Date of Degree

6-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Marc Edelman

Committee Members

Alyshia Gálvez

Robert Smith

Julie Skurski

Judith Adler Hellman

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Keywords

migration, elites, transnational entrepreneurs, Mexico, United States

Abstract

This dissertation analyzes a recent transnational Mexican migrant elite—a new social and economic group that emerged not from established elites or from privileged backgrounds, but from poor campesino families. Members of this group migrated to the U.S. from Mexico during the 1980s. The majority of these (male) entrepreneur migrants crossed the border as mojados without passports or money. Over a period of thirty years, these migrants have accumulated an unprecedented amount of wealth and, thereby, gain prestige and status within their communities. Successful in both the US and Mexico, these entrepreneurs are distinct from other transnational migrant groups. They have constructed transnational forms of class mobility, as well as a new mode of elite formation. Based on ethnographic research in New York, New Jersey, and the Mixteca poblana, this dissertation examines the ways in which these transnational entrepreneurs became part of an emerging elite in both the US and Mexico. My research shows how members of this group capitalize and accumulate wealth from the unskilled labor of their fellow Mexican paisanos, as well as that of other Latinos, through their restaurants, entertainment enterprises, tortilla factories, and Mexican goods distributors (importadoras). Further, these migrant elites have created socio-economic and solidarity networks that include local and state politicians and regional agro-businessmen who have expanded their activities by exporting what I call nostalgia commodities—including fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs—directly from the state of Puebla to cities such as New York, Houston, and Los Angeles. By studying Mexican migrant elites, I examine the ways in which elite migrants play an influential role in shaping society. I argue that while in the past migrants sent remittances home and contributed to building a school, a church, or a soccer field, now they do something else: they use their accumulated wealth to signify their new status and to underwrite political influence.

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