Consuming Mexican Labor

Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA

RONALD L. MIZE
ALICIA C.S. SWORDS
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttpgc
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Consuming Mexican Labor
    Book Description:

    The authors offer a comprehensive and contemporary look at the increasingly important role that Mexican immigrants play in the North American economy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0159-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. List of Acronyms
    (pp. IX-XII)
  5. Preface
    (pp. XIII-XVIII)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XIX-XX)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. XXI-XLII)

    Why people move is a perennial question that has intrigued social scientists since their origins in the European Enlightenment. When the first political economists (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, etc.) sought to understand the shift from traditional to modern society, rural-to-urban migration was already present, but it was not central to their explanation of these forces of socio-economic change. Yet the relevance of migration (rural-to-urban and international) to the advent of capitalism cannot be understated, nor can the preoccupation with immigration by scholars that sought to explain the great transformation. Marx’s (1976 [1867]) discussion of the industrial reserve...

  8. Part I: Establishing Connections

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 1-2)

      The Bracero Program was the first and largest formal guest-worker program initiated by the US government at the behest of the agribusiness and railroad sectors. It was clearly a message to the Mexican government and its people that Mexicans were wanted in the US to do the dirty and difficult work that US citizens abstained from doing themselves. At the very time the program was in full gear, the US government initiated a border enforcement and repatriation program, dubiously dubbed “Operation Wetback,” which sent the contradictory message that the US in fact did not want Mexicans toiling on its soil....

    • Chapter One The Bracero Program, 1942–1964
      (pp. 3-24)

      The Bracero Program was extremely important in codifying existing migrant streams and constructing new streams to every region of the continental US. Its large scale meant that temporary workers — or Braceros — were often herded more like cattle than people through migration, recruitment, processing, transportation, housing, boarding, and work. Though certain guarantees were placed in individual work contracts, the testimony of former Braceros shows that contracts were rarely, if ever, enforced on behalf of workers’ rights. The Bracero Program was highly successful in creating a readily exploitable workforce but rarely protected the paltry rights accorded to workers.

      From 1942...

    • Chapter Two Operation Wetback, 1954
      (pp. 25-42)

      At the height of the Bracero Program, when over 309,000 contracts were issued, the US government instituted a forced repatriation program that shared many of the insidious aspects of an earlier Depression-era repatriation. As fewer contracts were issued, the number of undocumented migrants from Mexico increased. In 1954, the INS began repatriating these undocumented workers under a program with the name “Operation Wetback.”

      Undocumented migration followed earlier recruitment patterns by labor contractors and stemmed from the regions of Mexico that sent the largest number of Braceros to the US. Although the US did not take an active stance against undocumented...

  9. Part II: Mounting Resistance

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 43-46)

      The consumption patterns of North American consumers and the interests of an oligopoly of agricultural firms are driving the agri-food system that increasingly relies upon migrant temporary labor to harvest the crops designed by large-scale agribusiness firms. The vertical integration of the food industry means that agribusiness owns everything from seed to plate. In post-Fordist agricultural production, consumer preferences deeply shape industry practices. This means that supply chains are particularly vulnerable to consumer boycotts, negative public relations, and other forms of social protest that hold big businesses culpable for worker exploitation. A brand, label, or chain tainted with negative associations...

    • Chapter Three Farmworker Civil Rights Movement /El Movimiento Campesino
      (pp. 47-62)

      The struggle in the fields for farmworker civil rights invokes images familiar to many: the black eagle flag of the United Farm Workers (UFW), its charismatic leaders César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, and its philosophy of non-violent resistance. During the civil rights era, the UFW became the symbol for Mexican Americans who collectively struggled to relinquish their second-class citizenship. The UFW trade journal,El Malcriadodescribes the vision of the labor/civil rights movement as follows:

      The only way that poor farmworkers can ever beat the rich growers, and to make the rich ranchers pay good wages, is if all farmworkers...

    • Chapter Four Organized Labor and Mexican Labor Organization
      (pp. 63-90)

      The UFW has taken the position that “union rights = civil rights = human rights.” In this chapter, we elaborate on how a constellation of Mexican immigrant movements are embodying that mantra. In the previous chapter, we also discussed the UFW’s recent shift to temporary worker organizing, but a longer look at its history notes several missteps between the successful 1960s strikes and boycotts and the recent signing of the Global Horizons contract. The purge of key organizers and leadership in the late 1970s and early 1980s is rarely discussed in public but points to the singular power and vision...

    • Chapter Five Backlash and Retrenchment (1980s–1990s)
      (pp. 91-106)

      Reactionary politics have been squarely aimed at Mexican immigrant communities. The viciousness of anti-immigrant sentiment is reaching a new level with the largely positive press coverage of the vigilante actions of the Minutemen and American Border Patrol. The 1986 IRCA attempted to deal with the “illegal immigration problem” by giving undocumented immigrants pathways toward legalizing their status and protections against discrimination. For the first time in the history of immigration law, the group most directly responsible for attracting undocumented immigrants — employers — could be held legally culpable for knowingly hiring undocumented laborers and discriminating on the basis of perceived...

  10. Part III: Regions

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 107-112)

      Although Mexicans are found in every income bracket and in every industry and occupation in North America, they tend to be concentrated in service, construction, non-union manufacturing, transportation, and agricultural industries for reasons that we will discuss in the chapters in Part III.

      Chapter 6: Mexican Labor inAztlándiscusses the contemporary labor trends for Mexicanos living in the US Southwest.Aztlánis the name of the original homeland of theMexicaswhose origins story has them ascending from caves in the North. Chicano activists seized upon this imagery to rename the Southwest for its indigenous origins. Our analysis explores...

    • Chapter Six Mexican Labor in Aztlán
      (pp. 113-132)

      “As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation.”¹ The popular saying is often spouted by pundits referring to the latest fashion trends or citing the influence of popular entertainment. But in matters that are much more germane to the rest of nation, the saying is apropos to fundamental changes. The suburbanization of major metropolitan areas may have begun in Levittown, New York, but it has sprawled from the San Fernando Valley to San Juan Capistrano. The malling of America may have begun in the Midwest but was taken to its extreme in the Mission Valley of San Diego...

    • Chapter Seven Mexican Labor in the Heartland
      (pp. 133-150)

      When “Roberto Salinas” was born in Mexicali, Baja California, in 1950, he planned to farm on the family plot from a very early age.¹ His mother’s death in 1963 pre-empted these plans, so to help care for his extended family of 30 cousins and brothers, Roberto traveled with his father and one brother to the US to find employment as a migrant farmworker. Looking for better employment options, the men moved to Los Angeles but were convinced to relocate by advertisements in an LA Spanish newspaper by the Iowa Beef Processors (IBP), who were soliciting meat-packing workers willing to relocate...

    • Chapter Eight Mexican Labor in the Hinterlands
      (pp. 151-174)

      In 1995, while working in Wisconsin on a National Cancer Institute investigation of the long-term effects of pesticide exposure in migrant farmworker communities, Mize interviewed Don Américo.¹ In his fifties, Don Américo stated that he was from Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. His car’s “lone star” bumper sticker, Texas license plates, and “Don’t Mess With Texas” t-shirt led the research team to not question his origins. He said he had lost his driver’s license and was always paid in cash (minus a fee) since he could not get a check cashed in the small town where he was interviewed...

    • Chapter Nine Mexican Labor en la Frontera
      (pp. 175-192)

      The border region,la frontera, is found in the US Southwestern states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and in the border states of Northern Mexico — Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. The last 35 years have witnessed major changes in this area, including demographic shifts, economic restructuring, the physical and social construction of the border, and growing inequalities. To understand the contemporary realities of the US-Mexico border, we begin with a focus on the historical formation of the area.

      The US-Mexico border has a history of contestation. This imaginary line in the sand has...

    • Chapter Ten Mexican Labor in Mexico: The Impact of NAFTA from Chiapas to Turismo
      (pp. 193-214)

      In the face of NAFTA and the neoliberal policies that paved its way, popular responses and survival strategies have differed across geographic regions. In this chapter, we focus on the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, cross-border indigenous organizing between the US and Oaxaca, and resistance to the infrastructure development of the Plan Puebla-Panamá as three examples of resistance to neoliberal restructuring.

      With a Harvard education in government and political economy and an intimate knowledge of the Mexican political system, former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari was obsessed with modernizing Mexico’s economy and bringing the country into the First World (Preston...

    • Chapter Eleven Mexican Labor in Canada: From Temporary Workers to Precarious Labor
      (pp. 215-234)

      When anthropologist Catherine Colby interviewed an Oaxacan man working on a tobacco farm in Southern Ontario, he shared the effects of a tractor accident he had during a working day: “My side hurt for weeks. I thought I broke some ribs. My boss told me to take a day in bed. So I worked again, even though I was hurt. I didn’t want to cause problems because I need to come back next year. I have five children at home” (Colby 1997, 6). Reminiscent of the stories told by former workers of the US-Mexico Bracero Program (discussed in Chapter 1),...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 235-250)

    As we have detailed in the previous chapters, Mexican immigrants have a long-standing relationship with US society, and the demographic shifts that make Latinos the largest minority group residing in the US drive that point home. After detailing the abuses suffered by workers and finding repeated evidence of the mistreatment of Mexicans as disposable laborers, it is clear that we must ask: what is to be done? Instead of justifying complacency by detailing the deleterious effects of economic and racial marginalization, we conclude with a range of possible action strategies. We believe social justice movements offer substantial hope for bettering...

  12. Glossary
    (pp. 251-252)
  13. References
    (pp. 253-272)
  14. Index
    (pp. 273-294)