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Migrant Youth in Mexico’s Agroindustry: An Ethnography of Aspirations, Social Reproduction, and Education


The rapid evolution of globalization and neoliberal economic policies has resulted in U.S. agro-corporations exporting their operations south of the border to Mexico in order to benefit from cheaper land and labor. While working families previously cyclically migrated during harvest seasons, many have been able to permanently settle in the San Quint�n Valley due to the year-round demand of labor in the region over the past two decades (Zlolniski, 2011). Consequently, migrant youth have increasingly had the opportunity to attend formal schools in the San Quint�n Valley without repeated disruptions in their school attendance (Evaristo, 2006). However, despite increased school opportunities, many migrant youth continue to work in the fields alongside their parents. While migrant families widely acknowledge that formal education is crucial to accessing higher paying jobs and improved living standards, a critical question arises: Why do migrant youth continue to work despite increased educational opportunities? Accordingly, this study examines the schooling and working experiences of migrant youth to illuminate how neoliberal economic policies and globalization processes have shaped their lived realities; particularly their educational experiences and perceptions of life trajectories.

My study explored shifting aspirations in school and work settings among migrant youth working for agro-corporations in the San Quint�n Valley by employing ethnographic methods. While this study is based on six months of fieldwork, I also draw upon previous interactions with the community built upon sixteen years of close relationships and active involvement in a local elementary school. Through participant observations, in-depth interviews and semi-structured activities, I focused on the narratives of local youth describing their working and schooling experiences in the community. My fieldwork was guided by three research questions: 1) How does the labor market in the community affect study youth’s schooling experiences? 2) How do youth's relationships within their social networks shape their aspirations?3) What is the relationship between youth’s aspirations and perceptions of their life trajectories?

The findings of my study reveal the ways in which the restricted labor market, close proximity to the United States and presence of gangs in the community shaped the perceptions of life trajectories, particularly aspirations, amongst migrant youth in San Telmo. While most youth acknowledged that formal schooling is a critical means to accessing higher wages and living standards, the restricted labor market in the community provided little motivation for them to continue their schooling beyond primary school. Consequently, the aspirations of youth in this study varied from moving to the United States for higher wages to gaining respect in the community through involvement in local gangs. Despite my study participants’ attempts to resist their structural constraints through differing aspirations, the limits of such resistance is evident as many of them ended up working for agro-corporations only a year after my study.

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