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Stories of “return migrants” in Mexico City

Film by Luis Carrión

Hundreds of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexican migrants are forming new communities of shared culture and life experience. Not in the Unites States, but in Mexico.

During a trip to Mexico City in 2015, I noticed groups of English-speaking Mexicans near the Monumento a la Revolución in the city’s historic center. They are “return migrants”—sometimes called “Americanized Mexicans” or “pochos”—who have been deported or forced to return to Mexico under the pressures of criminalization and marginalization in the U.S. Those brought north across the border as young infants who grew up in the U.S. are known as “1.5 generation” undocumented migrants.

Forced back to Mexico by the thousands, many find employment in transnational call centers set up to capitalize on the growing population of English-speaking workers. Now known as “Little LA,” the area around la Revolución where I first met them, has become a de facto capital city or hub for return migrants. According to Mexican census figures, many of the 1.4 million-plus Mexicans who have moved to Mexico—including about 300,000 children born in the United States —live and work in Little LA. There, they engage in transnational acts of resistance, community building, and belonging.

The growing community of returnees in Mexico highlights the lopsided narrative around U.S./Mexico migration, which focuses either on paths to citizenship or on fear-based rhetoric about the need to protect US borders from “caravans” of migrants or dangerous criminals. When I tried to learn more about the retornados and deportados, I found very little written about them. Once they arrive in Mexico after living in the U.S., I realized, it’s as if they disappear into a virtual black hole.

I wanted to understand better this cultural and economic phenomenon by documenting the lives and stories of the migrants themselves. The people I’ve interviewed spent most of their lives in the U.S., and now find themselves living in a what is, in essence, a foreign country. Many struggle to find a sense of belonging, even though Mexico is their birthplace. My film asks how former “Americans” live in a country they barely know, and how they navigate the challenges of deportation or forced return migration.

The excerpt below features Diana Sanchez, one of the retornadas/deportadas, and is part of a larger film project I am working on. The project is possible by the University of Arizona Department of Latin American Studies with funding from Tinker Foundation Field Research Grant and the UA Confluence Center’s Fronteridades with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Luis Carrión is the lead producer/videographer at UA Digital Learning. He is the recipient of eight regional Emmy Awards for his video productions, and he considers himself first and foremost a storyteller. 

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