Philanthropy Illustrates How Immigration Will Not Stop Without 2 Things: Latin Development & Latinos

January 7, 2008

San Francisco Chronicle

This story from the San Francisco Chronicle illustrates nicely how communities in América Latina and the United States are and must be at the heart reducing migration from Latin America to the United States (if indeed that’s what corporations and consumers really want, that is). Though I don’t think the implicit analysis of immigration in the story runs much deeper than a dry creek near the border, I do appreciate the focus on the border-smashing work of Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), a group founded by Douglas Patino (a good and honored friend) and other, mostly Latino leaders from the growing universe of Latino philanthropy .

The story makes clear how, rather than adopt the tired and untrue (and largely ineffective) approach of traditional philanthropy, which limits itself to working within the confines of that deadly illusion known as “the border”, HIP adopts what wonks call a “transnational” approach to dealings within the hemisphere Of América.

HIP’s leader, Diana Campoamor, a Cubana immigrant of much consequence, has a choice quote in the story, one powered by her own personal and professional experience (as opposed to the political desperation mixed with a growing sense of decline that motivates politico and racist alike). The quote along with her example as a leader of Latino extraction makes the point solidly:

“People don’t leave their homes unless there’s a hardship, economic or political,” said Campoamor, the president of Hispanics in Philanthropy, who is herself a refugee from Cuba. “Everyone should have a choice. We want to help people have a job and a chance to stay where they are, and to have a voice in their communities and their countries.”

I really like this story because, too often, we forget the economic and material component of the migration equation and, instead, focus solely on the politics of immigration as if it were really defined by politicos, Lou Dobbs and aging (Minute)men in search of a new frontier, a less flaccid empire. Unless Obama (or whoever ends up inheriting the mantle of declining power) can reverse the decimation of the state undertaken by Reagan, his descendants and the corporations that support them, the solutions will have to come from the rest of us.

But before getting too gushy I should mention that, even with good work like that of HIP or the hometown associations (also mentioned in the story) that send billions to América Latina each year, migration to the U.S. will continue without 2 other essential things: stopping the addiction of U.S. corporation and consumers to imported cheap labor and dealing frontally, decisively with the failure of capitalism in the hemisphere. And Barack Obama will fix this in his first 100 days in the White House, right?

San Francisco Chronicle

Economic aid to give Mexicans, Central Americans work at home

Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008

From her office on the edge of San Francisco’s Financial District, Diana Campoamor was networking – meeting for drinks with a banker, compiling a briefing book for a foundation trustee, exchanging phone calls with colleagues in Mexico City.

She was putting all the pieces in place so her group, Hispanics in Philanthropy, could cut its first check this month for a three-year, $219,000 grant to expand a goat-cheese cooperative in Guanajuato, Mexico.

More goats, corrals, pasteurizing equipment and refrigerators should allow the operation to grow from one village to four, providing work for hundreds of peasant farmers who might otherwise join their siblings and cousins as illegal immigrants harvesting peaches, slaughtering chickens, driving nails and scrubbing dishes across the United States.

The group’s decision to fund economic development projects in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, after almost 25 years working in U.S. Latino communities, is part of a movement taking hold in Northern California to tackle the root causes of illegal immigration.

“People don’t leave their homes unless there’s a hardship, economic or political,” said Campoamor, the president of Hispanics in Philanthropy, who is herself a refugee from Cuba. “Everyone should have a choice. We want to help people have a job and a chance to stay where they are, and to have a voice in their communities and their countries.”

Immigration is again moving front and center on the U.S. political stage. On the presidential campaign trail, Republicans are vying to be the toughest on sealing the border and enforcing immigration law, while Democrats temper the bad-cop rhetoric with talk of guest worker programs and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here.

But if there is to be a lasting solution to illegal immigration, experts say, it will involve changes not just on this side of the border but in Mexico and Central America, which together account for three fourths of the estimated 12 million undocumented people in the United States.

“As far as what I’ve read about what the candidates are saying, I don’t see much discussion. It’s cheap rhetoric,” said Luis Guarnizo, a professor in the school of agriculture at UC Davis. “Everybody’s looking for a quick fix, the right slogan. … But we have to look at the larger picture. This is not just a law-and-order issue, it involves economic issues, social issues. Migration is a global process.”

In Northern California, some grassroots development and immigrant groups are trying a different approach. They reason that if people in Latin America had a way to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty, they wouldn’t need to leave home, risk their lives crossing the border and live on the margins of U.S. society to earn a living and support their relatives back home.

The projects range from small to large, and involve a variety of players – major foundations, socially conscious consumers and migrant workers themselves – in diverse approaches to improving life in some of the communities that are sending undocumented immigrants north. They’re helping build lagging village infrastructure, incubating productive rural projects and giving farmers fair access to global markets.

Part of the solution

Luis Alberto Rivera is president of an association of Californians originally from his hometown, Coalcomán, in the central Mexican state of Michoacán. Seeing thousands of Coalcomanenses migrate to the United States, Rivera and his compatriots were determined to do something to help improve life back home.

“We decided to push the authorities to clean the rivers, because they’re polluted,” said Rivera, a U.S. citizen, from his home near Modesto. “The whole ecosystem, the ability of people to get food from the river is destroyed. People are migrating because their life is over when the rivers are polluted. But if we go back and restore them, I think that’s part of the solution.”

Rivera and members of his hometown association offered to fund a sewage treatment plant and talked the town government into installing a system of sewers to collect the wastewater. They’ve set a fundraising goal of $100,000 and have already held a couple of benefit dinners in the Central Valley.

And the group plans to apply for matching funds under the Three for One program, whereby the Mexican federal, state and local governments each pitch in a dollar for every dollar contributed to a project by Mexican migrants outside the country.

Recognizing the billions of dollars that expatriate Mexicans send home each year to their families, the Mexican authorities created the matching fund arrangement in 2002 to channel some of that money to public works. In 2006, more than 1,000 Mexican migrant groups contributed close to $20 million to community improvement projects in 845 rural and urban locations, according to Martha Esquivel of Mexico’s Department of Social Development.

Rivera hopes his efforts will encourage more migrants to get involved with their hometowns in Mexico and work to fix the problems that forced them to leave home in the first place.

But some observers criticize the matching-fund program, saying it’s the responsibility of the Mexican government to build clean water systems and to provide schools, ambulances and other infrastructure, not the duty of Mexicans who left home due to a lack of opportunity.

After years of being all but ignored by their government, however, “the Three for One begins to signal to remittance senders that they’re going to get some respect,” said Campoamor.

She is an advocate of building links between immigrants in the United States and their home countries, in the way that hometown associations do. But her organization has opted to channel its funds specifically into initiatives that create jobs in Latin American countries.

Creating jobs

In the village of Tamaula, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, Pedro Laguna hopes that expanding his five-family goat-farming cooperative with the grant from Hispanics in Philanthropy can help stanch the flow of young people to the United States.

“I have nine kids in the United States, three daughters and six sons, but I have very little communication with them,” said the 60-year-old father of 13 in a telephone interview. “I don’t want to lose my children. We want to invest in our community so we have work here where we live.”

An agronomist is advising the cooperative on getting the goats to produce milk year-round, instead of seasonally. With more milk, the farmers can make more cheese and the sweet, caramelized dulce de leche known as cajeta, both of which sell well in Irapuato, the nearest city.

Laguna plans to pass on his cheese-making expertise to a group of women in another village who were left behind by husbands who migrated north, and to a youth group, the children of immigrants. Most urgently, he is working to persuade his 16-year-old daughter, his youngest child, to stay on the farm.

“At first she wanted to follow her brothers and sisters north, but I’ve been trying to convince her that going to the United States is not easy, and returning is less so,” he said. “Little by little, she’s thinking more about staying in school and training to make cheese. And she’s realizing that she can sell her little goats to earn some money. When there are animals at home, there’s work. And when there’s work, there’s money.”

Hispanics in Philanthropy plans to make three-year grants to half a dozen more projects in Mexico this spring and to begin similar efforts in Nicaragua and Guatemala. The group is already working in the Dominican Republic and Argentina.

Fair Trade

On a larger scale, and with a somewhat different approach, Oakland-based TransFair USA is promoting fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, rice and other agricultural products from Mexico and many other developing countries.

“Our goal is to give people the tools and the market access to lift themselves out of poverty. When you do that, people don’t want to leave home,” said TransFair founder and president Paul Rice.

Rice, who lived for 11 years in Nicaragua and is married to a Nicaraguan, said he has seen up close in his own family the intense pressures that push people to leave home and seek their fortunes in el norte.

In the early 1990s, after years of working on traditional development projects, Rice realized farmers needed not only access to capital and technical assistance, but better access to markets in order to flourish.

He helped a group of peasant coffee farmers sell their beans in Europe, where a fledgling fair trade market was taking hold, allowing small producers to earn a premium price by eliminating the middleman. Soon Rice was promoting the idea in the United States to businesses like Starbucks and Wal-Mart, eager to burnish their image as responsible corporations. His group is still the only fair trade certifying body in this country.

“Globalization has led to more trade and economic growth,” he said. “But growth for whom? The benefits are not trickling down to the poor. Fair trade tries to make free trade work for the poor. … It’s not free trade if you depend on the guy who drives up in his pickup and says, ‘The price is 10 cents a pound, take it or leave it.’ ”

Today, the coffee cooperative Rice started can guarantee $1.51 a pound to its 2,300 member families and still has money left over to invest in community projects.

“In Nicaragua, migration has been growing steadily over the past decade because of the lack of jobs,” said Merling Preza, the cooperative’s manager, speaking from the northern town of Estelí. “It’s leading to family disintegration and a loss of values, and that means more social instability. But the small farmers who have organized into cooperatives and sell on the fair trade market don’t need to leave their communities to survive.”

All these efforts to create economic stability in Mexico and Central America are laudable, say observers, but by themselves they can only help a small fraction of the population. Wealth and complexity in a nation’s economy are created by manufacturing goods, not selling raw materials, and above all, by investing in the country’s human capital, said Guarnizo, the UC Davis professor.

“It’s a political decision,” he said. “Think of the case of India with high tech. How did they do it? Was it because Indians are very clever? No. It’s because the state made a decision to put money into education. It took over 40 years, but they have that now.”

But Mexico, where the economy does not currently create enough jobs for the population, has come to rely on the remittances sent home by migrant workers, said another immigration analyst, Jeff Faux, the director of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

“The deal works for the elites on both sides of the border. The U.S. business community gets cheap labor and suppresses wages, and the Mexican elite gets rid of people who are discontented and restless,” he said. “But you can’t develop a country by exporting your most ambitious people.”

Faux has proposed that the United States give Mexico a push to develop its economy through investing in its own people. In an article in this month’s American Prospect magazine, Faux suggests that the United States offer to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to promote economic growth and a more equal distribution of wealth in Mexico. That, he said, could produce a real solution to illegal immigration.

In the meantime, groups in the Bay Area and beyond are determined to keep chipping away at the poverty that causes people to migrate. Building economic sustainability in Mexico and its poorer neighbors, they say, will do a lot more to prevent illegal immigration than putting up border fences or even offering guest worker visas.

In Tamaula, Pedro Laguna has built new roofs on his goat pens and when spring comes he’ll be buying more animals. He hopes not only to keep his teenage daughter around, but to encourage some of his other children to return.

“I have one daughter in Georgia who hasn’t worked for a year. She’s going to come home and I’ll have a job for her,” he said. “I hope that in not too long, I’ll be able to offer work to all of them.”

Resources

Hispanics in Philanthropy:

www.hiponline.org, (415) 837-0427

TransFair USA:

www.transfairusa.org, (510) 663-5260

Three for One Program:

www.ime.gob.mx, (213) 487-6577

Hispanics in Philanthropy: www.hiponline.org, (415) 837-0427TransFair USA, www.transfairusa.org, (510) 663-5260Three for One Program: www.ime.gob.mx, (213) 487-6577

E-mail Tyche Hendricks at thendricks@sfchronicle.com.

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