Friday, March 13, 2009

Mexican State Federations in the U.S.: The Basics

Some researchers tend to make little or no difference at all between Home Town Associations (HTAs) and State Federations (SFs) when addressing the organization of Mexican immigrants in the United States. The only aspect in which they both are similar is that they can be considered transnational organizations. They are “here and there at the same time,” and that’s pretty much it.

A Home State Association (HTA) is a group of immigrants who get together with a common purpose or activity which is highly related to their place or town of origin: they can get together to send money back home to build a road or to rebuild a school or the local church; they can also send money to participate in a 3X1 Program or they can get together to see how they can improve their lives locally, in the host society. The most important characteristic is of a HTA is that all the members of the organization come from the same town. HTAs may or may not be political in their activities.

State Federations generally group several HTAs from the same state in Mexico. Their activity is highly political, even if some of them assert that they do not do politics. A State Federation ideally groups all the HTAs of their respective state, but this does not happen all the time. The natural field of political action of a SF is the relationship between local and state host governments and local and state home governments, plus the Mexican Consulate. Indeed, most State Federations were created under the initiative of the Mexican Consulates during the 1990s and early 2010s; although there are SFs that have existed without the explicit recognition of the Mexican Consulate, however, these are more the exception than the rule.

In some consular circumscriptions there are two State Federations, from the same state in Mexico, officially accredited by the Mexican Consulate. This has led to the local Mexican leadership to point the finger at the face of the Mexican Consulate for trying to divide the community, but it has also led to a relatively sane competition between different SFs from the same state to address in a more efficient way the issues of their constituencies. After almost 20 years of regular existence of SFs in the political arena of Mexican organizations in the U.S., State Federations have become important monopoly-type power brokers between state governments in Mexico and local governments in the U.S., although a high level of dependence and coordination with the Mexican Consulate still is a dominant tone in their actions.

The relationship between SFs and their local constituency generally is characterized by a strong lack of representativeness. Some SFs affirm that they represent all the HTAs of their respective states, and this is not accurate. Some SFs also state that they do represent all the individuals from a single state, whereas most of the individuals have not heard about such federation. It is easier for Mexican immigrants to know about their respective HTA than their respective State Federation. Even worst, there are researchers that report that there are federations that represent all the Mexican State Federations in the U.S. This is not true; as of today, there is not such an organization.

Although there are some aspects in which the relationship between the SFs and their local constituency tends to improve, for good or for bad. If an HTA wants to get resources from the federal government through a 3X1 Program, the HTA must obtain the recommendation of the SF to start the process. No recommendation, no access to the process. This has led the HTAs to rethink their relationship with their respective SFs and has led to the politicization of the process.

Regarding the relationship between the State Federations and their respective home state governments we have an incredible rich field of research on the politicization process of transnational organizations. Some State Federations tend to have a love/hate relationship with their state government (Michoacán, Guerrero, Oaxaca); others act more like a representative trade office of their state (Guanajuato); others struggle to become a real actor to the eyes of their state government (Hidalgo); others are formed based on the Klan rationality of family grouping (Durango); others become a leading role of a mutually beneficial relationship between state government and State Federation (Zacatecas); and others become a little bit of ‘all of the above’ (Jalisco); etc. Here the only sure thing is that a continuous changing political context “here and there” definitely guarantees that a State Federation of a specific state in Mexico will never remain the same in terms of their political activities and status in both sides of the border. They are evolving, all the time.

For the young researcher, the best way to start doing research on the matter (HTAs or SFs or both) is, first, to take a look to the webpage of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME) and gather all the information you can and become familiar with terms, concepts and reports, and the region that you are interested in. Then go to the Mexican Consulate and make an appointment with the representative of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad. Generally he/she will be very helpful in addressing your questions. If this does not work or if you require additional information, my best guess is to contact directly the person in charge of the research and analysis unit at the IME, Elisa Diaz Gras An incredibly efficient lady, who shall be able to assist anybody with reasonable research questions.

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