Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico

Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico

Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico

Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico

Synopsis

"Published in association with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University."

Excerpt

“I lived with many other men, in a barracks,” Álvaro García told me as he snipped a customer’s hair. He was, as always, holding court in the local barbershop he owned in a small village in the central part of the Mexican state of Durango. “I had never done that—lived with other men before—only with my family.” The barbershop served as a central meeting place for the pueblo elders and thus was where I spent most afternoons during my fieldwork. It was the summer of 1995. Don Álvaro, then in his late sixties, recounted his tale to the audience of several men seated with me on a low wooden bench or poised in the doorway, all of whom nodded in agreement. This man of a complicated geography and social positioning was blessed with salt-and-pepper hair and an engaging smile, which he flashed at unexpected moments. “I remember lying in bed at night,” he continued, “right before the lights went out, and listening …After we had been there awhile, after we had gotten paid and bought radios, you’d hear lots of music…. You’d hear television, a phonograph, too; men bought these things. I brought back a radio that used batteries…a small one. Someone who went before me brought back one that required electricity when we didn’t have electricity.…I liked that radio…. Only braceros had them. They were progress.”

Don Álvaro had gone north as part of the bracero program, the unofficial name for the series of agreements between Mexico and the United States that began in 1942, during World War II, and lasted till 1964. The program brought Mexican men to the United States for temporary work in agricultural fields and then sent them home again. In our many conversations, don Álvaro taught me much about what it meant to be a bracero. He spoke of modern technological innovations and the progress that he sought. Between long days in the field and nights in crowded barracks, don Álvaro learned to cut hair and started to practice this trade. On his return, he used the money . . .

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