Please write on only 3 of the identifications listed below.
IV. The responses must be in short essay format and include the following:
- Why (significance) Make sure you think critically of the significance. For example, why is the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo important? What were the ramification of the Treaty?
VI. You can ONLY use lecture notes, class-assigned documentaries and readings in your response.
VII. Length of a response should be approximately half a typed page, single spaced.
VIII. In your response please use MLA citations. You must cite at least from one article from your assigned readings and/or lectures.
IX. Last name of author and page numbers inside parenthesis suffices. For example, (Gutiérrez, 34).
X. If you use information from lectures, you must cite the date and title of lecture in parenthesis. For example, (Marquez, “Mexican Independence to the Alamo,” 4-14-20).
XI. No Works Cited Page/Bibliography Needed.
XII. The final exam will cover lectures from: August 25th, August 27th, September 1st, and September 3rd.
XIII. Please turn in your typed response on Canvas.
1. “American Jobs for Real Americans”
- Roberto Alvárez
- The Sleepy Lagoon Trial
- Bracero Program
- Migrant Camps
CHI 10 Week 9 #1 – The Bracero Program
Good evening CHI 10 students,
Today we are going to be talking about the Bracero Program and we will continue with the 1940s and into the mid 1960s.
Last week I covered Mexican American servicemen and also the Zoot Suit Riots. And so, during this time period, there’s a little bit of an overlap in terms of what is happening in downtown LA with the Zoot Suit Riots and the signing of the Bracero Program.
The Bracero program is a bi-national program between the United States and Mexico for contract laborers. During the 1940s, as the U.S. is engaged in World War Two, there’s an extreme shortage of workers in the fields and in major industries, including the railroad and the steel industry as well.
And so many employers are negotiating with the federal government, pleading with the federal government to have contract laborers coming from Mexico. The federal government will agree to the Bracero Program. The term, bracero, is a term that is rooted in Latin and it stands for arms or your arms. So, literally, the bracero is strong armed.
The program begins in 1942 and ends in 1964. It has a 22-year long run. It involves 4.6 million workers. The first Braceros to arrive in the United States, arrived on September 27, 1942 in Stockton, California. So not far from here.
Braceros worked in 26 U.S. states. And so, it is a lot of workers from Mexico who are brought here to work in these industries that I mentioned earlier.
The goal of the federal program was threefold. The first and most important goal, according to employers, was to help eliminate undocumented immigration. The idea was that if you had this contract with workers, through this national program, that that would curve undocumented immigration.
The second was to assist the farm labor market, which had suffered some losses at the beginning of the ’40s as many workers were deployed for World War Two.
And the third argument for the Bracero program was to protect foreign nationals from work abuse. So those were the three goals of the Bracero program.
And so, I am going to start today’s lecture, or PowerPoint, I should say.
This is an image of workers, as you can see here, you’re looking at mostly working class or working poor migrants from Mexico. You could see a very large number. They’re mostly men who come through the Bracero program mostly young, young men, young able-bodied men.
And here, you can see what appears to be a lunch line. Folks are provided food through the Bracero program and then they eat their foods on these ditches, or these mounds of dirt, near wherever it is that they’re picking crops.
So, what is the legal terms of the Bracero program? I think those are really important for us to discuss and again, I remind you that law and practice don’t always go hand in hand. While the Bracero program, for instance, was supposed to protect foreign nationals from work abuse, it actually did the opposite.
And so here we’re looking at what is termed as dispensable labor. Once their labor is no longer needed or required, the idea is, that these workers would be repatriated to Mexico.
And I’m reminding me here that there’s a 22-year span of the program. So, a lot of things happen in 22 years, as you can imagine. And so, the program will come to an end as folks will begin to raise concerns of the treatment of Braceros in the United States, the lack of protection.
And so, the program will begin to be very critiqued by the 1960s, which will cause the closure of the program.
So, some of the stipulations of the Bracero program was that Mexican workers would not replace American workers. So, if Americans or US citizens are applying for a certain job, they should be given the job over these Mexican nationals.
This idea was that they’re not replacing American workers and so, therefore, they’re filling mostly a void. And, as you can imagine, as was the case back then and is the case still now, you do not have American born or U.S. citizens lining up to work in the fields or in labor intensive jobs.
The agreement also stipulated that Braceros would earn 30 cents an hour during the 1940s and by the 1950s, that was increased to 50 cents an hour.
And although, of course, for us in current times that may seem like a penny, for many of these workers, that was a lot more than they were making in Mexico. Again, you have to remember that Mexico is a third-world country, was a third-world country. And you are measuring an income of a first-world country, so lure has always been high paid jobs or high paying jobs in sort of comparison to what folks can make in Mexico.
Mexico was very adamant that Braceros not be discriminated against. When Mexico and the United States came together to agree to the terms of the Bracero Program, one of the things that Mexico really pushed for was that Mexicans would not be segregated in Mexico (oops, I meant the U.S.).
Also, at the beginning of the Bracero Program, stated that if anyone discriminated, including employers or even states, discriminated against their Mexican workers that those states or employers would be blacklisted. And for a period of time.
Believe it or not, Texas was blacklisted, and they could not have any Braceros come labor in that state because of the constant and severe segregation and Jim Crowing of Mexicans. So, I think, this is a sort of an honest attempt by Mexico to protect its citizens abroad.
I don’t know how they perceived this would be executed, since Mexican Americans, U.S. citizens of Mexican descent were being discriminated and segregated in the United States. So, how are they not going to discriminate against Mexican nationals?
But nevertheless, Mexico is sort of making more of a statement, I think, in using some of its power to make sure that their citizens are being treated fairly and equally in the U.S.
And so, Braceros could not unionize. They cannot form a collective bargaining. They couldn’t bargain, for instance, their wages or the hours that they work. And their terms could be terminated at any time. And often, this was one of the ways in which employers abused Braceros.
If one of them launched a complaint against them, they would be fired. And once they’re fired, they will not receive their pay. And so, many Mexican nationals shied away from reporting any work abuse, which was rampant during the 1940s and 50s and into the 60s.
So how is it that we have 4.6 million Mexican nationals, mostly men, coming to the US to work in a period of 22 years?
This is, shatters the previous record that we had, which was during the Mexican Revolution, the mass migration, the Mass Mexican Exodus, as scholars refer to it. It shatters those numbers of a million and a half. And here we have over a period of 20 years, 4.6 million. How is it that they are received in the United States and the conditions? And why are Mexicans coming? Why are Mexicans drawn to the Bracero program?
So, Mexicans would normally hear about the Bracero program from radio stations in Mexico. They would say, you know, the United States is looking for able bodied men to come work in the U.S. If you’re interested, please come to these processing centers in Mexico.
There was a huge processing center in Mexico City. There was also one in Nuevo Leon and other major Mexican cities. And so, you would go there and you would pay 300 to 400 pesos and then you would be placed on a train to, most likely, to another processing center along the U.S.-Mexico border on the U.S. side and there you would be processed.
They would take your photograph. They would take your fingerprints. They did an interview and that interview consisted of several questions. Mostly what are your job qualifications. So, for instance, if you’re a farmer in Mexico, then they would most likely place you in agriculture; you had experience in mining they would most likely place you in a mining camp, maybe in New Mexico; if you had experience on working on railroads, they would place you with the railroad.
So, this idea of compatibility or a skill match was huge during of the Bracero Program.
And they were also given a medical exam. And it included chest X-rays and check for TB or tuberculosis. They were fumigated for hook and mouth disease, which was a major disease at the time that was spreading easily.
And here you see a Bracero being sprayed with DDT, which is actually now considered a poison. And considered to cause cancer. And you can see how this man has been sprayed, you know, quite aggressively in the face with DDT.
So, then they were given a badge. You could see them that they put it on their coats and that badge told them it was kind of like a routing badge, it told them where they would be headed.
And they mounted on top of (oops, I meant they got on) these trains and then they were dropped off whatever destination, stretching as far as Chicago in Nebraska and Michigan in many American south western states as well.
And those who arrived to work in railroads found very difficult conditions. Railroads perhaps are the most strenuous jobs, there are many, many injuries. You can see here, even how the handle of the shovel here is very short, which required a lot of crouching and also caused many back injuries. Some of them permanent.
In fact, the Braceros well into their golden years, many of them could not sit up straight. They were permanently injured during this time period. Very, very difficult work to work on the railroads. And, as you remember in my previous lectures, the Chinese have done much, much of this labor in the late 1800s, before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. So, Mexicans are replacing many of those Chinese laborers.
And in an oral interview, Alberto Cortes Heredia, who was sent to the Southern Pacific, talks a lot about the racism that he experienced while working for the Southern Pacific in Roseville, California, just east of Sacramento.
And in an oral interview he talked about what how it how it was to work for the railroads during that time period. And he says, and I quote: “Se sentían un poquito superiores ha nosotros, pero nosotros tenemos la experiencia como mexicanos de nunca dejarnos. Siempre nos presentamos trabajando, trabajando.”
“They felt superior to us, but we knew we were capable and as Mexicans, we weren’t going to let them push us around. We are always present and ready to work, always work.”
So, for him, he experienced work discrimination while working for the Southern Pacific. And he points to the strong work ethic that Mexicans had during this time period.
Mexicans were also subject to what is known as a dual wage structure or a dual wage system. In which, Mexicans earn considerably less than white workers performing the same job. So, you would have workers doing the same work, or doing the same job, on a work site but Mexicans would be paid less simply for the fact that they were Mexican. And this is referred to as the dual wage system.
Also, many times, Braceros fell ill due to dehydration because they were not provided with salt pills and they were not given access to medical care. So, if you got injured on the job, you will not receive medical assistance and so many times workers were forced to take time off work without pay since there was no support system for them through the Bracero Program.
In the fields, it required long days, from sunup to sundown. Oftentimes, there was no bathroom breaks and there was a lot of deaths during this time period.
As you see here in this picture, folks are transported on these trucks. There’s no such thing as a seat belt or any safety measures and there were accidents where trucks would overturn, killing many of the Braceros who were on these trucks.
Also, folks died of heat strokes in the fields and you were also exposed to dangerous pesticides. Many times, Braceros were working in the fields, there would be pesticides being dropped by plane overhead and, many times, they would be drenched in pesticides, Which, as we know, kills people. But, because they were Braceros, there was no sort of care for their health or their well-being. And so, this was a very dangerous health hazard for Braceros.
They were paid by the hour and not by the bucket or bag, so, it didn’t matter your input. You were all paid the same, which really made things difficult for Braceros. There was often an overseer who would ride on horseback and push the workers to work harder, to work faster.
Almost like, like, you know, during the slave period where they would work the slaves and there’d be an overseer but, of course, this is different because Braceros are getting paid and as you know, slaves do not get paid for their labor, but nevertheless, that type of abuse, that type of, you know, of being on top of the worker to produce, to go faster. All in an effort to maximize profit for the growers and the employers.
And this is a quote from Alfredo Gutierrez from El Modena, California.
And he said “They’d get us up at four in the morning…then a truck arrived to take us to the field. They put a bucket of water on each end of the field trench and we couldn’t drink water until we finish hoeing the trench. And you couldn’t rest, if you did, they get after you. And that was every day.”
And so clearly, Alfredo Gutierrez Castaneda experienced much of this work abuse as well.
And then also, they were required to always be crouching, and they would lift heavy loads, creating, you know, permanent back injuries.
And it wasn’t until the 1960s, that the use of the short-handed hoe, as you see here, that the young man is holding it. You can see how short it is. They finally outlawed this, the use of this and the fields because there were so many injuries.
It’s just not natural to be crouched over for that long period of time and not get injured on the work site.
Braceros were also housed. Part of the Bracero Program was that they would get free housing. It didn’t say what type of free housing, right. And here you see one room shacks. None of them had running water or electricity, there usually was an outhouse. And as you see here, children are playing in what looks like some sort of dirt hole or some sort of crevice there in the ground.
And, the living conditions were very difficult for families. Many times, you’d have 10 or 13 family members crammed into one of these shacks. In places like Southern California, where the weather’s more tempered, people were given tents or makeshift, I don’t even know what they’re called, like a, like a house. They would just put, you know, boards together and sort of figure it out.
So, while housing was provided, as you can see, the housing is unsanitary, unsafe and miserable. I would imagine, especially for the women who lived here, who had to make do with washing clothes with no running water and, you know, just a simple task of getting some water at night or something you’d have to go outside and get it from the well, or what have you.
So, the results of the Bracero Program is that by the 1950s, Braceros sent home to Mexico some $30 million a year in remittance. Remittance is when you send money from the U.S. to your home country. And so, the Bracero Program ended up being also a moneymaker for Mexico as that money was being circulated in the economy there.
The Mexican government also took 10% of the workers’ pay and supposedly put it in a safe box for them, for retirement, and I’ll be talking about that a little bit later.
So, Mae Ngai, in her book, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens in the Making of Modern America, argues that the Bracero Program, although it had these three major goals, as I explained at the beginning of the lecture, actually did quite the opposite.
We know, for a fact, that worker abuse was rampant, was unchecked, and therefore workers and new. I’m sorry. Employers knew that they could continue to abuse the workers.
Second, instead of curtailing or stopping undocumented immigrants from coming into the country, it actually increased it. How is that possible?
Well, it’s possible, because there was more worker demand and there was availability of getting in through the Bracero Program. There was so much red tape that employers preferred to hire undocumented workers.
And through word of mouth, they would tell the Braceros, “Hey, if you have cousins, friends, like we’ll hire them, they don’t need to have their, their proper paperwork.”
And oftentimes employers prefer to hire non-Braceros because they didn’t have to deal with any government oversight, whether it was the federal government or local agencies that were trying to mitigate between Bracero worker complaints and the employers.
It just became such a headache for employers that they preferred to hire Braceros, I’m sorry, undocumented and non-Braceros, because, as you know, Braceros have formal legal documentation because it’s a federal program between Mexico and the U.S.
So, the Bracero program then, some of us could argue was a failure because it didn’t fulfill its own goals.
Also, I think it’s important for us to consider that Braceros are humans and that in 22 years people, you know, make huge life changes. For instance, there are marriages, there’s children, people buy homes, people decide to stay and file for legal status in the US through visas and then permanent residency and then citizenship.
So many of the Braceros actually never return to Mexico, they remain here. Maybe you are the grandchildren of the Bracero generation. So, maybe your parents are not of this generation, but their parents might have been. And so, Braceros actually increases the number of ethnic Mexicans in the US and many of them will come of age during the 1960s, which I will be talking about later this week.
So, what is the legacy of the Bracero Program?
The legacy is that, as I mentioned, many of them will form their families here or form roots here, will be contributing members of American society, will be important laborers.
As you know, we only get great produce in California because of the work of farmworkers, many of whom were brought over during this time period.
But many of them are now retired as you can see here, an elderly man is holding a picture of his original Bracero ID. And Mexico refused to return their 10% earnings and so they sued, and it was not until 2005 that they won their case against the Mexican federal government, who agreed to pay 30,000 pesos to each Bracero for their life earnings. During this period, which equaled at the time $3,500.
However, to get this money was quite an ordeal, you had to go and file a claim in Mexico. You couldn’t do it from United States. And sometimes you have to pay very expensive paperwork to file to get your money back. And you also have to prove that you worked in the Bracero program, that you had somehow pay stubs. I know, nowadays, we don’t have pay stubs, everything’s electronic but in those days, they would print your pay stub.
So, imagine if you had a fire, there was a flood. if there was, you know, some sort of hazard, or maybe somebody robbed your house and took your papers, and you or maybe you dispose of those papers.
Why would you keep them all these years? Trusting that you were going to get your money upon retirement. And so, there’s a great loss there. I mean, not every, every Bracero made claims to that money that rightfully belong to them.
I am going to, first let me stop here. I’m going to put on Pages a documentary titled, “Los Braceros.” It’s a really good short documentary its 23 minutes long. If you’re interested in viewing a little bit more about the Bracero Program and its roots in in the U.S. I think that’s, that’s a really a good documentary for you to look at.
And I also wanted to mention that oftentimes we hear or hear growers or employers make demands to the federal government to have another guest worker program, that the need for this type of labor is very high and, you know, you can’t keep workers or they’re quitting or there’s this tremendous need for workers to do this type of labor.
We haven’t heard it under this administration, but I know in past administration’s that always comes up. And so, I think, it’s important for us to think about the legacy of Braceros and what are some of the lessons, maybe, that we’ve learned from the Bracero program in moving forward if we ever work to as a country to enlist another guest worker program.
So that concludes our lecture for today. I will see you in a couple days.
Have a good one, bye-bye.