You Are Part of the Migration Story

The story of migration from the perspective of many Americans is often partisan, tragic, and impersonal–it starts at the southern border and ends on cable news. But a story that centers the people who migrate often starts in our communities.

Along the Inter-American highway on the drive up from Lake Atitlán to our communities, among short stretches of corn fields and sleepy rural towns, huge ostentatious homes rise three, four floors above roadside small businesses or else stand half-completed, like they’re waiting for something. 

In many cases, it’s because they are waiting–for their owners to return from the U.S., or to send the money to finish construction. They’re casas de remesa, or remittance houses, financed by those who have left their home communities and migrated to the U.S. in search of steady work, a living wage, and a better life for themselves and their families. They are just one visible example of the unspoken, complex, inextricable connections between Guatemala and the United States that overshadow the lives of so many of the families and communities we serve. 

The story of migration from the perspective of many Americans is often partisan, tragic, and impersonal–it starts at the southern border and ends on cable news. But a story that centers the people who migrate often starts in our communities. 

For Mil Milagros staff and communities, migration is extremely personal. Several of our staff members have husbands, and many have family and extended family who have chosen to migrate to the U.S in search of work. In conversations with students at partner schools, when we say we’re from the U.S., each student erupts to share that they have some kind of connection–an aunt, a cousin, an uncle, a parent, or both, living there too. 

We’ve spoken before about Dalila, who is the only one of her eight siblings who hasn’t made the journey across the border. Her community, Campo Verde, is made up almost entirely of women and women leaders because almost all of the men have chosen to migrate. We could fill a whole blog post with these kinds of personal details. But in Guatemala, migration is something that often gets glossed-over–something many people prefer not to discuss openly even when it shapes many of their lives every single day.  

Mil Milagros is not an organization that works directly to alleviate issues of migration but our work with Indigenous women and communities is nonetheless deeply shaped by the same root causes that influence so many families to leave their communities behind in search of a better future elsewhere: extreme poverty, discrimination, and lack of stable economic opportunities, quality education, infrastructure, and health services. 

And it is deeply shaped in turn by migration itself: when parents decide to migrate to the U.S. they often leave their families behind. Sometimes, they never come back, or they stop sending money, leaving their families struggling to make ends meet. Family separation and economic precarity means that children struggle in school or drop out, and the cycle continues in the next generation. This year, our partnership with USAID has shed new light on the complex web of obstacles that migration causes and exacerbates. 

“Migration has both positive and negative effects at a community level,” says Isabel Chávez, Director for Mil Milagros’ Health Program, and Social Work degree candidate writing her thesis on this very topic. “At its worst, migration generates both family and community disintegration: many people have asked to be removed from participation in community efforts like the School Board because they won’t be coming back, there are less and less workers to repair and maintain existing community infrastructure, and when communities empty out there is also a loss of tradition and cultural identity in addition to individual family consequences like physical and psychological abandonment and the perpetuation of extreme poverty. But there are also many positive consequences—better houses and living situations, access to quality healthcare and education, and funding that groups of migrants put toward community development efforts like support for the elderly and vulnerable, or community centers, sports, and social activities.” 

Many Mil Milagros staff members have seen and experienced these consequences first-hand. Addressing systemic issues like access to quality education and health information on a community-wide scale is not something that will ever happen overnight. But with dedicated local leaders like Isabel and Dalila who are passionate about making their communities better places to live, and staying in them long-term, Mil Milagros has made a difference: students in our partner schools consistently go on to middle school at a rate much higher than the department average, and we’ve reached over 30,000 people in Sololá with videos about early childhood development and hygiene education.    

Change is possible in rural Guatemala. Whether it’s speaking with school administrators about the importance of monitoring hygiene supplies and clean water in schools so that children don’t get sick, counseling new mothers to make sure that their babies are growing well, or showing new Mother Leaders how much they’re capable of, our team is out there every day making personal connections and changing behaviors so that the next generation can grow up healthy–so they can stay where they are, and continue to thrive, rather than making the impossible choice to leave their home behind.

Migration is also something that many people in the U.S. prefer not to look at too closely, even though it can be just as personal. There are almost 2 million people of Guatemalan origin currently living in the United States. Whether or not you’re conscious of it, there are people like those in our communities living in your city, your neighborhood, running small businesses, raising their families. They want the same things you want: a safe place to call home, opportunities for work, for their children to grow up healthy and get an education. The story of our communities is also part of your story–of the places you love, the communities you’re part of, the country you’re living in. We are all connected, across borders, languages, heritage, in ways both large and small. 

Change is possible in rural Guatemala. Join the movement to build a brighter future, one leader at a time.