Land, Ethnic, and Gender Change: Transnational Migration and its Effects on Guatemalan Lives and Landscapes


Taylor, Matthew, Michelle Moran-Taylor, and Debra Rodman Ruiz. 2006. "Land, Ethnic, and Gender Change: Transnational Migration and its Effects on Guatemalan Lives and Landscapes." Geoforum 37: 41-61.

Authors: Matthew Taylor, Michelle Moran-Taylor, Debra Rodman Ruiz


Migration to the United States of America from Guatemala effects many aspects of Guatemalan life. We document, through extensive ethnographic fieldwork, how migrants and their remittances effect gender relations, ethnicity, land use, and land distribution. Our evidence is drawn from research in four communities. San Pedro Pinula and Gualan represent communities of eastern Guatemala. San Cristóbal Totonicapan is an Indigenous town in Guatemala’s western highlands, and San Lucas is a lowland frontier community in the Guatemalan department of Ixcan, which borders Chiapas, Mexico. Our results reveal that migrants and their remittances, both social and tangible, result in significant changes in land use and land distribution in Ixcan. Migrant money permits the conversion of rainforest into cattle pasture and also results in the accumulation of land in the hands of migrants. In terms of land use, we see in San Pedro Pinula that migrant money also allows the Pokoman Maya to make small entries into the Ladino (non-indigenous) dominated cattle business. In San Pedro Pinula, the migration and return of Maya residents also permits them to slowly challenge ethnic roles that have developed over the last five centuries. When we look at how migration effects gender roles in Gualan and San Cristóbal we also note that migration and social remittances permit a gradual challenge and erosion of traditional gender roles in Guatemala. We point out, however, that migration-related changes to traditional gender and ethnic roles is gradual because migrants, despite their increased earnings and awareness, run into a social structure that resists rapid change. This is not the case when we examine land transformations in Ixcan. Here, migrants encounter few barriers when they attempt to put their new money and ideas to work. Despite the advantages that migration brings to many families, especially in the face of a faltering national economy and state inactivity regarding national development, we conclude that migration and remittances do not result in community or nation-wide development. At this stage migrant remittances are used for personal advancement and very little money and effort is invested in works that benefit communities or neighborhoods. We call for continued studies of the effects of international migration on Guatemalan hometowns that build on our initial studies to better understand the longer-term ramifications of migration in a country where no community is without migrants.

Keywords: migration, land transformation, gender transformation

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Migration, Gender, Gender Roles, Indigenous, Livelihoods, Rights, Land Rights Regions: Americas, Central America Countries: Guatemala

Year: 2006

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