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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Politics of Bracero Migration

  • Author(s): Garcia, Alberto Maldonado
  • Advisor(s): Chowning, Margaret
  • et al.
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From 1942 to 1964, a bilateral agreement known as the Bracero Program allowed Mexican men to work in the United States as seasonal contract laborers. During the program’s 22-year duration, Mexican officials distributed 4.64 million contracts. This dissertation examines two interrelated questions. First, how did the Mexican government distribute contracts? And second, what motivated rural workers from the center-western states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacán – the states that sent the most braceros, between one-third and one-half of the total, to the U.S. – to want to migrate as braceros.

Political factors linked to the implementation of and conservative Catholic opposition to the government-sponsored agrarian reform heavily influenced demand for bracero contracts. During the 1920s and 1930s, the federal government expropriated millions of hectares of land in the center-west and redistributed them among hundreds of thousands of rural workers. But numerous agrarian reform beneficiaries were granted insufficient or poor-quality lands, and the statutes that governed agrarian reform communities limited what beneficiaries could do with their lands. Those beneficiaries who had been adversely affected by the agrarian reform’s structures expressed an interest in migrating through the Bracero Program. The land redistribution process also drew the ire of conservative Catholics who believed that private property was sacrosanct and who were also upset with a series of anticlerical measures implemented by federal- and state-level administrations. This discontent led to open rebellion between 1926 and 1929, and Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacán were the epicenter of the conflict. Community-level clashes between conservative Catholic and pro-government factions continued into the years of the Bracero Program and center-western rural workers who were pushed off their lands because of these conflicts also became interested in migrating as braceros. Federal officials acknowledged this demand by sending a significant number of contracts to center-western state governments. But because they had failed when they tried to directly recruit and select braceros, and because state-level officials did not want to risk losing control of that process, it was municipal-level officials that ultimately determined who received bracero contracts. Municipal authorities then used the bracero recruitment and selection process to enrich themselves, reward local allies, or remove local opponents. Thus, this dissertation shows that bracero migration was a deeply politicized process.

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This item is under embargo until November 2, 2020.