muro fronterizo migración


The migratory phenomenon has always existed; however, during the last century, it has organized itself as a movement of groups forced (because their only option is to migrate, despite the danger it carries) to change their residence into another region or country. This happens, most of the times, due to situations like extreme violence or poverty at their homelands, and even as a result of clime or war matters.

Before reaching their destination, must migrants must overcome all the barriers and risks implied in moving from one country to another, because they generally do this illegally. If they manage to accomplish their goal, they still have to go through a process to adapt to a new culture, a new territory and, many times, a new language, which implies having to develop a whole new way of thinking and being.

The migratory travel is a complex experience that generates questions about one’s own and the country’s identity; it forces both migrants and non-migrant people to question the political, legal and police system at the border; it promotes reflection and critical thinking focused on the State and its citizens (in the country and generates the migrants and in the country that receives them, as well); because of this, for investigators and activists, writing about such phenomenon is a social denounce exercise, and a way to express and re-find, in case you’ve gone through it yourself.  

Migration Literature in Mexico

Migration literature has existed for a long time; in Mexico, however, it’s been developed only for the last century. This genre’s main characteristic is to deal with the migratory subject, narrating the travel –and its dangers– from someone’s homeland to another destination; besides, migration literature also describes the inner experience of the traveler, emphasizing the feeling of being uprooted, having lost a national identity. Many times, this kind of literature presents, as well, a criticism towards the social, political, economic, and cultural situation of those in need of moving away, by showing the harsh conditions they must face every day in their mother country and on their way to reach the migratory dream.

In Mexico, the first books about this genre appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, during the Porfiriato and the Revolution; a period in which, for the first time, there was an important migratory movement from Mexico to the United States. Ever since, Mexico has kept generating migrants who travel northward hoping to reach the “American dream”. On the other hand, during the present century, some migration literature about the southern border has been published, written mainly by researchers and journalists who have focused on doing critical novels about the terrible reality that central and south Americans face going through the Mexican territory.

Mexican Migration Literature Stages

The engagement stage (1926-1935)

After the U.S. entered the Great War, the country stopped receiving European immigrants; however, to build railroads and work the land, Americans needed cheap workforce, so they started hiring young Mexicans to do such jobs. At the same time, Mexico’s political and economic situation pushed an important group of youngsters to try their luck abroad, in the United States, where they would work at farms or factories. Such situation was a threat, as well, for the Mexican wealthy, who, trying not to lose their fortunes, moved to the U.S. just like the young people. This way, the United States received an important number of Mexican migrants during the first decades of the 20th century.

The books from this period present a nationalist approach and reject the American way of life; besides, they point out the obstacles, such as the discrimination, that Mexican migrants must suffer looking for the “American dream”, which is no more than an illusion. These books also capture the inevitable syncretism of two cultures that produces the so called “pochos”, who embody these identity issues.   

Recommended novels from this period: Under the Texas Sun (1926), by Conrado Espinoza; The Adventures of Don Chipote, or When Parrots Breast-feed (1928), by Daniel Venegas; and The Fatherland Lost (1935), by Teodoro Torres.

The Laborer Stage (1948-1956)

After the U.S. entered World War Two, having dramatically increased its industry, the country experienced a new lack of workforce, so, one more time, the Americans looked for Mexican workers. Both countries made a deal known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program, in which Mexico compromised as the organizer of the massive transportation of migrant workers to the northern border, where the U.S. would receive them, providing worthy jobs and health care for all of them. During this period, over five million Mexicans worked as laborers in the United States; however, neither of the two countries fully respected its part on the deal.   

Throughout this stage, a new wave of literary works emerged, exposing the laborers reality during their temporal residence in the U.S. This period’s novels focus on describing the cultural clash experienced by migrants when they arrive to the northern country; besides, they narrate the humiliations and mistreats such migrants (generally young county men with some or no education) live. The nationalist approach is still present in these works, as well as the idea of the “American dream” being illusory.

The first migration novel written by a woman was published in this period: We’re Thirsty (1956), by Magdalena Mondragón.

Recommended novels from this period: They died in the middle of the River (1948), by Luis Spota; The Adventures of a Bracero (1949), by Jesús Topete; White Strike (1950), by Héctor Raúl Almanza; The dollar comes from the north (1954), by José de Jesús Becerra González; and We’re Thirsty (1956), by Magdalena Mondragón.

The Illegal Stage (1965-1985)

The end of the Mexican Farm Labor Program in 1965, wasn’t the end of the migrations from Mexico to the United States; it just meant it would be illegal to do it, which was more convenient for the American government, since they passed laws to punish illegal immigrants and did nothing to the Americans who hired them.

During these years, migration literature gets in a transitional stage, for it drops nationalism to denounce the corruption and poverty that exist in Mexico, pushing citizens to migration and, as a side effect, producing a brotherhood and feeling of community among the migrants.

Recommended novels from this period: The braceros’ builders (1980), by Herminio Corral Barrera.

The Bipolar Stage (1986-2007)

In 1986, the then president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, launched a special program for farm laborers, through which he legalized more than two million Mexican workers, granting them the American nationality. This, increased the index of Mexican families living permanently in the United States. So, there were two kinds of immigrants: the legal ones, who lived with their families and had earned their rights on American ground; and the illegal ones, who, despite their desire to make a living in the U.S., would continue under the shadow of anonymity. Besides, there were mixed families, formed by

Mexican members (who had no rights) and American members (those borne in the U.S., who had rights).

In the late 80s, the growing Latin community in the United States caused a reinforcement of the vigilance at the southern border, which was militarized and protected with a fence; at that time, the government also launched restrictive programs and laws that made getting in the country as an immigrant, difficult.   

This period was marked by the search of a total migration instead of a temporary one as in the previous stages; simultaneously, a lot of women and big families started migrating, not just young men anymore. Mafias and drug trafficking grew, so, the view at the border became more violent and dangerous for immigrants, who started suffering abuses from the organized crime and the Mexican and American authorities.

The political and social changes also modified the way of writing migration literature, for it began syncretizing both cultures (Mexican and American) through terms such as: migra, cholo, narco, etc. This happened as the chicano culture flourished, giving a momentum to the chicano writers, who depicted the reality of those borne at the U.S., with Mexican parents. So, this kind of literature, borne out of journalistic investigation, tries to denounce the poverty and marginality that force Mexicans to migrate, as well as the brutality and abuses suffered by migrants during their way through the border.

Recommended novels from this period: Sucre alley and other tales (1994), by Rosario Sanmiguel; The crystal frontier (1995), by Carlos Fuentes; Diary of an undocumented immigrant (2003), by Ramón “Tianguis” Pérez.

Current stage (2008-today)

The hopes of a migratory policy good for Mexicans and Latin Americans was lost after the attack to the twin towers in 2001. The speeches about terrorism, racism and xenophobia have recharged so much energy, they’re being used in politics as a campaign strategy.

Although the detentions at the border are still an important part of the American migration policy, since Obama’s administration they’ve been removing people from all over the country, so the number of deportees is drastically higher. This means that, a driving ticket or any other minor crime can split a family. The most affected by this are the Mexican and central American migrants, who have also suffered an increase in the number of attacks by cops.

Meanwhile, on the Mexican side, the so called “coyotes” became the specialists in crossing the border with every time bigger groups; nonetheless, a lot of occasions, instead of helping them, the coyotes traffic with the people from the group, or use them as a bate to cross drug. Consequently, the cost of crossing the border illegally has elevated considerably, and so has the risk, for migrants now must deal with the Border Patrol, the Mexican Army, the drug cartels and other mafias that fight over the territory at the border.

These horrible things also happen at the southern border, through which millions of central and southern Americans try to get in the country, with the only purpose or reaching the United States; however, their way through Mexico is a real nightmare, because they’re victims of the organized crime, corruption and racism.

The migration literature from this century has focused on being critical, denouncing the situation of poverty, corruption and drug trafficking that reigns in Mexico and the rest of Latin America; the migrant, in these books, is seen by everyone around as a profitable object.

Recommended novels from this period: The Mara (2004), by Alejandro Hernández; On the Other Side (2008), by Heriberto Yépez; You’ll Love God Above Everything Else (2013), by Antonio Ortuño; Gringo champion (2016), by Aura Xilonen; The Blue Martini (2021), Armando Acosta.

Final Considerations   

Migration literature provides valuable testimonies and criticism to a prudish and hypocritical society, both in Mexico and the United States, allowing the reader to get near the migrants and their stories, which shows and humanizes them, because, since they leave their homelands, people consider them as lower beings, with no rights, at a hostile territory. These narrations are a good way to understand the migrant as someone who has been forced to be different, not being able to stop what he originally was. Hence, he or she inhabits a new space that transcends both territories, for she or he lives beyond such frontiers, between two worlds.


Héctor A. Reyes Zaga. “Cartografías literarias: anotaciones a propósito de la novela de migración mexicana” en Literatura Mexicana | XXX-1 | 2019.  Consultado en:

Jorge Durand. «Nueva fase migratoria Papeles de Población”, vol. 19, núm. 77, julio-septiembre, 2013, pp. 83-113 Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México Toluca, México. Consultado en:

Felipe Oliver Fuentes Kraffczyk. “La novela mexicana sobre la migración centroamericana”, América Crítica. Vol. 2, n° 1, 2018. Consultado en:

Talía Morales

Graduated in Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and co-founder of magazine, where she also works as Editor and columnist. Se is also co-founder of the site:

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