Invisible No More
In the spring of 2006, more than three million immigrants—most of them originally from Mexico—marched through the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Detroit, Denver , Dallas, and dozens of other U.S. cities, to protest peacefully for a comprehensive immigration reform that would legalize the status of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Though few are voters—and even fewer in swing districts— migrants’ remarkably disciplined, law-abiding collective actions sent a message—“we are workers and neighbors, not criminals” that resonated on Capitol Hill. The protests caught almost all observers by surprise—including many in immigrant communities.
Mexican migrants, who formed a majority of participants in many of the cities, moved from being subjects of policy reform to having a voice in the debate on the reform. Never before had Mexican migrants taken such a visible role in a national policy discussion. The decision by hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers, housewives, students, farmworkers, including both seniors and children, to come together to pursue a right to full membership in U.S. society suggests a major turning point in what has been the slow but steady construction of a shared pan-Latino immigrant collective identity in the United States. “Today we march, tomorrow we vote,” was one of the most popular slogans in these series of protests in a short two-month period. This huge wave of civic engagement reveals a process that has been taking place often silently but consistently: the emergence of Mexican migrants as actors in American civic and political life.
Many Mexican migrants not only contribute to civic and political endeavors in U.S. society, but also remain simultaneously engaged as part of Mexican society. Rather than producing a contradiction of divided loyalties, these dual commitments tend to be mutually reinforcing. For many Mexican migrant organizations, efforts to help their hometowns in Mexico often lead to engagement in U.S. society through similar civic and political efforts in their new hometowns in the United States. Many of the most sophisticated migrant organizations maintain an ongoing commitment on both sides of the border that includes both assistance to their communities of origin and programs tied to their new home communities in the United States. We refer to this dual engagement as “civic binationality,” a process of developing active civic engagement in two countries.
About the Authors
Professor, Development Studies, School of International Service, American University; Director, Oxfam America
President, Migration Policy Institute
The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more
Latin American Program
The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin American Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action. Read more