At specific areas of the country. Although the Bracero

At the height of the Great Depression the
national unemployment rate hovered around twenty-five percent.1
The economic downturn severyli impacted the industrial economy and causing diffcicult
times all across the country. In the late 1930s, the threat from an increasing
conflict in Europe created a sudden war mobilization. This mobilization opened
job markets and helped shrink unemployment.2
With the United States bracing and preparing for war, the industrial economy
began hiring labor as the market opened up. Once the conflict arose, a labor
shortage developed and the demand for industrial workers was needed. The
solution adopted by the United States government was to work with the Mexican
government to recruit Mexican laborers into specific areas of the country. Although the Bracero program presented
the solution to the lives of several Mexican participants, nevertheless, after
further research it is clear that it was contrary to what many had been led to
believe given the several inhumane conditions many faced, it can be seen as an
act of exploitation, and the false contracts that the majority signed that stated
their rights that ultimately were neglected.

Given the labor shortage during World War Two, several farmers pressured
the U.S. government to replicate the informal contract system that had
prevailed during World War I, when labor agents recruiting in Mexico promised workers’
wages and living conditions that were too often unmet.3
Much like WWII, the United states was in need of labor workers to fill in open
positions left by United States Soldiers going overseas. Such that, the United States congress allowed
Mexicans to work during the time period of 1917-1922, which later became known
as the first temporary farm-workers program, similar to the Bracero Program.4 At this time, the number of
acres of agricultural land was vastly extended, white Americans that had
previously been employed in farming or unskilled work were pulled to other
industries to support the war effort, and African-American migration from the
South turned away from the Southwest and toward the North.5This
created a sudden and enormous demand for an alternative labor source that led
many employers to petition to grant Mexicans exemption from the 1917
Immigration Act. On May 23, 1917, the Secretary of Labor granted Mexican
laborers exempt status, meaning they were no longer subject to a head tax,
contract labor, or literacy clauses that had previously barred them entry to
the United States.6 These conditions in
America combined with the political and social turmoil of the Mexican
Revolution to entice over one million Mexicans across the border (Schiesl and
Dodge 11). 

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 Several Mexican citizens decided on migrating
to the United States because of the conflict that had arisen in their homeland.

The United
States recognized, however, that Mexico would not agree to any program of
regulated migration without certain conditions. Furthermore, the
United States was not in a position to ignore conditions sought by Mexico, for
much had changed since the earlier informal program. Not only did the United States government
initiate the formal exchange of workers, but President Franklin Roosevelt had
entered office determined to establish better relations with Latin America.
In contrast to earlier doctrines, his Good Neighbor Policy emphasized
cooperation and guaranteed the sanctity of each sovereign American nation.7

Soon after the United States involvement during World War Two, the U.S.
government approached Mexico about the possibility of bringing laborers north.8
Some of the terms in the contracts contained wage guarantees and requirements
for sanitary housing, access to medical care, and a minimum of weeks for which
they would be paid, regardless of weather conditions, making braceros’
protections far stronger than those extended to U.S. domestic farm workers.9 The
agreement required that growers prove they had attempted to recruit United
States workers before requesting for Mexican laborers be granted, it tended to
be ignored and on August 1942, more than ten thousand men gathered in Mexico
City as they were answering the government’s call to combat fascism by signing
up to do agricultural work in the United
States.10
It was initially or
stated to be used as a short-term program and to be removed following the
United States involvement in World War Two.11 That was not the case as
both the United States and Mexican government unanimously agreed on keeping the
Bracero Program, but limit the number of contracts disbursed amongst the Mexican
workers. The goal of the program was
to alleviate the drastic shortage of U.S. labor market brought on by World War Two. The
Bracero Program would last 22 years and granted an approximate 4.5 million work
contracts to Mexican men.12

The
United States always controlled the maximum number of bracero spots offered,
and Mexico could give out according to domestic needs. Mexico in theory
retained the right to decide where braceros worked.13
At first
Mexico was in control as the refused to send men to Texas, as Texas was known
for their discriminatory act on Mexican population. In response, in 1943 Coke
R. Stevenson, the governor of Texas from 1941 to 1947, instituted the Good
Neighbor Commission to investigate the problem.14
Convinced that Texas was taking steps to address the discriminatory problem,
Mexico allowed for Braceros work in Texas.

Mexicans
seeking to participate in the program were required to pass a physical
examination by both the United States and Mexican public health doctors
according to US immigration policies and railroad company regulations.15 United
States public health officials used methods developed by the US military for
conducting medical screenings. Officials required every bracero to undergo long
physical examinations, with chest x-rays to check for tuberculosis, serological
tests to check for venereal disease, psychological profiling, and a chemical
bath.16 They
tested every applicant to check if he would perform the labor expected of them.
One test in particular that proved the applicant was suited for the job, was the
checking of their hands. They checked for calluses and their bodies for scars,
as callouses was visual proof of their experience in intense labor work. As
soon as these men were granted permission to procced to the next revision,
tensions quickly escalated, as many would undergo several excruciating
examinations braceros recall as inhumane. Artemio
Guerra de Leon, a bracero participant, recalls waiting three hours in the nude
to undergo program selection.17  Another man recalls his father’s experience as
he states, “While my father appreciated the opportunity to work as a bracero to
support his family in his hometown, he was like someone sent war, reluctantly
talking about the abuse he experienced at the recruiting centers in Mexico, and
the inhumane working and living conditions he endured in the United States. I will
never forget the time when he first told me about being forced to strip naked
and being sprayed with DDT in a large warehouse full of other young men, while
being inspected by American
labor recruiting officials. That was one of the few times I saw my father
express anguish.”18
Both testimonies tell stories of what a bracero had to undergo in order to get
a contract, as many did not expect to undergo these tests, but in hopes of
prospering they did what they had to for their families. Once given contracts
many were housed in unsanitary conditions.  

Bittersweet Harvest: The
Bracero Program 1942-1964 / Cosecha Amarga Cosecha Dulce: El programa Bracero
1942-1964, discusses the broken promises that many Braceros faced upon arriving
to the United States. Poor housing conditions, disputes over pay,
discrimination, inadequate health care, and a lack of worker representation
were some of the braceros’ common grievances.19
Workers were sometimes housed in converted barns and makeshift tents with
limited water, heat, and sanitary facilities. They were often transported in
unsafe and poorly operated vehicles. Although the work was grueling and housing
substandard, many braceros endured these conditions, hoping to make more money
than they would at home.20
The problems discussed in this article were not mentioned by either the
American and Mexican Government. The article views the Bracero Program as an
act of exploitation as several farmers prospered financially.

In
the United States farmers were able to request Mexican labor for a designated
amount of time by submitting applications to the government as it allowed them
to fill their labor needs without hiring in the fall and firing workers once
the harvest was completed. The Bracero Program also gave American farmers the
ability to negotiate their labor needs without worrying about the demands of
labor unions, and it made it much more profitable to hire temporary workers
compared to domestic workers.21 Once American farmers
realized the economic benefits of renting labor from Mexico, it became a
full-fledged agricultural industry. For Mexico, the Bracero Program provided
the opportunity to assist in the war effort. It also gave Mexican labor an
opportunity to work for a higher wage, some of which made its way back to the
Mexican economy. Once contracted as soon as they arrived
at their work sites, it was very difficult for the bracero to complain or voice
his concerns over any type of issue. In many cases, the braceros were
expendable, because the threat of returning a contracted to Mexico if he did
not meet the demands of the job without complaint was usually enough for
workers to conform to grower it very difficult for the braceros to affect any
type of change if they felt their situation was unfair.22
The threat of deportation prevented most protests and made it easy for planters
to disregard any type of bracero protest that did arise.  In many cases, braceros were forced to buy
necessities like food and clothing from employer-owned stores. Elea- nor Martin
noted that the store clerk would mark down the braceros’ cha number so
their purchases could be deducted from their paychecks. Martin also recalls
that, on farms not large enough to sustain their own commissary store, farmers
would load their braceros onto trucks to go to the local town store, where they
paid from their weekly – out much competition for these company stores because
of restricted access, farmers maintained monopoly pricing control.23

The
following shows part of the contract signed by the bracero applicants and
states,

“The
agreement stated (United States Executive Agreement series 278, 1943:3) 1.
Mexican Laborers shall not be subject to the military draft. 2. Discrimination
against braceros is forbidden. 3. They shall be guaranteed transportation,
food, hospitalization and repatriation. 4. They shall not be used to displace
other workers nor to lower wages. 5. Contracts made by employee and employer
will be made under the supervision of the Mexican government and shall be
written in Spanish. 6. Expenses incurred for transportation and lodgings from
point of origin to destination shall be paid by the employer who will be reimbursed
by sub- employer. With regard to word and salary, the principal points were: 1.
Salaries shall be the same as those made to citizens of the U.S.A and shall not
be lower than 30 cents an hour. 2. Exceptions as to wages can be made under
extenuating circumstances provided authorization by the Mexican government is
given. 3. No minors under 14 will be allowed to work. 4. Braceros will be
allowed to form associations and elect a leader to represent them. 5. They
shall be guaranteed work for 75 percent of the working.”24

Labor organizer Ernesto Galarza noted that
although the Department of Labor set the prevailing wage, it was growers who
collectively determined the prevailing wage they were willing to pay. With
regard to all four guidelines, workers experienced a much different Bracero
Program than the one designed on paper. For example, twenty-six
of the workers earned as little as twenty-dollars or less in some weeks.
Thirty-seven workers described the quality of food as ”fair or poor,” fifty
workers lived in housing they deemed ”fair or poor,” and 105 of the 181
respondents were charged three to seven dollars for the ”complimentary”
blankets they slept under—there were no reported threats or intimidation.25  The
numbers provided are by former braceros, in which Ernesto Galarza interviewed thus
showing how many did not receive the promises presented in the contracts.

At the height
of the Great Depression the national unemployment rate hovered around twenty-five
percent. The economic catastrophe crippled the industrial economy and caused
immense hardship all across the country. In the late 1930s, the threat from an
increasing conflict in Europe created a sudden war mobilization. This
mobilization opened job markets and helped shrink unemployment.26
With the United States bracing and preparing for war, the industrial economy
began hiring labor as the market opened up. Once the conflict submerged, a
labor shortage developed and the demand for industrial workers was needed. The
solution adopted by the United States government was to work with the Mexican
government to recruit Mexican laborers into specific areas of the country.
Although the Bracero program was portrayed as a solution to the lives of
several Mexican participants, nevertheless, after further research it is clear
that it was contrary to what many had been led to believe given the several
inhumane conditions many faced, it can be seen as an act of exploitation, and
the false contracts that the majority signed that stated their rights that ultimately
were neglected.

 

1

2
Jeannie Whayne, A New Plantation South: Land,
Labor, and Federal Favor in Twentieth- century Arkansas (Charlottesville, University
Press of Virginia, 1996)

3 Mize,
Ronald L. and Swords, Alicia C. S. Consuming Mexican Labor:
From the Bracero Program to NAFTA. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010)

 

4 Guadalupe Vicente
Dominguez, “Immigrant from Mexico To The United States: The Legacy of The
Bracero Program and how Mexican Immigration is Viewed Today,” history.libraries.wsu.edu. (accessed
November 25, 2017). https://history.libraries.wsu.edu/spring2015/2015/01/20/human-trafficking-between-mexico-and-the-united-states/

 

5 Brian Gatton, Emily Merchant. “Immigration,
Repatriation, and Deportation: The Mexican-Origin Population in the United
States, 1920–1950,”
International Immigration Review, (accessed
November 25, 2017), http://web.b.ebscohost.com.csulb.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=2998b4f9-bdd3-4063-8424-d2256041cff9%40pdc-v-sessmgr01

6
Ibid.

 

7

 

8

9

 

10 “Bracero Program.” In International
Encylcopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd es., edited by William A. Darity,
Jr., 364-366. Vol. 1 Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed
November 6,2017).  http://go.galegroup.com.csulb.idm.oclc.org/ps/pdfViewer?docId=GALE%7CCX3045300233&userGroupName=long89855&inPS=true&contentSegment=&sort=&prodId=GVRL&navContext=none&accesslevel=FULLTEXT&c2c=true&authCount=1&u=long89855#content

 

11 Ibid.

 

12

 

 

13

 

14

15 Molina, Natalia. “Borders,
Laborers, and Racialized Medicalization Mexican Immigration and US Public
Health Practices in the 20th Century.” American Journal of Public Health 101, no. 6
(2011): 1024-31.

 

16 Molina. “Borders,
Laborers, and Racialized Medicalization Mexican Immigration and US Public
Health Practices in the 20th Century.” American Journal of
Public Health 101, no. 6 (2011):
1024-31.

 

17

 

18 Huerta, A. (2013, 06).
Lessons my father taught me. The Progressive, 77, 34-35. Retrieved from http://csulb.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.csulb.idm.oclc.org/docview/1412573131?accountid=10351

 

19

 

20 “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964 / Cosecha Amarga Cosecha Dulce: El programa
Bracero 1942-1964.” Accessed October 22, 2017. http://americanhistory.si.edu/bracero/.

 

21

 

22

 

23 Avera, Leigh. “The
Bracero Program: A Historical Perspective on the Perpetuation of Isolated Labor
Markets in South Texas.” The Bracero Program: A Historical
Perspective on the Perpetuation of Isolated Labor Markets in South Texas, 2016.

24
Maria Herrera-Sobek, The Bracero Experience: Elitelore
versus Folklore (Los
Angeles, CA: UCLA Latin American Center Publications 1979), pg. xiii

                                                                                                 

25
Mize Jr.,
Ronald L. 2006. “Mexican Contract Workers and the U.S. Capitalist
Agricultural Labor Process: The Formative Era, 1942-1964.” Rural
Sociology 71, no. 1: 85-108. SocINDEX with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed
November 6, 2017).

26
Jeannie Whayne, A New Plantation South: Land,
Labor, and Federal Favor in Twentieth- century Arkansas (Charlottesville, Va: University
Press of Virginia, 1996), pg. x 

x

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