Bracero Movement

1 January 2017

The United States always has a way of blaming Chicano people for the rising unemployment rates, when in reality the United States is the one who wanted Chicano people to work. After World War II the United States needed more manual labor which then provoked the emergence of countless Mexicans into the U. S.. They were known as Braceros, which were Mexican laborers that were allowed into the United States for a limited period of time as a seasonal agricultural worker.

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The Bracero movement was well related to the California Gold Rush because numerous Mexicans headed North across the American border because they thought they would gain mass fortunes in the United States. Even though the Bracero Movement caused countless problems, it also led to many successful human rights acts. Also known as the “Foundation for development of North American Agriculture”, the Bracero Movement was set up to be a temporary event. On August 4th, 1942 the United States and Mexican government instituted the Bracero Program.

This program was supposed to end in 1947, but ended up lasting until 1964. Mexicans who came over for agricultural work were given contracts in English and the Braceros would sign them without understanding their full rights and conditions of their temporary employment. When these contracts expired, the Braceros were required to turn in their permits and immediately return to Mexico. The contracts were created and controlled by independent Steinaker/Miller 2 farmers associated with the “Farm Bureau” which at that time had complete control of the agriculture industry.

The Farm Bureau had set up a recruitment site that became a major gathering point for their labor force in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua that was directly across from El Paseo, Texas. Most of the Braceros although were known to have came from agricultural lands in Mexico such as “la Conaraca Lagunera”, Coahuila, and numerous other regions. When coming to the United States, Braceros had little knowledge of what would be expected from them other than agricultural labor.

Mexican activists and Mexican Americans were forced to reevaluate their identities, their relationship with the Braceros, and the positions they held due to endless threats. The Braceros suffered from harassment and oppression from extremist groups and racist authorities. During this time over 4. 3 million Mexicans had crossed the border for agricultural labor from the period of 1942 to 1964. The issue with this was that some of the Braceros would “quit” and leave the fields to head into major U. S. cities for better jobs.

The Catholic Church as well began to disapprove of this movement saying that it was breaking family bonds and exposing Mexicans to protestant churches, gambling, prostitution and drinking. There were many downfalls to the Bracero movement, but the United States knew they needed workers. Since the United States began to become reliant on Mexican workers, they needed more tactics to lure in more workers. The Bracero program mandated a certain level of wages, housing, food and medical care for the workers.

At one point, the farm owners began to hire illegal immigrants that didn’t have papers or contracts to work under. The advantages of hiring illegal immigrants were that they were willing to work for lower wages, without support, health coverage or in many cases legal means to address abuses by Steinaker/Miller 3 the employers for fear of deportation. Working illegally in the United States intrigued many Mexicans since there was no need to sign a contract. This act eventually led to the discontinuation of the Bracero program.

In the beginning of the Bracero movement, when most Chicanos worked on farms, Texas farmers did not want any government interference and “controlling the ‘free market’” (Acuna, 253). One of the major reasons they wanted the border open was due to the eventual increase in wages they would have to pay if the government started to regulate workers. Eventually the border was open, but Texas was excluded at first because of racial discriminations and tensions between whites and Mexicans. Although the Texas farmers needed Mexicans to work on their farms, they were not willing to increase wages or even treat them as their equals.

Governor Stevenson enacted the Good Neighbor Commission of Texas in order to end discrimination, but creating a law can only go so far. After more Braceros started working on railroads in the Midwest and Northwest, the health circumstances and owner’s willingness to follow contracts declined significantly. As a result, the Mexican government refused to sign Bracero contracts after the war because racial discrimination was still heavily prevalent in Texas and the Bracero’s overall conditions had not improved.

Soon the Braceros realized they were mistreated and wanted to reform the program, but this only caused tension between the U. S. and Mexico. They wanted Texas farmers to pay $3 per cwt instead of $2 for picked cotton; part of this was because Mexican border towns were suffering immensely from high unemployment rates while the citizens in the interior of Mexico were neglected. After El Paso farmers complained to President Truman about the shortage of workers and problems with the Mexican border, things took Steinaker/Miller 4 a rapid turn. In 1954, against U.S. -Mexico agreement, the border became unilaterally open to legal and illegal workers.

The U. S. government didn’t give Mexico a choice; the U. S. now controlled the Bracero program and some officials wanted to have the border permanently open. When the Bracero movement declined within the next decade, from America’s point of view, there was resentment towards the Mexican government. There was also a change in the labor force and how labor was handled from the U. S. perspective. For the Braceros and the Mexican government, it was a completely different story.

The Braceros suffered tremendously from the difficult working conditions, the pathetic wages, racial discrimination, and broken contracts. The Mexican government received complete humiliation and a loss of labor from their country, while managing to still have extremely high unemployment rates at the border. To employers in America, braceros were only seen as cheap workers who were easily replaceable and who they could manipulate because they clearly had very little occupancy options. Although there were many negative outcomes from the Bracero program, there were positive outcomes as well.

The Bracero program enabled Chicanos and Chicanas to establish themselves in other areas of America besides the Southwest. Also, the Bracero movement led to the rise of the United Farm Workers Association and transformation of the U. S. migrant labor under the leadership of Cesar Chavez. Another positivie outcome of this program was that it laid the foundation for the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. Even though thousands of Mexicans were exploited and abused by farm owners, they helped to revolutionize the Agricultural system by pointing our major flaws and strong points of it.

Steinaker/Miller 5 The Bracero program led to expoloitation of an endless amount of Mexicans, but it also gave a large amount of them a huge opportunity. Braceros were able to settle down in the United States and able to set a foundation for the rest of the Chicano culture that would later come to America. In the end, Mexican laborers were able to gain their full rights and created awareness of the hardships and exploitation that many workers still face today.

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