Skip to main content

In Search of Providence
Transnational Mayan Identities, Updated Edition

Author(s): Patricia Foxen

In the mid-1990s, Patricia Foxen traveled back and forth between the Guatemalan highlands and Providence, Rhode Island, to understand the migration paths of K’iche’ Mayan Indians who had fled the Guatemalan civil war to work in the factories and fisheries of New England. More than two decades later, many Mayans are still migrating to the U.S., today part of the “border crisis” that prompted Trump administration’s ruthless immigration and asylum policy backlash. As Foxen argues, the recent surge in Mayan border crossings must be contextualized within both the longer history of violence, marginality, and exclusion that has long led Guatemala’s indigenous populations to be “survivors on the move,” and in terms of the contemporary push factors such as climate change and growing inequality that have forced people from their communities.

And yet, one of the most significant drivers of continued emigration today, ironically, is the very culture of migration (described in the book) that has accelerated social change within many indigenous communities, setting in motion a complex series of economic and cultural shifts that have compelled a continuous movement of people and generations to the U.S. Reading this story in 2020—at a time of massive growth in flows of irregular migrations around the world—can help us better understand the highly complex set of factors that propel long-term migrations and that shape transnational communities on both sides of the border.

In Search of Providence offers a layered, historically-grounded perspective that speaks to the local specificity behind the migration experience in order to point to the universal themes and contradictions of contemporary global displacements.


Biography of Author(s)

Patricia Foxen is a Research Associate at the Toronto General Hospital, Women's Health Program, cross-appointed at the University of Toronto Anthropology Department. She was previously a Research Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, and has worked as an anthropologist for the Transcultural Psychiatry Division of Montreal Children's Hospital.