Mexican Migrant Civic Participation in the United States
Published on: Aug 15, 2006

The overall panorama of Mexican migrant civic participation is in transition. It is notable that after the immigrant protests in dozens of U.S. cities in the spring of 2006 the mass media agreed that these were strictly peaceful protests—in notable contrast to the previous fall in France, for example. Migrants’ consistent repertoire of bounded protest reflected an extraordinary level of civic discipline, and was in large measure due to the vision of constructive engagement with the U.S. policy process that is shared by the key mobilizing institutions—churches, the media, community organizations and unions. Nonetheless, participation went far beyond these organizations and their members and drew in large numbers of migrants and their supporters who are not involved with formal organizations. In many cases the mobilizations were not only the largest immigrant rights protest in each respective city; in many cases they were the largest ever in each city’s history, as in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, Dallas, San Diego, Denver, Fresno, and San Jose and San Diego—not to mention the 75,000 in Ft. Myers, Florida (see Table 1.1, below).

As the number of Mexicans in the United States grows, they are both engaged with and reshaping U.S. civic life, as other immigrant groups have done in the past. Moreover, they are developing new forms of civic association that represent their own needs and interests. As so many immigrant groups have done in the past in this country, Mexican migrants begin their civic participation by helping their communities of origin and gradually translate these skills to participating in their communities of residence in the United States. Those who have the deepest sense of belonging in Mexico and strongest histories of engagement with their communities there are often the same people who develop the strongest claim to belonging in the United States and the most active forms of engagement in this country. Civic organizations, including churches and unions, and Spanish-language media play an important role in providing arenas where migrants’ voices are heard and their concerns shared and converted into actions. If the massive protests that brought millions of migrants into the street to push for immigration reform are any sign, the next decade may see a vast growth of Mexican migrant civic participation that further transforms and renews American civic life as other immigrant groups have done in the past.

Note: Data compiled by Xochitl Bada, Jonathan Fox, Elvia Zazueta, and Ingrid García Ruíz. A full list of turnout reported in the press for all the marches will be available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/migrantparticipation.

Endnotes

1 This essay draws from a new report on a conference held November 4-5, 2005 at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, co-sponsored by the Department of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, with funding from the Rockefeller, Ford and Inter-American foundations. Titled “Invisible No More: Mexican Migrant Civic Participation in the United States,” and edited by Xóchitl Bada, Jonathan Fox, and Andrew Selee, the report is available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/migrantparticipation.