Introducing: Remesas

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #11 in July 2010]

For immigrants, the United States has long been bound by binary definitions. At one end of the spectrum, it’s the land of empire; at the other end, the land of opportunity. The US, as empire, generates global economic conditions that force people to migrate away from their homes, while locally hollowing out human and civic rights for the sake of capital. In contrast, the land of opportunity narrative motivates migration to the US. This story is deftly played up by Hollywood and mainstream media to maintain a cultural hegemony worldwide, making sure there is little space to analyze the “push-pull” dynamics that result in migration. This stifles understanding of the malleable reality that immigrants face here, both upon arrival and after generational roots have been planted. Until very recently, communication between migrants and family “back home” was often a costly and constrained endeavor, and hence, tended to erode over time. While today new technologies offer more frequent and in-depth opportunities for communication, the promise of riches and the heartache of tragedy still hold strong as binary archetypes of the immigrant experience. Motivated by a desire to complicate this set-in way of comprehending US im/migration, Remesas is building a shared online workspace and audio archive, hoping to fill these bookends of understanding with the nuance, excitement, and outrage that the immigrant experience has to offer.

Remesas is a collaboration that is building connections between immigrant communities in the US and home countries throughout Latin America. More than just a radio program, Remesas aims to instigate dialogue across states, nations, and other boundaries by working with radio producers around the US and sharing content with community radio stations in Latin America—starting with Radio Victoria in El Salvador and Radio Mulukuku in Nicaragua.

Radio Victoria in the Cabañas department of El Salvador has a long history of community service and youth-led radio programming. El Salvador has been tremendously affected both by people leaving the country and by return migration. It stands as one of Latin America’s greatest economic dependents on remittances. It has also developed the dark reputation of being engulfed in one of largest organized gang enterprises to exist anywhere as a direct result of US jails deporting gang members back to El Salvador in droves.

Radio Mulukuku is a relatively new radio station in Nicaragua—a country that has also felt powerful effects from the north. US intervention was most direct in the 1980s’ Contra War, but the impact continues today in the form of political and economic pressures and media influence. Radio Mulukuku was built out of a need to counteract misinformation campaigns and attacks against the Cooperativa Maria Luisa Ortiz—a woman’s cooperative that provides health care, conflict mediation, economic support, and legal assistance to the residents of Mulukuku.

In Mulukuku, the radio is used to provide health education to listeners in remote regions that would otherwise lack access to this information, as well as to conduct outreach to potential patients by letting listeners know what health services are available to women and children. Radio Mulukuku, on the air for five years now, has grown into one of the most popular radio stations in the entire region. As Radio Mulukuku has grown, the cooperative has expressed interest in expanding programming and learning more advanced journalism skills. This has led to the formation of Remesas, a new US-based network of radio producers whose work is rooted in an international solidarity model.

Remesas is encouraging an exchange of skills and ideas between newer stations such as Radio Mulukuku in Nicaragua and more established stations like Radio Victoria in neighboring El Salvador, while also opening up a new and unique space for migrants to give voice and nuance to their own experiences. Radio content produced by migrants living in the US will be shared with audiences in Latin America to expand the programming available to listeners and share valuable perspectives across borders. Thematically, Remesas will structure Spanish-language programming around three key areas: political, social, and cultural. Political programming may address issues such as legislative changes, political repression, challenges with/from government, immigration issues, and significant elections. Social issues may include unemployment, education, housing, commerce, and the make-up of Latino/Spanish-speaking communities. Cultural programming will feature music, art, theater, food, poetry, and other ways in which the Latin American diaspora is reshaping the US context. ◊

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