The Mexican Migration Mosaic

Dickinson students and faculty in the Mexican Migration Mosaic worked with communities in Adams County, Pennsylvania and Peribán in Michoacán, Mexico. These communities, which lie on opposite ends of the continent, stand connected through family, work and circular migration. Participating in intensive fieldwork, students came to better understand the living and labor conditions, the economy and culture, and the lives of people in both regions. They also had the opportunity to pick apples in the Adams County orchards, visit migrant worker camps, teach ESL in school classes and after-school programs, work with the health clinics, and interview growers and advocacy groups in Adams County. In Peribán, students were involved in ethnographic fieldwork and interviewing families of migrant workers and people who have settled in Adams County.

We had lots of conversations with people who have crossed the border to work in El Norte.

In the process, we all learned much about ourselves, the U.S. and Mexico – and the people who traverse both cultures.



Adams County, Pennsylvania:

“The apple capital of the country,” has experienced a large increase in Mexican residents and workers since the early 1990s. While only a few Mexicans worked in the apple orchards in the 1980s, today they represent 25% of the total population of 581 residents in York Springs, one of several small towns that dot the countryside. In order to better understand the lives of Mexican migrant workers, the patterns of circular migration, and community reception, faculty at Dickinson College designed a semester-long Mexican Migration Mosaic Project that engaged 3 faculty and 21 students in ethnographic fieldwork and oral history interviewing. Interested in the patterns of community transformation, Mexican migration and settlement, labor and ethnic relations, and family and educational issues, we interviewed Mexican seasonal migrant workers who lived and worked in the camps and huertas (orchards), crew leaders, farm owners, Mexicans who have begun to settle in the small towns around the area, their Anglo neighbors, government and school officials, and school teachers.

Adams County in Central Pennsylvania is an important place to understand the lives of Mexican-Americans, for unlike California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, or other regions well known as destinations for immigrants from Latin America, Pennsylvania does not share a border with Mexico. It never was a part of the Mexican Republic, nor does it have a large pre-existing Spanish speaking or Native American population, nor a long history of relations between Anglo-Americans and Mexican-Americans. Thus, we were able to work with a relatively new ethnic community which is in the process of negotiating its place within the culture of a region of the United States that, for the most part, is new territory. We were also able to conduct oral history interviews in the region from which many of the Mexican residents come: Peribán.

Peribán, Michoacán, México:

By tracking where money orders were sent, the 1998 Mosaic discovered that the majority of the Mexicans living in York Springs, Pennsylvania came from Peribán in the highlands of Michoacán, México. After the harvest season had ended, we left the apple orchards of Adams County for the avocado orchards of Peribán and spent the month of November doing ethnographic field work and conducting oral history interviews. By the end of fall 2003, we had conducted some 87 video and audio-taped interviews, about 30 of which have been transcribed. We also had more informal conversations with some 15 migrant workers, most of whom were undocumented. Because of their illegal status, we only took handwritten notes of those conversations and used pseudonyms.

Through oral history interviewing, we were able to learn what the causes, costs and consequences of migration have been for and by the people who traverse the border and come to live in two communities. We gained a much greater understanding not only of migrant labor and ethnic diversity in Adams County and the transformation of York Springs as a community undergoing great change, but also of the sacrifices made by men, women and children on both sides of the border - and the love that sustains them. While some families are broken or cut off by the experience of migration and migrant work, others are stretched across the borders and remain in contact with letters, phone calls, emails, video tapes, music, food, clothes and money going back and forth. It is these individuals and families who are transforming their communities at home and abroad and, in the process, forming transnational communities in both Adams County and Peribán.

 “The reception was amazing,” said Susan Rose, a sociologist and one of the 3 faculty members directing the Mosaic along with Professors Marcelo Borges (History) and Kjell Enge (Anthropology). People have been very warm and welcoming, willing to open their homes and share their lives with us. It has been a remarkable experience. “In the first week in Peribán we were invited to have a meal with at least 5 families- all 14 of us!” All of the families- and virtually everyone we have met - has either worked in the United States at one point in time, or has a family member who works in the U.S. now. Since Peribán is off the tourist track, we are very noticeable but people have been very open and welcoming- in part because people have friends and family who work and live in the United States. Peribán de Ramos, surrounded by avocado orchards, is also a beautiful mountain town with some 11,000 inhabitants and a lively plaza.

We decided to go to Peribán because the majority of remittances are sent there form people living in and around York Springs, Pennsylvania. Peribán de Ramos serves as the cabecera municipal, or county seat of the municipality of Peribán, in the state of Michoacán, Mexico. With 11,200 residents, Peribán de Ramos is primarily an agricultural region, producing avocados and a wide range of fruits and vegetables. The nearest major city to this rural Mexican town, Uruapan, is over an hour away. Several of the roads that lead away from Peribán are still not paved. While Peribán de Ramos itself has electricity and potable water, several of the 33 communities in the municipality of some 25,000 inhabitants do not. The rates of un- and under-employment are high, which accounts for the extensive levels of migration to the United States.

Peribán de Ramos is also the hometown of the majority of the Mexican migrants and immigrants now living in York Springs, Pennsylvania. Many maintain constant contact with their families in Peribán, and an informal network has been established where potential migrants receive information about work opportunities in Pennsylvania and the latest conditions and problems crossing the border. Considerable sums of money are sent back to Mexico, and some migrants are constructing new homes in their home villages with earnings from the US. We will focus on the impacts of circular migration on community transformation in both the sending community of Peribán de Ramos and the receiving community of York Springs, PA.

York Springs, Adams County, PA:

Adams County lies some 18 miles from Dickinson's campus, and was host to the Dickinson's 1998 American Mosaic. It has long been one of the most productive fruit growing regions in the United Sates. Local growers of apples, peaches, pears, and other orchard fruits have historically depended upon migrant worker to pick their crops cheaply and efficiently throughout the region.

In recent years, laborers have come from outside the United States, mostly migrating north from Mexico. Many of them come from villages in the state of Michoacán, not far from Querétaro, Dickinson's partner site for international programs in Mexico.


Many of the Mexican migrant workers have decided to settle permanently in the small towns that dot the county, particularly in municipalities such as Biglerville, York Springs, and Gettysburg. These permanent residents are in the process of establishing a Mexican-American community in Adams County, a development that has introduced the region to new degrees of linguistic, racial, religious, and cultural diversity. For this reason, the region provides a rich site for students interested in learning about ethnicity and multi-culturalism in the United States. According to the U.S. Census data, there were 1,216 Hispanics in Adams County in 1990 and almost triple that number in 2000 with 3,323 persons of Hispanic or Latino origin. While 95.4 percent of the Adams County population is white, 3.6 percent is Hispanic or Latino. Of this 3.6%, seventy-two percent (2,366) are of Mexican origin.

Increasingly, families, as well as single men, are settling and finding work in the food processing and poultry plants, egg factories, and construction. According to the U.S. Census data, there were 1,216 Hispanics in Adams County in 1990 and almost triple that number in 2000 with 3,323 persons of Hispanic or Latino origin out of a total population of 91,292 residents. While 95.4 percent of the Adams County population is white, 3.6 percent is Hispanic or Latino. Of this 3.6%, seventy-two percent (2,366) are of Mexican origin. York Springs has a total population of 574 residents; the Hispanic population is 141 people, with 138 of those originating from Mexico (U.S. Census Bureau 2000).

The Esquivel and García Families & Dickinsonians in York Springs (left) and Peribán (right).