From South Texas to the Nation: The Exploitation of Mexican Labor in the Twentieth Century

From South Texas to the Nation: The Exploitation of Mexican Labor in the Twentieth Century

From South Texas to the Nation: The Exploitation of Mexican Labor in the Twentieth Century

From South Texas to the Nation: The Exploitation of Mexican Labor in the Twentieth Century


In the early years of the twentieth century, newcomer farmers and migrant Mexicans forged a new world in South Texas. In just a decade, this vast region, previously considered too isolated and desolate for large-scale agriculture, became one of the United States' most lucrative farming regions and one of its worst places to work. By encouraging mass migration from Mexico, paying low wages, selectively enforcing immigration restrictions, toppling older political arrangements, and periodically immobilizing the workforce, growers created a system of labor controls unique in its levels of exploitation.

Ethnic Mexican residents of South Texas fought back by organizing and by leaving, migrating to destinations around the United States where employers eagerly hired them--and continued to exploit them. In From South Texas to the Nation, John Weber reinterprets the United States' record on human and labor rights. This important book illuminates the way in which South Texas pioneered the low-wage, insecure, migration-dependent labor system on which so many industries continue to depend.


The year 1968 produced what many believed was a worldwide crisis of order. Protesters, rioters, soldiers, and tanks filled the streets of Washington, Chicago, Paris, Prague, Mexico City, and dozens of other cities around the world. in response to this seemingly dire situation the leaders of San Antonio, Texas, did what they do best. They threw a party.

Envisioned as a celebration of the commonalities of the nations of the Western Hemisphere, San Antonio’s World’s Fair, dubbed HemisFair, opened on April 6, 1968. Ninety acres of previously residential land on the southern edge of downtown were used to construct the ultramodern fairgrounds in a celebration of both the “confluence of civilizations in the Americas” (the fair’s official slogan) and the economic possibilities of San Antonio and South Texas. the year 1968 was chosen for the fair because it was the 250th anniversary of San Antonio’s founding by the Spanish. More than just a birthday party, however, HemisFair was a “vivid recognition of the growth potential of a particular region and its peoples.” Fair organizers claimed that “San Antonio lays claim to a lustrous heritage spun from the colorful threads of many cultures. On that foundation, HemisFair 68, in the truest sense, is the outcome of visionary, 20th Century pioneering.” On opening day, April 6, the San Antonio Express-News happily stated, “With the flags of many nations whipping in the breeze, San Antonians and people of the nation and the world poured into what was once a haven for winos, stray dogs and junked cars,” where now “money flowed like water.”

The timing of this civic and regional boosterism was unfortunate, however. Two days before the fair opened, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, setting off a wave of urban rebellions across the nation. With inner cities across the nation still smoldering, HemisFair advertised San Antonio as a place of ethnic and cultural harmony, a city that embodied social peace. According to the official souvenir guide, the fair “intended to demonstrate the actual life-giving process of cultural confluence. It sought to show how diverse threads had been woven into a strong, new social fabric.”

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