Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom

Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom

Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom

Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom

Synopsis

In this book, Mireya Loza sheds new light on the private lives of migrant men who participated in the Bracero Program (1942–1964), a binational agreement between the United States and Mexico that allowed hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers to enter this country on temporary work permits. While this program and the issue of temporary workers has long been politicized on both sides of the border, Loza argues that the prevailing romanticized image of braceros as a family-oriented, productive, legal workforce has obscured the real, diverse experiences of the workers themselves. Focusing on underexplored aspects of workers’ lives--such as their transnational union-organizing efforts, the sexual economies of both hetero and queer workers, and the ethno-racial boundaries among Mexican indigenous braceros--Loza reveals how these men defied perceived political, sexual, and racial norms.

Basing her work on an archive of more than 800 oral histories from the United States and Mexico, Loza is the first scholar to carefully differentiate between the experiences of mestizo guest workers and the many Mixtec, Zapotec, Purhepecha, and Mayan laborers. In doing so, she captures the myriad ways these defiant workers responded to the intense discrimination and exploitation of an unjust system that still persists today.

Excerpt

On a warm Saturday morning in June 2008, I attended a large meeting of ex-braceros—men who had served as Mexican guest workers in the United States—in a public plaza in Jiquilpan, Michoacán. Jiquilpan is best known as the birthplace of former Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas, but behind the picturesque cobblestone streets and colonial archways live hundreds of aging, ex–guest workers who cluster together on street corners and in the plaza. That day, both indigenous and mestizos took turns sharing stories about their time laboring in the United States on contracts they had secured through the Bracero Program. They recounted long travels to contracting stations, the jarring medical examinations, and the chemical DDT that was sprayed on their naked bodies at the border. They pointed out the physical toll the work took on their bodies, like soldiers sharing war scars. One man pointed to a ring finger now missing, another pointed to an old lesion, and so many others clung to the crooks of their backs in pain. They remembered long hours as stoop laborers, life in labor camps, and their fight for longlost wages that the government had systematically deducted from their paychecks. Counting out loud and figuring conversions in their heads, they attempted to calculate how much they were owed. I witnessed this scene play out over and over again throughout parks and plazas in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, and Paraíso, Tabasco, in Mexico; at La Placita Olvera in Los Angeles; and outside of warehouses on the South Side of Chicago.

The United States had called upon these men to alleviate a labor shortage in the agriculture and railroad industries during World War II. The agricultural need continued long after the war, as growers became more and more dependent on low-cost Mexican labor. Because the great majority of braceros worked in the fields, stories about crops, seasons, cultivation, and harvesting live on. Men invoked the minute details of this work, as if the minutiae stood as proof of their labor. They traveled from every state in Mexico by train, bus, boat, and on foot to reach contracting stations in hopes of working in areas across the United States. Many families took out loans . . .

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