Migrant Farm Workers
Cultural Activities Project – Part III
I. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war between the United States and Mexico. This Treaty gained the United States more than half a million square miles of former Mexican territory. It also forfeited more than seventy-five thousand former Mexican citizens to the United States. The Treaty articles implied there would be full United States citizenship and continued land ownership for Mexican residents who now found themselves and their property within the boundaries of the United States. This turned out not to be true and was one of the first exploitations and acts of discrimination of Mexican immigrants by the United States. (Griswold del Castill, 2006)
Throughout the years, many Mexican citizens found themselves displaced and powerless within the United States borders because they are still fighting in American courts for their property rights that were stolen from them due to the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty today. (Griswold del Castill, 2006)
In 1942, the United States was in need of agricultural workers because most American young men were enlisting to fight in World War II. Therefore, the U.S. would not have able-bodied “American” young men to bring “seed to table” for American families. An agreement was made between the United States and Mexico called the Bracero Accord, which set out rules, and regulations, which would supply Mexican citizens (primarily single young men) to enter the United States to become agricultural laborers. The word, “Bracero” comes from the Spanish word brazo (arm). Thus, a bracero is what the workers were called who participated in the Bracero program (Ganster, 2008). This form of stereotyping still exists in today’s migrant culture by calling migrant farm workers Braceros.
Cherie Moraga the author of La Güera tells the story of hearing her mother referring to other Mexicans in derogatory terms. The expressions such as”wetbacks’ and “braceros” took on the connotations meaning less than and degrading Latinos.
Originally, the Bracero Accord was intended to serve only as a wartime relief program. California, Arizona, Texas and approximately 30 other states participated in the Bracero Program. Approximately 4.5 million work contracts were signed allowing Mexican immigrants to enter the United States. (Mize, Jr., 2006).
The contract between the United States and Mexico promised, “wage rates equivalent to those of U.S. works for comparable work, adequate housing at no cost, low-priced meals, a guarantee of work for 75 percent of the contract term, insurance and return transportation to Mexico at the end of the contract” (Ganster, 2008). When the contract ended in 1964, more than four million Mexican nationals had participated in the Bracero program in the United States. (Ganster, 2008).
Exploitation, oppression and powerlessness were the whip, chain and rope that United States used in the guise of the Bracero Accord against the Mexican immigrants. Exploitation was evident in a variety of ways, “they had to cope with rancid food that was deducted from wages and the illegal deductions of wages for blankets and work supplies” that were supposed to be supplied to them free of charge. (Mize, Jr., 2006) The Bracero Accord spelled out the financial agreement; however, most of the United States employers did not honor this arraignment. Deductions varied from paycheck to paycheck considerably and the explanation for the deductions from the employer was, “no recuerdo”. Salary deductions were also, “charged for tools and twist ties used in banding carrots together” (Mize, Jr., 2006). The Bracero was exempt from minimum wage and after deductions, in order to make a living wage they had to work more than fifteen hours a day, seven days a week. (Mize, Jr., 2006)
One form of oppression was the disabling injuries, “for the years1953...