The Roots of Mexican Labor Migration

By Alexander Monto | Go to book overview

4
The Development and Pattern of Chaudan's Migration

In the previous chapters, we examined the transformation of Chaudan's indigenous agriculturalists into landless, debt-bound peons under the hacienda system, and then the destruction of that system, which made them available as laborers. We next examine the development of U.S. labor demand for migrants and look at how labor supply and demand were linked over time to create the migration.


NEW RAILROADS AND THE U.S. IMPORTATION OF LABOR

Before the Civil War, U.S. labor demand had been met largely by Northern European immigrants pouring in to take up farms in the newly opened territories or jobs in rapidly expanding industries, while in the South, slaves were still used. After California's gold rush brought it statehood in 1850 (see Chapter 10), Congress saw the need for a railroad to the West Coast, but only after the Civil War was this built. Then, for the first time, the railroad companies imported laborers on a large scale ( Stover 1970). Europeans, especially Irish, were recruited to build the railroad's eastern section and Chinese, to build the western section. After the sections met in Utah in 1869, many laborers remained in the West as track maintenance crews ( Cardoso 1974) or settled on farms or in towns. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 ended the further importation of Chinese laborers for agriculture. Importation of Japanese laborers followed, lasting until the "Gentlemen's Agreement" of 1907 between the American and Japanese governments to end it. Meanwhile, Filipino recruitment continued. By the turn of the century, a closer source of labor in Mexico also had been recognized, but earlier prejudices stemming from the Mexican War or to the effect that Mexicans were lazy had to be overcome.

More railroad building had followed, close behind the westward-moving U.S. frontier. Federal land subsidies fueled the railroad fever. Though speculators

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