered these questions directly, this paper will draw on existing census and economic data and on the author's ongoing ethnographic work. Finally, the paper takes a closer look at the phenomenon of transnational networks, asking if these community-based organizations might represent an untapped resource for addressing the challenges that a growing Mexican/Latino population poses for Napa.

Recent Growth of Napa's Latino Population


As the table below indicates, Napa has experienced a rapid and dramatic growth in the number and proportion of Latinos over the last two decades. According to 1990 census figures, over 80% of Napa's Latino population is of Mexican origin,[1] therefore much of the discussion in this paper refers to Mexican immigrants and their transnational hometown networks.

In 1980 the U.S. Census counted just over 8600 Latinos in Napa, but by 1998 the California Department of Finance estimated there were 22,322, a two and a half times increase in less than 20 years. And where Latinos accounted for less than 9% of the county�s total population in 1980, by 1998, again using Department of Finance figures, their proportion more than doubled to over 18%.[2] As such, Latinos are the single largest minority in the county, as distinct from non-Hispanic whites, the dominant group that currently constitutes 76% of the total population.

CHANGE IN NAPA�S LATINO POPULATION


Total No. Latino % Latino
Source


1980
99,199
8,640
8.7
U.S. Census

1990
110,765
15,686
14.4
U.S. Census

1998
123,000
22,322
18
CA Dept. of Finance (est)


While Napa's Latinos currently make up less than one fifth of the county's total population, they account for well over half the overall growth since 1980. But as striking as this increase may appear, Latino activists in Napa are nevertheless convinced that these figures fail to represent the full extent of the Latino community, given what they believe was a serious undercount in the 1990 census. More accurate and current figures will have to await release of the 2000 census data.

Driving the growth


The single most important factor accounting for the Mexican presence in Napa is its booming wine and tourist-based economy and the allied expansion of the labor market. Between 1980 and 1995 Napa was ranked among the top Bay Area counties in rate of job creation, adding more than 14,000 new jobs during that period. Along with employment in wine-related manufacturing, a 45% increase occurred in the service sector, which includes jobs in Napa�s rapidly expanding tourist industry. (ABAG: 185, 186). While this rapid growth has doubtless driven the 'escalator effect' discussed at earlier Changing Face conferences (farmworkers moving out of fieldwork into other-sector jobs, thereby creating a continuos demand for more immigration to fill the vacant slots in agriculture), as will be shown below, agriculture is no longer the only point of entry into Napa's labor market for Mexican immigrants. Nor is remaining in agriculture necessarily a barrier to upward mobility.

Latino Employment Patterns in Napa


To date there has been no detailed study of Latino employment patterns in Napa. Data from the 1990 Census merely indicates that Napa�s Latinos were concentrated in farming and service occupations (State of California 1997b). In 1997 I began to assemble a more detailed picture of the kinds of jobs Mexicans hold, and the places that employ them, by supplementing official statistics with observation and interviews with key individuals within the Mexican community.

With assistance from Isaac Perez, formerly the Housing and Employment Services Manager of the Calistoga Farmworker Center, approximately 90 Napa Valley establishments employing Mexicans were identified. The work sites include vineyards, wineries and wine-related manufacturing (including custom grape crushing, bottling, barrel making, label printing); landscaping and janitorial services; grocery and retail stores; auto parts and repair facilities; resorts, hotels, motels, restaurants, Bed & Breakfast and catering establishments; car washes; a garment factory; health care and nursing facilities; building suppliers and construction firms; warehouses; the State Mental Hospital, the Veterans� Home, together with Napa's other hospital and retirement facilities.[3]

No data currently exists to discuss the Latino population in terms of employment stratification, but based on observation, interviews and fieldwork since 1996, an approximation can be attempted as follows: Napa has a relatively small number of Latinos in the professions (in banking, law, education, public health), and in business (small grocery and Latino specialty stores, restaurants and catering services). Significant numbers of Latinos work in manufacturing associated with the wine industry, in bottling and cellar work, including a small, but growing number who are moving up into the ranks of productions specialists, cellarmasters, winemakers and assistant winemakers. However, with the service sector by far the largest employer in Napa--accounting for 17,500 jobs, or close to 28% of the labor force in 1998[4]--it's safe to conclude that the largest percentage of Mexicans finds employment in lower-paying jobs in Napa's many restaurants, hotels, catering establishments, resorts, hospitals and retirement facilities.

While Napa may be world-famous for its vineyards, the farm sector accounted for only 7.5% of the labor force in 1998, employing 4,733 workers.[5] Nevertheless, as with other agricultural areas throughout California, work in the fields is performed almost exclusively by Mexican labor. For those who settle in Napa, agriculture can and does provide entry-level jobs, both for upward mobility within the agricultural sector, as well as a stepping stone into other sectors. For those whose families live elsewhere in California or in Mexico, work in Napa's vineyards offers some of the best-paid fieldwork available, whether it is planting vineyards, pruning, trellising, thinning or picking grapes during harvest. However, the higher wages must be weighed against a steep cost of living, and a housing shortage of crisis proportions which forces those without connections into long communities or to sleep in cars, under bridges, by the river, or even in the vineyards themselves.

Finding steady employment continues to be a concern for many recent arrivals, many of whom are undocumented, and while there is no data on short-term temporary employment, individuals themselves report working as casual labor in construction (including such physically demanding labor as digging hillside caves for new wineries), as stonemasons, in housepainting and roof repair, in yard work, flood cleanup; and in crafts. Women report working in housekeeping, specialty food processing, childcare and eldercare.

This concentration of Latinos in Napa�s low wage service jobs is reflected in official data indicating 57% of Hispanic households report low or very-low income (City of Napa 1996: 1-36) with 15% living below the poverty line. (Jue: 6)

Conditions for the Latino Immigrant Population


The above discussion of Latino employment provides only a general overview for the latter part of the 1990s. To gain a more nuanced picture of how Latino immigrants are doing, it helps to consider them in terms of the following three categories:

1) Seasonal migrants whose reside elsewhere in California and come to Napa to work on a seasonal basis, principally in agriculture.

2) Transnational labor migrants (not entirely confined to agriculture) who may work up to ten months a year in Napa, but whose primary residence and orientation are their Mexican communities of origin.

3) Immigrants who have settled in Napa and consider it their primary residence, at least for the foreseeable future.

While the available data does not break the farmworker or immigrant populations down into these three categories, drawing evidence from both statistical and ethnographic sources allows for the following observations:

1) Seasonal Migrants, based in the U.S. Labor migrants who reside elsewhere, primarily in California, account for the smallest segment of the Latino work force, though precision is virtually impossible. If the number of those not employed seasonally is estimated at 3,700 (using figures in Phil Martin's "Backgrounder on Napa: Wines, Vineyards, Housing"), then the number who maintain residence elsewhere in California or the U.S. could be as low as 1,200 if we assume that the majority of migrants in U.S. agriculture are now "shuttle migrants," i.e. maintaining their principal residences outside the U.S., and outnumbering the seasonal migrants by over two to one. (As noted by Phil Martin and to be discussed in the section below.)

These migrants can be either classic "follow-the-crop" migrants, or men who hold regular jobs elsewhere in the state (for example, construction work in Los Angeles), but come to Napa for a few weeks during harvest in search of higher wages. Housing is a major issue for this group--if they have contacts in the valley they may share an apartment with friends, usually over-crowded and far in excess of the authorized number, or they may squeeze in with relatives. Those travelling alone and without contacts are the most severely impacted by the extreme housing shortage in Napa and if they fail to find space in one of the farmworker camps, they are forced to sleep in their cars, or out in the open. It has been estimated that there is a need for at least a thousand beds to accommodate these migrant workers, but current facilities can accommodate only 170.[6]

Seasonal migrants are also the ones most vulnerable to mistreatment by unscrupulous labor contractors, and must bear the burden of family separation and employment volatility caused by circumstances beyond their control, be it inclement weather or the rate at which the grapes ripen, since Napa's premium grapes are only picked once a precise level of sugar is reached. Much of the literature regarding the poverty and hardships of migrant laborers doubtless applies to many in this group, though we may have a more accurate picture once Martha Judith Sanchez of UNAM, is able to codify and analyze the results of her 1998-99 survey of grape farmworkers of Napa and Sonoma counties.[7]

2) Transnational Migrants, based in Mexico.

As noted by Phil Martin in his "Migrant Definitions and Services," in the 1990s there has been a growing recognition of a new category of migrant laborer employed in U.S. agriculture, namely those who maintain their principal residence outside the US and only establish a temporary residence in the U.S. for the purpose of working for wages. This group has been termed "shuttle" migrants and is now believed to represent close to 70% of the workforce in U.S. agriculture.[8] Taking the aforementioned total of 3700 seasonal workers in Napa, and again assuming that Napa's shuttle migrants also account for over two thirds of seasonal workers, then this group can be estimated at around 2500. To this must be added an unknown, but likely significant, number of non-agricultural workers who find seasonal employment in construction, landscaping and the high turnover low-wage service sector.

Taken from the point of view of Napa's transnational communities, however, shuttle migrants are hardly a new phenomenon, representing instead a standard feature of transnational life. Like seasonal migrants, they must also endure the strain of family separation, but unlike many of the latter, they may be in a somewhat better situation with respect to housing since they often have resident family or friends they can crowd in with. Though if they lack papers, they must bear the added expense and danger of crossing the border illegally.

As to how they and their children are faring: much of the ethnographic literature on Mexico-U.S. migration indicates that this group has managed a certain degree of upward mobility for themselves and their families in Mexico. (Massey et. al., Mines, Goldring) Their earnings allow families to improve nutrition and housing, and to cover education expenses for at least some of their children. Migration for this group has also been a strategy for capital accumulation to finance productive activities at home in Mexico. While remittances and development remains a hotly contested issue in the literature, evidence in migrant-sending communities in the state of Zacatecas where I conducted fieldwork in 1999, reveals numerous examples of migrant earnings used to finance business activities ranging from small grocery stores, butcher shops, hardware stores and tortilla factories to travel agencies, restaurants, sports arenas, bars, etc. Other migrant investments involve intensifying agricultural production, including expanding cattle herds, establishing fruit orchards, purchasing new farm equipment, etc. In the Jerez region of Zacatecas it is common knowledge that families without at least one migrant are considerably poorer than those with a migrant remitting a portion of his or her wages. And it must be recalled that it was earlier generations of these shuttle migrants who managed to educate their children, enabling their upward mobility in both Mexico and in Napa, as will be discussed below.

Deteriorating conditions in rural Mexico and the greater danger involved in crossing the border are now placing greater pressures on this group to settle in the U.S., even if this was not their original intent. It is therefore reasonable to speculate that a significant portion of Napa's shuttle migrants will settle if current economic conditions persist and border policies remain in place, resulting in a further loss of entrepreneurial capital and spirit for rural Mexico, and subjecting the immigrants and their families to all of the challenges Latinos must face to live and work in Napa: lack of affordable housing, confined to jobs in the low wage sector, raising children at risk of becoming disaffected and alienated youth, and enduring cultural marginalization in a region dominated by wealth, exclusivity and a carefully cultivated image of "the good life."

3) Settled Mexican Immigrants. They currently represent the largest group of the Latino population and for them the economic picture is mixed, as the 57% of households of low or very-low income indicates. The Mexican population's sense of its own marginalization in this affluent county is nowhere more apparent than in the housing crisis that affects not just seasonal farmworkers but year-round residents as well. In 1993 it was estimated that over two-thirds of Hispanic households could not afford decent housing. (City of Napa: 1-36) Housing prices have continued to rise faster than wages, forcing many to live in severely over-crowded and frequently sub-standard conditions. In mid-2000, for example, a basic two-bedroom apartment was renting for $1,100 a month.

Napa Valley Community Housing, a non-profit agency, was created in the 1980s to address the crisis of affordable housing. During the 1990s it has managed to finance and build nearly 600 affordable rental housing units throughout the valley. Yet its efforts and growing visibility fuels controversy. Local (predominantly white, middle class) homeowners were highly vocal and active in their opposition to the construction, in their neighborhood, of new apartment complexes intended for low-income (predominantly Mexican) renters. (Ghori 1996, 1997a,b) And periodically Napa's newest Euro-American residents who move to the valley in search of the "wine country lifestyle" complain of what they find, as revealed in a 1999 quote: "We're starting to experience the kind of inner city problems which is why we left the city in the first place."[9]

However, it is also worth asking if the 43% Latinos who are above the low-income threshold represent anything of a growing trend? Included in this group would be those who have moved into supervisory and management positions in vineyards and wineries, and as such they can open doors for others if certain conditions are met. My own research suggests that those who have experienced this kind of upward mobility in the wine industry, or have started their own businesses, tend to share the following characteristics:

a) Either they come from an educated middle-class family in Mexico, or father was a migrant agricultural worker whose earnings helped finance their education in Mexico;

b) Acquired English skills in the U.S.

c) As a member of a well-established hometown network, gained access to important information on labor market and business opportunities.

For this small group of 'successful' second generation transnationals, their personal motivation and skills, and the context of a rapidly expanding local economy, enabled them a degree of upward mobility. Some have been able to purchase their own homes, though given the soaring price of real estate, that opportunity may not be available for many more. (See ff. 9 below) Though still a minority, this pioneering group of Mexicans nevertheless represents important social capital for others in the Latino community. The extent to which new immigrants as well as those raised in the U.S., can take advantage of the doors opened by earlier successful Latinos will depend on their own level of education, English skills and the types of jobs being created in Napa's expanding economy.

Yet the types of jobs being created, taken together with poor educational performance, suggest rather bleak prospects for significant upward mobility by Napa's Latinos, in spite of the county's projected growth, as will be discussed in the following sections.

Latino Youth


Another vivid indicator of the rapidly growing Latino presence appears in the public schools. While school enrollments were declining in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this downward trend was abruptly reversed in the mid-1980s and enrollment began a steady climb, in large part due to the enrollment of Latino children.

The Napa Valley Unified School District is by far the largest school district in the county, accounting for nearly 85% the county�s public school population. Its overall enrollment went from 11,402 in 1984, to 16,045 in 1997. Whereas Latino students accounted for 9% of the enrollment in 1985, by 1997 they made up 26.5% of enrollment. In actual numbers, Latino students went from less than 1100 to 4250, nearly a four-fold increase in fourteen years.[10] Four of Napa�s other five school districts also show major Hispanic enrollments: St. Helena Unified reported a 38% Hispanic enrollment in 1997, and Calistoga Unified was over 47%. (State of California 1997a) Countywide, the Latino enrollment reached 30% for the 1998-99 school year. (State of California 1998) The trend appears most dramatic at selected schools: at Calistoga Elementary, for example, students from Spanish-speaking homes topped the 50% mark in December 1996.[11]

The education picture is troubling for the children of Latino immigrants who are being raised in Napa. While definitive data is lacking, local educators and activists report that, just as elsewhere in California, the second generation is plagued with low educational achievement, elevated high school drop-outs rates and significant gang involvement.

Why this is the case is, of course, a hotly debated topic. One way Latino activists have sought to address the problem has been to urge schools to hire more teachers and counselors of Latino origin, citing the crucial importance of positive role models as well as the need for culturally-sensitive adults in guidance positions. In 1979, a group of Latino filed a complaint against a Calistoga school for failing to provide educational services for Mexican-American students, at a time when Latinos were already 18% of the population of Calistoga.[12] More than 20 years later, and with a Latino enrollment approaching 50%, Calistoga High School has no full-time teacher of Latino origin. Students complain that non-Latino counselors have discouraged them from pursuing a college education. In contrast, the part-time Latina counselor is seen as highly supportive and encouraging, but she is only available to them two days a week.

Outbreaks of gang-related violence in Napa in the early 1990s and again in 1998 can be interpreted as merely visible indicators of family structures under stress, inadequate or failing institutions, and the emergence of a youth culture of opposition fueled by what young Latinos perceive as hostile institutions, unattractive job prospects and multiple barriers to incorporation and upward mobility. Following a highly publicized incident of gang-related shootings in late 1998, the "Youth Diversion Program" was set up in Napa and grew to serve 500 youths, providing them with alternatives to gang involvement. However, in spite of what was by all accounts a successful program, the director warned that a funding shortfall was in danger of shutting the whole program down by March 2001.[13] That a program serving Mexican-American youth was in such a precarious financial straight merely confirms for many that they live in a society dominated by Euro-American indifference and hostility.[14]

Future Prospects for Latinos in Napa


In 1998 the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) forecast continued economic growth for Napa County, its anticipated 3% annual growth making it one of the fastest growing counties in the area. The ABAG report went on to predict a continued high demand for workers, with 28,500 new jobs being created over the next 20 years. This in addition to a labor force presently estimated at 60,000.[15] The projections, however, indicate that the majority of the new job openings will occur the lowest wage categories of the manufacturing, service and retail trade sectors.[16] They are the kinds of jobs necessary to sustain the increasingly affluent tourist experience and the high-end lifestyle that have become a central feature of Napa�s allure: manual labor in construction and renovation; work on the bottling lines and in food preparation and kitchen help; janitorial, landscaping, and grounds maintenance, house cleaning and hotel housekeeping, and so forth. These positions are likely to be filled by Mexicans, some of whom are already residents but many of whom will come as new immigrants given the strong transnational networks already in place, and assuming a continuing 8 or 10 to 1 wage differential between Mexico and the U.S. The percentage of Latinos in the lower wage categories therefore may actually grow as the overall Latino population expands in response to these labor demands.

Finding a place to live will continue to be one of the pressing problems. With the price of housing skyrocketing in Napa as elsewhere in the Bay Area, and with affordable housing scarce, Napa's housing crisis will only deepen, forcing many to search for less expensive housing outside the valley and then commute to work on Napa's increasingly congested highways.[17]

While living in one of the Bay Area's most desirable locations, Napa's Latino population nevertheless face many of the problems and challenges common to Latinos elsewhere in California--low wages, lack of affordable housing, poor educational performance, grim prospects for upward mobility, cultural and political marginalization. Yet given Napa's continuing allure for affluent Euro-Americans, it could well be on its way to creating a society starkly polarized along ethnic lines. Standing at the top: a strata of wealth and privilege that possesses the means to pursue "the good life;" while at the opposite end, and dedicated to serving and maintaining the other's lavish life style: a socially and economically marginalized Latino population.

Alternative Scenarios


Finding creative and effective means for addressing these tensions is a challenge for Napa as well as other cities and counties that have experienced a recent and rapid growth of their Latino immigrant population, a population that in Napa's case remains largely voiceless and confined to the lower strata of society.

At this point it's worth reiterating a point made by Ed Kissam in his piece for last year's Changing Face conference, namely that immigrants not be viewed as passive actors in the process of their integration into California society.[18] Quite the contrary, they must be brought in as full partners in any programs designed to address their needs. A participatory process is essential not only to stimulate greater civic engagement by a presently marginalized segment of the population, but it also serves to move the process away from a welfare-delivery model. While frequently overlooked, Latino immigrant communities frequently posses valuable internal resources that can be called upon once recognized.

Napa's Latino community is not without considerable internal resources, as a glimpse at its history reveals. In the 1960s and 70s, during the height of Chicano activism, Latinos created community-based organizations in Napa to serve the needs of farmworkers and new immigrants. Building on an earlier burial fund committee, and with federal War on Poverty funds, local Latino activists offered medical services through Clinica Ol�; set up an office to advise and assist farmworkers; created a farmworker credit union; lobbied school administrators for bilingual programs; and created a sweat-equity project to build housing.[19] However, the leaders of those programs are now entering retirement, and while they and the institutions they created have valuable lessons to teach, the context for action has shifted from that of 30 years ago.

It is therefore worth turning to another kind of resource present within the Mexican immigrant community, namely hometown networks. They may lack extensive educational and financial resources, but these hometown networks and transnational community organizations are nevertheless repositories of important social capital within the immigrant community. Most notably, for years they have facilitated the process of immigration for countless members, and they have provided new arrivals with invaluable assistance with settlement and access to employment. Might these transnational communities now serve as bridging points between the Latino immigrant population and Napa's governmental, educational and service institutions as well as the wider Euro-American population? As the discussion below reveals, Mexican federal and state governments have come to see these transnational networks as important allies for improving conditions in their home regions. Do they also have a comparable role to play in their U.S. communities?

Transnational Networks


An informal and partial survey of communities of origin for Napa's Mexican immigrants reveals hometowns concentrated in the traditional sending states of central western Mexico, namely Michoac�n, Jalisco, Guanajuato and Zacatecas, as well as the southern state of Oaxaca. Towns like El Llano in Michoac�n; El Grullo in Jalisco; El Timbinal in Guanajuato; Los Haro and Jerez in Zacatecas, and Tonal� in Oaxaca are among the dozens of ranchos, towns and cities that have well-established links to Napa, and men, women and entire families from these places have been coming to Napa for two or more generations, some settling in Napa, some maintaining a shuttle existence, others only returning to Mexico to retire. Some of these hometowns are believed to have over a thousand of their residents either settled in Napa or actively involved in shuttle migration between the hometown and Napa.

The oldest Napa-Mexico networks date back to the era of the Bracero Program of the 1940s and 50s when prune, nut and grape growers desperately needed workers to bring in their crops. Under the terms of official labor agreements between the U.S. and Mexican governments, growers were able to hire seasonal, low-wage Mexican workers. In time, some of these migrant workers found year-round employment in Napa, as fieldworkers and inside the wineries. With the end of the Bracero program in 1964, and with the relative ease of obtaining legal residency at that time, some of the workers sent for their families and settled in as more or less permanent residents.[20] They continued to maintain strong ties with their home communities in Mexico, sending money and goods back to their families, and calling for relatives and neighbors when additional hands were needed in the fields, wineries, hotels, resorts and restaurants.

Coupled with the strong economic �pull� factor exerted by Napa�s growing wine and tourism-based economy, have been equally strong �push� factors at work in Mexico: a chronic state of economic crisis since the early 1980s, particularly in the rural areas; the more than 120% devaluation of the peso since early 1994, the loss of jobs due to layoffs and business bankruptcies; and the dim prospects for economic turnaround in the rural areas of Michoac�n, Jalisco, Zacatecas and Oaxaca that account for much of the migration to Napa as well as elsewhere in the U.S. The election of Vicente Fox has fueled hopes among Napa's Mexican immigrants that this situation may change, but decades of policies of neglect have left much of rural Mexico in an impoverished, marginalized state.

Migrants working in the U.S. constitute an essential source of foreign exchange for Mexico, remitting an estimated $6.5 billion per year, according to recent IMF estimates, with most of it going directly to families in economically hard-hit rural areas. These migrant-forged economic ties between Mexico and the U.S., along with the robust social networks that sustain them, enable a continuous flow of consumer goods, ideas, and technologies, allowing families to improve their standard of living, educate their children, invest in agriculture and livestock, and finance business ventures. For all that they send back to their hometowns, Mexicans working in the U.S. are honored and celebrated, in stark contrast with the usual treatment in their U.S. communities. Each year when "Los Ausentes" ("The Absent Ones") return to visit, towns come alive with family gatherings and fiestas, and special masses and prayers are offered in their honor. While much is made of the expansion of trade, investment and government ties between the U.S. and Mexico, Mexico's migrants are creating what Luis Guarnizo and others are calling a "transnationalism from below."[21]

The transnational networks that have emerged between dozens of towns in Mexico and Napa's winemaking industry continue to facilitate migration and settlement. For new arrivals these extended family and hometown networks ease task of finding housing and a job, and provide a familiar and welcoming context for relaxing and socializing. Transnational networks also function as a means for quickly raising funds to assist members in times of distress, be it a hospital emergency, burial costs or raising a collection to help a widow and her children. Beyond these kinds of mutual support activities, hometown networks frequently raise funds to help finance projects back home in Mexico, be it for building a new church or repairing the old one, to help finance the annual fiesta, or to undertake civic improvements.

The Mexican government and migrant networks


Beginning in the early 1990s the Mexican government saw in these hometown networks a potentially valuable resource for rural renewal and development. The Ministry of Foreign Relations introduced several initiatives aimed at assisting its communities abroad, including programs run out of its Consulates around the U.S., and most notably the "Two-for-One" program to match migrant contributions in public works projects.

The government of Zacatecas was one of the first states to set up its own official working relationship with hometown clubs in the U.S. Each November in southern California, at the annual gathering of the Federation of Zacatecas Clubs, the governor and members of his cabinet and staff travel to Los Angeles to meet with club representatives and negotiate the home-town infra-structure projects to be financed in the coming year. Obviously, those communities with an official presence in Los Angeles are in a better position to lobby for government support for their hometowns in Zacatecas. Projects undertaken as joint ventures between the clubs and the state government's "Three-for-One" program have included street paving, repairs to bridges and cemeteries, upgrading schools, purchasing ambulances, and installing electric as well as potable water and sewage systems. In 1998 there were over one hundred officially recognized Zacatecas hometown clubs throughout the U.S.

Another state that has come to see its hometown networks as an important resource is Guanajuato. Under then Governor Vicente Fox, it introduced the "Mi Comunidad" program. With this program, instead of simply financing small public works projects, the goal was to generate economic opportunities in poor rural areas, creating local jobs and alternatives to out-migration. The projects to date are primarily migrant-financed sewing factories, or maquilas, employing local women, and working under contracts for both Mexican and foreign apparel labels.

In Napa a group from Guanajuato chose to join the venture and, with 23 investors each contributing between $2000 and $3000, they raised the $60,000 necessary to build a small sewing factory in their hometown of El Timbinal. In June 1999, Governor Fox himself inaugurated their maquila. Besides the connection between Napa and El Timbinal, other California towns with investor groups include Arvin, Greenfield, Habra and several communities in the greater Los Angeles area. Elsewhere in the U.S., groups in Texas, Illinois, Ohio and Georgia are also financing sewing factories back in their hometowns in Guanajuato.

The programs set up by the Zacatecas and Guanajuato state governments have inspired other states in Mexico to create formal programs to strengthen their migrants' ties with their home regions. Informal ties have long existed, as evidenced by local priests' fund-raising visits and local politicians' campaign trips to their constituents in communities across the U.S. But with flow of migrant dollars an important source of local revenue, and migrants a growing force in local politics, state governments are eager to court their migrants and do everything possible to strengthen their allegiance to home.