Imagined lives and modernist chronotopes in Mexican nonmigrant discourse



The globalization literature spotlights the way that the experiences of transnational actors are refracted through lives inhabitable elsewhere. In this article, I examine this process in spoken discourse about U.S.-bound migration produced by nonmigrants in the Mexican city of Uriangato. This talk is organized around a “modernist chronotope” that pits “progress” against “tradition,” producing images of space–time grafted onto images of persons, or social personae. I show that acts of position taking vis-à-vis these social personae are fundamentally expressed through the ways speakers deploy the modernist chronotope and, thus, become emplotted in its imaginative sociology—a practice that constructs speakers as certain gender and class types. [discourse, chronotope, transnational migration, modernity, social positioning, gender and socioeconomic class]

One—From where we eat breakfast, we can see the airplane fly overhead. Three months have passed since Christmas 2001, when loved ones in the United States returned to visit their Mexican hometown for the holidays. Two-year-old Alfredo points excitedly toward the plane, exclaiming, “¡Papí!” as if his father has just walked through the door.1 I have been living with his family since I began my fieldwork in September, and I have seen Alfredo do this anytime one of those rare birds passes. When his father left, the boy accompanied his mother to the airport to bid Papí farewell. And this is what he seems to think of his father: Papí travels perpetually skyward, passing over occasionally to say hello. His mother giggles delightedly when Alfredo calls to the planes, proud of her son's efforts to comprehend a fundamental fact of life here: Loved ones go away; they go allá (there). To el Norte. The United States.

Two—It is evening. The spring air has drawn my friend Angélica and me out onto the sidewalk to watch the neighbors as they return from factory jobs or walks around the city's central square. As people go by, we nod and say, “Adios”[Hello–goodbye] in the style of proper sidewalk sociality, acknowledging everyone with eyes and words. Angélica's five-year-old niece plays in the street before us. She is shy around strangers, so when an acquaintance of her aunt's stops to talk, the girl lowers her head, refusing to greet the woman. Embarrassed, her aunt—who, childless at middle age, treats the girl as her own—pushes her to look the woman in the eye and shake her hand, calling her niece “muy ranchera”[very country]. The adults laugh; the girl is shamed. This is an interaction I have witnessed between aunt and niece dozens of times; this name-calling is a form of conditioning—Othering the country to teach the girl how to be urban. And the girl feels the sting: She runs off and will not talk to us for hours.

Three—I am washing clothes at the outdoor sink when Chucha, the beautiful single mom from down the street, rushes into the house. “Discúlpame”[I am sorry], she says. “Dejaron la puerta abierta”[The front door was open]. Chucha often bursts in like this, as her life has been in upheaval and ours is the only household on the street that will still socialize with her. She is pariahed: People assume her ex-husband left because she violated their marriage. She just learned he won the suit she filed for child support—even though she takes care of their three daughters and, thus, has a limited ability to work; even though her ex is a manager at a clothing factory and comes from money; even though he left her for another woman. None of this matters; he bribed the judge. “Así es la vida aquí, Jili”[That's how it is here, Hilly], she says to me. “No es como allá”[Not like there]. There the law means something—there, she imagines, the law would protect a single mother from unscrupulous judges and ex-husbands. She cannot take it any more. She is going—to make something for her girls. And she does: Four weeks later, she departs for the United States, leaving her daughters with two aging aunts.

Imagining a life beyond here

These vignettes come from daily life in Uriangato, Mexico: a small, industrial city that has several migrant pathways to the United States. In the early 2000s, I conducted extended fieldwork on U.S.-bound migration in the working-class Uriangatense neighborhood where these stories unfolded.2 In this neighborhood, the majority of households have family members in the United States, and people regularly evoke lives “beyond here” in the course of routine activities. In evoking these lives, migrants and their nonmigrant relations engage in an activity scholars have posited is a central way the practices of contemporary globalization, such as transnational migration, enter into the lived experience of actors: the refraction of one's present life through a prism of possible lives inhabitable somewhere else (Appadurai 1996; Gupta 1992; Larkin 2002; Messing 2007).3 The existing scholarship has paid special attention to the role of mass media as suppliers of images of lives “beyond here.” Although mass-mediated images influence Uriangatense global imaginings, there is a much more immediate supplier of images of a life beyond: discourse about migration spoken by Uriangatenses themselves.

In Uriangatense migrant enclaves, migration discourse is as pervasive as the movement of people. It flows through conversations between spouses separated by migration. It animates sidewalk gossip sessions. And it draws lives imagined in migration into actually unfolding happenings in Uriangato, even for people who have never migrated and who may never migrate. In this way, migration discourse serves as a form of “virtual space-time travel” (Lempert and Perrino 2007a:208), a fulcrum through which the “beyond here” enters into the present (Urban 1996:71). And a key feature of this discourse is the production and circulation of images of a “life beyond.” Take the case of Chucha, the woman from the final opening vignette: Migration discourse gave her access to life as a single mother in the United States—a life that helped her make sense of and formulate responses to the events of her legal battle in Mexico.

Such images, and the discourse they emerge from and circulate through, are not endlessly mutable but routinized and broadly recognizable in Uriangatense migrant enclaves. The central ballast for this routinization—its organizing principle—is a hegemonic time–space envelope, or chronotope (Bakhtin 1996:84), that contrasts Mexico and the United States. M. M. Bakhtin uses the chronotope to describe how novelistic discourse fuses spatiotemporal indicators into integrated wholes in which “time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history” (1996:84). Thus, the production of chronotopes is one way actors make available times and spaces that otherwise would not be phenomenologically accessible, like the “beyond here” of migration. Linguistic anthropologists have adapted Bakhtin's work to the study of “cultural chronotopes”: prevailing space–time configurations particular to a given cultural milieu, such as the chronotope that organizes migration discourse (Agha 2007b; Inoue 2004; Lempert and Perrino 2007b; Silverstein 2005). This cultural chronotope relies on a modernist binary that configures the United States as a land of socioeconomic mobility and progress, but also of moral dissolution, and Mexico as a land of morality and family, but also of socioeconomic stagnation—a framework that one finds animates distinctions between rural and urban Uriangato as well. From this latter perspective, urban Uriangato is the progressive realm to the “backward” rural communities around it, as illustrated in the vignette about the girl chastised for being “too country.” This Uriangatense modernist chronotope, then, laminates two spatiotemporal framings: one with a progressive sense of time, in which Mexico–the rural is languishing, and another with a stationary–traditional sense of time, in which the United States–the urban is immoral. As part of this, transnational migration is posited as a way to traverse these spatiotemporal framings—to gain progress, though at the risk of sacrificing morality.

The reader will no doubt notice the similarity between the Uriangatense modernist chronotope and the cultural concepts of many vernacular (i.e., nonscholarly) modernisms that posit certain societies, on the one hand, “as ‘behind’ and therefore in need of a way to ‘catch up’” (Donham 1999:xv) and, on the other hand, as superior morally (Asad 2003; Winegar 2006). That is, the modernist chronotope discussed here, though a cultural product of working-class Uriangato, is linked to widely shared assumptions about modernity. Indeed, as scholars have come to treat modernity as an analytical problem, it has become evident that modernist frameworks are quite relevant ethnographically, as people in our field sites regularly “reckon” with, construct, and learn to embody modernity(ies) (Bauman and Briggs 2003; Lester 2005:265–302; Winegar 2006). Some have even suggested that earlier generations of anthropologists drew modernist frameworks from their research consultants, translating them into scholarly theory (Donham 1999; Winegar 2006).4 And because actors ascribe interpretive power to modernist frameworks, modernity has a social reality. To be sure, work on the semiotics of lives in migration suggests that modernist frameworks are a primary way people make sense of and link their lives to global processes (Eisenlohr 2006; Mendoza-Denton 2008). Thus, it is important that we address the local resonances of these frameworks and the particular kinds of social and interactional work they help actors accomplish.

In this article, I examine how the Uriangatense modernist chronotope organizes the ways speakers articulate their lives with transnational migration and related social transformations, especially the late 20th-century industrialization of their town and the possibilities for class mobility created by this industrialization (cf. Messing 2007). What interests me about this practice is not what it reveals about modernity per se—a subject thoroughly explored in the existing literature (Appadurai 1996; Giddens 1991; Harvey 1990; Urban 2001). Rather, I focus on how speakers use articulations of migration discourse, organized by a modernist chronotope, to take positions that help construct those speakers as certain locally recognizable social types in Uriangato. This article, then, resonates with literature on transnational migration that emphasizes social positioning as a force shaping people's encounters with sociocultural, national, and economic borders (Basch et al. 1994; Kearney 1995), especially the burgeoning scholarship theorizing the ways language practices shape the negotiation of transnational social positionings (Eisenlohr 2006; Farr 2006; Koven 2004, 2007; Mendoza-Denton 2008). This article, however, considers people who have not moved and who may not ever move.

A key feature of the process of position taking in Uriangatense migration discourse is the cultural images of persons, or social personae, that populate the modernist chronotope: backward rural girls, mobile migrant fathers, and so on. That is, this chronotope, like any chronotope, projects not only a representation of space–time but also an imaginative sociology (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992:184) of possible lives that inhabit that space–time (Agha 2007b; Silverstein 2005:6). In articulating the modernist chronotope, speakers variously attach themselves to these personae, accepting some as representative of their own lives. Such attachments, or alignments, help construct speakers as certain locally salient social types: Chucha, for example, called on the image of a single mother in the United States to enact herself as someone barred from the pathways of upward mobility in Uriangato.

My central argument is that acts of position taking vis-à-vis the social personae created in migration discourse are fundamentally constructed through the way speakers deploy the modernist chronotope; as part of this, speakers (re)create its imaginative sociology, thus, mapping themselves into it—a practice that makes them into locally recognizable kinds of people, with particular dreams, life paths, and material surrounds. This practice especially comments on and (re)creates socioeconomic class and gender differences in Uriangato. For instance, female nonmigrants are more likely than male nonmigrants to align themselves positively with images of people in migration—a disparity that, as I suggest at the end of the article, grows from men's and women's disparate access to the resources that facilitate socioeconomic mobility in Uriangato. Therefore, although the standard modernist chronotope is recognizable to any working-class speaker, not everyone agrees with it or deploys it in the same fashion. Its use, then, helps regulate social relations and interaction, for, through it, speakers formulate, morally justify, and realize life's happenings, from court cases to neighborly greetings. Thus, this practice is a prime way that images of a “life beyond”—and the global processes they mediate—become consequential to people; for this reason, scholars of migration and transnationalism should attend to it.

Sometimes such position taking is deliberate, consciously engaged in to particular interactional ends, as when Angélica chides her niece as muy ranchera to display her own social graces. But patterns of alignment to personae that undergird position taking, though produced by speakers, often develop beyond their awareness through the discursive patterns that emerge over the course of an interaction (Dick 2010; Silverstein 2001). Thus, my focus here is on such patterns, understood as acts of position taking, rather than on conscious acts of position claiming. Tracking such position taking requires attending to the ways speakers coordinate or calibrate (Silverstein 1993:52) the modernist chronotope to actual events of speaking. Therefore, after an explication of the organizing themes of the modernist chronotope, I examine how one speaker—a nonmigrant I call “Jesús”—calibrates an unfolding conversation with me to that chronotope. Drawing on Silverstein 1993 and Eisenlohr 2006, I argue that one type of calibration is especially significant to understanding acts of position taking in migration discourse: nomic calibration, the coordination of the present event with a space–time construed as characterizing a distinct ontic realm. This analysis shows that Jesús deploys the modernist chronotope to position himself as unlike migrants in the United States, whom he represents as trapped in the class position they sought to escape; through this deployment, he enacts himself as a socioeconomically mobile person in the morally superior terrain of Uriangato.

Chronotopic migration: Between progress and morality

The Uriangatense modernist chronotope is most immediately observable in two rhetorical themes that recur across instances of migration discourse: siguiendo adelante (getting ahead) and creating a vida bonita (moral life).5 To seguir adelante is to gain access to the employment and material goods that facilitate improvements in class position; and so, the modernist chronotope is, in part, always a comment on socioeconomic class and class mobility. Although most working-class Uriangatenses positively value “getting ahead,” many believe that the barriers to doing so in Mexico are insurmountable—that they must go to the United States to get ahead. In working-class Uriangato, then, “getting ahead” often also involves the capacity to move outside the material and imaginative confines of life in Mexico. These ideas are expressed eloquently in the following excerpt from a conversation with a female nonmigrant who lives in Uriangato: “Angélica,” the woman from the second opening vignette. Angélica is single, middle-aged, and works as a seamstress in Uriangato's textile industry. She has 12 siblings, 10 of whom have migrated to the United States. She uttered the following to explain why she would like to migrate:

One here always works and works and never has anything—never. One works, and you live more or less. Um, one doesn't complain, right?, because, well we wouldn't say that food is lacking, no. But … or, in order that you might put together money or something, you never do anything. You need to be in other things [laughter] or go there so you might have [something], to get ahead. Because like that from one's work, no. One's work is only for getting by.6

Angélica argues that to do more than estarla pasando (get by)—to seguir adelante—one must either be in “other things,” which I take to be a reference to illegal activities, or go “there”: the United States. And she is not alone in making this claim. In 70 conversations I recorded with Uriangatenses in Mexico and the United States, I found that roughly 85 percent of people articulated the idea that social mobility requires departures from the regular confines of working-class life in Uriangato, especially through migration to the United States. This idea is hegemonic, a centering point for their migration discourse.

The theme of “getting ahead” is not unique to Uriangatense discourse but is pervasive in Mexico. Most notably, one finds it articulated in Mexico's nationalist discourse and its promotion of “progress,” evidenced in the slogans, policies, and practices of government entities, from public schools to health clinics to the electric company (Castellanos 2007; Messing 2002, 2007:259, 266–268). The multifaceted trope of “progress” is integral to Mexico's long commitment to the modernist project of becoming a “first world nation”—a project that depends on the assumption that Mexico is behind and in need of “catching up,” especially to the standards of socioeconomic development set by the United States (Bartra 1992; Lomnitz-Adler 1992; Messing 2007:566–567; Tenorio-Trillo 1996). This notion is exemplified in early 20th-century scholarship on migration between Mexico and the United States (Kearney 1986; Walsh 2004). Influenced heavily by modernization theory, this work—like Uriangatense migration discourse—is organized by a chronotope that posits an “undeveloped” world represented as a “present-day past” of rurality and a developed world represented as a “present-day future” of urbanity. In this framework, migrants are understood to traverse this history across space, as illustrated in a 1927 lithograph by Everett Gee Jackson,7 in which migrants depart from the trappings of their rurality (the burro, the sombrero) and move toward an urban future, with their backs turned on the past, represented by the peasant, idle before his humble home (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Everett Gee Jackson lithograph—Modernist Migration.

This kind of mapping of time onto space—so that, in traveling across space, one moves backward or forward in time—is not unique to modernization theory; to be sure, it has infamously played a role in the ways anthropology constructs its subjects, its Others (Asad 1973; Clifford and Marcus 1986; Fabian 1983). But such mapping held a particular significance in early migration studies. Scholars posited that return migrants would transform their “backward” communities in Mexico through the importation of modernist ideals “from the future” (progress, innovation, and individuality) and, in doing so, erode the ideals of the Redfieldian “small community” (traditionalism and communitarianism) that putatively impeded “progress” (Kearney 1986; Redfield 1962a, 1962b). Far from mere scholarly abstractions, these ideas shaped 20th-century economic development in Mexico. As return migrants were assumed by elites to have acquired modernist ideals, they were recruited to work in industrializing sectors of the economy, thus building ideological and material infrastructures that daily enacted the presumption that Mexico was inherently economically inferior to the United States (Gonzalez 2004; Walsh 2004).

It is not possible in this brief article to trace the deep history of these national and local discourses of “getting ahead” and “progress”—their pathways of circulation and influence on one another. However, it is reasonable to suggest that they are in dialogue. For one thing, it is likely that contemporary Uriangatenses learned modernist discourses from their own forbearers, who were among the 20th-century migrants that putatively spearheaded development in Mexico and who were probably not unaware of the ways their migration was understood and mobilized by government officials. Beyond this is the simple fact that Uriangatenses are habitually exposed to the slogans of government-endorsed progress that proliferate in Mexico—in public-school curricula, through health-clinic protocols, on electric-company vans. These discourses create a habitus in which the linearities of “progress” (getting ahead, catching up)—and the history of discourse that has linked Mexico's progress to the United States—become presupposed as a natural spatiotemporal organization of social life. And so, as Uriangatenses confront the possibility of migration to the United States, it is not surprising that their engagement with that possibility is expressed through the frameworks of progress.

But the theme of getting ahead is complicated and countered by the second rhetorical theme through which the Uriangatense modernist chronotope is expressed: creating a vida bonita. The literal translation of bonito(a) is beautiful, but its use in Mexican Spanish involves more than the aesthetically pleasing; it conveys also that the people, objects, or activities thus described represent that which is morally good (Stack 2002, 2003). In migration discourse, often the same speakers who espouse the positive value of getting ahead in the United States also assert that life in Mexico is more bonita than life in the United States—and that, therefore, getting ahead is a threat to morality, sociality, and tradition, a common assertion in discourses of modernity (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992). Indeed, the emphasis on morality, sociality, and tradition is a key feature distinguishing European and non-European reckonings with modernity (Asad 2003; Bauman and Briggs 2003; Lomnitz 2001b; Messing 2007; Winegar 2006).8 Thus, when migrants traverse the boundaries of progress as they move to the United States, they risk moral corruption.

The moral superiority of life in Mexico is made possible, Uriangatenses argue, by its slower pace of life. This pace affords time to engage in the activities—siesta lunches with family, evening sidewalk sociality with neighbors—that allow people to build the webs of social obligation that create morality, time lost in the “progressive pace” of the United States, where there is a lack of time for sociality, as everything is puro reloj (by the clock). This idea is expressed in the following excerpt from a conversation with “Josefina,” an Uriangatense living in the United States: “I have noticed that here [in the United States] there isn't much love. It's that there in Mexico, the family is more … more here [gesture of closeness], more united. And upon arriving here, everything is work. Everything is going to work and coming home from work, going to work and coming home from work, like now there isn't time to sit down and talk or converse.”9 Migrants and nonmigrants alike argue that the lack of time Josefina describes erodes the unity of family and community and depict the United States as a place where children disrespect their parents, where siblings become greedy and no longer take care of each other. For such reasons, Josefina asserts, “Aquí no hay mucho amor”[Here there isn't much love].10

Like the seguir adelante theme, then, the bonito theme is hegemonic in Uriangatense migration discourse, and it also circulates across national and local scales. The idea that Mexico is morally superior to the United States has been part of Mexican nationalist discourse at least since the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Bartra 1992; Lester 2005; Lomnitz 2001b; Lomnitz-Adler 1992).11 At the same time that modernization theory was promoting the positive effects of transnational migration in the early 20th century, the country's leading arbiter of morality, the Catholic Church, was actively discouraging that migration. Church discourse in Mexico during this time also posited migration as a traversing of time across space, so that migrants brought back values from a distinct realm. But for the church, these foreign values were pernicious and immoral, and it was the role of the church to thwart their circulation (Fitzgerald 2009:71, 76–78).12 Although in recent decades official church policy has shifted from preventing migration to tending to the human rights of its flock in the United States (Fitzgerald 2009), it is fair to posit that the church's moral critique of the United States has historically interacted with local discourse on migration, as some 90 percent of Uriangato is Catholic.

Taken together, then, the seguir adelante and bonito themes create a central opposition that orders expression of the modernist chronotope by bringing into productive tension two space–time framings. The first is a linear, progressive sense of, in Georges Gurvitch's words, “time pressing forward” (Harvey 1990:267), which divides space into realms where people “get by” or “get ahead.” This framing situates Mexico in a backward present–past. In this view, the past and present are distinct and separate—foreign countries to one another (Woolard 2004). The second, the exaltation of lo bonito (the moral), introduces a contrasting, “traditional” sense of time: a “sanctified simultaneity across time” (Eisenlohr 2004:82) that entails a continuity in which the past is now, not a foreign country. The recognition of the vida bonita as a defining feature of how Mexico is different from the United States suggests, as is often the case in modernist frameworks, that the other valence of “backwardness” is positively valued “tradition,” with its morality, family, and quality of life.

Uriangatenses also use these chronotopic oppositions to conceptualize nearby spaces in Mexico through a semiotic process called “fractal recursivity”: “the projection of an opposition, salient at some level of relationship, onto some other level” (Irvine and Gal 2000:38). Through this process, the modernist chronotope is applied to distinctions between urban Uriangato and the ranchos (rural communities) around it, which is another way this chronotope parallels discourses of modernity more generally, as these often rely on city–country distinctions (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992:155–178; Hannerz 1980; Messing 2002; Williams 1973). From this vantage point, urban Uriangato becomes to rural Uriangato what the United States is to Mexico: It is progress and advancement to the rancho's backwardness and lack of development. At the same time, the rural becomes the most bonito, the heart of Mexican morality. Indeed, lo ranchero (the essential country) and its markers (cowboy clothes, rodeos) are frequently employed as signs of “authentic Mexicaness” (Farr 2006; Nájera-Ramírez 2002). These contrasts emerge in yet another prominent social distinction—that between Hispanic, monolingual Spanish-speaking Mexicans, like working-class Uriangatenses, and Indigenous Mexicans, who are figured as the farthest from the progressivity of city and the United States, and so are the most morally pure but also the most backward. This final contrast, like those described above, has influenced nation-state discourse and policy, informing Mexico's treatment of its Indigenous communities, who are marginalized socioeconomically and politically, even as they are heralded as the most bonito of all “essential Mexico” (Castellanos 2007; Lomnitz 2001a; Messing 2007).

In Uriangato, the present-day salience of these recursive oppositions has been shaped and animated by political-economic and sociocultural changes initiated in the 1970s. In this decade, Uriangato began a transformation from an agricultural outpost to the center of a thriving textile industry. The increased wealth and opportunity generated by the industry have created a populace that expects better employment options and a higher standard of living than previous generations did. Consider the following excerpt from an interview I conducted in urban Uriangato with a 65-year-old man who has lived there from birth, “Don T.” When I asked him if one can distinguish migrants and nonmigrants, he responded:

Before you could tell if someone went to the U.S. right away because they very much liked to dress in jeans. And here well, yes there were good quality jeans available, but there wasn't the money to buy them. Not like now, everyone wears jeans now. Look, now a girl, for example, right?, no matter how poor she may be, she can just buy herself a dress. Now a girl works in the [textile] industry, and she goes to the stores downtown, right?

And she sees a dress that costs 1,000 pesos, and she buys it! Back in the day, who could buy a dress that costs 1,000 pesos? No one—we didn't even know how much 1,000 pesos was. I mean, I refer to people like us [working-class people], right? Because 1,000 pesos was a lot of money. Now 1,000 pesos, children walk around with it.13

Don T claims that lives unimaginable 30 years ago—a woman buying herself a dress for 1,000 pesos—have become not just imaginable but mundane, a change he attributes to the textile industry.14 Accounts such as Don T's are common and reflect a present-day emphasis on getting ahead. My research consultants often describe a time before the textile industry when poor people were satisfied with “getting by.” This past is represented as a time of innocence (another trope of modernity; cf. Maurer 1997; Miller 1994), when amarraron los perros con longaniza (they tied up dogs with sausage)—that is, when dogs were so naive they did not know they could eat their way to freedom. Uriangatenses contrast these images of innocence with images of present-day people who have mucha vivesa (a lot of cleverness and awareness) and who think about the future, about “improving” their class position—about getting ahead.15

This suggests that the transformations wrought by the textile industry have made displays of “getting ahead”—of showing one is not satisfied with “getting by”—central to acts of position taking.16 Such “progressive position taking” is organized by the multiple and correlated contrasts of the modernist chronotope, which put Uriangatense urban dwellers in a symbolic double bind typical of such recursive frameworks and common to provincial urbanites in regimes of modernity: They are modern but not modern enough; they are moral but not moral enough. Moreover, many working-class Uriangatenses are rural-to-urban migrants, or their parents were—and so, they come from families that recently lived on the rancho. For this group, modernity's double bind is especially significant, for characterizations of rurality—and the depiction of movements away from it—are not abstract but personal. Because their experience is proximal to the rancho, they cannot take for granted their standing in urban society—therefore, position taking, particularly displays of mobility and urbanity (not “acting ranchero,” as in the second opening vignette), are exceptionally important activities.

Moreover, for working-class Uriangatenses, such position taking unfolds always in a context of migration. The increased wealth and opportunity generated by the textile industry have made urban Uriangato a hot spot for migration, drawing people to it not only from greater Mexico but also from countries as far away as Korea.17 At the same time, this wealth and opportunity have encouraged U.S.-bound migration out of working-class Uriangato, which people see as a way to expedite their social mobility. And the possibility of migrating to the United States is ever looming. Neighbors and loved ones routinely leave for the United States. Through everyday talk, Uriangatenses are regularly exposed to representations of lives in migration organized by the modernist chronotope. Over time, working-class speakers learn to use migration discourse as a point of reference against which they measure their own lives, regardless of whether they migrate. Therefore, actually occurring instances of migration discourse are an important arena for position taking; it is to a consideration of such an instance that I now turn.

Chronotopic deployment and position taking

Recall that “position taking” is conceptualized as the stances speakers take with respect to the social personae they articulate in migration discourse: corrupted migrants, backward rural people, and other types. In this section, I demonstrate that acts of position taking vis-à-vis these personae are fundamentally constructed through the way speakers deploy the modernist chronotope in actual moments of speaking. In this, they not only (re)create its imaginative sociology; they also map themselves into it—a practice that constructs speakers as being of locally recognizable gender and class types. Actual articulations of the modernist chronotope themselves have a “chronotopic organization (of time, place, and personhood)”—that is, they produce an “event chronotope” that is calibrated to the broader modernist chronotope (Agha 2007b:321). Here I examine how one speaker, Jesús, calibrates the Uriangatense modernist chronotope to the event chronotope of the unfolding text of his speech. As this example shows, although the standard modernist chronotope is broadly recognized, not everyone agrees with it or deploys it in the same manner.

The term calibration refers to the ways speakers create “pointing to,” or indexical, relationships between sign events, so that a present sign event becomes interpretable as related to a prior event (Eisenlohr 2006:262). Michael Silverstein (1993:50–52) posits three kinds of calibration: reportive, reflexive, and nomic. Reportive calibration is an explicit marking of the present sign event as a representation of a previous and actually occurring sign event, as when one reports words spoken earlier that day. Reflexive calibration relates sign events through a recognizable poetic structure or organization of text, as in routinized forms of interaction like greetings—here the relationship is not to a prior exchange but to a model type. Finally, nomic calibration refers to a relationship established between a present sign event and a separate event, understood to have occurred in an ontically distinct realm, like the world of myth or abstract generalization. This relationship makes a replica of an otherworld, which allows that world to be phenomenologically available, inhabitable in the present moment.

Migration discourse employs aspects of what Patrick Eisenlohr (2006:263), building on the concept of “nomic calibration,” calls “diasporic calibration”: linking the present interaction to an imagined “homeland” from which one has been displaced, so that remove from the homeland is minimized. This sense of minimized remove, of drawing a distant land near, is at play in Uriangatense migration discourse, which links life in one existing place and time (Uriangato) to an imagination of life in another existing place and time (the United States). Yet, migration discourse is not animated by a longing for a homeland.18 Rather, through the modernist chronotope, it generates desires and repulsions about a place figured as fundamentally Other, as in Silversteinian nomic calibration. Indeed, working-class Uriangatenses frequently describe migration as an experience that opens one's consciousness to a world presently unknowable (cf. Napolitano 2002)—not only because it is not here but also because, as one of my research consultants put it, “Nadie sabe los misterios de los Estados Unidos, sólo los que van”[Only those who go to the United States know its mysteries]. As this suggests, nomic calibration is not confined to speech that explicitly creates otherworlds, such as that of religious ritual. It occurs also in everyday speech—speech that is not restricted to specialists, as ritual speech often is, and thus provides wider and more regular access to lives “beyond here.”

Poetic structuring of deictics: Drawing the “beyond here” into the present

Now I turn the reader's attention to the instances of nomic calibration in Jesús's speech. Jesús is the brother-in-law of one of the women I lived with in Uriangato; his story intrigued me because it runs against the typical trajectory for a young man from a working-class family. Like many of his peers, Jesús told me that he had wanted to migrate to the United States in his late teens but chose, instead, to enter the local vocational institute to earn a degree in industrial engineering. At the time of the conversation excerpted in Table 1, Jesús was 22, about to finish his degree, and had obtained an internship at one of Uriangato's textile factories. The excerpt is his response to my query about why he never migrated North.

Table 1.  Jesús Excerpt—Nonmigrant Who Does Not Want to Migrate
Spanish OriginalEnglish Translation
  1. NOTE: The subscripted numbers refer to the personae explained in Table 3.

 1Yo1 tuve la … no sé, como la espinita de irme para allá.I1 had the … I don't know, like the little thorn [the nagging curiosity]to go to there[the US].
 2Pero después—no sé, analicé1 las cosas y decidí1 quedarme aquí porque ya puedo1 estudiar y después—¿cómo te dijera?But then—I don't know, I1 analyzed things and I1 decided to stay here because now I1 can study and then—how would I tell you?
 3Encontrar un trabajo en que ganes2 más, que ganes2bien como estuviera lo mismo que—como si ganaras2 lo mismo que en los Estados Unidos, igualmente que allá.Find a job in which you2 earn more … in which you2 earn well as if it were the same as—as if you2 were to earn the same as in the United States, the same as there.
 4Nada más que con la diferencia de que allá me quede3 como obrero y a lo mejor aquí me voy1 un poquito más arriba.Only with the difference that there I3 would remain a worker [blue-collar laborer], and probably here I1 am going to go a little bit higher.
 5Y a lo mejor los que se van de aquí p’allá4 no pasan4 de ser obreros.And probably those that go from here to there4, they4 never become more than workers.
 6Pero ya sabes, todos de allá4 sólo platican4 lo bueno.But as you already know, all [those that come] from there4, they4 only recount the good.
 7Todos4 platican que “ay, esto que ganas5 y este que—”They4 all recount, “aye, that this that you5 earn and this that—”
 8¡Pero nunca te das5 cuenta que vas5 a trabajar de obrero!But you5 never realize that you5 are going [there] work as a worker!
 9Todos4 cuentan que “bien bonito,” pero no te2 cuentan4 que, “me levantaba4 a las 2, 3 de la mañana a trabajar y no me podía4 acostar porque le espalda me dolía.”They4 all say, “[it's] very beautiful,” but they4 don't tell you2, “I4 was getting up at 2, 3 in the morning to work, and I4 could not lie down because my back was hurting me.”
10No te cuentan que, “ganaba4 mil dólares.”No, they tell you, “I4 was earning a thousand dollars.”

Here Jesús challenges a hegemonic formula of the Uriangatense modernist chronotope: that one must migrate to get ahead. He also questions the cost at which migrants “progress” in the United States, asserting that their class position is unchanged and refuting their attempts to call their time in that country “bien bonito” (Line 9). Pragmatically, Jesús uses two discursive strategies to calibrate the Uriangatense modernist chronotope to the present moment of interaction: direct reported speech (Lines 7–10) and the textual pattern generated by his use of the terms aquí (here) and allá (there) (Lines 1–5). These strategies structure the event chronotope, which serves as a passageway through which the modernist chronotope enters into our interaction. I begin by considering the latter.

Aquí and allá are deictics: referential indexes, signs whose semantic meaning is “constituted by the speech event itself” (Silverstein 1976:17)—that is, what here and there refer to can only be ascertained through reconstruction of where interlocutors were located spatiotemporally at the time of utterance. In this case, here and there cue when focus should shift from the world of aquí (Mexico) to the nomic realm of allá (the United States).19 This cuing emerges through a poetic structure that replicates the chronotopic dichotomy between Mexico and the United States. This structure is bookended by Jesús's use of allá in two statements of movement: First, “Yo tuve la … no sé, como la espinita de irme para allá”[I had the … I don't know, like the little thorn (the nagging desire) to go there] (Line 1); and second, “los que se van de aquí p’allá”[those who go from here to there] (Line 5). The default use of allá is in statements of movement and to refer to locales at a far distance from “here,” as exemplified in Lines 1 and 5. This term is differentiated from ahí and allí, which also translate as there but do not imply movement or distance. This standard holds with terms equivalent to here: Acá implies movement, aquí does not.20 Jesús's use of allá emphasizes, then, that “there” is more than just “not here”: It is a place to which one might go. By contrast, the tokens of “here” are stationary. Jesús's statement of desire to migrate in Line 1 contrasts in Line 2 with his decision to “quedarme aquí”[stay here] (see Table 2). Jesús repeats this use of the stationary aquí in a statement of movement in Line 5: “those that go from aquí to allá.” This usage secures the speaker in space: Here [Mexico] is the place where one is rooted, from which one decides whether or not to “go there.”

Table 2.  Jesús's Poetic Structure
LineStatementImplication of Deixis
Line 1I had the desire to go allá/there[movement]
Line 2But I decided to stay aquí/here[stationary]
Line 3Where I will earn the same as allá/there[movement]
Line 4Only allá/there I would be a worker[movement]
Line 4And aquí/here I will “go a little bit higher”[stationary]
Line 5Those that go from aquí/here to allá/there become workers 

Using aquí and allá to refer to Mexico and the United States is not merely an evanescent product of this conversation but is common practice in working-class Uriangatense speech.21 Many similar examples of this pattern occur in the excerpts quoted in this article and have been found in other parts of Mexico with high levels of migration to the United States (Durand 1994). Indeed, the use of here and there to refer to Mexico and the United States is sufficiently routinized to be considered a register of deixis (Agha 2007a:278–300): a recognizable contrastive pattern of reference that transforms indexical signs into signs with stable referents across contexts (i.e., Mexico and the United States). The wider routinization of the poetic structure Jesús generates suggests that speakers rarely align unfolding interaction with respect to broader sociocultural formations, like the modernist chronotope, through only one kind of calibration. Rather, these forms overlap and interact—though, in some cases, one type of calibration predominates, and thus characterizes the sign event. Although nomic calibration overwhelmingly organizes how people coordinate event and modernist chronotopes in migration discourse, in Jesús's speech one also sees reflexive calibration: the construction of a socially recognizable structure of deictic reference that orders how the modernist chronotope is drawn into our conversation. The wide use of this structure helps create a sense that the modernist chronotope, and its here–there distinctions, are part of the natural order of things.

As this example implies, deictics do more than structure ongoing interaction; they also reveal how speakers situate themselves in widely circulating, culturally specific configurations of space and time (Duranti 1997; Hanks 1993; Lee 1997). Consider that the semantically stabilizing use of here and there is unevenly distributed across speakers, as it is unfamiliar to middle- and upper-class Uriangatenses. Even when usage is clarified for such speakers, they often reject it as “incorrect” or “ignorant.” Thus, this register is associated with a social persona of a working-class speaker who deviates from standardized ways of speaking. By using aquí and allá as semantically stable signs, Jesús aligns himself positively with this working-class persona, thereby positioning himself in the landscape of socioeconomic class in Uriangato—one that associates migration with working-class people. To use this deictic register, then, is to situate oneself within a “chronotopic boundary” (Agha 2007b:328)—a realm of Mexico, so the discourse goes, whose people must leave to get ahead. Thus, the marked and patterned use of here and there ground Jesús's claims within the imaginative sociology of migration, evoking a modernist chronotope that positions working-class speakers as particularly vulnerable to Mexico's failings as a “country of progress,” even though his aim is to counter these claims.

Reporting lives “beyond here”: Speech from a nomic world

If Jesús's positive alignment with the persona of a working-class person is, in the above example, entailed in his use of register, his persona alignment is more overtly signaled in the second strategy of nomic calibration he employs: direct reported speech (Table 1, Lines 7–10). Direct reported speech highlights that the modernist chronotope, like any chronotope, is enacted through a participation framework: the occupation of interactional roles and the speaker stances that thereby emerge (Agha 2007b). In particular, such speech involves the potential divergence of speaker roles that are often conjoined: animator (the person who utters a set of words) and author (the figure to whom the words are attributed; Goffman 1974, 1981; Levinson 1988). In this way, reported speech highlights the speaker's role as a creator of voices, or his or her “character role inhabitance” (Koven 2002:188).22 Character role inhabitance in direct reported speech is made possible by a transformation in the signaling effect of the first-person pronoun. First-person pronouns, like the deictics here and there, are referential indexes: Their meaning—the figure to whom I refers—typically depends on the context of utterance (Benveniste 1971; Urban 1989). This is not entirely the case in direct reported speech. Consider Table 1, Line 10: The main clause “They [who migrate] tell you” frames the subsequent clause, signaling that the words following are not the invention of the animator. Thus, the I in the quotation does not index the animator, as it normally would, but refers to “they,” the author of the quoted statement; Greg Urban (1989:29ff) calls this type of I the “anaphoric I” (see Schematic 1). Through the equivalence established between I and the subject of the main clause, the anaphoric I is transformed into a sign with the stable semantic meaning—in this case, that associated with the they who migrate.23

Figure Schematic 1. .

Figure Schematic 1. .

Anaphoric reference.

Here again, calibration depends on the semiotic transformation of referential indexes into semantically stable signs. This transformation allows Jesús to temporarily inhabit the “I of they,”24 trying that persona on for size. Notice, in particular, the reported speech in Table 1, Line 9: “They don't tell you, ‘I was getting up.’” Here the subject of the quoted clause should be the first-person plural (nosotros[we]), not the first-person singular. The only other first-person entity in this bit of discourse is Jesús. His shifting of the reference pattern from we to I in performing the “I of they” demonstrates that this speech functions as a way to inhabit—and then reject—the life of migrants. In so doing, Jesús re-creates the modernist chronotope of migration (people migrate to get ahead) while critiquing it: The mobility of migrants is not worth its cost.

And so, direct reported speech allows speakers to link the modernist chronotope to present interactions through the articulation of words attributed to the personae they imagine participating in migration. As part of this process, speakers take stances with respect to these personae. Thus, direct reported speech is a key practice that allows for acts of position taking; and, indeed, it occurs with regularity in Uriangatense migration discourse.25 A striking feature of reported speech in Uriangatense migration discourse is the frequent attribution of speech to nomic, imagined figures, such as the “I of they.” In referring to the “I of they” (in Table 1, Lines 7, 9, and 10), Jesús performs a common imaginary persona: the bragging migrant, a trickster who returns to Uriangato to tell would-be migrants gilded stories of success in the United States. This figure frequently appears in the speech of both former migrants and nonmigrants who reject migration. Rarely called up for praise or positive alignment, this figure is a straw man invoked to distinguish speakers as savvy about the ills of migration and unmoved by the siren call of the United States.

Speech attributed to this figure and other nomic characters in the imaginative sociology of migration reports on an imagined world and is, thus, itself imaginary. Such imaginary words spotlight a fact of all reported speech: Its primary function is not to replicate actual utterances but to create utterances typical of culturally specific types of personas (Koven 2002; Shoaps 1999; Tannen 1995). Therefore, here is another instance of the layering of types of calibration—in this case, nomic and reportive. Although Jesús attributes words to a nomic figure, his iteration of those words still maintains the semiotic effect of reporting, as if the bragging migrants’ speech were actually uttered in another time and space. Moreover, the bragging migrant is invoked repeatedly among working-class speakers, who share assumptions about the kinds of things this character would say. Consequently, this speech is at least partially routinized—and so, like words have, in fact, been uttered before by other speakers enacting the bragging migrant. Yet Jesús is not primarily engaged in drawing past words into the present, as he would in normative reported speech. Rather, he is pulling a parallel and concurrent universe—the imagined world of migration—into our present interaction. This voicing of a typified world that is both imagined and actual (speakers could travel to it physically) is a distinct form of nomic calibration that allows speakers to have immediate experiences of life “beyond here,” without migrating.26

Jesús's position taking comes into particular relief if one considers the alignments he takes to the personae that populate his representations of “here” and “there.” Jesús constructs representations both of the generic figures of migration, such as the bragging migrant, and of a possible version of his own life in the United States.

Personae 1 and 3 (see Table 3) are explicit representations of Jesús.27 The former is a Jesús aquí, who analyzed his prospects and decided to stay in Mexico, despite his desire to go allá. The latter is a hypothetical Jesús, who could go to the United States and remain an obrero (working-class laborer). His alignment to this hypothetical Jesús is mitigated: Although he acknowledges that he could become this persona, he rejects this version of himself. By contrast, he positively aligns himself to Persona 1 (described above) and Persona 2 (a generic you who stays aquí and finds a job that pays the same as jobs allá but does not involve being an obrero), sketching them as accurate self-portraits. Persona 3 is rejected as it is likened to Personae 4 and 5: those who go there and work as obreros. In concert, the social trajectories Jesús associates with these personae create an event chronotope in which allá and aquí are figured differently than they are in the standard modernist chronotope: Aquí (Mexico) is a place where one can study and “go higher”; allá (the United States) is a place where one would work as an obrero.

Table 3.  Personae in Jesús's Excerpt
Persona 1Jesús here [in Mexico] who analyzed things and decided to stay in Mexico, despite his desire to go allá.Lines (L) 1–2Positive Alignment
Persona 2Generic you living here [in Mexico] who finds a job that pays the same as jobs allá, without being an obrero (working-class laborer).L 3, 9Positive Alignment
Persona 3Hypothetical Jesús there [in the United States], who would remain an obrero.L 4Negative Alignment
Persona 4“Those who go there” (i.e., the bragging migrants) who say life inL 5–7; 9–10Negative Alignment
Persona 4the United States is beautiful, but who work as obreros.L 9–10 
Persona 5Generic you working there [in the United States] as an obrero.L 7–8Negative Alignment

In aligning himself against the bragging migrants, Jesús does more than critique the value of the kind of socioeconomic mobility one can gain in the United States; he also positions himself as socioeconomically upwardly mobile in Uriangato. This example, then, shines light on the ways speakers use migration discourse as a measure for their own lives, especially as it expresses a jockeying for position vis-à-vis the socioeconomic class trajectories available for working-class Uriangatenses (migration to the United States, work in the local textile industry). Jesús describes his decision to become an industrial engineer as unfolding in direct contrast to his peers’ decisions to go North. These life paths are correlated, as the value of each is determined with respect to the other: He posits his projected socioeconomic trajectory in Mexico as better than the trajectory he imagines he would follow through migration. In so doing, Jesús comments on the presuppositions and dilemmas of the modernist chronotope for upwardly mobile working-class people in Uriangato. He pushes against the assumption made by many working-class Uriangatenses that he must migrate to get ahead. As he does so, he rectifies the double bind of the provincial urbanite by positing that “being modern but not as modern as the United States” is valuable, that the slower pace of progress in urban Uriangato permits one to maintain the trappings of a vida bonita while also getting ahead.

Conclusion—gendering a life beyond

This counterhegemonic stance is not Jesús's alone; I heard it often repeated by return migrants who reject the possibility of future migration and by nonmigrants who want never to migrate. As this suggests, there are broader trends in the patterns of position taking people establish through migration discourse, which correlate with—and, through instances of migration discourse, re-create and enact—extant forms of social difference, especially class and gender difference. The explication of Jesús's discourse illustrates the production and negotiation of the former form of difference; here I consider the latter form of difference. In reviewing recorded conversations with roughly seventy working-class Uriangatenses on both sides of the border, I found that men most often resist the discourse that one must migrate to get ahead; this pattern is evident in Jesús's family. Jesús's father, Don T, introduced above, staunchly rejects migration as a pathway to seguir adelante, along lines similar to Jesús's. To be sure, Jesús may be replicating a discourse he learned from his father. I frequently heard Don T articulate his counterhegemonic stance, and his sons were quick to tease him for having gotten on this soapbox throughout their lives. But Don T's sons have, in fact, gotten ahead in Mexico: One is an elementary school teacher, one is an officer in the military, and then there is Jesús, the industrial engineer.

But if one looks at the life of Jesús's three sisters, a different picture emerges. These women have all migrated to the United States to, according to Don T, seguir al esposo (follow the husband), which he does not equate with migrating to seguir adelante. In conversing with Jesús's sisters, I found that they, however, believe strongly in migration as the primary way to get ahead. Consequently, they align themselves positively with images of themselves and others in migration. This is not an uncommon pattern; working-class women, whether married or single, are among the most steadfast proponents of the proposition that one must migrate to get ahead. Significantly, Jesús's sisters were not beneficiaries of the advanced education that allowed their brothers to get ahead in Mexico. Although these women attended school beyond the local average of sixth grade, none pursued professional degrees. Rather, they entered the local textile industry as seamstresses and, before marrying, lent financial support to their family's efforts to get ahead, including helping fund their brothers’ education. Moreover, if these women had not migrated, their most realizable upwardly mobile trajectory would have been to remain in the textile industry. Although this industry employs more women than men, female workers rarely advance to the level of management or ownership of textile factories, as Jesús intends to do. The only other immediate possibility for Don T's daughters to get ahead was to marry upwardly mobile men—and, in working-class Uriangato, most men opt to get ahead by migrating to the United States. Thus, for Jesús's sisters, siguiendo adelante does, indeed, mean siguiendo al esposo. And they are not alone; working-class women in general have restricted access to the pathways for class mobility in Uriangato—a point that finds parallels in the literature on gender and migration, which shows that women's access to the resources that facilitate migration is more constrained than men's (Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994).

It is fair to suggest, then, that Don T's children's current stances toward migration—and how to get ahead—are bound up with their gendered access to the resources that make social mobility possible in Uriangato. Thus, in rejecting the modernist chronotope, Jesús (re)creates and performs a position of gender privilege: being able to live a vida bonita in Uriangato and still get ahead. Conversely, in positioning themselves as advocates of the proposition that, to get ahead, one must migrate, Jesús's sisters, like Chucha, the single mother discussed in the opening paragraphs, (re)create and perform themselves as marginalized from local pathways to upward mobility. Two forms of critique are at play here. People like Jesús and his male relations call into question the class mobility afforded by migration, asking, what kind of mobility is it if, to use Jesús's words, you have to “remain a worker”? By contrast, Jesús's sisters and Chucha question life in Uriangato, where living a vida bonita comes at the expense of mobility—and, without that mobility, is life even bonita? Although both critiques value “getting ahead,” the presuppositions about who can get ahead and in what social and physical space shift. Jesús's sisters’ sacrifices, which facilitated their brothers’ mobility, left them with limited options: either remain workers in Uriangato or hitch their fortunes to U.S.-bound husbands. Similarly, Chucha's lack of resources in Uriangato made it impossible for her to compete with the bribes her factory-managing ex-husband offered the judge overseeing her suit for child support. The failure of her suit ended her vida bonita in Mexico, drawing her to the United States.

As the above shows, migration discourse allows speakers to make different kinds of pragmatic claims on their futures and the kinds of social relations that will allow them to seguir adelante (cf. Hill 1998) and, indeed, on what getting ahead and living a vida bonita even mean. For instance, although men and women mutually bemoan the ways that life in the United States prevents the forms of sociality that build a vida bonita—coming home for a family lunch everyday, for example—women have a different relationship to that life than men. Not only do women do much of the work of making life bonita (preparing those family lunches), but they are also more vulnerable to its failures, as was Chucha: a woman left to fend for herself and her three daughters because of a corrupt judicial system, lack of earning power, and neighbors who scorned her, for they assumed her divorce was her fault. To be sure, the migration discourse of working-class women in Uriangato is often punctuated with images of female lives in the United States—lives that they imagine have better protections against such failures and greater opportunities for mobility. And so, the modernist chronotope can also function as a comment on gender relations in Uriangato (cf. Hirsch 2003).


In this article, then, I have demonstrated that Uriangatense migration discourse is grounded in a dominant modernist chronotope that has deep roots in the discursive history of Mexico and in the ongoing symbolic and material processes of modernity. My analysis has shown the central role the modernist chronotope plays in the practice of imagining a life “beyond here.” How one situates oneself inside this chronotope points to and (re)creates forms and patterns of position taking that are unevenly distributed across speakers. This practice illuminates the important social fact that speakers use the imagined world of migration not only to interpret and anticipate the possibility of migration but also to negotiate their immediate contexts, whether they migrate or not. This negotiation makes speakers into particular types of gendered and classed people, helping reproduce—and comment on—local social inequities. Migration discourse, then, does more than make the “beyond here” and its possible lives tangible to speakers; it helps construct the social world of Uriangato, thereby illuminating one way that the prism of possible lives inhabitable elsewhere—so typical to contexts of migration—comes to have consequence for people's actual lives unfolding in the here and now.



Acknowledgments Above all, I thank the people in my field sites who gave me time and friendship; there would be no article without your words. Several colleagues offered feedback on early drafts: Tamara Neuman, Matthew J. Hill, Isabelle Barker, John Lucy, Susan Gal, and Stephen Scott. I would like to make particular acknowledgment of Michael Silverstein, who read several versions of this article, and Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, who provided invaluable corrections to my translations. I am grateful to the graduate student organizers of the University of Chicago's Semiotics: Culture in Context Workshop, Elina Hartikainen and Gabe Tusinski, for the opportunity to workshop this article and to Alex Blanchette, who was my discussant at that workshop. Finally, I would like to thank Summerson Carr, Amahl Bishara, Hussein Agrama, Robin Shoaps, and Jessica Winegar and the editors and anonymous reviewers at American Ethnologist for suggesting revisions to later drafts. Any flaws that remain are my responsibility.

1. All of the names in this article are pseudonyms, used to protect my research consultants.

2. The article is based on ethnographic research I conducted in Uriangato and Pennsylvania between 2000 and 2006, generously funded by a Fulbright Garcia-Robles grant, which supported my extended fieldwork in Mexico; two Mellon Foundation Population Studies grants; and the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Anthropology. I have also been fortunate to enjoy support to write this article, and other work published from this research, from the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago and the Center for the Humanities at Temple University. My research was centered on two years of extended, dual-sited fieldwork, during which I lived for one year in each of my research sites, engaging in the daily life activities of each locale as well as conducting close to 300 ethnographic and survey interviews (Dick 2006). I also engaged in activities that allowed me to give back to the people with whom I researched and that also provided me with recognizable social roles: as a volunteer English as a Second Language teacher and as an affordable-housing advocate and administrator. I began my fieldwork in Pennsylvania, during which I built networks of relationships with people who have family members in Uriangato. These networks greatly facilitated my work in the working-class Uriangatense neighborhood on which this article is based and where I lived with a family whose relations are contacts and friends from my field research in Pennsylvania.

3. Many scholars claim that such refractions are unique to contemporary globalization. Such claims, however, are more convincing if tempered. For one thing, imaginings of “colonial Others” shaped the course of European history long before late-capitalist globalization.

4. I thank Donald Donham for this insight and for referring me to his work.

5. I use the feminine ending -a in this instance because it is required in modifying the feminine noun vida, as in the Spanish phrase la vida (feminine) en Mexico es más bonita (life in Mexico is more beautiful).

6. Spanish original: Uno aquí siempre trabaja y trabaja y nunca tiene nada—nunca. Trabaja uno, y vives más o menos. Este, no se queja uno, ¿verdad?, porque, pues no dijéramos que falta la comida, no. Pero … o sea, para que te juntes un dinero o algo, nunca chinges nada. Necesitas andar en otras cosas o irte allá para que puedas tener, para seguir adelante. Porque así del trabajo de uno, no. El trabajo de uno es nada más para estarla pasando.
All translations in this article are by the author.

7. Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo provided this image to me. It comes from a book published in the 1920s, for which the copyright privileges have expired.

8. Thanks to Jessica Winegar, who pointed out this distinction.

9. Spanish original: Aquí no hay mucho amor, me he fijado yo. Es que allá en México, como que la familia es más … más aquí … [gesture of closeness], más unida. Y al llegar aquí, como que todo es trabajo. Todo es ir al trabajo y llegar del trabajo, ir al trabajo y llegar del trabajo, como que ya no hay un tiempo para sentarse a platicar o conversar.

10. Later in this conversation, Josefina clarifies this claim, explaining that she is not referring to the state of sentiment in native-born U.S. families but in families of Mexican origin; the statement “here there isn't much love” points to a transformation that Mexican families undergo when they move to the United States.

11. This assertion of moral superiority can be found in nationalist discourse across Latin America during this period. Uruguayan essayist José Enrique Rodó's famous work Ariel (Rodó and Castro 2000), for example, depicts the United States as the crassly material Caliban of Shakespeare's The Tempest and Latin America as the refined and moral Ariel. Indeed, the moniker Latin America is meant to exemplify an affinity with the cultural refinement and appreciation of moral sociality that purportedly distinguishes “Latin Europe”: Iberia, France, and Italy (Skidmore and Smith 2005). During this same period, the distinction between economic and moral superiority could also be found in the United States, where public discourse often presented that country as morally inferior to Mexico: U.S. reporters, scholars, and artists during this time turned to the idea of Mexico “as an intellectual longing: Mexico as an intricate, albeit lasting, search for a pristine Gemeinschaft; that is, the craving of a moral space relatively fixed in time and space” (Tenorio-Trillo n.d.).

12. In the 1920s, for example, the archbishop of Guadalajara waged a “holy crusade” against migration: In sermons, at church conferences, and even through plays written to entertain “the masses,” the archbishop and likeminded priests used godly authority in an effort to stop migration's immoral backwash (Fitzgerald 2009:76–78).

13. Spanish original: Antes las personas que se fueron a los Estados Unidos, luego luego las distinguió uno porque les gustaba mucho vestirse en mezclilla. Aquí, pues, sí había mezclilla de tela buena, pero no había dinero para poder comprarla. No como ahora, todo el mundo anda en mezclilla ahora. Mire, ahorita una muchacha—por ejemplo, ¿verdad?, por humilde que sea, ya no no más se compra un vestido. Ahorita una muchacha trabaja en la industria, y se va a ver los aparadores que hay en el centro, ¿verdad? Y ve a un vestido que le cuesta mil pesos, y ¡se lo compra! En aquel tiempo, ¿quién compra su vestido de mil pesos? Nadie—no sabíamos ni cuánto era mil pesos. Digo, me refiero yo a gente como nosotros, ¿verdad? Porque mil pesos era un montón. Ahorita mil peso, un chamaquillo los carga.

14. That women buy dresses that cost 1,000 pesos is not just a result of inflation. One thousand pesos is roughly $100, and a dress that costs that much is still an expensive dress.

15. It is difficult to translate the full meaning of the term vivesa into English. It means a sort of lively cleverness that is both positive—animated and full of life—and also a little dangerous: a cleverness that will look for advantage.

16. Indeed, the culture of consumption invoked by Don T is part of this practice of “progressive position taking.” Unlike their parents, present-day working-class Uriangatenses spend weekends shopping recreationally, as they aspire to have new cars, homes, furniture, and the like—all as part of the classic capitalist effort to “keep up with the Joneses.” These consumptive desires are also articulated with migration to the United States. Goods purchased in the United States have a particular aura, as they are considered superior to goods available for purchase in Mexico. Uriangatenses project powerful desires into the sending and receiving of U.S. goods, and a great deal of family conflict centers on who receives, or does not receive, what “migration good” from whom (cf. Malkin 2004).

17. During my first extended research trip to Uriangato in 2001, it came to my attention that an increasing number of Korean clothing manufacturers had established stores in the town. On a return trip in 2005, I noted that this migrant community had grown substantially—initially a group of solitary men, it was now composed of whole families, with children in the school system, acquiring native fluency in Spanish and serving as cultural and linguistic intermediaries for their parents, as many Mexican migrant children in the United States do.

18. It could be for migrants in the United States. Diasporic community and consciousness, however, is a particular construction that is not always produced in contexts of displacement (Malkki 1995). Therefore, it cannot be assumed but must be investigated empirically. Some have suggested that the contemporary regime of border militarization, which makes travel across the border increasingly difficult and dangerous, is creating diasporic longing for Mexico among migrants in the United States (Schmidt Camacho 2006), but this assertion, though provocative, needs to be ethnographically substantiated.

19. I claim that Jesús, like many working-class speakers, uses these terms to refer to the countries of Mexico and the United States because, when these speakers are asked to specify the referents of these terms, they use the country names. The unprompted use of qualification is also patterned: I heard Uriangatenses in Pennsylvania regularly qualify these terms, as in: “Aquíen los Estados Unidos no hay amor, no como alláen México”[Here in the United States there isn't love, not like there in Mexico]; but I almost never heard speakers in Uriangato do the same without prompting. This suggests that the use of there to refer to the United States is unmarked, the primary point of orientation—just as Mexico is Uriangatense speakers’ place of origin, their spatial “starting line.”

20. Spanish has several deictics translatable into the English terms here and there. There are two words equivalent to here: aquí (indicating physical proximity) and acá (indicating movement and physical proximity). And there are three words equivalent to there: ahí (indicating physical proximity and/or familiarity), allí (indicating that the referent is outside physical proximity), and allá (indicating movement and that the referent is at a far distance) (Benjamin and Butt 1995). Aquí and acá are largely interchangeable: Both terms are used to refer to a space in physical proximity to the speaker, and this space can be specific or general. In the statement “Aquí es donde vivo”[Here is where I live], aquí can refer to a particular house or a general expanse, such as a country or town—the same would be true if one were to use acá. However, unlike aquí, acá is used in statements that express movement. In a command to “come here,” the standard usage would be to say, “¡Ven [come] acá!” In the speech analyzed for this article, speakers use aquí more frequently. Of the 276 tokens of here I found in a data sample of 35 conversations conducted with working-class people in Uriangato, speakers use aquí 217 times and acá 59 times; two-thirds of the tokens of acá are employed in statements of movement. The differences between ahí, allí, allá are more elaborate. Ahí is used to refer to “a there” that is in physical proximity to the hearer, as in the command: “¡Ponte el libro ahí en la mesa!”[Put the book there on the table (i.e., just next to you, the hearer)]. It can also refer to “a there” that is not in physical proximity to connote the speaker's familiarity with it, as in: “Ahí en el pueblo donde crecí”[There in the village where I grew up]. By contrast, allí and allá, like aquí and acá, are largely interchangeable: They refer to a there that is outside one's physical proximity and that can be either specific or general. However, like acá, allá is used in statements of movement, as in the phrase: “Yendose pa’allá”[Going there]. In the speech analyzed for this article, the pattern of usage for allí and allá is opposite that found for aquí and acá. Speakers more frequently use the motion-implying term allá than the sedentary allí, with the former garnering 141 utterances and the latter garnering 38; one-third of the utterances of allá are in statements that explicitly denote movement.

21. In a survey of 35 conversations (the same as those discussed in the text), I found 276 tokens of terms equivalent to the English here and 179 tokens of terms equivalent to the English there; roughly 94 percent of these tokens are used to refer to Mexico and the United States, respectively.

22. Character role inhabitance is particularly evident in the direct reported speech Jesús employs. Indirect reported speech, as in “They tell you they were earning a thousand dollars,” emphasizes denotational content and not role inhabitance. If one assumes, for illustrative purposes, that the participant framework is a simple dyad between a speaker and an intended, ratified hearer, the animator and receiver of the indirect reported speech become witnesses. This produces a phenomenological distance between the animator and the author. By contrast, direct reported speech, as in Jesús's Table 1, Line 10—“They tell you, ‘I was earning a thousand dollars’”—re-creates the expressive features of the original speech. Here Jesús closes the distance between himself and the author by temporarily becoming the “dollars-earning they.” Likewise, I, the receiver of the direct reported speech, go from being a recipient of the story to a character in it, as I inhabit the position of the original addressee (in this case, the generic potential migrant).

23. Thus, semantic meaning of the anaphoric I depends on the relation between the anaphoric I and its anaphor. Urban (1989:33) establishes two rules governing such coreference: (1) The first person of the quoted clause is always coreferential with the subject of the main clause (in the example: “My husband told me, ‘I’m leave you to go to the United States,’”I refers to “My husband”); and (2) the second person is always coreferential with the dative object of the main clause (you refers to “me”).

24. At the same moment, because I retains its default signaling effect, Jesús also indexes himself. That is, the anaphoric I produces a double reference: one to the first-order referent, the subject of the main clause, and one to a second-order referent, the animator of the reported speech.

25. In fact, I was first drawn to analyze it because of its frequency of use. I examined 35 conversations in Uriangato, 20 (or 57 percent) of which contain instances of direct reported speech (DRS). Of the 15 speakers in this set, 11 use DRS, producing a total of 31 instances. I examined 30 conversations in Pennsylvania, 15 (or 50 percent) of which contain instances of DRS. Of the 16 speakers in this set, 10 use DRS, producing a total of 33 instances. Therefore, across all 31 speakers in this data set, 21 (or 68 percent) use DRS at various moments.

26. More specifically, there are two nomic worlds made sensible through the direct reported speech in Table 1, Lines 7–10: the erroneous world of the bragging migrant and the “real life” of the working-class migrant in the United States. The nomic quality of these worlds is made evident by the typifying direct reported speech Jesús utters—that is, this speech is represented as the kind of thing the bragging migrant would say, as is exemplified in his use of the nomic present, “They all recount” (Table 1, Line 7), instead of the particular past, “They recounted.”

27. In Spanish, the verb ending entails the nominal referent. In this case, is the first-person ending for the simple past tense. Because of this, the pronoun can be dropped, as it most often is. In the English translation, then, I indicate the pronoun entailed in the Spanish verb ending.