A Multidimensional View of Human Mobility

Receipt: February 01, 2023

Acceptance: May 18, 2023

Circulation of precarious lives. El Refugio Casa del Migrante, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco

Manuela Camus, 2021 Universidad de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, 507 pp.

Manuela Camus' extensive and important work is very original: it is composed of a section that can be considered the introduction, eight chapters, final reflections and an appendix. The author invites us to "look at mobilities from the global South" (p. 7), exposes and analyzes how the stories of those who participate and participated in a process of (in)mobility as a result of the migration and asylum policies of both the United States and Mexico are interwoven; but she also explains the context of origin of Central Americans, the structural violence of the neoliberal model, as well as that of organized crime, gangs and family violence to which they are exposed, until reaching what she calls "the unsustainability of life", when the population has to leave their country. In Manuela Camus' work there is a multidimensional vision from the beginning and the common thread is "the stories of those who make up El Refugio Casa del Migrante, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco" (p. 7); in this "micro world", as the author calls it, she considers historical, political and social factors, which she develops in her writing and summarizes in the annex "Historical processes, flows and migratory policies". In the first section of the book, Camus provides a socioemotional analysis of those who are part of this "micro world" with a "glocal" vision, weaving their stories into local, national and international processes. He recovers the cultural and socioeconomic dimensions of migrants in the context of their place of origin, articulating the effects of migratory policies that have transformed and configured new migratory patterns and modalities, the individual trajectories that have historically been presented and, in recent years, the mobilizations of groups and collectives that have been called "migrant caravans", a euphemism for not recognizing the exodus of people fleeing their country to achieve a better life or to survive as a result of the neoliberal model.

In the second part, which goes from chapter three to eight, he analyzes the human sense of all those involved in the migratory process, proposing new conceptual approaches and analytical perspectives to understand and explain the new challenges of human mobilizations. The center of analysis is El Refugio Casa del Migrante, where she recovers the ethnographic and collaborative work carried out during nine years. It is there where she observes, identifies and writes the history of a large number of people with whom the author has interacted: the migrant population, the volunteers, the coordinator of the place, the neighbors, who are part of the life of the shelter. She recovers their daily lives, their achievements, their problems, as an expression of their precarious but supportive lives; she also reflects their disagreements, although the community always remains united to help people who are not their neighbors, nor their countrymen, because they are not Mexicans. They are migrants who may stay for hours or days, they may leave or return, it may be that she does not know what the journey brought them all, but Manuela exposes in her text how she manages to follow the steps of some migrants, as in the case of Rossana and Omar or the Sanchez sisters, to mention a few people. This allows her to reconstruct the stories of men, women and families who managed to reach the United States or were forced to return to their homeland, or to continue in this coming and going that has been life for some migrants as a result or consequence of increasingly restrictive immigration policies.

He also dedicates an extensive chapter to the coronavirus pandemic, including the stages of "confinement", "new normality" and "normality" and describes life at El Refugio Casa del Migrante, the solidarity relations that have always existed, but also the emergence of new conflicts due to the forced waiting, the strategies for attending to those who cannot enter and the new projects to support the integration of Central American migrants. Subsequently, he writes a section on the challenges faced by El Refugio Casa del Migrante.

It is an extensive book of 507 pages, in which Manuela Camus combines the narrative of the stories told to expose from the core the feelings, knowledge and conflicts experienced by the protagonists of this work, but also from the construction of knowledge about human mobility. Its axes of analysis are violence, the precariousness of life, the gray zone, abandonment, human mobility and forced displacement, which have different expressions, experiences from an intersectional analysis, according to gender, race, class, nationality, age, issues analyzed by the author of this excellent work.

Camus places at the center of the conceptual analysis the precariousness and precariousness that help explain the exposure and uncertainty of the population that lives, survives and establishes strategies to continue their journey, either in real life or as part of their imaginary. It also analyzes how this migrant population arrives to a context of precariousness, the neighborhood where El Refugio Casa del Migrante is located, a place where they find relations of friction but also of empathy, since the community that interacts with the shelter suffers from violence and vulnerabilities. Hence, Camus proposes what he calls the gray zone in the experience of migrants, as well as their spaces of interaction: "the gray zone is a space of ambiguous human interrelations within extreme conditions of oppression that facilitates the willingness of the oppressed to collaborate with power (Levi, Auschwitz Trilogy, 2005). This author highlights the physical experiences and the consequences of the rupture of the codes of coexistence when experiencing the gray zone" (p. 68). In the shared scenario of the gray zone, the author points out that there is a confusion in the boundaries of identities that are silenced and hidden. It is the interaction they have with criminals and people who do not know that they belong to or work for organized crime.

From a sociological analysis proposal, the author narrates the interactions in the shelter, recovers the term "gossip", what she calls "chismorreo", which takes place in El Refugio Casa del Migrante:

This form of verbal interaction is not a trivial practice, but allows socializing, evaluating attitudes or actions of others and one's own, administering knowledge, negotiating beliefs and cultural rules. Gossipers provide information about the reality in which they act and interact, but also how they conceive reality and how they conceive themselves and others in it (p. 40).

In the story of the creation of El Refugio Casa del Migrante, Camus recovers several social actors who are central. In this review we highlight just a few: Father Alberto, whose vocation to help comes from a family tradition, but also personal, related to the migrant population, in addition to his involvement in community projects and with young addicts. Father Alberto established the migrant's house with various strategies to bring the migrant population closer and to promote the acceptance of the neighbors settled in the surrounding area. The author gives an account of the support actions provided by Father Alberto not only to the migrants, but also to his community, and the process they went through for the acceptance of the migrants. She also describes the irregular, informal and precarious conditions in which people live in the Cerro del Cuatro neighborhood, where the shelter is located, which is not very different from where the migrants come from. He narrates, with great detail -the result of his ethnographic work-, the involvement that Father Alberto had in the preparation of the shelter.

There are other characters that are also important for its operation, especially at the beginning, such as the participation of Raquel Suárez, who coordinated the house for more than three years (2012-2016). Camus explains how she learned to operate the shelter, the strategies she resorted to, how she relied on her religious circle to provide help in various activities (cleaning, food, shifts to receive), but also on other relationships she had to obtain donations of food, medicine or to continue equipping the house. According to Raquel's testimony, she learned to coordinate and have authority not only in those who joined in the help, but also in the migrants and in the community; the author recovers the sensitivity and love of neighbor that Raquel demonstrated and expressed when she said that "many migrants arrived, of course they arrived, murderers and coyotes and all, but I learned to know them and not judge them, to see them with a need" (p. 160). Raquel also had to confront the community due to conflicts caused by the behavior of some migrants; through this dense ethnography, the author recovers the feelings, the knowledge that is built in the day-to-day care at the shelter, which help to understand the transitions of those involved in the trajectories of the migrant population.

Manuela Camus also exposes the differentiated experiences of men and women in the mobility process. Women, being more vulnerable, have to pay more and seek protection during the journey. It is necessary to clarify that the violence and risks suffered by men in their migratory trajectories are not denied, but it is important to emphasize why the violence and violations experienced and suffered by migrant women are highlighted. The author explains the effects that U.S. migration policies have had on the transformation of migrations, in such a way that some migrants considered that they would stay in the shelters as a place to pass through; however, they have had to prolong their stay due to the difficulties in crossing into the neighboring country. Likewise, migrants generate the expectation of obtaining a humanitarian visa to be able to remain in a more regular condition in Mexico while the opportunity arises to continue the journey to cross into the United States.

As a consequence of these policies, migratory trajectories have been modified and the author makes a recategorization, since some migrants become what she calls satellite population: irregular people in a long-standing precarious insertion in the life of a metropolis. There are also the groups of multiple journeys and deportations that wander from city to city, from shelter to shelter, he calls them the "professionals of the road", abandoned, uprooted; there are also the refugees and non-refugees, the latter are not eligible and are positioned in a discourse and rules that legitimize their exclusion. It also shows through the testimonies that the shelter does not necessarily allow them integration and security, despite the efforts made by the management, volunteers and shelter workers.

Regarding the transformations of El Refugio Casa del Migrante, the author recovers its history and the changes in the migratory process not only with the people who participate, but also in the type of support it provides. As has happened with most of the shelters that begin with humanitarian aid, its creators concentrated on providing food and cleanliness; later, they incorporated other support such as legal services for refugees, collaboration and involvement of international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (unhcr), the German Cooperation for Sustainable Development, with projects to advise refugee applications; in addition, there is concern and interest in supporting the integration of the migrant population, such as the Casitas project, whose objective was to settle Central American migrants in an integration process in Guadalajara, just to mention a few. The author explains this multi-stakeholder participation from a multidimensional analysis mentioned at the beginning of this review, in which the lives and trajectories of migrants and collaborators, the community that interacts with them and the participation of international, national and local organizations are intertwined, such as the collaboration of fm4 Paso Libre in relation to socio-cultural processes and migration policies.

The author gives an account of the solidarity, but also exposes the conflicts, the frictions that exist between the people who are involved in the activities of the house, the new dynamics, the tensions with the arrival of families and the caravans that began in 2018, as well as among the migrants themselves. It concludes with a presentation of the challenges faced by El Refugio Casa del Migrante to become a civil association, the challenges to support those seeking refuge, not only with the institutional support of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid (eat), but also the support of other organizations.

In a reiterative but necessary way, he refers to the relevance of these shelters, which serve migrants who are abandoned as an expression of their precariousness, expelled and excluded from a social order: "They are destitute from the legal system, poor, racialized, outlawed, subaltern, de-citizenized, homo sacer" (p. 478). These are the people who circulate as part of an (in)mobilization of "precarious lives".

Ofelia Woo Morales D. in Social Sciences, professor-researcher in the Department of Socio-Urban Studies at the University of Guadalajara, member of the National System of Researchers at level iiProfile Promep. Topics of interest: international migration, specializing in the migration of Mexicans to the United States, female and family migration, return migration and immigration policy reforms. Author and coordinator of several national and international publications on these topics. Research projects in progress: "Mexican migration to the United States, between permanence and return" (Universidad de Guadalajara); collaborator in the project "Borders of the 21st Century" (Universidad de Guadalajara). xxiThe reconfiguration and new functions of the century's frontiers. xxi", El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, convocatoria Ciencia de Frontera, 2019.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: encartesantropologicos@ciesas.edu.mx. Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at https://encartes.mx. Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.