Research Communications

Hometown Heroes 

Geographer measures the impact of immigrant donations to Mexican community development projects

October 10, 2011

When Mexican immigrants settle in the United States, they may join clubs called hometown associations that raise money to fund public works or education projects back home. About 2,000 associations are active throughout the nation.

Although the projects have noticeably impacted quality of life in Mexico, geography graduate student Aaron Malone wanted to study how much they improve the economy. After graduation, Malone traveled to Mexico under a Fulbright scholarship as an extension of his studies at Ohio University. His goal was to develop an objective assessment system that Mexicans can use to evaluate the hometown association efforts.

“Past studies on hometown associations have been mostly subjective and hard to replicate,” Malone says. “I wanted to build a score sheet that the Mexicans can use that is repeatable, so they know what is working and what isn’t.”

Most of the projects funded by the associations deal with community development, such as extending water and sewer lines and providing grants for junior and high school students. Mexicans, in general, are supportive of this approach but are uncertain about whether this is the most appropriate way to stimulate the economy, he says.

Aaron Malone
Aaron Malone. Photo Credit: Robb DeCamp.

Malone’s main focus of study was Zacatecas, Mexico, a state of 1.5 million residents that has a long history of migration to primarily urban areas of the United States. Migrants may establish or join hometown associations that seek donations and host fundraising events such as rodeos, dances, sports competitions, and beauty pageants.

Through a program called “The 3x1 for Migrants,” the Mexican government will match $3 (one dollar each from federal, state, and local governments) for every $1 hometown associations donate toward a project. The program has operated on a state level since the 1980s and on a national level since 2002.

“The project is then either managed by the municipal government or the works committee,” Malone says.

In two communities, Malone conducted 25 in-depth interviews with key participants in the projects and 25 household surveys. He found that Mexican residents have seen a significant improvement in the quality of their lives, but not as strong of an impact on their local economies. The majority of the Mexicans surveyed would like to see an increase in the number of available employment opportunities, he says.

Through his surveys in Mexico, Malone also discovered that the recent recession in the United States negatively impacted the immigrants’ ability to raise funds for the hometown associations. In many cases, however, Mexican residents and the U.S. immigrants collaborated to raise the necessary funds, or the local government helped.

Before his return to the United States, Malone distributed the assessment tool to various local government officials and hometown associations involved with the program, and will publish it in a local university publication. The student now is working in the inspector general’s office in New Orleans as part of a team that evaluates city government programs.

By Milissa Hudepohl

This article will appear in the Autumn/Winter 2011 issue of Perspectives magazine, which covers the research, scholarship, and creative activity of Ohio University faculty, staff, and students.

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