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Classroom Profile | Lesson Background

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Content: Migration Trends in Six Latin American Countries

Students working at desks.Cuba
The exodus from Cuba began in 1959, when Fidel Castro deposed dictator Fulgencio Batista in the Cuban Revolution. Unlike Batista's government, which had been friendly with the United States, Castro's Marxist regime alienated the American government and many Cubans. As the United States withdrew economic support, Castro turned to the Soviet Union for assistance. Between 1959 and 1962, 215,000 people fled Cuba. Most were landowners and professionals who had lost their property and businesses in the transformation to a socialist economy. Beginning in 1965, a second wave of 340,000 people left on so-called Freedom Flights before the airlifts were discontinued in 1973. The next great wave took place over the course of five months in 1980, when nearly 125,000 Cubans participated in what became known as the Mariel Boat Lift. Overall, nearly 700,000 Cubans migrated from the country between 1959 and 1980, with 85 percent of them settling in the United States. Many recent emigres are balseros -- people who escape from Cuba on rafts in the hope of surviving the 90-mile open-water trip to Florida.

Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has experienced three distinct waves of migration in the second half of the twentieth century. The first period began in 1961, when a coalition of high-ranking Dominicans, with assistance from the CIA, assassinated General Rafael Trujillo, the nation's military dictator. In the wake of his death, fear of retaliation by Trujillo's allies, and political uncertainty in general, spurred a great migration from the island. In 1965, the United States began a military occupation of the Dominican Republic and eased travel restrictions, making it easier for Dominicans to obtain American visas. From 1966 to 1978, the exodus continued, fueled by high unemployment and political repression. Communities established by the first wave of immigrants to America created a network that assisted subsequent arrivals. Then, in the early 1980s, underemployment, inflation, and the rise in value of the dollar all contributed to a third wave of migration from the island nation. Today, emigration from the Dominican Republic remains high, facilitated by the social networks of now-established Dominican communities in the United States.

El Salvador
Decades of political and military tensions, capped off by an 11-year civil war that finally ended in 1992, resulted in the forced migration of roughly a third of El Salvador's population in the 1980s and early '90s. The El Salvadoran migrants fell into one of two categories: refugees, who left El Salvador for another country because they felt endangered at home; and displaced persons, who had to leave their communities but remained within the national boundaries (also called "internal refugees"). Approximately one million refugees sought asylum in the United States; nearly half a million fled to the neighboring countries of Mexico, Honduras, and Nicaragua; another 500,000 were displaced. After the war, the repatriation of refugees seemed hesitant, at best. Those who remained in Central America have largely returned to El Salvador -- not on an individual basis but as whole communities. Others, especially those in the United States, have been sending money back to their families in El Salvador. These refugees are reluctant to return, as their families depend on them for financial support. Still others have chosen to settle permanently elsewhere.

More than half of Guatemala's population consists of indigenous people, descended from the Mayans. Spanish is the official language, but more than 23 languages are spoken there. Differences in customs, traditions, and religious beliefs have divided the people along many lines. In seeking to modernize the country and integrate the indigenous communities, the government has encountered opposition from various factions. The army has clashed with various guerilla groups at different times throughout the 1980s, forcing many indigenous people -- mostly women and children -- to either cross the border into Mexico or seek asylum in the United States. As the situation became less dangerous, many refugees would return, creating a migration pattern that ebbed and flowed with the perceived level of safety in their home country. In addition to military actions, natural disasters such as mud slides and Hurricane Mitch in 1998 have also affected the population's movement.

Group of students giving a presentation to the class.Haiti
Migration has long been a part of Haiti's history. One of the least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere, a poor economy and political turmoil have led many to seek stability elsewhere. Interisland migration has always been common in the Caribbean, especially as the sugar industry grew and workers were needed in Cuba, the Bahamas, and other nearby countries. But the United States has also been the primary recipient of Haitian immigrants. In 1915, during a period of intense political unrest, U.S. marines occupied Haiti, and Haitians began coming to the United States in increasing numbers. Although the United States made vast improvements to the country's infrastructure by constructing highways, schools, and hospitals, and by creating a sanitation program that eradicated yellow fever, many Haitians resented U.S. involvement. The occupation forces withdrew in 1934, but turmoil continued. From 1957 to 1986, presidential dictators François and son Jean-Claude Duvalier maintained their power through violence and fear; the people referred to the secret police force as Tonton Macoutes, or "bogeymen." Haitian professionals joined those headed for security in the United States. The political landscape since then has been marred by military coups and failed democratic elections. Many Haitians left their country for political asylum in the United States, claiming their lives were in danger.

Mexico's economic development in the twentieth century has not kept pace with its population growth, and many still live in poverty. Outdated agricultural technology and low wages motivated many Mexicans to leave their rural homes for urban centers, which quickly became overcrowded with people competing for scarce jobs. Others left the country searching for better opportunities, especially in the United States. Because of their shared border, the U.S. and Mexico share a heritage of movement between the two countries, both legal and illegal. Migrant labor from Mexico has long been important to the American economy, but changing immigration policy and the fluctuation of job availability has created an ebb and flow pattern, and is constantly redefining the relationship between the two nations. Economic crises in Mexico during the 1980s and 1990s, including national bankruptcy, harsh austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund, a severely lowered standard of living, and the devaluation of the peso, contributed to outbound migration. Now that Mexico is a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement and more focused on exports, its economic situation has generally stabilized, although Mexico's fortune remains closely tied to the economic climate in the United States. The topic of illegal immigrants continues to receive a great deal of attention in the United States today, even though most Mexicans enter the country legally, or claim citizenship through family reunification.

Teaching Strategy: Complex Instruction
Complex instruction is a teaching method in which students work together in small groups to enhance their learning experience and to ensure full participation by every member of the group. Each student in the group is assigned one of the following roles: a group facilitator who keeps the group on task, a harmonizer who ensures participation and civility, a materials manager who gathers materials needed for the group product, a reporter who explains the group process during the presentation, and a resource manager who gathers any additional resources or content materials needed.

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