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The literature on migration pays close attention to the development of social and professional networks. Associations constitute a formal manifestation of such networks (López, Escala-Rabadan and Hinojosa-Ojeda 2001). For domestic and international migrants who face a foreign environment, these associations respond to the need for belonging. They provide migrants simultaneous membership in local, state, national, and transnational communities (Minian 2017). Migrants also receive useful information, resources, and companionship from these associations to better assimilate into the host society (FitzGerald, 2008). Some authors have used the generic term “transnational migrant organizations” to refer to these associations.
The objective of this paper is to describe the types of associations migrants from Mexico have formed in the U.S. (including their aims, member profiles, results, links to stakeholders and governmental officials, etc.), and analyze their social and political roles. The analysis departs from the premise that some categories of Mexican migration do not fit in the classic theoretical concept of ethnic enclaves, but instead asserts that many Mexican migrants group in different spaces and contexts depending on their particular interests and on the kind of opportunities they identify.
Some authors have referred to specific characteristics organizations must fulfill to be considered immigrant associations, namely being formal, private, nonprofit, self-governing, and voluntary (Salamon and Anheier 1992, as cited in Babis 2016). Babis (2016, p. 359) defines immigrant organizations as “nonprofit organizations, founded by immigrants at all stages of immigration, with the purpose of serving mainly the immigrant group itself.”
Much attention has been paid to migrants’ economic contributions to their home countries through remittances, but their involvement in long-term projects through associations, which may have not only an economic but also a significant social and/or political impact, has been less discussed. Migrant associations play a key transnational role since it has been found that individual cross-border activities (linking the host and home countries) are not as common as activities conducted through specific organizations (Portes and Zhou 2012). It is also more likely that governments approach migrant associations (rather than individuals) to plan and implement joint projects.
Mexican migrant organizations have existed in the U.S. for more than 150 years. The reasons for their creation continue to be the same, namely to defend migrants against discrimination, labor rights violations, deportation, and problems related to repatriation (Cano and Délano 2004). Many of these organizations were formed in the 1960s with the main goal of strengthening ties with the Mexican government. The number of Mexican migrant associations increased dramatically in the early 1990s (Cano and Délano 2004).
The Institute of Mexicans Abroad (Instituto de Mexicanos en el Exterior, or IME) is the first Mexican governmental transnational institution in the history of relations between the Mexican government and the Mexican community in the U.S. (Somerville, Durana and Terrazas 2008). Its website lists 2,643 Mexican associations in the U.S. as of 2019, but it is difficult to track the exact number of such associations since they form and dissolve constantly. Furthermore, Mexican migrant associations are very diverse in terms of their density and distribution (Fox and Bada, 2008).
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. The first section centers on the types of Mexican migrant associations that currently exist in the U.S. The second identifies the main purposes of these associations, while the third section analyzes their operational structures. The fourth section provides information about the profile of the associations' members. The next three sections present the types of activities these associations perform, the kind of links they cultivate, and the results of their actions. Finally, policy implications and conclusions are offered.