Casa Blanca, Mexico

Magdalena Arias Cubas

 

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A ‘traditional’ house

Casa Blanca’s history of emigration is long. While men have travelled ‘North’ since the 1930s, migrating was institutionalized through the Bracero Program between the 1940s-1960s. Emigration to the Unites States, particularly to Tulsa, continued since then; yet it was not until the 1990s that Casa Blanca experienced significant levels of emigration. The initial departure of men was followed by the movement and settlement of entire families after 1994. There have been some returnees over the last 10 years, although no clear pattern can be established. Much has changed over the last 10 years in terms of the impact of the global financial crisis, increasing border security and drug-related violence on current and prospective migrants.

 

Rooftop view of Casa Blanca 2

Casa Blanca is a relatively small community located in Mexico’s central western state of Zacatecas. This community has experienced emigration to the United States for over 70 years. A significant proportion of the community has migrated and settled in Tulsa (Oklahoma), where men are often employed in the construction industry while women tend to work in cleaning and services. This history of migration makes Casa Blanca representative, to an extent, of the situation of countless communities of origin in rural Zacatecas in particular and across Mexico in general.

 

A ‘traditional’ house

Casa Blanca’s history of emigration is long. While men have travelled ‘North’ since the 1930s, migrating was institutionalized through the Bracero Program between the 1940s-1960s. Emigration to the Unites States, particularly to Tulsa, continued since then; yet it was not until the 1990s that Casa Blanca experienced significant levels of emigration. The initial departure of men was followed by the movement and settlement of entire families after 1994. There have been some returnees over the last 10 years, although no clear pattern can be established. Much has changed over the last 10 years in terms of the impact of the global financial crisis, increasing border security and drug-related violence on current and prospective migrants.

 

The new local clinic

Migration is deeply embedded in the community, but its impact on the community remains a contentious issue. On the one hand, migration is seeing as having a beneficial impact in the community. In fact, many of the positive changes described by community members, such as the expansion of the local clinic (which is seen in this picture) or the improvement of the church, are closely related to the work of the town’s hometown association in the U.S. through the ‘3x1 Program for Migrants’.

 

An [empty] migrant house

On the other hand, migration is perceived as having drained the town of some of its vitality – many young men, women and children have migrated to the U.S. leaving behind elderly relatives or abandoned properties (as the one pictured here). This ‘drain’ has been compounded by other factors, such as the securitization of the U.S.-Mexico border (which makes migrating ‘North’ or travelling back more expensive and dangerous) and the increment in drug-related violence (which while also making travel more expensive and dangerous has functioned as an incentive for some people to leave the community).

 

Tractor with harvest

Agriculture is still very important in Casa Blanca. There is a lot of frustration among community members in relation to what they perceive as the abandonment of small agricultural producers by the federal and state government. This includes the lack of substantive government supports (in terms of subsidies, guaranteed prices or drought relief), but also in terms of increasing prices for inputs (such as seeds and fertilizers which are not all privatized) and decreasing prices for harvest.

 

Harvest of beans

In spite of this, many community members still rely on agriculture as their main source of employment and income. Beans (pictured above) and chili are the two main crops harvested by local farmers. There are few jobs available for locals outside of agriculture. While some travel to nearby towns (specially the city of Zacatecas or Guadalupe) for employment, a significant limitation is the fact that there is inadequate public transport between the community and those cities.

 

One of the local stores

There are few businesses in town, and most of them are locally owned. This includes a couple of small convenience stores, a pharmacy, a butcher, a couple of tortillerias and a stationery seller). Many of these businesses are owned by former migrants or migrants’ relatives. These places provide most of the few of the jobs that are available for locals in the community outside of the fields.

The community church

The local [catholic] church remains relatively important. The patronage festival – which celebrates the town’s saint patron in and around the 24th of June – is the largest celebration in town. Usually migrants from Tulsa contribute money to pay for the costs of organising this event. Traditionally migrants would return to Casa Blanca to celebrate the patronage festival with their relatives and friends. This has changed in recent years due to a combination of factors including the securitization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increase in drug-related violence in Mexico in general.


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