El Norte or Bust: How Migration Fever and Microcredit Produced a Financial Crash in a Latin American Town

David Stoll. Rowman & Littlefield, $32.95 (296p) ISBN 978-1-4422-2068-3
Anthropologist Stoll (Fishers of Men or Founders of Empire?) examines the factors underlying a growing migration-based debt crisis in Latin America. He argues that a desire for American-style consumption drives immigrants into a pyramid scheme in which high-interest loans for travel to the U.S. can only be paid for by U.S. jobs (even at less than minimum wage), encouraging more people to travel to the U.S., compounding local debt. Focusing on the Guatemalan town of Nebaj, where he has done field work since the 1980s, Stoll explodes myths about the local Maya, revealing how their social structures, obsession with public works projects and modern conveniences, and deep ties to a home with too little arable land to sustain population growth contribute to destructive "chains of debt". Drawing from fieldwork of his own and by others, Stoll illustrates the range of Nebajense experience at home and in El Norte, demonstrating how the cycle of "debt peonage" in Central American migration affects and mirrors similar patterns in the U.S. This disheartening story will feel all too familiar for those troubled by the U.S. mortgage crisis and bank bailouts of recent years. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 02/04/2013
Release date: 12/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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