Transnational community life: Living apart, celebrating together, expanding social networks

Transnational community life: Living apart, celebrating together, expanding social networks

Beate Engelbrecht


Since the 1940s, inhabitants of a Purhépecha village in Michoacán, Mexico, have been migrating to the U.S.A. Nowadays, they live all over the U.S.A. –  some moving around from one place to the other, some settling down with their families thus creating small local communities. Some have achieved a legal status, others not; some have gained a quite secure economic position, others not; some have decided to live in the U.S., some are dreaming to return to their home village and others are forcefully returned. Instability is one of the daily experiences of Purhépecha migrants. In any case, their relation with the home village remains an important focus point.

The centre of most transnational interactions is the family. Nearly all families in the village have somebody living in the U.S.A.: subsequently, migration transforms the lives of individuals staying at home as well as abroad. In addition to financial remittances, migrants also send so-called social remittances such as ideas, practices, social capital, and emergent identities. However, family life among the migrants is different: they now have mixed marriages with non-Mexicans, meaning that their compadres (co-parents) are of different origins and children have friends of various backgrounds. Additionally, new relationships are developing at school, at the workplace or at leisure time activities.

Religion – the Catholic faith, vows to saints and the celebration of fiestas – are significant elements which tie together the members of the Purhépecha transnational community. Celebrations of fiestas in the places of destination are not only occasions to meet, but also opportunities to expand local social networks.

This research project particularly concerns Purhépecha migrants living in Florida. While first migrants from the village started to move in in the early 1990s, many have been ‘temporary migrants’ before they became settlers there. Living for so many years in the U.S.A., they have developed a specific transnational competence as well as a competence in living together in a quite diverse setting. The research concentrates on the organisation of feasts, which constitute a considerable challenge given community members’ dispersed living situation and already overloaded workdays in Florida.

The research focuses on three main topics: community building, transnational communication and representation, and questions of belonging. The findings will be analysed by way of theoretical concepts concerning local, transnational and parallel communities, audio-visual productions and the creation of virtual transnational spaces and social networks, and concepts of belonging including notions of origin, identity and orientation.