Looking through these primary sources, it reminded me of school children lined up or having lunch. It seems like they live a very structured life. They board a bus, go work, have lunch, work more and go home. The primary sources mostly reflect the type of work that the braceros perform and the conditions they work under. We can see the American capitalistic culture at work being reflected through the faces of the underpaid workers as they work all day in these farms and go back to their humble homes.
The primary sources reveal the living and working experiences of some Braceros. Just as Ngai mentioned, Braceros were treated and paid poorly by their bosses in the United States. The primary sources of the personal experiences of some Braceros, therefore, add to the depth of Ngai’s work.
To begin, Braceros “provided the human labor power for the Southwest’s agricultural revolution” (Ngai, 129). From Mr. Juan Loza’s experience, he was an agricultural worker in both Texas and California and was “working with beets, thinning, with asparagus, with celery, and afterwards picking onions, picking tomatoes” every day without rest (“Juan Loza”). Also, Nadel’s photo of Braceros picking lettuce is an example of the agricultural work that Braceros did in the past.
Furthermore, Braceros were treated badly by many Euro-Americans because they were perceived as “foreigners even though the majority of the Anglos themselves had also migrated to the Southwest during the same period.” (Ngai, 132). This was supported by Loza’s experience of trying to buy a coffee in a restaurant. His order was rejected by the cashier and he was kicked three times in the behind by a white American.” (“Juan Loza”).
The primary sources given depict the life of a bracero- an individual who journeys to America in search of employment who is, to the program, merely just another cog in the wheel. Juan Loza’s interview shows that braceros headed to the U.S. had high expectations- “About twenty full busses came directly to here. They put about ninety people in them even though the capacity was about forty-five or fifty passengers. We [were so full that we] even had to ride on the bus railing, on top. I think that about twenty of us came on top and it was a long—well, a lot of time” (Loza, 2005). This quote shows that braceros expected a lot from the program due to the amount on the bus and the lengths they were willing to go by riding on the railing of the bus. Well these expectations were not necessarily shot down,- braceros were able to earn somewhat decent wages- the program saw the braceros more as a homogeneous workforce than individuals. This is firstly seen by the examination of the braceros: “Well, because the doctors examined an average of three thousand people a day. Imagine! If a doctor doesn’t have the patience to examine a patient when he has already examined four, five, six, or ten during the day, [imagine] how it is when he has examined thousands! Of course this doctor is already sick of it. He’s already overloaded with the work and [so] he’s going to do it reluctantly, without paying much attention. So when you pass the physical examination—in the hands of the doctor—they do the same process to you that they did in Monterrey—they do it again. They take off all of your clothes, they bathe you with disinfectants—with powders and a series of things that make me sad to even mention” (Loza, 2005). This shows how braceros were the backbone of the U.S.- thousands were needed for the agricultural sector. However, just because they were elementary didn’t mean that they were treated well. The view of a bracero as a component rather than an individual reflects back to Ngai’s point on the isolation and segregation of braceros. In Loza’s interview, this isolation also comes into play within the braceros themselves: “The more workers who worked together, the more they [the ranchers] felt prohibited from treating them [the braceros] badly or treating them . . . or working them at inappropriate schedules [times of day] or six days a week; because among—let’s say, among ten braceros it’s logical that all ten braceros won’t have the same intentions or the same ambitions or the same availability to dedicate themselves to work. So that’s why the smaller the number of braceros the ranchers had, the easier it was for them to direct them at their whim” (Loza, 2005).
What these two primary sources reveal about the Braceros system is this: the system was one that was not designed to benefit the Mexican worker, even though that’s how it was marketed to people like Juan Loza. Loza claims that he was convinced to become a Bracero by his godfather, who had been one himself, and that he was under the impression that he would be able to make enough money to support his family back home. Instead he found himself subject to a system that took advantage of it’s labor force, often being made to work “24 hours a day, 7 days a week” for less than a dollar (Loza).
Similarly, this system also used the United States legal system against the Braceros. In a chapter from Mae Ngai’s book Impossible Subjects the author discusses a man named Clemente Martinez. Martinez, an American citizen of Mexican descent, was born in the U.S. and lived there until he was roughly 10 years old, when his family moved back to Mexico. During World War Two he lied about his citizenship status to avoid being drafted. Instead he worked as a part of the Bracero system. However, later, in the 1950s, he was deported to Mexico, despite his status as an American citizen. According to Ngai, “a federal court rejected Martinez’s claim that he could not be deported” regardless of his claim of American citizenship (Ngai). The courts used his participation in the Bracero system against him, showing how little the legal system cared about the workers that were being exploited.
These primary sources accompanied by the reading from Ngai have provided great and tragic insight into the lives/experiences of the Braceros. Starting with accounts from Juan Loza, in his interview he speaks on his time as a Bracero and the torment he was put through. He recalls “I made 55 cents an hour, but I worked 24 hours, 7 days a week”(Loza, 2005). While this speaks volumes on just how little they were compensated for there back breaking work, it completely falls in line with Ngais accounts in his article. With in it Ngai reveals there was an “established minimum (30 cents an hour during the war and 50 cents throughout most of the 1950’s)”(Ngai, pg.140). These were not the only hardships faced within the Bracero program however as Loza in his interview recalled a time in which he tried to buy a coffee from a shop but was denied and promised physical harm because of his ethnicity. True to form his recount of that incident plays into Ngais analysis of the Bracero program and its harsh treatment of Mexicans. In Ngais article he speaks on the racial and human deprecation suffered under the Bracero program. “But as a bracero, I am only a number on a paycheck …… and I am treated like a number ……. not a man”(Ngai, pg.146). Most if not all Braceros were treated as agricultural tools and nothing less and most were provided with the bare necessities and that was it. Through Ngai’s article and the personal accounts/testimony of Juan Loza I was provided a first hand account of the morbid side of the U.S. and its agricultural world. It has provided me with a unique and innate respect for those who openly chose to join the Bracero program knowing what lied ahead of them. The fantastic promises of respect, money and freedom were merely a shiny gloss coated over the enormous pile of shit that was the Bracero program.
This is a reminder that Great Decisions of Wayne County will be sponsoring a public lecture tomorrow evening (Tuesday, March 3) by Alan Bersin, titled “Border Lines and Global Flows: The Future of Border Management and Security Is Not What It Used to Be.” Mr. Bersin is a former Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Office in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2012-17), and is currently a Senior Fellow of the Belfer Center at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. His lecture is the second of a five-event series on Democracy, Trade, and Migration.
This lecture is free and open to the public, and will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Gault Recital Hall. A dessert reception will follow in the lobby area of Scheide Music Center.
The Bracero experience was very much both a build-up off of, as well as had contributed to, the exploitation and disregard in the Mexican labor force. Recounting his experience, Juan Loza elaborates on the known disparities of having been humiliated in ways of being stripped from your clothing and scoured with various disinfectants before the contracting process of the Bracero would even begin. The argument being, to prevent germs from contaminating the Mexican-American border, though, this action was granted with very little regard to how “liquid and powder disinfection” could affect the health of the Bracero workers.
The Bracero program was intended to supply work to contracted-out workers from Mexico, however, with derogatory notions of the Mexican population established, many of the worker farms had a clear pay discrepancy against them. The work was tasking and demanded a lot without giving much in return. The Bracero were often worked 24 hours, 7 days a week, as with Loza’s experience, and if they were able to find themselves a day off, many would also find themselves turned away from dining establishments, calling for “whites only.”
Ngai discussed this process of exploiting the Bracero program as the (further) development of the hierarchal racial order we see today, essentially constituting “imported colonialism.” This establishment of the Mexican worker position underneath the white field master brings a stark resemblance to the slave master’s power control. While the Bracero were paid contractors, Ngai argues a point to which I agree, that the arrangements of the migratory agricultural labor force was done so with the intent to establish a cycle of supply and demand, fed by the “social segregation and isolation of Mexicans.” The agribusiness was one where a large workforce was necessary, though it would, in the end, be costly. By the organization of the Bracero program, we began to see a flood of laborers who would work for lesser pay. This then established a dominant control by the Euro-American overseers, of both the fields and the programs, eventually race.
“The Ancient Roots of Modern Scientific Racism”
Rebecca Futo Kennedy, Associate Professor, Department of Classics, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Environmental Studies at Denison University and Director of Denison Museum, will present a lecture entitled “The Ancient Roots of Modern Scientific Racism” on Thursday, February 27, at The College of Wooster. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in Wishart Hall, Lean Lecture Room (303 E. University) at 7:30 p.m. Professor Kennedy says that the lecture will explore “the myriad ways in which ancient approaches to race and ethnicity, studied in the 19th and 20th century as part of standard classically focused educations, were recreated and manipulated as a science of man to justify slavery, eugenics, and white supremacism in the United States.”
Professor Kennedy is the author most recently of Immigrant Women in Athens: Gender, Ethnicity, and Citizenship in the Classical City (Routledge, 2014) and editor of the Handbook to Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Medieval Worlds (Routledge, 2015). She is a translator and editor of Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World: An Anthology of Primary Sources (Hackett, 2013) and editor of the The Companion to the Reception of Aeschylus (Brill 2017). She is currently writing a book on race and ethnicity in antiquity and its entanglements in modern white supremacy and is co-translating a sourcebook of ancient texts on women in ancient Greece and Rome.
Professor Kennedy’s visit is sponsored by Eta Sigma Phi (the Classical Studies honorary organization), the Department of Classical Studies, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and the Cultural Events Committee. Additional information is available by phone (330-263-2575) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This Thursday, February 27th at 7:00pm, Phi Alpha Theta will be hosting a History Declaration Party, in honor of the students who formally declared their history major.
Everyone in the history major, as well as faculty, are invited. There will be light refreshments and a trivia game in Kauke 200.
Avis Mysyk, “Land, Labor, and Indigenous Response: Huaquechula (Mexico), 1521–1633,” Colonial Latin American Review 24, no. 3 (September 2015): 336–55, https://doi.org/10.1080/10609164.2015.1086595.
Mysyk focuses on the use of the encomienda system in the town of Huaquechula in Mexico. This article discusses the attempts of the native population to fend off the colonizing Spanish forces, and how they were, overall, relatively successful. This article will be useful for my essay because it gives me an example about how native peoples have been fighting back against the oppressive force that is white European/Anglo-Saxon rule since the two racial groups made first contact.
István Szászdi, “The ‘Protector de Indios’ in Early Modern Age America: EBSCOhost,” accessed February 24, 2020, http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=7&sid=39e9ea19-ce81-44c3-870b-910995f4e2b0%40pdc-v-sessmgr02&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=139447439&db=a9h.
In this article Szászdi discusses the Protectores system set in place by the Spanish King Phillip II in 1589. This system was designed to protect the rights and privileges of the native population and ensure that they were treated fairly. It was fairly efficient and ended up making a positive impact on a damaged people. This source is interesting for me, as it provides almost a counter-argument for my essay, allowing me to discuss how the encomienda system was, at least initially, designed to be a force for good for everyone.