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Papers, Places, and Familias: Tracing the Social Mobility of Mexicans in New York

Name: 

Guillermo Yrizar Barbosa

Department:

Sociology

Project Title:

Papers, Places, and Familias: Tracing the Social Mobility of Mexicans in New York

Website:

http://gc-cuny.academia.edu/GuillermoYrizarBarbosa

Guillermo is a PhD candidate in sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tec de Monterrey and a master’s degree in regional development from El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana. Guillermo was a research fellow at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies (USMEX) at UC San Diego. He was also a student fellow at the CUNY Institute for Demographic Research (CIDR) and collaborates in the Mexican Initiative for Deferred Action at Baruch College. His work was supported by COMEXUS –Beca Fulbright-García Robles–.

Project

My project focuses on the social mobility and family life of parents born in Mexico and living in three counties in New York City: Queens, the Bronx and the East End of Long Island (Suffolk County). This research seeks to answer the following: how and why do certain undocumented immigrants and their families do better than others in terms of occupation, educational attainment, and family-household income? The bulk of the data comes from ethnographic cases of parents from Mexico. My findings confirm that unauthorized status is closely associated with limited life chances for parents and children. However, in my qualitative and quantitative research, I identified variation in life-changes across family households and within two local ecosystems (i.e. New York City & Long Island). My projects demonstrates that differences in ‘mobilities’ and precariousness may be explained by access to local institutions (non-profits or community based organizations) and the accumulation of human and social capital within families.

Los Nómadas[i] is a food truck in Queens selling tacos, tortas, tostadas, and mixed platters made by Mexican-origin workers with various immigration statuses, a group showing a remarkable growth in New York City since 2000 (see Table and Map 1). This street vendor has been operating in the same place for over 16 years. They have been providing quick bites of Mexico to an ethnically diverse clientele and several low-wage workers; they also have been giving advice on where to find jobs, housing or health options, and even vouching for people when NYPD officers asked for references.

Los Nómadas[i] es un camión de comida en Queens que vende tacos, tortas, tostadas y platos mixtos hechos por trabajadores de origen mexicano con diferentes estatus migratorios, un grupo que ha mostrado un crecimiento notable en la Ciudad de Nueva York desde el año 2000 (ver Cuadro y Mapa 1). Este vendedor ambulante ha estado trabajando en el mismo lugar por más de 16 años. Ellos han estado proporcionado bocados rápidos de México a una clientela étnicamente diversa y a varios/as trabajadores/as de bajos salarios; también han estado dando consejos sobre dónde encontrar trabajos, vivienda u opciones de salud, e incluso respaldando personas cuando oficiales de la Policía de la Ciudad de Nueva York (NYPD) preguntan por referencias.

Los Nómadas is co-owned by a U.S. citizen and a legal permanent resident, both of whom were born in Southern Central Mexico. The owners show up daily to supervise workers who could be undocumented or in the process of changing their immigration status via other forms of immigration relief, such as DACA or U visas. According to Angelo Cabrera, the first Mexican street food vendors in NYC used to do it in their own cars, minivans, or in modified pick-up trucks looking for customers on constructions sites and soccer fields. Vendors on wheels have been in the city for at least a century.[ii] For owners and workers, earnings at Los Nómadas are an additional source of income and usually their second job.

Los Nómadas es una propiedad conjunta entre un ciudadano de Estados Unidos y un residente permanente legal, ambos nacidos en el Centro-Sur de México. Los dueños se presentan diariamente a supervisar trabajadores que pueden ser indocumentados o en proceso de cambiar su estatus mediante otras formas de alivio migratorio, como pueden ser DACA o visas U. De acuerdo con Angelo Cabrera, los primeros vendedores ambulantes de México en NYC lo hacían en sus propios autos, vagonetas o camionetas adaptadas que buscaban clientes en las obras en construcción y campos de fútbol soccer. Los/las vendedores/as sobre ruedas han estado en la ciudad por al menos un siglo.[ii] Para dueños y trabajadores, las ganancias en Los Nómadas son una fuente adicional de ingreso y usualmente es su segundo trabajo.

Mexicans in NYC—both native and foreign-born—experienced a decline in median income between 2000 and 2015 (see Figure 1). A 2018 report estimated that the median earnings for all the undocumented people was the lowest compared to other groups by immigration status: $23,175. The median household income in 2015 for the Mexican origin population ($46,000) was very low compared to other groups, such as non-Hispanic whites ($95,500), Asians ($68,000), and African Americans ($58,400).

La población de origen mexicano en NYC—tanto nacidos/as en Estados Unidos como en México—experimentó una disminución en su ingreso medio entre 2000 y 2015 (ver Gráfica 1). Un reporte de 2018 estimó que los ingresos medios de toda la población indocumentada fueron los más bajos en comparación con otros grupos considerando el estatus migratorio: $23,175 dólares anuales. El ingreso medio familiar en 2015 para la población de origen mexicano ($ 46,000) fue muy bajo en comparación con otros grupos, como blancos no-hispanos ($ 95,500), asiáticos ($ 68,000) y afroamericanos ($ 58,400).

Anastacia Barrios[iii], a long term undocumented person who lives only with her two US born children in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, had a family household income of $35,000 in 2012. When she is not at work cleaning apartments or doing childcare, Anastacia has been participating in a dancing group nearby to Los Nómadas (see Video). One of her first jobs when she arrived in the mid-1990s was helping an older woman from Puebla to sell tamales in the streets. Anastacia’s income includes money given by her ex-partner.

Anastacia Barrios[iii], una persona indocumentada de largo plazo que vive solamente con sus dos hijos/as que nacieron en Estados Unidos en un apartamento de una habitación en el Bronx, tuvo un ingreso familiar de $ 35,000 dólares en 2012. Cuando ella no está trabajando limpiando departamentos o cuidando niños/as, Anastacia ha estado participando en un grupo de danza cerca de Los Nómadas (ver Video). Uno de sus primeros trabajos que tuvo, cuando llegó a mediados de la década de 1990, fue ayudar a una mujer mayor originaria de Puebla a vender tamales en las calles. Los ingresos de Anastacia incluyen dinero proporcionado por su expareja.

In my research and analysis supported by Connect New York Fellowship, I found limited upward occupational mobility—beyond food preparation for men and housekeeping activities for women—with annual median family-household incomes between $30,000 and $45,000. Unauthorized status is associated with limited life chances because the negative effects of lacking papers—to find better paid jobs—grows with the lack of English, low education, and the inability to transfer skills learned in the labor market in Mexico. However, I also observed that for undocumented immigrants with low family-household income, their socioeconomic prospects improved and their social vulnerability decreased as long as they were closer to reliable community based organizations or got support from kinship or inter-ethnic networks.

En mi investigación y análisis con el apoyo de Connect New York Fellowship, encontré una movilidad ocupacional ascendente limitada—más allá de la preparación de alimentos para hombres y las actividades de limpieza para las mujeres—con ingresos anuales medios familiares entre $ 30,000 y $ 45,000 dólares. El estatus indocumentado está asociado con oportunidades de vida limitadas debido a que los efectos negativos de la falta de documentos migratorios—para encontrar trabajos mejor pagados—aumentan con la falta de conocimiento del inglés, la escasa educación formal y la incapacidad para transferir habilidades aprendidas en el mercado laboral en México. Sin embargo, también observé que para las/los inmigrantes indocumentadas/os con bajos ingresos familiares, sus perspectivas socioeconómicas mejoraron y su vulnerabilidad social disminuye siempre y cuando estén cerca de organizaciones comunitarias de confianza o reciban apoyo de redes de parentesco o interétnicas.


[i] Pseudonym. || Seudónimo.

[ii] During my ethnographic fieldwork people explained to me that in the black market a two-year permit for street vendors can cost around $20,000.There are about 20,000 street vendors in NYC who are mostly immigrants or people of color. || Durante mi trabajo de campo, la gente me explicó que en el mercado negro un permiso de dos años para vendedores ambulantes puede costar alrededor de $20,000 dólares. Hay unos 20,000 vendedores ambulantes en la Ciudad de Nueva York que en su mayoría son inmigrantes o personas de color.

[iii] Pseudonym. She was born in the late 1970s and crossed the US-Mexico border only once, in California, where she lived one year and was still a minor. Anastacia has been living continuously in the United States for 24 years. She is one of the more than 90 cases that I have been following up for my research since 2014. || Seudónimo. Ella nació a fines de la década de 1970 y cruzó la frontera de Estados Unidos y México una sola vez, por California, en donde vivió un año y todavía era menor de edad. Anastacia ha estado viviendo continuamente en Estados Unidos durante 24 años. Ella es uno de los más de 90 casos que he estado siguiendo para mi investigación desde 2014.

About the author: Stefano Morello

Stefano Morello is a doctoral candidate in English with a certificate in American Studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY and a Teaching Fellow at Queens College, CUNY. His academic interests include American Studies, pop culture, poetics, and digital humanities. His dissertation, “Let’s Make a Scene! East Bay Punk and Subcultural Worlding,” explores the heterotopic space of the East Bay punk scene, its modes of resistance and (dis-)association, and the clashes between its politics and aesthetics. He serves as co-chair of the Graduate Forum of the Italian Association for American Studies (AISNA) and is a founding editor of its journal, JAm It! (Journal of American Studies in Italy). As a digital humanist, Stefano focuses on archival practices with a knack for archival pedagogy and public-facing initiatives. He created the East Bay Punk Digital Archive, an open access archive of East Bay punk-zines, and worked as a curator and consultant for Lawrence Livermore’s archive at Cornell University. He was a Wellcome Trust Transdisciplinary Fellow in 2019-2020.