The zones of expulsion and poles of attraction are the forces at work that explain the movement of hundreds of millions of people over the past century within the borders of Mexico from rural regions to urban hubs. In the first decade of the 20th century, 75% of Mexicans lived in rural regions. Today, nearly 80% live in metropolitan centers.

For indigenous Mexicans, who today still speak over 68 different languages, urban migration has had a tremendous impact on their communities and personal lives, as they experience both the benefits and incredible hardships of moving to urban centers.

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harsh reality

The dreams of steady employment and great education that life in the city might provide are often out of sync with the reality in which many migrants find themselves upon arrival.

small farms

The small-scale Mexican peasant and indigenous famers were not at the bargaining table when Mexico, the United States and Canada formed NAFTA.

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rising up

Potato chip vendor Rosa Juan, an Otomí from the state of Querétaro, has big dreams for herself and her youngest son, Ezequiel. Education is not only a dream for her son, but for her as well.

mother's dream

Ezequiel has an opportunity to attend high school and attain a long-time dream for his mother, but tuition is more than Rosa can afford.

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critical need

Suffering from hydrocephalus, 1-year-old Paola's survival hinges on frequent trips from her rural indigenous village to urban hospitals where her parents struggle to navigate the complicated Mexican health care system.

i am wixarika

After falling from a truck on a return trip to her native village after working in the city, Julia has spent several months recovering in and out of urban hospitals. Coming to the city is a necessity to make a living, but the discrimination she faces has not been easy.

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finding home

Squatting on federal railroad property has its advantages, like protecting this Mixtecan migrant community from the harassment of local authorities, who have not made their accidental arrival in the city easy over the past few decades. Leuterio, a young lawyer and one of the few in the community with a higher education, is helping the community move forward.

notes of survival

In this Mixtecan community the male relatives in Leuterio's family formed a band that earns a living playing to festival-goers in the small communities around the city.

woven unity

Leuterio used a class assignment in law school to create an artisan cooperative for the women in his family who weave traditional baskets and sell them in the streets.

listen to me

Teenagers of migrant and indigenous parents who work on the streets learn to use cameras to document and tell their stories in a year-long class through a program called Listen to My Pictures.

heading north

Though they hardly remember their birth parents who left Mexico for Tennessee when they were small, Martin, Efrayn and Lilliana, have been told to rejoin their parents across the border with the help of a human smuggler. The kids are reluctant to start over in a new place, having already migrated to Guadalajara from their native Otomí community, and their aunt and uncle, Maura and Domingo, are nervous about the children's safety and are sad to lose the children that they've raised.

the ovens

Brick making was a way of life for the 150 families who migrated from Zacatecas. Now, squatting on land at the edge of the city, they live in extreme poverty without basic needs.


Luis, 15, has lived alone in the brickyards since his parents abandoned him. Through the NGO, Fundación TRACSA, Luis is getting an education and excels in math, but as he becomes an adult the pressures and trauma of growing up this way seem insurmountable.


Local politicians decide to take the brickyard community into their own hands. While they have done the families a huge favor by building public housing units and providing basic services, they removed the community's only source of income — brick making.


Norma, an indigenous Otomí woman, left her traditions behind after tragically losing the majority of her closest family members.

child labor

Many migrant children, like those of Norma, work alone or with their parents in the streets as informal vendors. How can these families find a balance between the need for their children to work, and their children's rights?


In an effort to provide some long-term solutions to the problems associated with urban migration, several non-profits in the city, like CODENI, a children's rights organization, are responding with education.

dyeing success

Paula and Adrian's five children all experienced profound discrimination while in Mexican schools on their way to high school and college. The indigenous Triquis couple from Oaxaca always knew that education was the most important thing they could provide their children.


Erick, the oldest son in the family, now attends university where he studies social work with his sister. The two plan to work in the school systems where they suffered discrimination growing up.

sacred ignorance

The organizers of the 2011 Pan American Games never sought input from the Wixarikan people, for whom one of the Games' mascots was supposed to represent.


What does the future hold for indigenous people and migrants in a country rife with political corruption, discrimination and drug violence in an ever urban-growing society?

josh meltzer

about page




Website Development

This project was funded in part by the Fulbright Scholar  program and Photophilanthropy  which helped support the field work over the course of 18 months. Internal Migration served as my Master's thesis project at the University of Miami.

Many thanks to University of Miami graduate advisors Rich Beckman, Kim Grinfeder, Alberto Cairo  and Sallie Hughes. Additionally, I wish to thank colleagues and friends Seth Gitner  and Evelio Contreras  for their guidance and support.

  • Translation
    • Silvia Saucedo Sherman
    • Corina Kirwin
    • Isabella Cassese
    • Brenda Givens