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Journal article

Land, ethnic, and gender change: Transnational migration and its effects on Guatemalan lives and landscapes




Matthew Taylor


Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, this article analyses how migrants and their remittances effect gender relations, ethnicity, land use, and land distribution. Evidence is drawn from research in four communities. San Pedro Pinula and Gualan represent communities of eastern Guatemala. San Cristobal Totonicapan is an Indigenous town in Guatemala's western highlands, and San Lucas is a lowland frontier community in the Guatemalan department of Ixcan, which borders Chiapas, Mexico. The results suggest that migrants and their financial and social remittances result in significant changes in land use and land distribution in Ixcan. Migrant money permits the conversion of rainforest into cattle pasture and also results in the accumulation of land in the hands of migrants. In terms of land use, we see in San Pedro Pinula that migrant money also allows the Pokoman Maya to make small entries into the Ladino (non-indigenous) dominated cattle business. In San Pedro Pinula, the migration and return of Maya residents also permits them to slowly challenge ethnic roles. Also in Gualan and San Cristobal migration and social remittances permit a gradual challenge and erosion of traditional gender roles. However, migration-related changes in traditional gender and ethnic roles is only gradual because migrants, despite their increased earnings and awareness, are confronted with a social structure that resists rapid change. Despite the advantages that migration brings to many families, especially in the face of a faltering national economy and state inactivity regarding national development, the analysis suggests that migration and remittances have not resulted in community or nation-wide development.

Journal title




File Attachments


Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers, General farm workers, and General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Statistics on work and life conditions

Target groups


Geographical focuses

United States and Guatemala

Spheres of activity

Anthropology, Cultural and ethnic studies, Gender and sexuality studies, and Geography