The first migrant workers

Mexican peasants.
Mexican Peasants from Tlahualilo, Durango, 1930's.


It is already public domain that with the motive of the North-American invasion and the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1846-47, 45 percent of Mexico's original territory is taken away. The Anglo-American ideals of Manifest Destiny which ponder the right to expand by divine right and to direct the destiny of men and women under the pretext of "civilizer", made possible what is now the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California -1 million 528 thousand and 241 square kilometers inhabited by more than 100 thousand people- to pass into being property of the United States of America.

From then, the Mexican worker in the U.S. will see himself subjected to abuse, discrimination, and excessive exploitation. The expansion of cattle ranches in Texas and New Mexico, and the increase of fruit bearing production in California in the years 1850 and 1880, require a major amount of manual labor of which problem the ranchers intend to resolve by importing foreign manual labor. First, it was the Chinese workers, which more than 200 thousand were legally contracted for the cultivation of Californian fields, but racism and xenophobia of the Anglo-American obligated legislators to approve the Chinese Exclusion Act. Japanese workers substitute for the Chinese in the same appalling working conditions as them but, the Japanese were thrown out in 1903 and replaced by Filipino workers.

With the construction of the railroad between Mexico and the U.S. between 1880 and 1890, grand quantities of Mexican workers, which found more work possibilities in south-eastern North America, got jobs as railway workers. It was said that by that time 60 percent of the crews which worked the western railways were Mexicans.

Rodolfo Tuirán, in his research titled "Past and Present of the Mexican Immigration to the United Sates," said that the first wave of migrant workers to the U.S. were comprised of: experienced miners, work hands from the cattle ranches in the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas, indentured servants which were fleeing Mexican traditional farms, small independent producers whom were affected by natural disasters or by Indian raids, and workers who were attracted by the War of Secession, the flowering sale of Mexican border locales and which because of the decline of water where left without work.

In the course of 1850 and 1880, 55 thousand Mexican workers immigrated to the U.S. and found themselves in areas which had just recently belonged to Mexico; 63 percent in Texas, 13.7 in California. 7.6 in New Mexico, and 3.1 percent found themselves in other North American states. By these dates, the incorporation of Mexican workers into the U.S. economy was sufficiently important in the headings of commercial agriculture, the mining industry, light industry and the railroad. It is important to note at this point that, the working conditions and salaries of our the Mexicans were more than deficient, inasmuch the exploitation was intense and the wages very low.

Crossing the border.
Civilians crossing to El Paso, Texas, to escape the 1910 Revolution.


The immigration intensified with the Mexican Revolution of 1910 which is estimated that between 1910 and 1917, 53 thousand workers per year migrated to the U.S. Another factor that contributed to the migration of Mexican workers to the U.S. was World War I, in which this period Mexican workers performed very well not only in the agricultural field but also in the industry and service area, where some worked in the steel industry as machinists, mechanics, painters, upholsterers and plumbers. In those years it was easy for the Mexican workers because they were needed, of which there were work agencies in the interior of Mexico that recruited mainly for the railway and agricultural industry. The constant complaints by Mexican workers in the U.S. of the abuse of their labor rights in part by their U.S. bosses, moved the Mexican government, presided by Venustiano Carranza in 1920, to expedite a model contract that contained the guarantees given by Article 123 of the Mexican Political Constitution. In this contract it was demanded of the North American ranch employers that the worker have the right to take his family along during the contract period. The leaving of any worker to the U.S. was not permitted without a contract, signed by an immigration official, which specified the rate of pay, work schedule, place of employment and other related conditions.

In 1924, by agreement of the U.S. Congress, The Border Patrol is founded. This diabolical invention marks an act of extreme importance for the Mexican workers, from which point on, their immigration status changes drastically and are converted into fugitives of the law, obliging them to live in hiding so that they will not be arrested and deported. From there on, the offensive category of "illegal" is born like a scarlet letter worn by millions of Mexican and central-Americans on their breasts unjustly.

With the previously exposed, we can begin to give ourselves an idea of the contribution of the Mexican work force since long time ago, in the development of the economy and prosperity of the United States of America. The Mexicans, invariably have developed strong and efficient work in our neighboring country in exchange for low wages, bad treatment, discrimination and disdain. Within the year of 1928, racist styled arguments were wielded, the same of which, despite the years passed, have not yet been eradicated for the Anglo-American mentality. The Mexicans, they said and say, are biologically, labor wise, and culturally inferior. In 1929 during the Great Depression of the U.S., another control is implemented on the Mexican immigrant workers: a visa is denied to all of those which fail to prove in having secure employment in the U.S., in pretext of it not being seen as a public charge. Those which have been deported for not having documentation are warned that if they come back to the U.S. they will be considered criminals.

During World War II, America was in need of migrant laborers again and negotiated another labor agreement with the neighbor country.

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