“The Transformation of Transnational Migration
David Kyle speaking at CLAS on March 28.
Demystifying Transnational Migration in Andean Ecuador
By Katherine Schlaefer
For centuries, people have migrated to different countries in
search of political freedom or the opportunity for economic prosperity.
While these previous migration trends aimed at a permanent resettlement
in the destination country, new patterns of transnational migration
are emerging. Identifying ways that villagers in rural Ecuador
react to and participate in globalization, David Kyle, Professor
of Sociology at the University of California, Davis, uncovered
new transnational migration patterns that do not include the
ultimate goal of immigration.
Regions, Four Villages and the Pursuit of Economic Prosperity
Kyle’s decade-long longitudinal study with Brad Jokisch
tells the stories of rural Ecuadorian villagers in their search
for economic prosperity as they travel from poor communities
south of the equator to the wealthier regions of the North. From
1993 to 2003, Kyle examined the transnational migration of two
distinct Andean populations: the entrepreneurial Otavaleños
of the North, world-renowned for their music and handicrafts,
and the underground migrant campesinos from the southern provinces
of Azuay and Cañar, the first producers and peddlers
of the infamous panama hat.
the early 1990s, Ecuadorians from the two regions were defying
the norms of migration. Instead of migrating
with the ultimate
purpose of settling in the destination country, they were migrating
to wealthier regions in order to increase their income and savings
to return to their country of origin. Males from middle-class
families were traveling to wealthier regions to make enough money
to return home to Ecuador and start their own businesses. During
the entire migration process, they simultaneously maintained
two households — one in the destination land and one with
their family back in Ecuador. This pattern of temporary migration
defied the traditional model with its end goal of immigration
the reign of seven presidents in the late 1990s, Ecuador endured
one coup, sky-rocketing inflation,
the worst economic
crisis in its history, the ravages of El Niño and the
mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of working class males
to Spain. Dollar accounts were frozen for two years. Massive
amounts of money disappeared from personal bank accounts across
the country. To reverse the downward-spiraling political and
economic turmoil, the country transitioned to a dollar economy
in 2000 with the backing of the International Monetary Fund
(IMF). During this period of economic and political instability,
the Ecuadorian people — especially the merchants — rescinded
their trust in the government and lost hope of economic prosperity
within the boundaries of their country. A boom in illegal migration
resulted shortly after the dollarization in 2000, and, in the
process, methods of migration changed dramatically.
Migration: No Longer an Underground Movement, But a Booming
the second phase of migration took shape, Ecuadorians continued
to migrate to Spain, but now as tourists rather
workers. Local travel agencies developed nearly fool-proof
ways to falsify documents. With enough money and collateral,
could forego the technicality of a traditional smuggler and
use the services of travel agencies to migrate to Europe
or the United
States. As the prices of migration rose from $5,000 to upwards
of $12,000, the process became a largely middle-class phenomenon.
Before dollarization, few Ecuadorians were living in Europe.
Yet by 2002 their presence increased exponentially in Spain,
Italy and France. In fact, Ecuadorians composed the second
largest group of migrants to Spain, just behind Moroccans.
Yet, the Spanish
and Ecuadorian governments remained complacent about the
increased migration — Spain was desperate for the cheap labor of
migrant workers, and the economy in Ecuador began to flourish
with the flow of remittance funds. In addition to avidly celebrating
the Day of the Migrant, the Ecuadorian government developed
programs to buy off migration loans to further encourage continuation
of the practice.
At the end of the decade-long study, Kyle found that transnational
migration had not simply transformed, but ceased entirely. In
both regions, there was an abrupt change during the period of
dollarization from 2000 to 2003, during which migrants lost hope
of returning home. Instead, as migrants succeeded as entrepreneurs,
they started sending for their families to join them.
Ecuador, the transformation of transnational migration took
two radically different and distinct forms.
In the northern region
of the entrepreneurial Otavaleños, entire villages were
abandoned. The ghost-town model holds true for areas where migration
started before the turn of this century. Long-time migrants slowly
started sending funds for their families to join them in Europe
or the U.S., leaving only the elderly behind with the support
of occasional remittances.
contrast, in the southern region, the families left behind
in the villages in Azuay and Cañar began
investing remittance funding into the construction of houses.
Some families even started
developing real estate ventures, building homes for the sole
purpose of sale. Eventually, migrants also started sending for
their families to join them abroad. As the families left, the
wealthy from the nearby city of Cuenca moved into the homes.
most unpredictable development was the onset of transnational
migration into the southern communities. Peruvians,
other Latin Americans and even the Chinese — rich and poor — began
moving into the area as it offered reasonably priced housing,
the opportunity for labor, and the benefit of a dollarized economy.
New migrants were moving into Ecuadorian communities for the
same reasons that the Ecuadorians were migrating to the U.S.:
to earn dollars in a competitive economy. With this surprising
discovery, Kyle concluded that transnational migration “may
be patterned, but not always political,” and “it
must be considered in the global context of not only political,
but also social, economic and geographical influences.”
From Transnational Migration to Global Human Smuggling
unraveling the mysteries of migration, David Kyle discovered
the disturbing reality of human smuggling. His most recent
books, Global Human Smuggling, co-edited with Rey Koslowski
(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001) and the forthcoming
Brokered Bodies: The Cross-Cultural Engineering of Contemporary
Households, shed light on the horrors that poor southerners
will submit themselves to in order to reach the lands of
prosperity in the North. Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador,
of the major port cities and smuggling stopovers for human
cargo from around the world. Boats overloaded with four to
ten times the number of passengers they are meant to hold
travel to the border between Guatemala and Mexico. If the passengers
are lucky, the boat will not capsize before it reaches Guatemala,
where they have to hike by cover of night through the jungle
to reach the Mexican border. From Mexico, they wait in hotels
until they are told it is time to travel, usually by plane
to New York where they become slaves laboring to pay off
incurred during their transnational journey.
David Kyle is Associate Professor of Sociology at UC Davis.
He discussed “The Transformation of Transnational Migration
in Ecuador,” as part of the Bay Area Latin American Forum
at CLAS on March 28, 2005.
Schlaefer is a graduate student of Health and Social Behavior
at the School of Public Health.