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The Remittance Landscape

Spaces of Migration in Rural Mexico and Urban USA

Immigrants in the United States send more than $20 billion every year back to Mexico—one of the largest flows of such remittances in the world. With The Remittance Landscape, Sarah Lynn Lopez offers the first extended look at what is done with that money, and in particular how the building boom that it has generated has changed Mexican towns and villages.

Lopez not only identifies a clear correspondence between the flow of remittances and the recent building boom in rural Mexico but also proposes that this construction boom itself motivates migration and changes social and cultural life for migrants and their families. At the same time, migrants are changing the landscapes of cities in the United States: for example, Chicago and Los Angeles are home to buildings explicitly created as headquarters for Mexican workers from several Mexican states such as Jalisco, Michoacán, and Zacatecas. Through careful ethnographic and architectural analysis, and fieldwork on both sides of the border, Lopez brings migrant hometowns to life and positions them within the larger debates about immigration.

336 pages | 69 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Architecture: American Architecture

Latin American Studies

Sociology: Race, Ethnic, and Minority Relations


“Provides an exemplar of evidentiary standards in material analysis. [Lopez] is thorough in her attention to objects and people and the multiple discordant relations in which they are entwined, and her methodological breadth evades ‘reading’ the affordances of material things in and of themselves.”

Qualitative Sociology

“Throughout her book, and with a great writing talent, Lopez highlights the individual, group, societal and state manifestations of the Remittance Landscape as well as the evolution of these different levels of manifestation. . . . An excellent tool for understanding a particular case of transnational practices involving migrants’ investment in two countries sharing a common border.”

Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Visually pleasing. . . . A welcome addition to migration studies.”

Journal of American History

“A valuable contribution. . . . Lopez has produced a thought-provoking and compelling piece of scholarship that expertly guides readers through largely unexplored terrain.”

Buildings and Landscapes

"In The Remittance Landscape, Sarah Lynn Lopez analyzes the impact of migrant led-development on Mexico's rural countryside. Lopez's book adds to work that draws into question the lasting effects of remittances on migrant-sending communities. Her text us the first to examine migration through the lens of the built environment. Lopez's analysis draws on a sophisticated interdisciplinary lens that allows the reader to gain a better understanding of the long-term effects of emigration within migrant villages. . . .In turning the unit of analysis on the built environment, Lopez reveals the agency inherent to migration."

Journal of American Ethnic History

“Lopez breaks new ground in her study of the remittance landscape in all sorts of important ways. She provocatively links the rural and the urban, the north and the south, and her sympathy for her subjects is clear as she weaves into her narrative an unsparing analysis of Mexican state policy. The devastating consequences unfold, chapter by chapter, as Lopez shows how a traditional landscape is destroyed and social inequalities further embedded, further ingrained rather than remedied.”

Marta Gutman, Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York

“Lopez’s beautifully written, deeply insightful book captures an aspect of migration that few have seen before, namely the paradoxical ways in which emigrants’ continuing connections to their places of origin reveal the transformations that they have undergone as immigrants in the place of destination. Based on the author’s ethnographic immersion in Mexican sending communities, The Remittance Landscape offers the reader an abundance of fascinating material, all presented skillfully and rendered in compelling fashion, thanks to Lopez’s acute powers of observation. A book sure to have lasting appeal and a must-read for any serious student of migration.”

Roger Waldinger, University of California, Los Angeles

“Lopez shows that the economic and cultural trace left by the migration of people, cultures, and money is changing the architecture of houses and sociabilités both in Mexican towns and American cities. The Remittance Landscape is a superb blend of historical and spatial imagination; social, cultural, and architecture history; and historical research and ethnography.”

Mauricio Tenorio, University of Chicago

"The Remittance Landscape offers an excellent read to scholars and students in migration studies, geography, anthropology and Latin American studies....Lopez' detailed observations enable the reader to feel the frustration over the traps embedded in the act of migration - an act as old as the world and as unstoppable as the wind."

European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Table of Contents



Introduction: Remittance Space: Buildings as Evidence of Social Change

1          The Remittance House: Dream Homes at a Distance

2          Tres por Uno: The Spatial Legacy of Remittance Policy

3          El Jaripeo: The Gendered Spectacle of Remittance

4          La Casa de Cultura: Norteño Institutions Transform Public Space

5          In Search of a Better Death: Transnational Landscapes for Aging and Dying

6          Migrant Metropolis: Remittance Urbanism in the United States

Conclusion: Rethinking Migration and Place




Society of Architectural Historians: Spiro Kostof Book Award

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