Mexican Migrant Workers

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Steve Zissou

WS 3220

12/16/2010

Dr. Karen

Women Migrant Workers: From Mexico to the U.S.

Migrant workers have long played a crucial role in the economy of the United States, there has always been a rather heavy flow of both legal and illegal immigrants to the United States. There is a large variety of different jobs available for both legal and illegal immigrants in the United States, many women find work with more affluent families and are employed as nannies or maids. Some women find work in factories, often turning out clothes or toys, which is often labor-intensive low-wage work and especially for those migrant workers that may not be in the country legally. Perhaps the most important role that these women play in the U.S.’s economy involves our extensive agriculture sector.

Prior to slave labor restrictions agriculture in the U.S. was largely dependent on slave labor, which was essentially free as one might expect. The first English colonies imported slave labor as early as 1619 and Spanish colonies had practiced intensive slave labor since the 1560s. Slave labor became increasingly important in producing high-value cash crops such as tobacco, sugar, coffee and cotton. Although slave labor was most important in Southern plantation style agriculture, it also played an integral role in agriculture in the North which is contrary to the popular belief of Northern states being intolerant towards slavery. After slavery was abolished in the 1860s and the slaves were emancipated, it was clear that those involved in agriculture would have to find another source of cheap labor to pick up the slack (Valdez 1).

Luckily for North American farmers there were many sources of cheap labor at this time and many people willing to immigrate to find work. Shortly after the abolishment of slavery there was a very large influx of Chinese immigrants, a vast majority of these immigrants were put to work in agriculture as well as being integral to building the nations railroads. The flow of Chinese immigrants was curtailed by the U.S. government when they passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, generally believed to be a reaction to the decline of the gold rush with legislators using the Chinese as a scapegoat.

Partially due to the loss of Chinese immigrant labor, many workers began migrating to the U.S. from Mexico and the Philippines. It is important to note that there were plenty of European immigrants that also found employment doing menial agricultural work, however their experiences were generally different than the experiences faced by Mexican workers. For instance, workers from England shared a common language and religion with their employers so it became easier to assimilate into society. Although there was some discrimination towards German and Irish immigrants due to the fact that these were generally Catholic countries, these differences were usually reconciled and didn’t take as much of a toll on those immigrants. However, employers soon found out that their Mexican laborers generally did not go on strike or demand higher wages even when their working conditions were quite poor, this led to increased discrimination and abuse towards Mexican migrants (Valdez 1).

The use of Mexican migrant labor declined during the Great Depression, as many of the agricultural jobs filled by Mexicans were now highly sought after by internal migrant workers that hailed from Dust Bowl states and were generally desperate to find work. After World War Two, the U.S. economy was once again healthy and began to thrive as it had before the Great Depression. During the thirty or so years following World War Two a new trend began developing. This trend involved a large number of laborers traveling from the southern United States and Latin America (most notably Mexico) to perform seasonal agriculture work in the more northern states. Indeed, there were plenty of U.S. citizens that performed migrant labor at this time, often being...
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