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Originally published by LA Times

Many years ago, Maria Elena Dueñas left her peasant town in the lush valley along Mexico’s Rio Ameca. She bid goodbye to her family, weeping over leaving her parents and siblings behind as she and her infant son followed her husband to Los Angeles.

She never forgot her father’s words, telling her to keep pushing forward, “sin voltear para atrás” — without looking back.

Home simply didn’t have much to offer — a place where dirt roads turned to mud in the rainy season, with no high school and few jobs other than blistering work in the fields of tobacco and corn.

Elena’s husband went north first, finding in a neglected neighborhood northeast of downtown L.A. a promised land of plentiful jobs, good salaries and cheap rents, a place filled with neighbors, family and friends from his village in Mexico.

The neighborhood was called Lincoln Heights.

These immigrants worked shifts in factories, restaurants and the produce market. They rented small apartments.

For generations, San Juan de Abajo, an agricultural town in the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit, funneled hundreds of people into Lincoln Heights on the faith that the Eastside neighborhood was a base camp for building a better life. The chain migration profoundly changed both places — and created economic, cultural and familial bonds that remain deep decades later. Former residents of the Mexican town still meet regularly at the McDonald’s on North Broadway to talk about old times.

But the fundamentals of this relationship between hometown and adopted home have changed.

Lincoln Heights, long a beacon for a better life, has lost some of its luster, with fewer jobs, rising rents and increasingly difficult border crossings.

At the same time, San Juan de Abajo has been transformed from a rural, backwater town into a more prosperous, modern place, powered by the booming tourist economy of nearby Puerto Vallarta. These changes have some immigrants reflecting on their choices.

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