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Migration and Migrants in the Time of Globalization

Cardinal Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, addressed the Third National Congress of the Episcopal Commission for Culture in Mexico, particularly related, he said, “to the Fifth General Conference of CELAM in May of 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil, toward which all the Church in Latin America is preparing.”

Excerpts from his talk, translated by the Houston Catholic Worker, follow, previously published in Voces: Revista deTeología Misionera.

We are, and we want to be above all, believing witnesses, disciples, and missionaries of an ineffable mystery that keeps changing our lives. How not to begin, then, by turning our eyes to Him who has entrusted all to us. To the Firstborn of a multitude of brothers and sisters, He who explains our existence, our mission and our destiny: Jesus Christ. To prepare oneself to contemplate the Mystery of Christ, the Living Gospel of the Father, is already Good News. To Contemplate presupposes allow-ing oneself to be transfigured. Said in another way, to contemplate Christ is the antitheses of alienation, of angelism, of being unincarnate. Christ is the Son of God Incarnate, God with us, Emmanuel, born of the Most Holy Virgin Mary in the stable.

Christianity is much more than a sublime doctrinal teaching. It is the irruption of the self-same life of God in the being of man, not to be confused with immanent human efforts, if they are simultaneous with this happening.

Grace does not destroy what it comes to redeem: the whole person in the practice of his freedom. To enter into humility, that is to say, into the truth, presupposes recognizing the weight of the history of sin, and the equally historical weight of grace, la pesanteur et la gráce , said Simone Weil.

In the context of cultural changes in which the Church participates, the Servant of God John Paul II introduced, with wise discernment, a method which explicitly throws into relief the centrality of the Gospel, the specificity of the pastoral work of the Church and its undeniable and priority dialogue with the world. In terms of method, its efficacy depends not so much on its structure as on the pastoral and historical opportunity for its utilization. If the method of “see, judge and act” seeks to put faith in action, the method of “ contemplate, judge and act” seeks to generate and sustain the faith in times in which secularism, relativism, sectarian-ism, and religious indifference have drawn a new and challenging panorama for Evangelization.

To appraise man as a means of production, or as a magnet for capital, is to lack any knowledge of his deepest countenance, is to content oneself with positivist facts, ignoring and eluding the question of a solid identity in man. As an old friend of La France Catholique , Luc Baresta, said, everyone defends the rights of man, but no one wants to know: What is man that brings into existence such rights? Gabriel Marcel entitled Being and Having , the work that narrates this drama….

Migration: Some Cultural Challenges from Anthropology

1. Globalization and Rural Migration, a Race Against the Clock

My reflections today will pivot on two poles of discussion, profoundly linked and mutually influencing each other: rural culture and the field of urban culture. If it is quite true that the means of social communication at the service of the market economy have been transformed into an excellent vehicle for global culture, in a manner that almost makes it seem irrelevant to speak of a distinction between rural and urban culture, I have desired to maintain this division, not only to accent more specific phenomena of these two environments, but also to show from the beginning that globalization, as cultural homogeneity, must not in any way be perceived and valued as the last word in history. It is about a human process that as such is polivalent and ambivalent, complex fruit of the convergence of diverse factors, of diverse nature; fruit also of the synergy of responsible freedoms of all the political, economic, cultural and spiritual actors

Evoking rural culture in a global context leads me to relive my personal experience. I grew up receiving human and Christian formation together in my beloved native Anjou, in the west of France, in the Vandée angoigioina. I also refer to: rural life, the family and the tradition of faith as essential features. Because of this I have linked the first mention of the process of globalization in the campo to rural migration, a phenomenon which touches on the local or territorial dimension of rural culture. Globalization has not only mobilized capital, but above all persons. The transaction of millions from one bank to another, from one country to another, having been followed and preceded by so many human beings, each with an unrepeatable history and memory. Migration “sign of the times” as Pope Benedict XVI points out, possesses now a new element of cultural change owing to the feminization of this phenomenon. Men, women, and children refer to a specific local context, to a community. To migrate is to transport one’s own personal identity, own culture.

It is paradoxical that societies and systems, born of an uninterrupted migration, that pride themselves as being models of multicultural living together and sustainers of so much of the propaganda of human rights as a multiethnic global cultural model, stand by the creation of physical walls and unilateral discriminatory measures. Measures which are directed toward transforming the term migrant into a synonym of delinquency. Measures which are lamentably inflicted also in the south of Mexico on Central American migrants or in the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla with a barricade higher each time to keep out Sub-Saharan migrants.

The concern about the existence of xenophobic groups in Arizona pointed out by Bishop Renato Ascencio León in his press release in April of last year, as President of the Episcopal Commission for Human Mobility of Mexico, is rendered more intolerable by a proposed U. S. law labeled as a common good the stopping of the most important cultural minority of the United States, whether with a material or legislative fence. It seems that it is not the numbers which concerns people so much s the strong identity of a minority that is not diluted in the melting pot.

It is lamentable to have to confirm that fear continues to be the simplest method by which to control the masses, and the most pernicious way to guide cultures and peoples. As a historian I have learned that no wall can contain the movement of populations: not the Chinese wall, nor the Roman Limes, nor the Berlin Wall. Globalizing human rights and democracy as a political expression of respect for cultures presupposes beginning with one’s own house. It implies accepting the migratory consequences and cultures of a cruel, reductive globalization. It is not only that globalization is not the destiny determined by fate of the homogenization of a dominant mentality in the face of which one must renounce memory, creativity, originality, and the unrepeatability of genius and the human condition; it is actually globalization that now offers us the possibility of reflecting on the validity of cultural identity and diversity. Even today, millions of Mexicans and Latin Americans live in or come from rural areas. To these brothers make up more than 20% of the Latin American population, we also owe a word of encouragement, comfort, and a culturally concrete and positive overture.

2. The Anguish of Cultural Amnesia in Rural Migration and Globalization

Two existential elements mold the cultural morphology of the migrant: land and memory. In these two elements: the land, understood as geography and locality, and memory, two movements of cultural adaptation originate: 1. The necessity of abandoning rural areas or the locality for economic reasons, carries with it a certain disillusion or feelings of failure of the rural identity. 2. This obliges the migrant to fill the emptiness with a search for a new identity.

These two movements are proved true in a global context that generates them and influences them, a form of indifference toward the new local/political dimension. The same evasion that millions of young people find in drugs, having just arrived on the margins of urban centers refers to this first movement of obligatory forgetfulness or alienation. From the second comes on the other hand, a voracious hunger to possess, to have. Without land and without a past, there is only the frenetic struggle to possess in the present. Local or regional cultural identity has been emptied by a global and homogenizing paradigm of profit and competitiveness. How to ignore the burden of the uprooting in the formation of one’s own pursuit of identity, of the meaning of life .Uprooting is followed by insecurity, the confusion and anguish of lacking fundamental certainties. Can a specifically rural culture exist today that is a positive alternative? Can the geographic factor resist the tsunami of the attraction of the virtual panorama of an economy each day more urban?

To break with the physical setting is not something imma-terial in the history of the family, in domestic and regional customs, nor in the living of the faith. To abandon the land is to renounce having physical, geographic roots, in the land of fathers who begat me. To leave behind the physical setting of the population of one’s birth, to enter into the cement jungle, is to isolate oneself, voluntarily or not, from collective, traditional knowledge, knowledge that bound me to my house, to a leader of the family, to a history. It is to renounce being someone and to become anyone, an anonymous person, a name, in the best of cases, or a number. A person without a past is a person who possesses a mutilated present. The loss of memory is found to be among the most acute pains and anguish that a person suffers. The permanent amnesia can also initiate mental illness. Forgetting is not synonymous with healing. Bishop Rosendo Huesca said it forcefully at the Second Encuentro Continental in Rio de Janeiro: The migrant sees all the ties broken that unite him to others and to his entire environment. He suffers a profound and aggressive change that pulls him up by the roots from his identity in the family and community of origin, and carries him to the anonymity of the masses that he finds at his point of arrival.

2.3 Rural Migration and the Burden of Failure

The majority of immigrants and emigrants who live in the large cities have left their homes in search of an economic future that rural life does not give them, to receive health services, to continue their studies, for security. This is how the race of global competitiveness begins: migrate in order to survive, forget the rural in order to obtain work in the city, accept a salary of hunger with the objective of not being left without a salaried job. In this way one competes not only in labor quality, so much as in endurance of living on a salary that the economists call conditions favorable or competitive in the market. Migration presupposes not only leaving the land, but leaving the work. This is the perverse pendulum that is marking off the hours of life for millions of people. Competing in the marathonic race of hunger. The more you can bear, the more time you will have a salary of hunger . However much hunger there is on the other side of the planet, where more favorable competitive conditions exist, less time remains to you to enjoy your secure salary.

The impact of the social communications media rein-forces abandoning the rural areas by conveying a uniform model of culture . In the face of the hardness and insecurity of agricultural work and the mirage of the large cities, migrants abandon their homes in order to lack much, not only economic means for immediate subsistence, but also an attractive plan for happiness in a near future. Unconsciously the mentality of staying in the campoonly when one is old is inculcated. “Who can continue to live in the country when the city offers more money for less effort? How to continue to live in a place where it is not possible to have the house, the car, the clothing and the diversions of the city?” “It is necessary to be someone in life; therefore I have to study, to earn money and to be respected.” To be someone in the country or in the city means to have . This is the true negative burden of the push toward uniformity of globalization. The family or physical setting no longer is related to identity; it is enough to have . “Tell me how much you have, and I will tell you who you are.” The burden of failure, of not having, is the new fear of the hell of not being loved.

3. Migration and its cultural perspectives of structural development’

3.1 The cultural challenges of migration in the historical outlook

Rural culture has violently encountered globalization basi-cally in three ways: 1. The global competition of the large landed estates of transnational agribusiness that use advanced technology and exploit the earth, the environment, the number and pay of the workers, similar to the type of culture at the foundation of the international markets, sucking out of the earth without consideration for labor, culture, or environment. 2. The impact of the massive methods of communication already referred to. 3. And perhaps the most heart-rending, through the return of the same migrants, who upon returning to their land, on the occasion of patronal feasts or through family events, propagate the uniform model of culture, that is to say, the U. S. stereotype of economic power, that paradoxically even they themselves have not yet assimilated as their own.

Rural culture cannot be reduced only to agricultural work. That work is, however, the most generalized, and one of those which has most influenced cultural changes in the country. Therefore, allow me to bring to memory the agricultural panorama of many countries of this American continent, in which agriculture is developed in a dual manner, that is to say, a reduced number of owners possess the huge farms of the most fertile land, while a multitude of micro owners have the rest of the land, which not only in size, but also in productive quality are really the leavings. There exist, however, countries where even after agricultural reforms, and where fortunately this division has been disappearing.

Countries exist, however, where even after agrarian reforms, the duality of agricultural production has paradoxically increased, because the title to the land has turned into an object of buying and selling.

Upon not being able to compete with transnational corporations or powerful national businesses which are subject also to international markets, the small landowner sees himself pushed to sell his small property to the same huge landowners, who previously did not succeed in obtaining this land because of the agrarian reform.

The failure of agrarian reforms in various countries, the competitiveness of the inter-national markets and the anti-culture of profit have brought a new cultural element to the political task of development. To this situation of cultural contrast between the rural form of life and globalization is added political apathy and a cloud of discouragement, self-contempt, distrust, and cultural passivity that lead to a form of social life which desires nothing but profit.

3.2 Rediscovery of Politics as a Cultural Good

Reflecting that the first norm of politics is that all politics is local, brings to mind the regulatory measures that many developing countries have had to implement in order to be considered “competitive,” by foreign and national investors, in order to consider a submission of national policies to the global economy, unthinkable even 20 years ago. In rural areas as in the city, policies and politics have ceased being centralized in historical power of past decades, to occupy a position of servant, not to mention slave, of the economic order.

If the economy today more than ever appears as global, and the essence of politics is to be local, there is no doubt that the specificity of a culture that is born in a real locality, not virtual, can influence new cultural movements that rediscover the political dimension of the person and the local community, of the environment and the economy. A comprehensive ministry of culture not only can discern the symptoms of cultural weakness, it must also and above all, offer proposals and solutions for development from the Gospel.

Reevaluating the historical burden of politics and policies that can collaborate with the phenomenon of migration presupposes a cultural redis-covery of the dignity of the human person. This necessarily demands a positive inter-pretation filled with hope of one’s own personal, family, community, and social history.

We are present to a submission of politics, the sciences and technology to what some call the imperial science of economics and simultaneously to a philosophical awakening, even more an anthropology in the same economic science. In this sense the increase in economic benefits shows that if indeed the economy is an important element in the development of happiness it does not constitute the absolute criterion or glue that holds together the interpretation of history.

In this context, that seems only dull and gray, one perceives in the migrant communities two anthropological characteristics that are influencing the historical development of rural culture, the opening to material progress and solidarity of the family. Rediscovering the particular human dignity and cultural identity of the migrant can create a new outlook for human development. In this sense pastoral interest in history and family, community, and regional memory offer an indispensable foundation as much for interpersonal encoun-ters as for the formulation of an authentic politics and policy of solidarity. To recover the local presupposes recovering memory and an adequate political perspective as much as human dignity and regional cultural idiosyncrasy.

The migrant and contemporary man meet then between two incentives: hunger and the lack of the meaning of life. To emigrate in order to eat, to live; for what? To work so much, to have? And to have in order to live, with whom?

As I have said, contemporary cultural changes of migration and globalization cannot be reduced to a new geopolitics, but rather a telluric movement at the core of existential understanding of contemporary man that creates culture. The paradigm or cultural event that reveals the meaning of history can only come from the irruption of a Word of immanence and transcendence that re -dimensions the historical outlook from the perspective of a spiritual renewal. That dimension that redirects the search for the good, the true, and the beautiful toward a destiny greater than the particular bourgeois self, beyond collectivism and profit, a clearly transcendent dimension. A relation of man with God that renews and completely elevates the stature of the person; that empowers his relational capacity with the Creator, with his neighbors, and with creation, more re -dimensioned and serene.

The dimensión of the parish or communities, and the public dimension of the public or of multitudes, can find a culturally positive direction upon identi-fying the necessity of an intense community life, no longer according to a traditionally rural order, but as an exercise of and growth of personal freedom including in an urban environment. Migration as a human right must be a choice and not a necessity, as the important Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of the United States and Mexico declares about migration: Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.\

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, May-June 2007.