At first, Me’phaa People started migrating to neighbor cities, including Tlapa, Ometepec, and Ayutla. Then, they migrated to mid-size cities, such as Acapulto and Zihuatanjo, and to big cities, such as Mexico City and Guadalajara (Torres and Ortíz, 2011). Most recently, the Me’phaa migrate to work as construction laborers, servers at restaurants, or temporary farm hands cutting sugar cane and coffee in the region in Sinaloa, Morelos, Baja California, and Sonora. Since the 1990s and continuing today, there has been a shift away from the tradition of farm labor in northern Mexico to a more occupationally varied and geographically dispersed pattern of migration to work in the service sector in the United States and Canada (Blanchon 2008). Jalisco has also become attractive for indigenous workers from all over the country. The men are 21 to 40 years old and work at an aluminum factory owned by the same employer. Most of the women are single and work as domestic employees in homes (Barragán, 2009).
In a study of Me’phaa migrants in Lawrence, Kansas, Blanchon (2008) documented a growing network of migration. Members of communities in and around Iliatenco, Guerrero are plugged into networks that span across multiple locations in Kansas and other states, including North Carolina, New York, Missouri, Texas, California and Oregon. Most people who leave for the US are in their twenties, and most of the others are in their lower thirties. Minors rarely leave and, like women, usually do not go without a close family member’s accompaniment. It is unheard of that the elderly leave. In Lawrence, the Me’phaa are employed in restaurants, construction companies, farms, landscaping, meatpacking, and domestic service (Blanchon, 2008).
Migration has provoked positive and negative outcomes for Me’phaa communities. On the one hand, migrant workers are able to send money back home to improve the lives of their family members. People bring new ideas with them upon return to La Montaña, which has stimulated local businesses. Thanks to migration, more money stays in town. On the other hand, migrants are lonely in the United States. Due to the difficulty of entering the United States, those who had children prior to coming to the US were not able to bring them. In Lawrence, Kansas, the only young children in Me’phaa households in Lawrence were the ones born in the U.S. (Blanchon, 2008). Moreover, high rates of migration from Iliatenco mean fewer men and women of working age, and relatively high numbers of minors and middle-aged and elderly people in the municipio. This is particularly troubling in a region where much of the road construction, maintenance and even cleaning of the streets are community endeavors.
One unintended and unfortunate side effect of migration has been language shift. Most Me’phaa people have historically been bilingual—in addition to Me’phaa and Spanish, the population of La Montaña tends to be fluent in Nahua and Mixtec. In other words, the Me’phaa have historically maintained their mother tongue at the time they speak other languages while living in their territories. Álvarez (2019) found that indigenous children who stay in Guerrero are generally proud of their origins. However, when they migrate to a different land, Me’phaa speakers confront discrimination, gradually reduce the domains in which they speak Me’phaa, and decide to only teach Spanish to their children. In contrast, Zambrano and Ávila (2018) found that indigenous children who migrate to work in Michoacán feel ashamed of speaking Me’phaa. Migrant children study in Michoacán from August to December, when regional crops demand labor. Students from Guerrero almost exclusively interacted with other guerrerences. Migrant students often work with their parents, which affects their attendance and their ability to build friendships with other students outside of their family circle. Spanish, the language of instruction, is their second language. Their intellectual contribution is often undervalued by teachers and classmates due to discrimination. It is no surprise that migration provokes language shift in territories where indigenous languages are undervalued. In Jalisco, for example, speaking Me’phaa in public domains is looked down upon by Spanish-speaking employers and coworkers alike. Therefore, Barragán (2009) found that Me’phaa migrants in Jalisco want their children to study and have better jobs than they have as dayworkers, peddlers, and domestic employees. Since parents do not want their children to feel frustrated or inferior for speaking Me’phaa, they have decided to teach them Spanish only. Additionally, in Jalisco migration and language shift occurred simultaneously as the Me’phaa developed a desire to make it (subsist, make a living, work, make money, make a life, become someone) in a different place.
Despite language shift, Me’phaa migrants continue to have strong community ties with their family members in La Montaña. In Lawrence, Kansas most Me’phaa marry and live with other Me’phaa. Most workers maintain strong ties to their communities and frequently return from the U.S. The Me’phaa have not yet become politically, economically, or religiously organized in Lawrence, KS but they are highly unified by family and ethnic ties (Blanchon 2008).