[Excerpt] This book describes how people cope with rapid social change. It tells the story of the small town of La Quebrada, Honduras, which, over a five-year period from 2001-2006, transformed from a relatively isolated community of small-scale coffee farmers into a hotbed of migration from Honduras to the United States and back.1 During this time, the everyday lives of people in La Quebrada became connected to the global economy in a manner that was far different, and far more intimate, than anything they had experienced in the past. Townspeople did not generally view this transformation as a positive step toward progress or development. They saw migration as a temporary response to economic crisis, even as it became an ever more inescapable part of their livelihood. The chapters that follow trace the effects of migration across various domains of local life — including politics, religion, and family dynamics — describing how individuals in one community adapt to economic change.
This is not a story about an egalitarian little Eden being corrupted by the forces of capitalist modernization. La Quebrada's residents have lived with social inequality, violence, political conflict, and economic instability for generations. As coffee farmers, their fortunes have long been tied to the vicissitudes of global markets. However, the social changes wrought by migration presented qualitatively new challenges, as a functioning local economy became dependent on migrants working in distant places such as Long Island and South Dakota who lived in ways that most people in La Quebrada struggled to comprehend or explain. The new reality of migration created a sense of confusion that was especially strong in the early stages of La Quebrada's migration boom, when communication between villagers and migrants was rare. The decline of coffee markets and the rise of the migration economy happened so quickly and chaotically that people struggled to understand, evaluate, and give meaning to the changes they wereexperiencing. Therefore, migration was experienced as sociocultural disintegration in 2003-2005, when the bulk of the research for this study was conducted.