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Transatlantic Project Reviews Shifting Global Migration

May 5, 2011

A recent high-level panel explored the social, political, and economic implications of the increasingly fluid wave of global migration, as part of the Transatlantic Dialogues at Brown. Moderated by Ignacio Polanco, president of the Madrid-based PRISA Group of media companies, the speakers discussed the flow of peoples between the Global South and Global North, and also within the regions.

“What we need now is a ‘New Deal’ for Mexico,” said Carlos Fuentes, Mexican writer and Brown professor-at-large, opening the panel discussion. In the US, Mexican immigrants fill a particular demand for workers – “workers left behind in the post-industrial economy,” he said. However, tension persists between migrants and US natives. But “they are workers, not criminals,” Fuentes said, and a more humanitarian approach to Mexican migration is needed – one that does not involve installing a $13 billion wall between Mexico and the US.

Moreover, Fuentes illuminated the other side of the issue of Mexican workers in Mexico, “which is not touched upon as much as it should be.” Mexico has three sources of foreign income: oil, tourism, and funds sent back from the US by migrant workers, said Fuentes. However, these industries are too unpredictable. Mexico has a vibrant, strong labor force capable of fueling the development of the country. Mexico just needs to create its own sources of employment and growth based on its own resources or “we will be in trouble soon,” concluded Fuentes.

Cesar Conde, president of the Univision media company, picked up the conversation to provide insight into the dynamics occurring within the United States regarding the Hispanic demographic his company serves. “Ten to fifteen years ago, this business was a niche,” but now Univision is one of the largest media companies in the US. As evidenced by this change, the Hispanic demographic is still growing exponentially, said Conde. Unlike previous US immigration waves, however, Conde noted that the Mexican migration differs on three accounts: Mexico’s proximity to the US, Mexicans’ strong language and cultural affinity, and the easy access of technology. In addition, the growth is no longer a regional phenomenon, with Mexican migrants inhabiting “non-traditional” markets, like New Mexico, the Carolinas, and even the Midwest, said Conde.

However, in conjunction with this continued growth, there have been two increasingly challenging issues: education and civic engagement. “Hispanics continue to lag behind,” in the US education system and in the voting bloc, with 50 percent graduation rates from high school, and Hispanics composing “probably 7 to 8 percent of the electorate,” despite being 16 percent of the US population.  Something needs to be done. “This is the population which will be driving our competitive strength for the next 10, 20, and 50 years. We have an American, not a Hispanic issue,” said Conde.

Drawing the discussion out to a broader context, Romano Prodi, former Prime Minister of Italy, applied the European immigration case, in order to interpret the dynamics of global migration.  “Europe has always been a land of immigrants,” said Prodi. However, high levels of unemployment have coexisted with the extra-European and intra-European – although mostly intra-European – migration. Due to this factor, a fear of immigrants developed, which has fostered a transition of Europe from “a sort of mixture, into a touchy situation,” said Prodi. However, this change in political perception “is absolutely impossible to stop,” said Prodi. As a result, notions of “multiculturalism” often give way to ideas of cultural superiority and ethnocentrism. Global labor, such as the 58,000 Chinese workers working in Tripoli, poses threats to identity. Similarly, the large Islamic wave, and significant unemployed labor forces, such as Africa’s many unemployed and underused youth, have continued to fuel fears about immigration, said Prodi.

Illustrating a greater interconnectedness between nations, Manuel Elkin Patarroyo, a Colombian scientist, addressed the role of global migration in converging rather than diverging groups. “Disasters around the world are reshaping the public landscape,” he said. Diseases –and their soon-to-be-developed affordable vaccines – are and will be easily transmitted and received by natives and migrants across borders.

In contrast, Brazilian journalist Robert Teixeira, turned inward, discussing how the change in immigration might affect domestic matters in Brazil. Due to current events, such as the recent earthquake in Japan, the revolutions in northern Africa, and Brazil’s successful economy, the flow of immigration to and from Brazil has been altered.  Many Brazilians who went to work in the US, Portugal, Spain, and Japan are now coming back to Brazil, said Teixeira. However, “the consequences have yet to be seen,” he added.

This panel was part of the Transatlantic Dialogues series, sponsored by the Transatlantic Project at Brown.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Kaori Ogawa ‘12