In the Time of the Monarch Butterfly

By in Immigrant NYC, Latin American Immigration

Photo Courtesy of Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Photo Courtesy of Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Mexican Migrant Push/Pull Factors

By Julia Zenker

Wagner College ’14

Philosophy and Spanish

“After being here for twenty-five years, yes, I feel like an American”, commented Juana during an interview about her experience as an immigrant (Juana interview). Juana, an undocumented Mexican immigrant crossed the US-Mexican border more than twenty-five years ago. With her two young sons in tow, Juana describes how she was able to contract a coyote to help her make the trek. In search of work, Juana’s husband, a gardener, had relocated to the United States four months prior to Juana’s trip north. Juana’s husband eventually found work among the approximate 319,263 Mexicans in the New York Metropolitan area and the 18,684 on Staten Island (Young 1).The couple had decided that there was no need for the family to be separated when the children could receive a better education and there were more economic opportunities in the United States.

Socioeconomic Factors

After being asked about her family’s monthly income, Juana remarks that “It’s not a lot, but it gets us by, we can live off of it”  (Juana interview). Research shows that this economic insecurity is a common theme among many of New York City’s Mexican immigrant population. The 2000 US Census Bureau reported that close to one-third of Mexican households in New York City live below the poverty line, which is more than double the poverty rate for the city as a whole (Newsbureau 1). Many wonder then, what, if any, economic advantages do the migrants reap from their relocation to the United States.

Photo courtesy of

While in comparison to their non-Mexican counterparts, Mexican New Yorkers tend to make on average less than half the annual salary, their benefits can be measured in a comparison with their non-migrant Mexican counterparts. The results of research making the comparison between the socioeconomic status of migrant and non-migrant Mexicans, revealed that in spite of wage disparities between native-born Americans and Mexican migrants, the migrants continue to fair better economically than those they left behind in Mexico. Typically, the migrants hail from small pueblas with an agrarian-based economy. Juana reveals that she is from a small agricultural town in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. In these communities the average income per capita is the equivalent to 20% of the average salary of a migrant working below minimum wage in the United States (Rivera-Batiz 36). The economic incentives for migration are much clearer when a cross-border analysis is considered.

Educational Considerations

A significant factor listed by many Mexican immigrants is the potential to provide children with educational opportunities in the United States that would not otherwise be possible in Mexico. Juana herself did not complete more than five years of school throughout her childhood, but she lists her children’s educational opportunities as the most important factor she considered when deciding to emigrate. The 2000 U.S. Census indicates that of the major ethnic groups of New York City, the Mexican population has by far the lowest educational attainment (Rivera-Batiz 36). As a testament to her commitment to providing a better life for her children, Juana admits, “Mi esposo y yo sentimos realizados”, meaning that she and her husband feel like they’ve been successful now that their children attained their high school diplomas and work as certified plumbers (Juana interview).

Migrant Social Networks

Throughout her interview, Juana stressed that she would love to return to Mexico to visit her parents, whom she has not seen in twenty-five years. When pushed to explain whether she’d like to remain in the United States permanently Juana responded that it wouldn’t serve her to return to Mexico when the rest of her family resides in the US. She explains that her brothers and sisters had migrated the US as well, rendering a permanent relocation to Mexico fruitless for her. The type of migrant social networks that Juana describes is a common factor for many Mexican migrants. A study revealed that the average Mexican citizen knows eight people in the US (Cornelius 11). This number increases to ten people when the individual is considering migrating themselves.

Closing Remarks

Countless Mexican immigrants, like Juana, hope to one day be able to return to their native country to visit with their loved ones, but their undocumented status disallows this possibility. The myriad of push and pull factors that Mexican immigrants are confronted with are often overlooked. The argument against undocumented immigrant so often revolves around the migrant’s ‘illegal act’ of crossing the border. What one must consider before making such indictments are the compounding obstacles that Mexican migrants face. For many, the voyage across the US-Mexican border is not an act of defiance against American values. Rather, it is a testament to the heroic sense of family sacrifice that one faces in times of financial hardship and lack of opportunity in the home country. Although it may be illegal on its face numerous factors work on both sides of the border to drive many Mexicans to migrate north, much like the Monarch butterfly.

Newsbureau. “Mexicans Are Now New York City’s Fastest Growing Ethnic Group”. New York, NY: Teacher’s College Columbia University, 2003.

Rivera-Batiz, Francisco. “New Yorktitlan: A Socioeconomic Profile of Mexican New Yorks”. New York, NY: Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, 2004.

TL, Juana, interviewed by Julia Zenker. “Mexican Women in the States: Indigenous and Mestizo Perspectives”, 2013.

Wayne A. Cornelius. Migration from the Mexican Mixteca; A Transnational Community Abroad”. San Diego, CA: Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, 2009.

Young, Deborah. “Staten Island reshaped by Hispanic wave.” Staten Island Live, May 22, 2011.