Many Latin American governments are more and more interested in obtaining some benefits from the fact that an increasing number of their citizens leave the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere. In the case of Mexico, David Hernández goes as far as to state that President Fox has virtually initiated an “emigrant hunt” in order to attract valuable foreign exchange. Looking at it from a migrant’s perspective, there has been a long tradition of maintaining families back home by means of remittances. Within this context of remittances, a new phenomenon has emerged during the last decade:
Collective remittances for development projects, which are co-financed by migrant communities and the home state.
The purpose of this paper is to analyse the role Mexican Hometown Associations (HTAs) in the United States (US) play in terms of Mexico’s communal or regional development; by doing so, I will focus on the issue of collective remittances. Firstly, I will look at the purpose of Mexican HTAs and how they evolved over time; this will be followed by an analysis of the role of the Mexican government in establishing and maintaining contacts with HTAs and in performing joint projects such as fund-matching schemes for developmental purposes. Subsequently, I will analyse a case study that exemplifies such a fund-matching scheme: the “three-for-one” project of the Mexican state of Zacatecas.
Lastly, I will examine the potential of transnational social movements in general and HTAs in particular with regard to the social, economic and political development of their home countries.
Mexican Hometown Associations in the US
Since family and community are an intrinsic component of Latin American social and cultural identity, it is hardly surprising that migrants have traditionally maintained strong ties both with their families back home and with migrants from the same country living nearby in the receiving country. Mexican migrants quickly established informal organisations in the US although, “despite widespread interest in international and home country affairs, the overwhelming majority of Latino organizational leaders were primarily focused on issues related to the well-being of Latinos within the United States” (Orozco, 2002: 87). The relevant literature reveals that initial links abroad had a strong social and self-help character while migrants remitted money back home on an individual basis; despite the fact that this family-based category of “migradollars” reaches impressive overall amounts - in Mexico alone, they amounted to more than 9 billion dollars in 2001 -, I will not dedicate much analysis to family remittances in this paper as only a negligible percentage tends to be spent “productively”: In Mexico, only 10 percent of recipients state to be in a position to spend some money productively while the rest goes directly into consumption, health and housing (Waller Meyers, 2002: 61). In contrast, one might argue that collective remittances, which are nowadays the result of fund-raising events organised by HTAs, are insignificant: Most HTAs raise less than 20,000 dollars on average each year, and - according to a report issued by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) - in kind or cash donations from HTAs may amount to less than one percent of family remittances. In this paper, I will however argue that collective remittances have a potential for socio- economic development that should not be overlooked. Besides the fact that one percent still makes a remarkable sum of money, one argument for this statement is based on the increasing involvement of a growing number of Mexican HTAs in multilateral development projects carried out in their home region in Mexico. Looking at the Mexican states of Guerrero, Jalisco, Zacatecas and Guanajuato, all of which have traditionally strong migration flows to the US, between 1994 and 1998 their overall number of HTAs quadrupled from about 20 to just over 100 in Chicago alone (Orozco, 2002: 88).
Zacatecas, which will be dealt with in more detail in the case study, now accounts for more than 250 Zacatecan Clubs and 15 Zacatecan Federations in different regions of the US. However, the mere increase of numbers of associations would certainly not indicate a growing potential as transnational actor had their agenda not shifted towards financing social development projects in their Mexican home region with a current tendency towards productive and thus income-generating projects. Some of the most important public works funded by Mexican HTAs during the last decade include the construction or renovation of roads, bridges, parks, churches, schools, clinics, sports facilities, and streets; projects are usually carried out in collaboration with municipal leaders and respected local personalities (Alarcón, 2002: 103). Such activities undoubtedly improve the social conditions of the local population and, linked with family remittances, give some stability to areas that are otherwise seriously threatened by depopulation. Yet how effective are such activities for long-term development? Can they really alleviate migration pressures? Taking into account that in most of the affected areas small-scale agriculture, which is characterised by worsening market conditions within the NAFTA environment, prevails as the main means of income, the mere dependency on migrants’ remittances - both family and collective remittances - is unlikely to improve the overall economic situation unless measures of self-sustainability are taken. Furthermore, should remittances decline for some reason - although this would be against current trends -, circumstances would even deteriorate for the local population. Migrants and their families back home are obviously well aware of this danger, which propels them forward in their search of possibilities for productive investment. Income-generating projects are, however, not only complex in nature but also very costly which currently exceeds HTAs’ scope of capability. For this reason, the cooperation with the Mexican government as well as with local and international organisations seems to be an interesting option. This leads us to the analysis of the role the Mexican government played in establishing and maintaining contacts with HTAs and in performing joint projects such as fund-matching schemes for developmental purposes.
 Más que un puñado de dólares : http://www.dse.de/zeitschr/ds202-9.htm (accessed on 30 March 2003)
 Remittances to Latin America and its effect on development: http://www.thedialogue.org/publications/country_studies/remittances/Remittances_to_LA.pdf (accessed on 15 November 2002)
 Orozco,M.: Hometown associations and Economic and Political Development (unpublished document)
 A Binational Proposal for Regional Development in Zacatecas, Mexico: http://www.enlacesamerica.org/news/final%20articles%20pdf%20nov%2002/Zacatecas.pdf (accessed on 20 January 2003)