By Rachel Vinciguerra
Economics Professor Robert Gitter told students Thursday that one of 20 workers in America can say they were born in Mexico.
Gitter spoke about Mexican migration to central Ohio as part of the Norman J. Gharrity Lecture Series, put on last Thursday at noon by the Department of Economics.
The series is in honor of Gharrity, a retired economics professor who taught at OWU from 1962 to 2005. According to the pamphlet distributed at the lecture, Gharrity had a particular interest in deepening understandings of relations between nations and especially differences of how economies function.
Junior Andrew Paik, student chair of the economics department, said it is part of his job to find speakers for the Norman Gharrity Lecture series.
“It’s designed to promote learning outside of the classroom environment and provide interesting lectures about economics and management for our students,” he said.
He said Gitter selected the topic of his lecture, titled La Travesia A Delaware Y Columbus: A Look at Mexican Migration to Central Ohio.
Gitter said Gharrity was invited to attend on Thursday, and he wished he could have been there.
“I have learned a lot through him,” Gitter said.
Gitter said he wanted to approach the topic of Mexican migration to Ohio from four perspectives: as an economist, as a historian, in relation to public policy and through the lens of current issues and concerns.
From a historical perspective, Gitter said the quotas established for immigration to the United States between 1890-1920 were set based on statistics from 1830-1890.
“I think it’s interesting how laws are passed and what ends up happening can be quite different,” he said.
By the 1940s, the Bracero program had been implemented to bring Mexican workers into the United States for periods of 6 months during World War II, Gitter said. During that time, the U.S. government deported Mexicans through the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Department of Labor was stamping their papers and sending them back because there was a need for a workers.
“Then in 1965, LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson) signed the Immigration and Nationality Act,” Gitter said. “And that’s still a law today.”
The Immigration and Nationality Act abolished the established quotas and dramatically increased the number of people who were allowed into the country.
Gitter said the single most important factor for an immigrant to gain entry to the country today is family reunification. These people will also migrate to places where the cost of living is lower and where their friends, family and townspeople have settled.
“Mexican migrants, then, tend to be more concentrated,” he said.
Gitter said places like California and Texas were the main destination states for Mexican immigrants until the 1990s; but since 2000, that is changing. Today states like North Carolina and Ohio are also major destinations.
“It’s not that they go right from Mexico to Ohio,” he said. “The story is usually, ‘I left Mexico, went to California and wound up in Ohio.’”
He said there are three main concentrations of Mexican migrants in Columbus today: on Broad Street, near the airport and on Morse Road.
Paik said Gitter’s reinforcement of how close to home these issues are struck a chord with him.
“Latin American migration has continued to become a more and more important issue for Americans, not just in California and Texas, but all over the country,” he said. “With immigration reform on the table and the evidence of increasing migration to Ohio…I found the lecture very relevant.”
Gitter said he predicts Mexican migration to the United States will slow as education and political systems improve across Mexico. He also said Mexican migration in the United States will continue to flow to central Ohio.
The lecture ended with a brief set of photographs showing the Latin American presence in central Ohio.
From the Jalisco Market, the Mexican grocery store in Delaware, to pictures of taco trucks in Columbus, Gitter said Mexican populations around Columbus have increased in the last ten years, some with an entrepreneurial bend.
“And the food in the taco trucks is a lot better than Dan’s Deli,” he said.
Junior Rachel Tallmadge said she attended the lecture as a student of economics who was interested in what Gitter had to say.
“I thought the lecture was really insightful and well done,” she said. “I took away from it how difficult and dangerous the labor is that is typically available to Mexican immigrants in the United States.”
Junior Katie Buckingham also attended the lecture because she said she wanted to learn more about Mexican migration.
“I’ve heard him speak on this topic before,” she said. “I thought it was really interesting and well-balanced. I’ll definitely be more aware of the makeup of my surroundings now.”
Paik said the turnout was better than they had expected and even better than the turnout in previous years according to senior Alyssa Ferrando, the outgoing chair.
“I account that to the topic of the lecture since we’ve been using the same type of advertising methods for the last few years,” he said.
Paik said economics department secretary Lisa Garvin should be credited with the success of the lecture, along with other board members
“She was extremely helpful in planning and organizing the event,” he said.
Paik said the event was a success and that he found himself comparing Gitter’s lecture to similar experiences of his friends at OWU.
“One of my acquaintances, who happens to be Guatemalan and also undocumented, lived in one of the areas Gitter described and experienced a very similar form of migration that Gitter described,” he said. “I think this lecture helpful students to understand the experiences of these immigrants.”