Migration aspirations and preferences to stay in a Brazilian frontier town: Tranquility, hope and relative endowment
What happens to migration when a town undergoes economic decline? Do residents migrate or do they stay? And what motivates this decision? This article answers these questions by analyzing the life and migration aspirations of young people – 17-39 age group – in Caracaraí, a large frontier Brazilian town on the edge of the Amazon forest that has experienced economic decline and stagnation since its heyday in the 1970s-80s. The analysis relies on 41 in-depth interviews (17-91 age group) and a survey with 267 respondents in the 17-39 age-group – who are frequently children of migrants who arrived during the economic boom. The article examines their view of the town, their life aspirations and prospects, and their aspirations to stay or to leave Caracaraí. While we observe ‘conditional’ migration aspirations, many young people show a preference to stay. Three interconnected factors shape this preference: life aspirations, the meaning of a ‘good life’, and hope in local development. Life aspirations often entail the pursuit of education within Brazil to take up public sector employment in Caracaraí. A ‘good life’ frequently involves closeness to family, the town’s natural environment and its peacefulness. Many young people also hold hope for the town’s development in the future. This article introduces the concept of relative endowment to describe how young people in Caracaraì feel privileged in relation to their parents’ upbringing and to people in more peripheral areas, in big Brazilian cities and abroad, thus in relation to diverse reference groups. Moreover, relative endowment can be shaped by non-economic factors, such as what is a ‘good life’ and perceptions of development. This might explain why, even in times of economic decline, many young people may prefer to stay, despite the financial gains that migration could provide.